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

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

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”

Public Procurement Collapse, Part I

On Friday 4 December 2020 our Parliament passed the third set of amendments to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act (The Act). These changes are a serious blow to the long-term campaign for proper control over transactions in Public Money and are extremely detrimental to the public interest. Government to Government Arrangements (G2G), Public Private Partnerships and a range of professional/financial services have been excluded from the oversight of the Office of Procurement Regulation (OPR).

Procurement debate begins at 01:59:55

Our elected representatives proposed to our Parliament that the biggest contracts executed with Public Money were better administered without independent oversight as intended in The Act, passed as Act No 1 of 2015.

Continue reading “Public Procurement Collapse, Part I”

VIDEO: Public Procurement Amendments on Long Story Short (WESN) – 5 December 2020

Afra Raymond appears on WESN’s current affairs programme “Long Story Short” on Saturday 5th December 2020 for an interview with Kejan Haynes on to discuss the contentious amendments to the Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Act of Trinidad and Tobago. Video courtesy WESN

  • Programme Date: 5 December 2020
  • Programme Length: 00:15:21

VIDEO: Interview on The Morning Edition – 8 December 2020

Afra Raymond’s interview on TV6 on The Morning Edition with Fazeer Mohammed on the amendments to the Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Act in Trinidad and Tobago. Video courtesy CCN TV6

The Amendments to the Procurement Legislation were passed in the lower House on Friday without the support of the Opposition United National Congress, and will e debated in the Upper House today. Prior to the debate, various Civil Society Groups and Business organizations have voiced concerns regarding particular elements to the amendments. We got another view in, Afra Raymond- Past President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry.

Courtesy TV6 Morning Edition
  • Programme Date: 8 December 2020
  • Programme Length: 00:31:43