Property Matters – Checking-out State-owned hotels

Property Matters – Checking-out State-owned hotels

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;

Continue reading “Property Matters – Checking-out State-owned hotels”

AUDIO: Interview on The Power Breakfast – 24 October 2018

power102fmAfra 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 Matters – How the MASSY-TSTT Merger Affects Us

I: Transparency issues

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 –

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 second and third points will be covered in the next section. Continue reading “TSTT Matters – How the MASSY-TSTT Merger Affects Us”

Board Games again

SIDEBAR: The EFCL issue

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?

The two most striking issues emerging recently are the declaration of new accountability targets for State Enterprises and that the ‘EFCL Board fires CEO‘, reportedly in defiance of Cabinet directions.

The Accountability and Transparency Deficit is the first issue and it needs to be put into a timeline to illustrate the reality. Continue reading “Board Games again”

Setting the Table

TAGThe 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.

  • Building Codes

    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.

  • Registration Acts

    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.

  • Bernard Report

    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.

  • Uff Proceedings

    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.

  • State Land

    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.

  • Invader’s Bay

    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.

CL Financial Bailout – The Real Case

Sen. Larry Howai, Min of Finance
Sen. Larry Howai, Min of Finance & the Economy

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”

CL Financial Bailout – False Firing?

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar greets former Clico chairman Gerard Yetming, second left, and former Senate president Timothy Hamel-Smith, second right, after they showed up at a UNC “foot soldiers” mobilisation meeting in Debe on Tuesday. Also in photo are Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal and UNC campaign manager Rodney Charles, left. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar greets former Clico chairman Gerard Yetming, second left, and former Senate president Timothy Hamel-Smith, second right, after they showed up at a UNC “foot soldiers” mobilisation meeting in Debe on Tuesday. Also in photo are Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal and UNC campaign manager Rodney Charles, left. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH

I smiled at the page three photo in another newspaper of the Prime Minister holding hands with recently-dismissed CLICO Chairman, Gerald Yetming, at a UNC meeting in Debe on Tuesday 23 June 2015. As serious as the situation is, I just couldn’t help myself.

Yetming was a UNC Minister of Finance during the Panday administration and had been appointed on 28 September 2010 as Chairman of CL Financial Ltd, the parent company of the ‘CLICO group’ being bailed-out by the State.

I declined many requests for comment on this controversial episode, since something about it did not seem quite right. The actual CLICO dismissals were incredible to my mind, not only because there did not seem to be any conflict between the stipulations in the CBTT’s 3 June Press Release and the reported beneficiaries – that is explained in the sidebar. It is even more bizarre when one considers that Yetming, in whom all confidence was apparently lost after allegedly-unauthorised payments to former CLICO Directors, still serves as Chairman of the parent company, CL Financial Ltd.

There is a widely-held view that the CL Financial chiefs should not be recovering any of their money from this huge collapse before the completion of the Colman Commission and the publication of its Report. I share the public concern that no money should be paid to the persons who were in charge of that sinking ship. Not one cent. Nothing should be paid to the CLF chiefs until we have had the proper opportunity to consider the findings of the Colman Commission. Even with its severe limitations, that Colman Report would be our closest opportunity to understand this epic financial crime. To pay out money to those Directors and Officers who were responsible before the Report is published would be reckless in the extreme and jeopardises the public interest. Continue reading “CL Financial Bailout – False Firing?”

Integrity Reflections – the background

SIDEBAR: THE MEANING OF THE LAW

“…legislation must be followed or driven by will. Laws are just what they are, convoluted and meaningless blocks of text until they are made alive/and relevant by human effort, human with a reasonable degree of collective/societal rectitude…”

—Quote from one of the several FaceBook convos emerging from last week’s column.

It was alleged, in a 2006 lawsuit (CV 2006-0817), that the Integrity Commission wrote to the Directors of TSTT to exempt them from filing declarations as required under the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA). The existence of that letter was never denied and that litigation ended by compromise at an Appeal Court Hearing on 28 October 2013.

It seems improper for any Public Authority to issue a letter which negates the law. I have on several occasions requested that the Commission publish the 2006 letter, but to no avail. Given the inaction on my complaint in respect of CL Financial’s Directors, these questions arise:

  1. Was that TSTT letter an isolated episode?
  2. Have there been other unspoken compromises in relation to the oversight of the Integrity Commission?

This article gives the detailed background to the Integrity Commission’s inaction in relation to the CL Financial Directors. At the very least, the facts in this matter speak to a severe lack of focus on the critical aspects of the Commission’s role to secure good standards of integrity in Public Life. It is my view that this is a matter of the first importance on which the Commission’s inaction could only have been detrimental to our collective interests. Continue reading “Integrity Reflections – the background”

Property Matters – Only a matter of time

whooshThe way the Ministry of Planning & the Economy (MPE) is persisting in their course of action on the Invader’s Bay development is perturbing in terms of the long term consequences of short-term decision-making.

At Section 2.0 of the Request for Proposals (RFP) for Invader’s Bay we read

…For Trinidad and Tobago this is a “major waterfront transformation” along the line of other signature waterfront developments such as Darling Habour (sic) in Sydney, Baltimore Inner Habour (sic), the Habour-front (sic) in Toronto, London Docklands and Teleport City in Tokyo. Although the genesis of the projects may vary, the result has generally been bold and dramatic. With the change in the manner in which ports operate and cargo is transported, waterfront property is now more valuable for its residential, retail and recreational function than simply for port activity with heavy industry, docks and fenced off warehouses, as is the case currently in Port of Spain…

We are being asked to consider the Invader’s Bay initiative ‘along the line’ of other leading international examples, which in itself is a good place to proceed from.  The reality is that those developments cited by the MPE all took decades to conceive and what is more, the authors of the RFP know that.  Yet we are also being asked to believe that a workable concept/s could be devised for Invader’s Bay in an RFP which is silent on the current strategic plans for the capital and only gives proposers 6 weeks to prepare.

Of course the lack of consultation will severely limit the participation of many important developers, not to mention the public.

The point is that in all those cities cited by the RFP, there is a serious commitment to consultation, which means that those large-scale transformations took considerable time to conceptualise.

In the city of New York, for example, there has been a long-standing commitment to community-based development.  Check this 6 October webcast from The New School – the introduction is instructive –

For decades, deliberations over land use in New York City have included developers, community boards, elected officials, the Department of City Planning and other city agencies. Do the people who live and work in city neighborhoods have a sufficient voice? Do residents improve the process, or impede progress? Who is best positioned to determine a neighborhood’s needs, and what are the best structures for public participation? New York has long been a leader in community-based development but as the city recovers from the Great Recession, what does the future hold?

And that is just one reference, readers can ‘Google’ to find the many other supportive examples.  In the very RFP, as well as in the recent budget, there is a clear commitment to consultation in national development.  Except in this case.

But there is more.

As I wrote in the opening of ‘Reflections on Republic Day’, on the Raymond & Pierre website on 27 September 2007 –

The best example I can think of for the kind of broad commitment to consultation is, of course, the site of the World Trade Centre in Lower Manhattan: Ground Zero. This is a very interesting example since the site is privately owned and the City of New York is controlled by the Democrats while the Republicans control the national government of the USA. Against this background of different players we have the fact that the destruction of the WTC was a most severe blow to US prestige and power. The entire defense apparatus was rendered useless by that attack. Arguably, there could be no site in the world with a more urgent claim to large-scale redevelopment.

Yet, the fact is that a sort of compact has been arrived at between the parties to the effect that no redevelopment will take place unless and until everyone has had their say. For example, there was a recently concluded international competition for the design of the 911 Memorial. There were over 5,000 entries from more than 60 countries and a winner was just selected.

As expected, the consultations have been controversial and emotional but the fact is that an environment existed in which such an understanding could work. Whatever one’s view of the American imperium, there is a potency to the existence of that huge crater at the heart of their main city while the necessary conversations go on. Time for us to think again.

At that time I was protesting the haste and waste of the then PNM regime, a consequence of their pattern of proceeding with huge developments without any consultation.

At Section 3.1 of the RFP –

TENURE ARRANGEMENT

The proposed Developer will be chosen via this RFP process and shall then enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (Ministry of Planning and the Economy) for an agreed lease rate. It is expected that this activity would be finalized within one (1) month of the submission of the said RFP.

Which means that we can expect the choice of the proposed Developer will be made and the lease agreements completed in one month from the closing date. Yes, Friday 4 November.

Sad to say, there is even more.  The RFP also specifies –

“…If financing has to be sourced from an external source, the Developer MUST submit a letter of guarantee from the financier as well as a profile of the financier. Failure to comply with this requirement will result in disqualification…”

When we raised the point that this is an impossible condition for new bidders to satisfy, given the sheer scale of the proposed development, both Ministers – Tewarie and Cadiz – attempted to indicate that this mandatory condition was flexible. Unbelievable, but true.

As leaders, whether in government or non-governmental organisations, we have an obligation to learn from the past. This is an effort to document the events in this episode, so that there will be a record, when the Invader’s Bay matter comes to be critically examined in the future.

The clear inconsistency of the position taken in the budget on urban planning was highlighted in last week’s column. With respect to this project, we noted the attempt to cast this development in the same light as other examples which all involved long-term consultation, the silence on the existing plans, the impossibly-short timetable to elicit fresh proposals, the even-shorter timetable for selection and agreement of lease terms, the wobbling on the financial requirements and incredibly, that the scoring criteria were to be finalized after the proposals were submitted.

It is literally impossible to determine which of these is worse than the others and it is beyond the imagination of any fiction writer I know to take a plot this far. But this is what is happening in our country today.

In my mind, all of these, taken together, show that the publication of the RFP is a form of sham dialogue and openness. If this is the genuine attempt by the MPE, to properly seek the public interest, then I am giving them an ‘F’ for effort.

What we are seeing here is a recipe for disaster, we already have all the ingredients of corruption, so what is next?

It really does make me wonder who runs this country and when, if ever, can we achieve consistent and equitable government. Who is the real power?