In the previous article, I dismantled the false narrative as to the satisfactory ‘Underlying Commercial Arrangements‘ for our State-owned hotels. To do so, I used the official records of the Parliament and its Joint Select Committees. Those records actually tell this sorry story, but it is possible to rely upon the sheer mass of material to effectively mask reality.
The defenders of these rotten arrangements are unable to rebut the official record, so some have now taken to claiming that the accounts do exist and that I should admit my errors. Well I tell you.
In between the political loyalists who have a unique way with facts and the very shortage of those facts, one needs to establish certain cardinal points if we are to make sense of all this Carefully Crafted Confusion.
So here are my cardinal points to understand this puzzle –
Capital Expenditure is all ours – every cent is our Public Money;
Repairs and Maintenance – Ditto;
Returns to Private Sector – These are obviously at or above target rates, since both Hilton and Hyatt have persisted in their POS operations. If the returns were below target, those operators would have exited, which is what Hilton International did in Tobago in 2008;
Returns to Public Sector – Unknown – since there is no commitment to accountability or transparency, despite the periodic claims to the contrary from various high-ranking officials;
Private Sector Audited Accounts – We can be sure that those exist at the Private Sector level and are made available in a timely manner to the shareholders and stakeholders of those companies. No Chief in that arena could survive a failure to produce audited accounts in the required manner – that would be grounds for instant dismissal, for cause and without compensation. Of course there is no way a Private Sector Chief could ever refuse to provide those records to its shareholders and stakeholders;
Public Sector Audited Accounts – These are never available, for whatever reason. The Public Sector Chiefs routinely fail to produce these records and even when formal requests are made via the Freedom of Information Act, those are refused. No Chief in that Public Sector arena has ever been removed or disciplined for their flagrant failure/refusal to account;
Afra Raymond was interviewed Wednesday 24th October 2018 by Rhoda Bharath, Wendell Stephen and Richard Ragoobarsingh on the Power Breakfast Show on Power 102 FM. The discussion was about the financial stability and sustainability of the State Enterprises and Public Utilities and their usefulness in our times. Audio courtesy Power 102 FM.
TSTT’s share purchase agreement, announced on 2 May 2017, to buy Massy Communications Ltd has provoked a great deal of sceptical or negative public comment. I will not attempt a critique of that deal since it is well beyond my scope: in any case, the basic details have not been disclosed. We have been told that the price is $255M and that the deal is conditional upon the approval of the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT).
The furore over this huge deal seems to be fueled by these three statements emerging from TSTT –
Transparency – TSTT cannot reveal the details of the deal to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Enterprises Committee (PAEC) since it is not obliged to follow either the Integrity in Public Life Act or the Freedom of Information Act. Further, TSTT is required, as a listed entity, to follow the provisions of the 2012 Securities Act in regard to the secrecy of pending transactions. What is more, TSTT and Massy Communications Ltd are both bound by a Non-Disclosure Agreement.
Accountability – The $255M purchase price is funded by $1.9Bn which TSTT raised from private lenders, so that money is presumed to be outside the definition of Public Money. One assumes, from the tone of those statements, that TSTT did not require a guarantee or letter of comfort from the State.
Good Governance – TSTT stated that the first time the Cabinet would have been aware of this transaction is via the press. This returns to the issue of just where is the lawful and proper boundary between the Cabinet and the various State Enterprises for which it is responsible. This again sparks the debate as to whether TSTT is really a State Enterprise.
The Board of EFCL was reported to have dismissed its CEO after he failed/refused to comply with their directions in a certain matter. There are allegations reported that the Cabinet attempted to direct the EFCL Board, which raises the perennial issue of the nature and extent of Cabinet authority over State Enterprises.
From both the Companies Act and the recent High Court/Appeal Court rulings in the eTECK matter, it seems clear to me that the Board of Directors have fundamental responsibility for the direction and control of the company. That is the legal position, but it seems that our fundamental political culture and conduct is in real conflict with notions of independent professional responsibility.
The State Enterprise sector is once again the subject of public concern on the good governance issues of accountability and transparency. Where does the power lie?
Afra Raymond is interviewed by Rennnie Bishop on 107.7FM on Sunday 17, April 2016 to discuss Invader’s Bay; the end of the Las Alturas Enquiry; the Panama Papers and the needs for implementation of the best practice procedures to our public administration.
The PNM’s successful election campaign placed strong emphasis on the critical need to restore proper standards of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance. That was a commendable and necessary stance in the face of widespread public disgust at the falling standards of morality in public affairs as experienced with successive political administrations.
The new PNM government was installed about a fortnight ago and we expect the 2016 budget to be delivered in about another fortnight, so this is a good time to set out our position. This column will be a simple list, with notes of what are the main priorities to be pursued with the new government in relation to our industry –
Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Act 2015
This law was partially-proclaimed, but the government has proposed amendments, so we would be available for discussions if those are needed. The public interest requires that this new law be swiftly implemented so as to properly control transactions in Public Money. We have to bring the era of epic waste and theft of Public Money to a close.
Planning & Facilitation of Development Act 2014
This law is intended to control physical development in our country. It was partially-proclaimed at the end of July 2015, so there is some work to be done to have that important law implemented. Its companion law, the Urban & Regional Planning Profession Bill (2014), also needs to complete its passage through Parliament so that there would be proper regulation to control the professionals in that field.
Our country has never had a legally-enforceable building code to govern the standard of construction. That is a serious gap in terms of our physical development, given that we live in an earthquake-prone island, together with the risk of flooding due to occasional tropical storms and ineffective drainage systems. The PP administration established a multidisciplinary National Building Code Committee which the JCC participated in. That Committee completed its preliminary work about two years ago but was unable to secure the required money to prepare a draft building code and do the necessary consultations. This is an important item to be completed.
We are seeking updates to the laws controlling professional practice of Engineers and Architects (planners are mentioned above) as well as our long-term efforts to secure an effective Licencing system for Building Contractors.
This is the Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Piarco Airport project which was completed at the end of August 2003. Of course that project and the allegations of grand corruption within it actually triggered the collapse of the UNC government in its previous incarnation. US-based persons who were involved in this international criminal gang which successfully targeted our Treasury have been arrested, tried, convicted and have completed their terms of imprisonment. Here in T&T we suffered the ‘Plot to Pervert Parliament’, which is what I call the entire S.34 fiasco, intended to engineer a loophole through which the Piarco Airport Accused could lawfully evade the Courts. That is bad enough, but despite the fact that the legal right to suppress the Bernard Report has expired, the previous administration refused to publish it. Apart from the Bernard Report, I would really like to know the exact time at which S.34 was taken to then President Max Richards and at what time it was signed on Friday 31st August 2012, the 50th Anniversary of our country’s Independence. That kind of detail will bring real clarity to this sordid chapter. We will soon see the position of the new government on this matter.
These comprise the witness statements and transcripts of the hearings which were available on the Enquiry’s website, together with TV footage of the hearings which was stored by GISL. The Enquiry website disappeared at the end of 2010 and our constant efforts to have that information re-published were all effectively ignored. That is fundamental primary information on how our society handles its large-scale affairs and it must be republished.
Beetham Water Recycling Project (BWRP)
This project is an unconventional Public Private Partnership to process wastewater for subsequent sale for industrial cooling. BWRP is stated to cost in excess of $1.0 Billion yet it has never been properly shown in any budget. BWRP represents just the kind of ‘off-balance-sheet’ project of which we need to be cautious, especially at this time of budget constraints with the consequent temptation of our public officials. Quite apart from our stated concerns on the tendering and evaluation process, the JCC has made the point that no business case has ever been made for this huge PPP. Does the BWRP improve WASA’s financial position? Does it improve or diminish the financial position of NGC? The ultimate destination of these 10 million daily gallons of water is Point Lisas industrial users – are they prepared, in terms of their own plant, to receive that supply? Have they agreed to pay the necessary charges? In terms of opportunity cost, what are the other uses to which those funds could have been put? If one includes finance, maintenance and other charges, what is the total cost of the BWRP? Given our country’s high level of annual rainfall and the degree to which our pipe-borne water is wasted via leaks, is this the most cost-effective way for WASA to have ‘harvested’ an additional 10M gallons (daily) of potable water? I am sure the answers to those questions will be of great public interest.
The Minister of Agriculture, Lands & Fisheries, Senator Clarence Rambharat, has already announced his intention to do an audit of State Lands. We support that initiative as an essential step in establishing the true position with our State Lands. It would be a very important strategic step if that audit were followed by a thorough review of National Land Policy, which dates from 1992, and the UWI’s 2003 study of the role of Caroni Lands in National Transformation. It would also be critical for that review process to be broad-based and consultative.
This huge, ambitious project to develop 70 acres of State-owned reclaimed waterside land in west POS was mired in serious controversy from the very beginning due to the improper RFP process adopted by the State. The JCC went to Court and won an order forcing the State to publish the fundamental legal advice supporting the RFP process. The State has appealed, but it is time for a new start at Invader’s Bay.
These are the main areas of concern which we would want properly addressed.
In 2013 I sued the Minister of Finance & the Economy for his continuing failure or refusal to provide the details relating to the huge $25 Billion bailout of the failed CL Financial group.
On Wednesday 22 July 2015, the High court ruled in my favour by ordering the release of all the requested information.
The basic principle behind the Freedom of Information Act is that the information held by Public Authorities belongs to the public, unless one of the valid exemptions is applicable.
The Court also granted the State a 28-day stay of execution which seems intended to allow them the time to decide whether to appeal before they have to provide the requested information. Given the ongoing Information War and the high stakes to maintain the ‘Code of Silence’ in relation to this bailout, I would not be at all surprised if the State were to appeal against this ruling.
The unexplained gap
On 1 October 2010, the Prime Minister addressed Parliament to explain that $7.3 Billion had been spent on the bailout and that a further estimated $7.0 Billion was required to settle all debts. That is a 2010 estimate of $14.3 Billion to settle the CL Financial bailout, but the current estimated cost of the bailout is in excess of $25 Billion. That means that over $10.5 Billion more than the 2010 estimate has been spent, so where did all that extra money go? That information and the defined official policy of secrecy are at the heart of this scandal. Continue reading “CL Financial Bailout – The Real Case”→