Letter to the Editor: FCB IPO matter

#brightforspite #onlydemwenttoschool #takeweforfool

How I winced at the 2014 FCB IPO imbroglio in the media recently with the announcement of three Settlement Agreements of 20th December 2019 between the TTSEC and the four parties under investigation.  Those agreements required the parties to pay fines totalling $2.8M, about 22% of the total profit of about $12.7M created by the various manoeuvres. 

Those Settlement Agreements and Bourse’s statement of 3rd February 2020 confirmed no admission of wrongdoing, guilt or liability, so one is considering only alleged breaches.  Of course we have no idea as to the costs incurred by TTSEC in pursuing this matter over those six years and how those compare to the agreed fines.

The Managing Director of Bourse is Subhas Ramkhelewan, who was serving as Chairman of the T&T Stock Exchange and an Independent Senator at the time these allegations arose. The Chairman of the Bourse group is Ingrid Lashley, who is also the Chairman of National Enterprises Limited. Both Subhas and Ingrid have been my good friends over an extended period, not at all limited to our professional lives, which is why this is so, so what?

In an ideal world, the entire profit would have been disgorged together with the dividends earned during the period, before any penalties or regulator’s costs were applied, but that is not the situation at all.

I have three concerns –

  1. TTSEC’s no lessons learned? – It is disappointing to note that these Settlements with agreed payments, no admissions and no remedial action, seem to leave the investing public no better protected. Just imagine police officers stopping a motorist with defective headlights one night and issuing a standard ticket after engaging with the driver who really did not realise the problem with the vehicle. So far so good, you might say, but what would you think if those officers allowed that polite motorist to continue driving on the road with no headlights? The lack of any prescribed remedial action is intolerable in this situation;
  2. So why was a fine paid? – It is only barely possible to sustain the line set out in the Settlements with no admissions of wrongdoing or any finding of truth of the allegations, but the thorny question remains. The payment of a traffic ticket by an errant motorist is tantamount to an admission that some rule was broken which makes it necessary to pay that fine. It does not rise to the level of an actual conviction in law as recorded by the courts, but the fact is that the driver pays the fine is a tangible admission of wrongdoing. So are we being asked to believe that Bourse was just giving something back?;
  3. Has Bourse learnt anything? – Most striking for me is the penultimate sentence of the Bourse statement

    …This Agreement allows us to put this Matter behind us and to focus, even more so, on adding value to our clients and other stakeholders…

    Polite disdain is no road to progress. The opportunity was not taken to examine internal practices to prevent a recurrence of those concerns from our Regulator or to commit to staff training in the areas identified during our meetings with the Regulator. So will any of Bourse’s conduct or procedures be revised?

These three, taken together, taste terrible. Serious challenges require mature leadership which is willing to change course or seek advice as new perspectives and facts emerge. That is the behaviour of thinking, conscientious leaders.

Afra Raymond
afraraymond.net

An edited version of this was published in the Newsday of Tuesday 11th February 2020.

VIDEO: Webinar on Transparency in Procurement – 26 January 2020

Afra Raymond and Caribbean economist Marla Dukharan have a conversation on the decline of the Corruption Perception Index ranking for Trinidad and Tobago in 2019/2020. The topic is “Transparency in Procurement or Blindness to Corruption.” Corruption is not getting better in Trinidad & Tobago, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index. Marla interviews Transparency Advocate and Activist Afra Raymond to explore:
  • How Trinidad and Tobago is performing in the Corruption Perception Index
  • The current status of procurement legislation
  • Proposed amendments related to Government to Government and PPP agreements.
Programme Date: 26 January 2020
Programme Length: 47:47

Public Procurement Delays – the tangled web

This series ends by examining the last five years in relation to the implementation of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, No 1 of 2015 (The Act). This is my final article before I pause for a shift in focus and again, I am drawing on the public record for these positions.

My previous article traced the accountability arc of attempts by PNM governments to dilute our country’s accountability framework. That arc is rooted in the record, serving to dismantle the fanciful tales about ‘morality in public affairs’ and so on. According to Dr. Rowley – “Facts are stubborn things.”

MinFin-Colm-Imbert
Min of Finance, Colm Imbert, MP

Colm Imbert has served as Finance Minister since PNM’s general election win in September 2015. The provisions of S.7 of The Act, which apply to Government to Government Agreements (G2G) and Public Private Partnerships (PPP) have remained the same over that entire period.

The OPR Board was appointed in January 2018 by then President Anthony Carmona, as his final official act, so it was impossible to implement the new system before that.

Consider the budget statements over the five-year period 2016 to 2020.
Continue reading “Public Procurement Delays – the tangled web”

The Accountability Arc

inward hunger“…As Minister of Finance I was very much concerned with the decision to introduce a Central Tenders Board and take away the power to award tenders from elected representatives of local government bodies who enjoyed the privilege under existing legislation.  That unsound arrangement, bad in principle, was further vitiated by the tendency of local government councillors not to award tenders to the lowest bidder….”

— Eric Williams, Inward Hunger: The Education of a Prime Minister. (London: André Deutsch, 1969), 250.

This week I juxtapose the delays in implementing the Public Procurement system and the intended amendments declared by Finance Minister Imbert, against the history, so that the wider issue can be understood.  Minister Imbert is no outlier, he can be  located as the current manifestation of the PNM’s deep and historic unease with modern arrangements for Accountability.

ctb-ordThe establishment of the Central Tenders Board in 1961 was a high-water mark set by the first PNM administration in the ongoing struggle to ensure ‘morality in Public Affairs’.  Since that 1961 Act, which took five years to implement, there has been a push against those legal provisions by successive PNM administrations, uneven and not always successful, but always in the same dismantling direction.

One needs to excavate actual episodes, so that the accountability arc can be seen, beyond the smoke and mirrors. Continue reading “The Accountability Arc”

Public Procurement Delays, part three

PREVENTION OF CORRUPTION IN PUBLIC WORKS AND PUBLIC PROCUREMENT AND CONTRACTING

“…:29. Promoting the inclusion of anti-corruption clauses in all state and public-private-partnership contracts…”
From the Lima Commitment ‘Democratic Governance against Corruption’ made at the Eighth Summit of the Americas in April 2018, to which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory.

29

Finance Minister Imbert responded at the post-Cabinet briefing on Thursday, 16 January 2020 to the pointed questions raised by the media on the unexplained delays in implementing the new Public Procurement system.  The Minister’s stated that he had only received a final position from the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR) on 18 December 2019, which was too late to take action, given that Parliament had its last sitting for 2019 on 16 December. Continue reading “Public Procurement Delays, part three”