Property Matters – The EFCL Query part 2

efcl-confidentialDespite the first column in this series, I have had no direct reply or even acknowledgement from any of the EFCL officials to whom my initial queries were directed.

It seems that the people concerned would rather not write, on this matter at least.  A meeting has been indirectly suggested, which of course would have to be properly recorded and minuted – no word on that meeting as I write again.

What could be the delay or difficulty in answering the five simple questions posed last week –

  1. Is there a new EFCL Confidentiality policy?
  2. When did that come into effect?
  3. Would you please provide a copy of that policy?
  4. Was that policy approved by the Board of Directors?
  5. Is the Ministry of Education aware of this new policy?

Four of those questions require basic yes/no responses, while only one requires a date.

I closed Sunday Guardian’s article by reminding readers of the equation

Expenditure of Public money – Accountability – Transparency = CORRUPTION

The elementary accountability of a public company having its policies available for the public to consider seems to be either lacking or of low priority in the case of EFCL.  As we move along, it will be interesting to see how the Transparency part of the equation works out.

In researching this article, it emerged that our country is a signatory to two relevant international conventions.  As I understand it, the effect of our State having become signatory to those agreements is that the country has adopted those standards.

The first one is the Inter-American Convention against corruption, which was signed by our country in April 1998.  At that time, UNC was in power, under PM Basdeo Panday.  At Article III, clause 8, we are obliged to

…consider the applicability of measures to…create, maintain and strengthen…Systems for protecting public servants and private citizens who, in good faith, report acts of corruption, including protection of their identities, in accordance with their Constitutions and the basic principles of their domestic legal systems…

The second convention is the United Nations’ Convention against Corruption, which was signed by our country in December 2003.  At that time, PNM was in power, under PM Patrick Manning.  At Article 8 – Codes of Conduct for Public Officials, clause 4 obliges us to

4. Each State Party shall also consider, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, establishing measures and systems to facilitate the reporting by public officials of acts of corruption to appropriate authorities, when such acts come to their notice in the performance of their functions…

So, what is the big secret?

I do understand that staff at companies like this can jeopardize the integrity and effective operations of the organisation by leaking certain confidential information.  That would be a proper concern of management and a confidentiality policy is one of the ways that could be dealt with, just one.

During the Uff Enquiry, UDeCoTT claimed several times that this or that document was confidential and used its lawyers to protest strongly, sometimes even seeking the protection of the High Court.  That was outrageous conduct by a state-owned company, which appeared to be trying to frustrate the Uff Commission, appointed by the State, by seeking to conceal documents.  A case of ‘the tail wagging the dog’.

This situation is one in which it seems that the dangers of leaks in relation to tendering estimates, for example, has been conflated to cover all information in the company.  It appears to be part of a new policy which does not conform to either good labour relations or our country’s international obligations with respect to Whistle-Blowers.

Given the electoral promises made by this government and the importance of the struggle to reduce the menace of corruption in our society, it is very important for us to be attentive to these matters.

UDeCoTT wanted to conceal certain documents and one had to wonder why, given that they are not involved in secret work.  If it was not so serious it would be comical, they are not a spying, military or health institution.  UDeCoTT is just a facilitator for erecting buildings, yet their chiefs were able to pretend to the public that a large part of what they did was confidential. That kind of secrecy could never be in the public interest.  Not ever.

Similarly with EFCL, one has to ask – What is the secret?  That organisation is responsible for the repair and maintenance of schools, using Public Money to do so.

I wonder if that document, which a number of EFCL staff have now been required to sign, is legal and binding?  Could it withstand a challenge in the Courts?  Did EFCL take proper legal advice in this matter?  Was that advice followed?

The legitimate interests of taxpayers require that the management of State Enterprises take proper steps to handle these integrity challenges – Does the EFCL Confidentiality Agreement achieve this?

There is a certain kind of way in which this episode with EFCL is starting to remind me of the early UDeCoTT grappling, before Uff and so on, with tremendous difficulty in getting basic dialogue going, shadow-boxing and bizarre positions being taken.

I really hope that I am wrong, because the correct, encouraging attitude to Whistle-Blowers is essential for the success of the larger Public Procurement agenda.

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4 thoughts on “Property Matters – The EFCL Query part 2

  1. Well writ, Afra!

    Just one ‘caveat’.

    Under each of the conventions you quote, the obligation is not to adopt whistle-blower protection measures but merely to “consider the applicability of” or “consider …. establishing” such measures.

    Let’s hope that Parliament does more than just consider!

    1. Thanks, Boyd, but the point I was driving at was that, having signed those International Conventions against Corruption (without any qualification, which was our right) and made manifesto promises and established the JSC, it is completely improper for a State Enterprise to now create and impose a new internal policy which is detrimental to the wider objectives. Hence my reference to ‘the tail wagging the dog‘, a la UDeCoTT.

      I tried to place the events and their consequences in sequence, but obviously some of the meaning was lost. Which must mean that I have to write about it all again….

      Afra

  2. Afra, I am uncertain at some of the connections you are driving at in this paper. Firstly a confidentiality agreement does not prevent staff from reporting on wrong doing or the formalization of a whistle blowing policy.

    I do believe that staff within institutions should be made explicitly aware of their obligation to report wrong doing and the difference with just discussing company matters in public for the sake of commess

    I therefore respectively disagree with your conclusion on this theme.

    1. Hello Ron,

      Firstly, I accept that there is a real and necessary difference between a proper Confidentiality Agreement and the encouragement of Whistle-Blowers.

      In this case, however, there are several inter-connected issues which ought to make these events of concern. I am not sure if you read the first part, so will set these out here –
      * Staff were not allowed to take advice
      * Staff have been required to sign, under threat of dismissal
      * The Staff Confidentiality Agreement, if it can be justly called that, is itself in conflict with our international obligations.
      * There is a way in which this could be seen as a discreet attempt to undermine the Public Procurement proposals

      Of course you could be right and there could be nothing to concern us here, the only way we would get a tangible sign would be a declaration in strong support of Whistle-Blowers from the people at the highest level of this affair. That would be of great comfort to the people who have growing concerns. In the alternative we could be subjected to the usual attempts to confuse the issues and avoid the point, quite possibly taking a jab at the messenger.

      I guess we will soon see, if EFCL ever do decide that the public deserves an explanation of their policies. Thus far they have not even been willing to say whether or not a new Confidentiality Policy is in place, or to provide a copy.

      Thanks for joining-in.

      Afra

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