Does Size really Matter? AN UPDATE

JAMP logo

I was invited to submit this article to compare and contrast developments between T&T and Jamaica in relation to the critical accountability, governance and anti-corruption work being undertaken by my colleagues at the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP) – this article was first published on JAMPJA’s website on 29 July 2021. Instead, I am provocatively posing the question as to why both our countries appear unable to prosecute or convict, far less imprison, any important or prominent person. It seems that we are actually unwilling to set and hold a high standard for conduct within our ruling class.

The anti-corruption discourse in our country usually rationalises the failure or refusal to prosecute any important persons for corrupt acts as being a result of our small size. After all, everyone has a friend who will ‘see for them’ – as we say in Trini, ‘A for Apple, B for Bat and these thieving people does C for theyself!’ Those friends will warn them, lie for them, forget for them or even lose a file or two for them. We have all had these frustrating discussions and wondered if we can ever muster the will or the wits to lock-up the important people who regularly commit acts of grand corruption.

An important aspect we seldom discuss is the toxic role of party political loyalty, in which national concerns are routinely replaced by electoral jockeying.

When one considers the global news on this anti-corruption struggle, it is clear that in some substantial way the tide has turned. In a variety of countries, the citizens have become so outraged at the damage that large-scale corruption has done to their societies that the authorities there have now started to take decisive action against this scourge. It all makes me wonder when is the Caribbean going to catch-up with the rest of the world in punishing these destructive acts.

Continue reading “Does Size really Matter? AN UPDATE”

Govt’s Property Tax gamble – Trinidad and Tobago Guardian

The T&T Guardian newspaper interviewed Afra Raymond on the issue of the new property tax regime and its re-introduction into the country. Following is the article with the series of Q&As with Editor/Journalist Debra Wanser for the article, published on Sunday, Sep 19 2021. Click here to read the complete article on the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian website

The Government collected $143 million in 2009, the year that the old Property Taxes ended.

The current estimates of the Property Tax to be collected are to the tune of $504 million annually, so that is about three-and-a-half times more than what property owners paid in 2009, according to Afra Raymond, chartered surveyor and managing director of Raymond & Pierre Limited.

The revenue lost over the last 12 years since the axing of the tax could be more than $5.50 billion, Raymond estimated.

Raymond, a past president of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC), said the move to implement the Property Tax would be widely unpopular at a time of many burning issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the existing socio-economic situations.

Raymond believes that with only a slim parliamentary majority, the introduction of the new Property Tax will be a considerable gamble for the Government.

T&T is getting set to reintroduce Property Tax as one of the revenue streams which is expected to bring in millions of dollars for the Treasury.

While there is no specific date given for the rollout, the Government has started laying the foundation. They are attempting to populate the valuation roll. The Government has put out advertisements calling on citizens to file information on property and land ownership with the Valuations Division, Ministry of Finance (MOF). If citizens fail to do so by the end of November 2021, they can face a fine of $5,000.

With this move, Property Tax can be levied on residential and commercial properties and agricultural lands.

Raymond felt that the objections from the Opposition United National Congress elements are bemusing, to say the least. This, he said, is for two reasons–”Firstly, the official record of tax collections from 1993 to 2009 as shown in the graph and table below. When the UNC was in power in the seven-year period 1995-2001, there was a dramatic and unexplained decline in the collections of Land & Building Taxes, which are collected in the non-municipal areas. That decline was reversed when the UNC left office. The table and chart give the details, based on my research in the official records of the Ministry of Finance.

“Secondly, the People’s Partnership (PP) used ‘Axe the Tax’ as a strong slogan in the 2010 general election which they won with 29 out of 41 seats. With that rare three-fifths majority in hand, there was tremendous scope for the PP to have lawfully changed or removed any laws or arrangements it wished, without any need for PNM support. Like the Property Tax, for instance. But that never happened, for whatever reason.”

Raymond answers questions on Property tax

You are of the view that the revision of the property tax is long overdue, can you elaborate on the need for this, please.

Yes, Property Tax is long overdue. The last time Property Tax was collected in T&T was in 2009, so 2022–which is next year, which is what is under discussion–would make that a total of 12 years that no taxes were paid by property owners. By any measure, that is a tremendous benefit that has been enjoyed by property owners. In the previous taxation system, the property taxes were called House Rates for the five Municipalities and Land & Building Taxes for the other parts of the country. The five municipalities are Port-of-Spain, San Fernando, Arima, Point Fortin and Chaguanas.

The national totals of Property Tax paid in the period 1993-2009.
Continue reading “Govt’s Property Tax gamble – Trinidad and Tobago Guardian”

Nelson Mandela Park revisited: the silence of the National Trust

Your silence will not protect you

Audre Lorde, on the false benefits and toxic consequences earned from calculated or cowardly silences.

I had no intention of returning to this issue but Trinidad and Tobago Newsday’s Friday, 27 August 2021 article (Woodford Square to become heritage site (newsday.co.tt) was a sharp reminder that there is more to be said. The article explained that the Port of Spain Mayor had a ‘private consultation’(!) with the National Trust on 25 August 2021 as a result of which it was decided that Woodford Square is to become a national heritage site.

Just like Nelson Mandela Park, which is listed in the Heritage Asset Register of the National Trust.

The National Trust of T&T was established by statutes—Acts No. 11 of 1991 and 31 of 1999—and is listed with State Enterprises and Boards under the Ministry of Planning and Development. It is possible to take membership of the National Trust and I have been a member for some years, which is why I posted the following on its Facebook page on 11 August 2021:

In its own words, The National Trust says that it is:

“…established for the purpose of:

  1. listing and acquiring such property of interest as the Trust considers appropriate;
  2. permanently preserving lands that are property of interest and as far as practicable, retaining their natural features and conserving the animal and plant life;” (my emphasis)

In accordance with its stated statutory purpose, the National Trust should have made some comment or intervention in the proposals for the ‘astroturfing’ of the Nelson Mandela Park under a Public Private Partnership; that is my considered view.

But on its Facebook page, its website or its Instagram page, there is no comment whatsoever on the issue and I am unaware that any National Trust official has appeared in either the voice, vision or print media to discuss the proposals related to it. In light of the National Trust’s perfect silence, the pertinent question is whether that silence arises from an error of omission or from oversight or whether saying nothing was an intended response.

The National Trust’s silence was like an echo from not so long ago of the UWI’s silence on the Tobago Sandals proposals. This episode is yet another sobering example of institutional collapse, which forces us to recalculate our bearings on the journey to development. Clearly, corruption is far broader than outrageous financial benefits, as shown by these new bearings. When we are witness to such silences from the very public institutions which are mandated to have responsible and informed oversight, we get some idea of how far off course we are and how far we really still have to travel.

Of course, we also know that the Minister of Planning & Development attended the virtual consultation on 26 July 2021, so did the National Trust also attend? Does the Trust have a copy of the proposal and, if yes, what are its views? If it does not, did the Trust during the aforementioned ‘private consultation’ on 25 August 2021 request from the PoS Mayor a copy of the proposal?

Even though this proposal has now reportedly been shelved after the PM’s intervention on 2 August 2021, we probably have not seen the last of this matter. I would not be at all surprised if these proposals were revised and re-presented at some stage.

The final irony, as it were, is that on the very day I posted my query and posted the first part of this article to Wired868 — 11 August 2021 — in conjunction with Citizens for Conservation, the National Trust hosted a webinar on ‘Central Park Conservancy—Forty years of Park Partnership NYC’.

So it seems that the National Trust has given prominence to parks in its program of webinars and so on, making its silence on Nelson Mandela Park all the more unacceptable.

Our country needs active and engaged agencies and institutions to protect our essential interests, so this National Trust silence is in fact inimical to the public interest.

By way of full disclosure, National Trust Chair, Margaret McDowall, has been my good friend and colleague over an extended period. What is more, Ms McDowall has given extensive and exemplary public service, most notably, in my view, by executing successful public private partnerships during her protracted tenure at NIPDEC.

What’s hiding behind the scenes in the Nelson Mandela Park affair?

I wish to present in this article a summary of my main points on the proposed ‘revitalization’ of the Nelson Mandela Park (formerly King George V Park or, before that, Pompeii Savannah) in west POS.

Some spaces are of such significance that they should be altered only after the greatest care and consideration—no hustle, no bustle! Nelson Mandela Park is certainly such a space.

Privatisation and PPP can have the effect of limiting or ending access to public facilities for poorer citizens, so we would need to have solid guarantees of right to access, regardless of income. Of course, that kind of approach is contrary to a model which relies on paying customers or groups.

Let us now take a closer look at the actual proposal.

Continue reading “What’s hiding behind the scenes in the Nelson Mandela Park affair?”

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