‘…Doublethink is the ability to hold two completely contradictory beliefs at the same time and to believe they are both true…’
—from George Orwell’s ‘1984’
“…Rowley said the new “slang” was that his Government was one of secrecy. He said he fully agreed that the public had a right to know, but if one is conducting business, information develops in stages. He said the Government was hiding nothing about the Sandals deal…”
—Reported speech of PM Dr. Keith Rowley from ‘Rowley: Petrotrin figures not the issue‘ in the Trinidad Express on 20th September 2018
The previous article, together with my presentation at the pre-budget seminar hosted by the Greater Tunapuna Chamber of Industry & Commerce on Monday 17th September 2018, sparked a series of responses. More information is clearly needed to clear up what I call ‘carefully crafted confusion‘. That phrase emerged during the Invaders’ Bay imbroglio while the Peoples Partnership was in office.
The official practice in our country is to withhold details of important public agreements and contracts. That is now the standard, in which if those are ever disclosed it is only when the contracts have been signed and sealed. Those opaque practices are not limited to the current PNM administration. Last week I closed with a list of examples which span both political parties.
This article explains how opacity in public contracts is inimical to the public good since it inhibits good procurement outcomes and deprives the public of necessary details at a high-tide mark in the Global Information Age. Sad to say, it all comes down to notions of trust, since the previous conduct of our rulers has been so poor that public trust is at an all-time low.
Here is Dr Rowley’s statement on the Sandals MoU on 12th October 2017 –
“…And I will tell you one thing, the communication between me and Sandals ownership, is one of mutual respect. Mutual respect. I speak to Sandals as the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Mutual respect, no deal. No underhand deal, no under-table, not this time, we do not do that. Madam Speaker, if we took a decision that this unique product, not just a Caribbean product, eh— Sandals is a world brand. A world brand…”
(pg 131 of the unedited Hansard)
On 28th February 2018, Adam Stewart, the then CEO of Sandals Resorts International was widely reported to have made even more emphatic statements that the MoU contained no secret terms and conditions. My request for a copy of that MoU was refused by the PS in the OPM on the grounds that it contained a confidentiality clause.
All of that begs certain questions, especially when one considers the PM’s recent emphatic declaration of ‘hiding nothing about the Sandals deal‘. How could a document which contains no secret terms also contain a confidentiality clause? Is it that the persons making those statements never expected anyone to request a copy now? It is unacceptable that our country could be engaging in this kind of large-scale and secretive deal.
This goes well beyond any issue of possible financial corruption, none of which I am alleging in this case. It speaks to the very important issue of proper governance of a Republic of educated citizens, most of whom would like to play a part in improving our home.
Our elected government is proposing to develop valuable public lands, with large sums of Public Money, all for the benefit of the Public, yet the terms of that agreement are declared to be Private. If that is the shape of the Public Private Partnerships we are now engaged in, the public needs to maintain its utmost vigilance. This situation is literally incredible, yet entirely true. It almost reminds me of the bad old days in which orders came from on high for various developments, all to suit the requirements of our colonial rulers. I tell you.
CL Financial bailout
The Finance Ministry released to me the details of all the recipients of bailout monies who claimed as EFPA holders. That comprised over 13,200 names in receipt of $10.823 Billion in Public Money and it was recorded in the Consent Order entered in the Appeal Court on 24th January 2018. According to that Ministry, $25.95 Billion in Public Money has been the cost of the CL Financial bailout, thus far. I have now formally requested the details of the payments and sums due for the remaining monies, but the PS in that Ministry is now refusing to release those other payment details, on the basis of ‘the duty of confidence‘ (sic) and certain provisions of the Financial Institutions Act, as well as the ‘prevailing security climate‘ and the ‘risk of threats to…personal safety…‘. Well I tell you.
The Ministry decided to release the EFPA claimants’ details, but now refuses to provide those details for other payees. Over $15.1 Billion is being declared as secret, in our Republic.
The PS also claimed that professional firms would be reluctant to work for the State again if their payment details were disclosed. I find that position to be entirely indefensible, when one considers the sheer size of the State’s footprint in our country’s commercial affairs. It is hard to think of many flourishing businesses or professional firms in which State contracts are not a large part. What is more, those are regularly disclosed, albeit after the fact, in the case of construction contracts with no visible reluctance from the players in that market.
It is also interesting to consider the experience of Slovakia, as told in the Open Contracting website –
“…In Slovakia, the average number of bidders doubled after procurement reforms required the default publication of contracts and the use of e-procurement systems…”
How could any sensible person with a reliable memory and a conscience trust these leaders?
Evidently, our leaders have little respect and no trust in us. We have to do better.
Comments from Energy Specialist, Tony Paul, reproduced with his consent:
T&T was way ahead of the game of transparency and open contracting when we crafted the rules of governance for our oil and gas industry soon after achieving independence. Central to this are a licensing regime and parallel Petroleum Register. Similar in intent and nature to other Registers in place for land, wills, companies and such transactions, these registered documents are public.
All our licences in Exploration and Production are Deeds, meaning they can be registered publicly. I believe this was the case until the 1990s when a decision was taken, probably by technocrats, not to do so any longer. Since then our energy industry’s governance has been in free-fall.