Seeing the Big Picture – Learning the Lessons of the SPE fiasco: Part 5

I have set out the key findings of the Uff Report, insofar as the elements of governance go.  Those were combined with recently published news to offer a picture of the manner in which our leading Special Purpose Entities (SPEs) are being governed.

The picture is an unflattering one, which few could seriously seek to emulate. It brings to mind the question raised here some time ago – ‘What was it really all for?‘  I continue to believe that the State must behave in an exemplary fashion, but that is not all.

The concerns over governance being raised in this series ‘Learning the Lessons’ are part of an attempt to query the true purpose and effect of the SPEs.  The point I am making in this final installment is that there are pre-conditions which ought to eclipse even important points like missing years of audited accounts, unsigned contracts, ‘back-fitted’ financial documents, publication of massively-inflated achievements, bogus feasibility studies and the like.  Just listing the important principles which have been violated, the whole situation seems incredible.

Important as it is to eradicate those unprofessional and dishonest practices, there has to be more to the development process.  Yes, even if the main ingredients of good corporate governance were practiced at our SPEs, it would all be for naught, unless those companies are operating in accordance with a sound strategy for national development.  Good corporate governance is necessary, but not sufficient, if we are to achieve the sound development which every right-minded citizen would desire.

nidcoTo illustrate this point as to the importance attached to strategy, I am going to shift focus from UDeCOTT and the HDC.  I am going to consider the operations of NIDCO in terms of examining this issue.

In her maiden budget speech on 22nd September 2008, the Minister of Finance set out the main elements of this government’s ambitious transportation plans.  These were in four parts – the rapid rail project, the coastal water taxi, the building of more highways and a significant expansion of PTSC’s fleet.  The Rapid Rail, Coastal Water Taxi and Highway building program are all being handled by NIDCO.

“…another slew of ambitious, extremely expensive and long-range plans being carried out supposedly for our benefit, but once again, we are witness to fundamental dishonesty on a huge scale.”

 

In ‘P3 and the Proposals’- published in this space on 23rd October 2008, see http://www.raymondandpierre.com/articles/article58.htm – I wrote –

The National Infrastructure Development Company’s (Nidco’s) high-profile advertisements for rapid rail are now giving one pause. Hear this: “As part of a holistic plan to ease traffic congestion and create a more modern, efficient, transportation network, the Ministry of Works & Transport…signed a design-build-operate-maintain contract on April 11, 2008, for the implementation of the Trinidad Rapid Rail Transit System.

Where is this holistic plan?

Were public comments ever invited on that plan?

Where can the public see that plan?

It was plainly the intention of NIDCO, in this series of advertisements, to promote the belief that these four huge, expensive initiatives are all part of a comprehensive strategy.

I was very sceptical and continued to call for the ‘Holistic Plan’ to be published.  All to no avail.

On 27th November 2008, I submitted my application, under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), for a copy of the said ‘Holistic Plan’.  My application was sent to both the Ministry of Works and Transport (MoWT) and NIDCO, its implementing agency.

That FoIA application and NIDCO’s reply also dealt with the Rapid Rail contract, but that is for another time.

On 2nd January 2009, I was ‘phoned by a civil servant from MoWT, who advised that they were ‘working on my application’; she confirmed by email later that day that “…we are still gathering the information and working on your request…”.

Just imagine that.  9 months after signing a major contract, reportedly ‘…as part of a holistic plan…’ and three months after publishing advertisements to that effect, I get an email from MoWT to say they are putting the plan together.

On March 6th 2009, the Permanent Secretary of MoWT wrote me to apologise for the delay (these FoIA applications are supposed to be dealt with in a month) and direct me to pursue NIDCO for a reply.

On 4th August 2009, NIDCO’s Vice-President Legal, Nirad Samnadda-Ramrekersingh, wrote in reply to my application for the ‘holistic plan’ –

…please note that same does not exist either as a formal document or series of documents and that the term as used in the newspaper advertisement to which you have referred is simply a descriptive reference to the Rapid Rail Transit System, the Water Taxi Service, the Interchange Project and the existing PTSC and Maxi Taxi networks also described in the said advertisement.  We are satisfied that this is the case…

“…simply a descriptive reference…”  Take that.

So there we have it, another slew of ambitious, extremely expensive and long-range plans being carried out supposedly for our benefit, but once again, we are witness to fundamental dishonesty on a huge scale.  Just like UDeCOTT, with its bogus feasibility studies, we can see that NIDCO’s claims are also highly questionable.  In the absence of real development strategy, we can only hope for a lucky accident.  That is no proper road to national development.  Particularly in the arena of physical development, where decisions have long-term physical, environmental and financial consequences.

As our servant with special responsibilities, the State is responsible for carrying out those developments in accordance with some sound strategy.  We must raise questions which are fundamental if we are to do better.  If we are to do better, we have to think and act differently.  Big changes are essential if the State is to deliver the future we need.

SIDEBAR: National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO)

NIDCO is a State-owned company, established in 2005 and under the control of the Ministry of Works and Transport.

According to its website – www.nidco.co.tt – its vision is –

Vision
To be a key enabling vehicle for the development of infrastructure that enhances and sustains Trinidad and Tobago’s economic development and quality of life.

Its core values are –

  • Transparency.
  • Professionalism & Quality.
  • Integrity, Trust, & Honesty.
  • Meritocracy.
  • Teamwork.
  • Commitment.
  • Communication & Participation.

No reasonable person could object to those principles.

The Chairman of NIDCO is Professor Chandrabhan Sharma, of UWI’s Engineering Department; Professor Sharma is also a Director of Republic Bank Limited, TTEC and several other companies.

NIDCO’s President is Kaisha Ince, Attorney-at-Law.

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