Letter to the Editor on Public Consultation for POS Revitalisation Plan -T&T Newsday

In response to a commentary article published on Sunday 11th July 2021 by the T&T Newsday newspaper by the TT Society of Planners (TTSP) and the TT Institute of Architects (TTIA) entitled “Feeble consultations on urban revitalisation plans erode public trust on Government’s urban revitalisation plans for Port of Spain and San Fernando, Afra Raymond responded with a Letter to the Editor, given the title, “We must insist on proper consultation“:

THE EDITOR: The joint letter from my colleagues at the T&T Society of Planners and the T&T Institute of Architects raised very important criticisms of the current wave of urban development projects, with the chronic levels of unacceptable secrecy and fake consultations.

On the secrecy issue, the State reportedly refused the JCC’s Freedom of Information request for the POS Revitalisation plan on the basis that it did not originate in that Ministry and that this was a series of privately-conceived projects.  Those are not lawful exemption grounds under the FoIA as the public is entitled to receive information ‘in the possession of public authorities’, so there is no requirement for the State to originate that plan.

The fake consultation issue is a long-term and valid concern which was especially noted as the 17th recommendation of the Uff Report (2009):

“…User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made…” (emphasis is mine)

Uff Report (2009)

Of course, the sitting Prime Minister was the leading voice calling for that Commission of Enquiry and indeed played a major role as a witness.  We need to insist on the maintenance of proper consultation if we are to use our limited development options for equitable outcomes.

Afra Raymond

Port of Spain

Letter to the Editor: COVID-19 Fines

THE EDITOR: As we enter yet another tight covid19 lockdown, one cannot help wondering how we slipped from our generally commendable performance in the first half of 2020 to these terrifying numbers of deaths and hospitalisations.

In August 2020, the COVID-19 regulations were changed to penalise unauthorised congregations and failure to wear masks. Despite the high stakes, I was sceptical as to how many of those tickets were actually issued and how many fines had actually been paid. For one thing, the evident levels of congregation and liming testified to people ignoring the law.

The AG confirmed – in Newsday’s May 5 edition – that fines for breaches of the covid19 regulations will actually be payable from May 15, with electronic payments also being an option. So it was previously impossible to pay those fines and it is deplorable that such an important element of our pandemic planning was allowed to remain incomplete at the stage of utmost importance. This was a true and costly failure of our public administration.

I have no doubt that the reckless behaviour would have been curbed if those fines were actually collected from those who received the reported 10,000 tickets issued. Yet here we are, on the edge of the precipice, wondering which official or department was responsible for this grievous lapse. No comment on this from the PM or any officials, so the Code of Silence seems intact, even when the health of the general public is at stake.

The Judiciary just invited expressions of interest (EoIs) for an electronic payments system, with a closing date of May 11. After examination of those EoIs, qualified contractors will be identified before they can be invited to tender, so some delays could be expected.

Will anyone be held responsible for these lapses?

AFRA RAYMOND

Port of Spain

U.W.I. Guest Lecture: INFORMATION MONARCHY

Afra Raymond gave his third guest lecture to post-graduate students in their course on Emerging themes in Cultural Studies: Theory and Conceptualisation of Culture – Cultural Studies and the turn to policy and new media technologies. His lecture dealt with the topic, “Data Monarchy: F.A.A.N.G [Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, & Google]”. It was a presentation on The Information Age and technology, and in relation to the course theme of Conceptualisation of Culture.

  • Programme Length: 00:40:59
  • Programme Date: Monday 8th December, 2020

VIDEO: “Caribbean Bridges” Ep. 4 – TIEF from TIEF MEK GOD LAUGH!

It is no laughing matter when it comes to corruption in high and low places. Little and big bribes, kickbacks and dishonesty…Can it be cleaned up?” Caribbean journalist from Barbados, Julian Rogers interviewed Afra Raymond along with Dr. Troy Thomas former Head of TI Guyana, who successfully challenged the EXXON-Mobil contract in October 2020 in Guyana’s High Court and Ms. Jeanette Calder the Executive Director of Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal on transparency and corruption on his show “Caribbean Bridges”. Video courtesy Caribbean Bridges.

UWI Guest Lecture: State Policy – The Poor and their Housing

Afra Raymond gave a second guest lecture to Cultural Studies Post-Graduate students at UWI St. Augustine in their course, “Debates in Caribbean Cultural Identity”. His lecture dealt with the topic, “The poor, their housing, and how Government policies have ‘worked’ in the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.” The presentation on Government policies was in relation to the Course theme of Identity / Policing Caribbean Identities.

  • Programme Length: 00:51:11
  • Programme Date: Thursday 3rd December 2020

UWI Guest Lecture: RACE & RACISM

Afra Raymond gave a guest lecture to Cultural Studies Post-Graduate students at UWI St. Augustine in their course, “Debates in Caribbean Cultural Identity”. His presentation concerned race and racism, in relation to the Course theme of Identity. This lecture grew out of Mr. Raymond’s TEDxPortofSpain 2015 talk: “Is it only white people who can be racist?”

  • Programme Length: 01:00:13
  • Programme Date: Thursday, 5 November, 2020

Public Procurement collapse, Part Four

So, the campaign to save the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act (The Act) failed. The government achieved its objective of greatly reducing the oversight of the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR). This is the final article in this series — I, II and III — so I pose two important questions arising from that failed campaign.

  1. Firstly, why did all this happen now?
  2. Secondly, what is the likely outcome from these fundamental reductions in the OPR’s scope?

The first question really intrigued me. After all, if the current situation is one in which Public Procurement is loosely controlled, why would any government risk serious criticism by amending a law which has been delayed for so long?

Continue reading “Public Procurement collapse, Part Four”

Public Procurement collapse, Part Three

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi speaks at press conference addressing matters arising from Afra Raymond’s articles and more

The AG’s Press Conference of Monday 21st December 2020 was an attempt to control the government’s critics, while also promoting the notion that the issues arising from the amendment of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act (The Act) are poorly understood by everyone outside the Cabinet. The AG strongly criticised both me and Opposition spokesman, Senator Wade Mark. This had me wondering at both my company and the AG’s opening declaration that what was needed was ‘a studied analysis which is factual and truthful’. Well I tell you.

This article will place in context the recent, damaging changes and rebut those extremely misleading claims.

My essential point is that full implementation of The Act, unduly delayed, is now seriously compromised by the latest amendments. These changes comprise serious exclusions which now place our patrimony in far greater risk.

I will outline the main points so that readers can decide on the validity of the AG’s criticisms. After all, a studied analysis which is factual and truthful is sometimes the only way to make-out fabricators and the existential threat such people pose to our development.

Continue reading “Public Procurement collapse, Part Three”

Public Procurement Collapse, Part Two

The previous article explained that our Parliament reduced independent oversight of the biggest contracts in our country. But all the power is not in Parliament, so it is important to note that civil society has substantial power and influence in these public policy matters.

For example, take the June 2019 attempt by the government to effectively erode citizens’ right to information held by Public Authorities, by amending the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA). On 7 June 2019, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, laid proposals in Parliament to extend the existing 30-day time limit for Public Authorities to respond to FoIA requests to 180 days. The 30-day time limit is regularly exceeded by Public Authorities, so the proposed extension would have made nonsense of citizens’ right to information.

Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC. Photo Abraham Diaz

Those of us committed to those rights to information took up the challenge by alerting the public to the perils, led by the Media Association of T&T (MATT) under Dr. Sheila Rampersad’s direction. Our brief, intense campaign culminated in MATT’s overflowing seminar on Saturday 15th June 2019 at Hotel Normandie, with Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. SC being the powerful and persuasive lead speaker.

The AG withdrew the proposals ‘for further consultation’ and no more was heard on that count. This demonstrates that it is possible, by concerted, focused and informed agitation, to stop detrimental public policies.

Our history is replete with these important lessons. It is important to understand how these changes arise.

Continue reading “Public Procurement Collapse, Part Two”