Property Matters – The Ethics Gap

Property Matters – The Ethics Gap

The previous article ended with pointed questions on the delay in the implementation of the Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Act. I directed those questions to the President, who had invited applications for the post of Procurement Regulator with a closing-date of Friday, 1 September 2017.

The Ministry of Finance, in response to serial allegations of political delays, issued a Press Release on 1 November 2017 to emphasise that the implementation delay was coming from the President. That Release ended on a hopeful note anticipating complete implementation by the end of 2017. In response to a request from the Trinidad Express newspaper, The Office of the President issued a Press Release on the same day to advise of the various steps being taken to attain appointment of the Board of the Office of Procurement Regulation by the end of 2017.

This delay forced me to reconsider the approach of having this law effectively implemented by appointments made by Presidential discretion. Under our Constitution, the President is effectively immune from legal challenge if a decision is in his discretion.

Even when the new law is fully operational, we will have to confront the issue –

Can law alone reduce corruption in the absence of ethical standards?

If we are collectively unable to recognise up from down, or right from wrong, we are in peril. It is always comforting to think of a few individuals who keep pointing out these troubling issues, but what is the collective position? Writing as a surveyor, it is important to recognise our boundaries and of course, to take our bearings.

Let me give an example in the Eden Gardens case, in which HDC paid $175M for a parcel of land which could have been compulsorily acquired for no more than $35M. That was a complex fraud in which parties within different agencies and firms collaborated for personal benefit.

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The Eden Gardens fraud would have been impossible without a signed opinion by a valuer. It was the Commissioner of Valuations’ office which issued a report stating the property value at $180M. When I started writing about that case in these pages, I was confronted with long, threatening letters from a certain colleague in the said Commissioner of Valuations’ office. I never named that individual and simply kept detailing this huge fraud, culminating in the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry’s (JCC’s) July 2015 formal Report to all the relevant law-enforcement agencies.

At the same time I also approached the Law Association with my serious concerns, since the entire series of transactions relied on a directing legal mind and several misleading legal documents. All those documents are authored by named parties – the name of the attorney who prepares a deed appears in the upper right hand part of its first page. I asked the then-President of the Law Association and the then-head of its Disciplinary Committee, separately, when they would be taking action. Their reply was simply that they had not received a complaint and that my articles were not complaints. They both went on to say that I was not eligible to complain since I had not suffered any losses nor had I engaged any of the offending attorneys. Both of those men are worthy of my serious respect, but I tell you.

I pointed-out the flagrant double-standard which we routinely apply to white-collar crime. We don’t expect the police to wait on a formal report when a crime being committed in plain view, and rightly so. So why do we reserve those weak standards for these white-collar bandits? The JCC’s formal Report on Eden Gardens also went to the Law Association, so we may see some action at some stage, but I am not hopeful on that front.

rohan sinanan
Minister of Works & Transport, Sen. Rohan Sinanan

More recently, we have seen extended statements from Minister of Works & Transport, Rohan Sinanan, on the questionable actions of certain valuers in the Commissioner of Valuations office. The key allegations were of inflated valuations being made on behalf of claimants for properties required for NIDCO’s project to extend the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway to Point Fortin. The further allegation was that the professional civil servant in the Valuation Division handling those claims was the same person who prepared the same claims.

Several of those situations are known to me, but it is my view that the Minister needs to go further. If indeed he is satisfied, after proper checks, that those acts of fraud were committed by professionally-qualified civil servants, then we are still some way from a satisfactory position. My first question would be whether those persons are still employed by the State and if so, have disciplinary proceedings been taken against them? Have formal police reports been made in respect of these multi-million dollar frauds alleged by the Honourable Minister? Has the State made formal Reports to the professional bodies with which these civil servants are qualified?

RESPONSIBLE PROFESSIONAL ORGANISATION

On Tuesday, 14 November 2017, the Institute of Surveyors of Trinidad & Tobago (ISTT) issued this formal statement to recommend that the Minister of Works & Transport make formal reports of the alleged wrongdoing.

In all these cases of complex fraud, it is literally impossible for a small number of people to commit the crime in isolation. There are always other parties, outside the conspiracy, but in the know.

If we do nothing these dishonest professionals will continue to hold the same qualifications as the rest of us and we will all be the poorer for it. We must rusticate these bandits and banish them to obscurity.

There is little point in having strong laws if unethical conduct goes unpunished because it is not identified by our collective conscience.


Setting the Boundaries

This article condenses certain key points from my address on Public Procurement Law to the 6th Annual Caribbean Valuation and Construction Conference hosted by the RICS, IPT and ISTT at Trinidad Hilton on Friday, 3 November 2017. The video of that address is posted to my blog with the requested statement that these views are my own and not those of the professional bodies.

© 2017, Afra Raymond. All Rights Reserved.

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EVENT: BUSSIN’ FILES: The saga continues

EVENT: BUSSIN’ FILES: The saga continues

Allya, we back again. D pressure building and dese files lookin to buss open any time now. But allya know #DTingNOWStart. My colleagues and I just buss some files in our Hotel Facts Seminar, and kept a few of you at the edge of your seats. In this next rounds you might fall off—walk with some knee and elbow pads!

We’re back at the Big Black Box for the second installation of the Bussin’ Files series. In case you didn’t already know: We will be having a public talk about the government business—aka OUR business. I will be going in to more detail about what I found out from maccoin’ the people’s information and what all of this means for us moving forward in this current political and economic climate. I will also touch on what I believe should become our cultural default of recognising how the State business is our business and why we should mind it more.

And allya already know d bes’ part: Ah talkin’ fuh FREE! So, come join us at The Big Black Box on #33 Murray Street next Wednesday, 15th November, at 6:30 PM. Come take a drink, fall off d seat, and engage with me on the topics I have dedicated much of my time and energy to understanding.

https://www.facebook.com/events/133337047431616/

Date: Wednesday, 15th November
Place: The Big Black Box, #33 Murray Street, Woodbrook
Doors will open at 6:00 PM.
Talk starts at 6:30 PM.
Cost: FREE! Everyone is invited.

VIDEO: Interview on C Television on EMDB corruption – 19 October 2017

C_Logo_color Fade inside out [Converted]All will be revealed…if we keep tugging at the loose threads that tie all the pieces together. This week, I discussed the EMBD matters in my Property Matters—Horses for Courses article. Check out my interview on Good Morning Trinidad and Tobago, in which I go into even further detail about the topic. Video courtesy CNMG.

Programme Date: 19 October 2017
Programme length:  00:13:53

The Importance of Memory

The Importance of Memory

I am writing this article on Friday 13th October 2017, which is the first time T&T has had a national holiday to honour the memory of our First Peoples.

These holidays are important, not only in the literal sense of having a day-off, but also marking certain critical events so that the collective memory could be preserved. That process of intentionally preserving important memories is seminal to the development of a civilisation. This extends to our business and professional life, even being decisive for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Our official record is so often vacant, by design, that one can scarcely assess the real situation or reliably make projections as to the likely outcomes of proposals. The Public Sector is a huge part of the national business, so it is critical how that sector conducts itself and how its ‘lessons learned’ are recorded. Ours is a sorry story of the public sector conducting itself outside the bounds of the law and good sense, not to mention actively suppressing or distorting reality.
Continue reading “The Importance of Memory”

VIDEO: “Bussin’ Files” at The Big Black Box on Wednesday 11 October 2017

This is the talk I did at the inaugural edition of the “Bussin’ Files” series at The Big Black Box in Port of Spain on Wednesday 11 October 2017. I discussed, the importance of information; our attitude to the truth; the deliberate concealment of facts; the Bernard and Uff Reports into construction sector misconduct; the CL Financial bailout; our false sense of superiority and some other matters. Video courtesy PixelPlay Media Limited.

 

Board Games Redux – the NIDCO matter

Board Games Redux – the NIDCO matter

These recommendations are from the 2010 Uff Report into the Construction Sector.

“…39. The reviewing of tenders and the making of decisions upon the award of contracts should be undertaken in as transparent a manner as possible, including demonstrating clear compliance with procurement rules, so as to allay suspicion of improper actions or potential corrupt influences…
(The emphasis is mine)

“…54. There should be no doubt (as there presently is) as to the power of Ministers to give instructions to Government agency companies on any matter within the Minister’s remit, including compliance with rules, regulations and procedures. If this cannot be achieved by voluntary means, consideration should be given to creating the agency as a statutory corporation incorporating such powers…”

It is unacceptable that Cabinet is still making decisions on the award of large-scale contracts. What is more, this procedure continues to be the norm, so this week I am deferring any budget commentary to deal with this issue.

chremI am referring to the recent imbroglio emerging from the award of a $400M contract to KALLCO for a 5-Km (about 3 miles) stretch of the Toco to Manzanilla highway. Minister of Works & Transport, Rohan Sinanan, is related to KALLCO and he declared that he had recused himself from both the discussion and the decision made by Cabinet.

My concern is not Sinanan’s relationships, or indeed, whether or not he recused himself from both the discussion and decision stages of the Cabinet process. I have no good reason to doubt the Minister’s statement, my only point on that issue is that the continuing tradition of Cabinet secrecy has made it impossible to verify Sinanan’s assertions.
Continue reading “Board Games Redux – the NIDCO matter”

Ah, yes! Look trouble now! You know we love a good bachanale in sweet, sweet T&T, and we love it even more so when the government is at the centre of the discussion. And allya know how I love to mind the government business. But the Govt doh have no business of their own: Their business is our business…The Govt is our staff…

Now, I want to bring that conversation to a space where I could buss some files on the slackness plaguing our government. I will be talking about the lack of transparency, the issues of accountability and public procurement, and the Code of Silence that dictates all of their actions. The public has been kept in the dark and I am trying to shine the light onto these weaknesses.

And hear d bes’ part: Ah talkin’ fuh FREE! So, come join us at The Big Black Box on Murray Street next Wednesday, 11th October, at 6:30 PM. Come take a drink, tickle yuh mind, and engage with me on the topics I have dedicated much of my time and energy to understanding.

Doors will open at 6:00 PM.
Talk starts at 6:30 PM.