Public Secrets?

It seems to me that we are entering a sustained and hard-fought Information War, global in extent, but with local flavour. The main features of this are the attempted redefinition of Privacy as a defunct notion, right alongside the State’s duty to know all about us, but tell us as little as possible of their own operations. That is the name of the game, so these issues are going to be challenged strongly as we go forward.

Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie
Sen. Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie, Minister of Planning & Sustainable Development

The High Court ruled on 14 July 2014 that the Minister of Planning & Sustainable Development must provide the legal advice which was said to have justified the development process at Invader’s Bay. This case was brought by the JCC after the Ministry refused to publish the legal advice obtained in response to our challenge that the Invader’s Bay development process was in breach of the Central Tenders’ Board Act. Given the repeated statements that the legal opinions supported the State’s actions in relation to the CTB Act, the obvious question is ‘Why the secrecy and refusal to publish those opinions?

The JCC requested the legal opinions and the letters of instructions under the Freedom of Information Act and the judge applied the ‘Public Interest Test’ in deciding that the public right to that information eclipsed the accepted point as to the existence of ‘legal professional privilege’. There have been many comments on what has been described as a landmark ruling and it appears that the question of just what is an official secret is once again up for discussion.

We are now being told that the right of the client to maintain the confidentiality of legal advice is now under threat, so the State is reportedly considering an appeal of that High Court ruling. Continue reading “Public Secrets?”

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THE REAL DEAL

If you are serious about making a difference, you have to develop the fortitude to turn away from matters which are merely true and interesting, so that you can focus your time and energies on what is really decisive…

That is my attempt to paraphrase the late Lloyd Best, as he spoke emotionally to a meeting in about 2004 at the Centre of Excellence. If we are serious, we need to ignore the pathetic distractions and keep our eyes on the ball.

Following on from my previous column on S.34, there are two main issues emerging at this time.

Drawing of Piarco International Airport Terminal Building Project
  1. Firstly, the entire Plot to Pervert Parliament was an outcome of the Piarco Airport scandal, said by the DPP to involve some $1.0Bn of stolen Public Money.  Please note that the entire project cost about $1.6Bn, yet about $1.0Bn was stolen and hidden in offshore accounts.  That is the true extent of the corruption we are fighting against and that is why I have called it a tidal wave of corruption.  A well-planned assault on our Treasury by leading elements of international organised crime.  This is to refute those deceivers who try to soften us up for the poison by saying that ‘is only a lil 10% and it does happen everywhere’.  The truth has a power of its own.  The JCC played a leading role in calling for and submitting evidence to the Bernard Commission which exposed abuse of power and corrupt practices in some of the highest offices in our country.  The Piarco Accused needed to escape trial because of the effective work done by the Bernard Commission in exposing criminal abuses of Public Money.  There are also strong elements of political party financing at work here, much like in the CL Financial bailout fiasco.  The lack of an effective Public Procurement system is what allowed the Piarco Airport scandal.
  2. Secondly, public trust in this administration seems to be at an all-time low after the Plot to Pervert Parliament was exposed.  To a lesser extent, that loss of trust could also be affecting the Opposition PNM.

The offending S.34 has now been repealed, yet the public clamour continues.  So what is to be done?

The campaign of wild distractions

Having had to endure an insulting and incomplete attempted explanation from our PM, we are now being subjected to a sustained campaign of distractions.

There seems to be a scramble from both sides to shower each other with allegations of large-scale corruption.  No need to list the examples, there is plenty of mud to go around.  While there are serious questions on the THA/BOLT project as well as the Calcutta Settlement lands, I will not be writing on those yet.

This crisis is an important opportunity to decide if we want to do differently.  Do we?  If not, crapaud smoke we pipe.  If we really want to do differently, we have to start thinking differently and stop the point-scoring games.

This series of crises which have beset us are all related to weak controls over Public Money and a culture which sees white collar crime going unpunished.

There are three linked and effective actions which must be taken now –

  1. The Bernard Report into the Piarco Airport scandal must be published now.  This was completed in 2003 at public expense and it details how those vast sums of Public Money were stolen, who was involved and most importantly, what we need to do to prevent a repeat.  One of the Commissioners on that Enquiry was Victor Hart, who has often said that if that report had been published and the recommendations implemented, we would not have had to go through the Calder Hart/UDECOTT experience.  There has never been an official statement on the failure to publish.
  2. The recommendations of the 2010 Uff Report need to be implemented, as promised so many times.  Those recommendations would prevent a great deal of the theft and waste of Public Money which is fuelling this crisis.
  3. Public Procurement reform – The Private Sector/Civil Society group has submitted a complete DRAFT BILL to the Joint Select Committee (JSC) – this Bill is ready to be laid in Parliament now.  The Private Sector/Civil Society group comprises – JCC, TTMA, Chamber of Industry & Commerce and the T&T Transparency Institute.  Those proposals have also been formally endorsed by the American Chamber of Commerce and FITUN.

These are three major initiatives which can be taken immediately to bring some long-overdue change.  The work has been done, so the missing ingredient is the political will to change our society for the better.

The PM announced at the end of the budget debate that our DRAFT BILL on Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property was to be sent to Cabinet’s Legislative Review Committee (LRC) before being laid in Parliament.

Given that Legal Affairs Minister, Prakash Ramadhar is the Chairman of the LRC and he was also in both the Public Procurement JSCs, what new insight is he bringing to this Draft Bill?  What is the time-frame for the tabling of this DRAFT BILL in Parliament for debate?

We need to insist on a better standard of representation.  All those holding public office need to strive seriously to a better standard of contribution.  Time is running short.

If our Politicians are serious about attacking the wave of white-collar crime which is drowning our country, those three initiatives must be implemented now.

Just consider this post from a blogger going by the name of livingdead on the Express comments on the October 17 front-page story ‘Bad Deal’ about PNM Senator Faris Al Rawi speaking on the Calcutta Settlement Land deal –

…Like as said before Comments here are just asking PP for answer but we must ask both PP and THA question !!

AS usual PP follower will question THA and PNM Followers will question PP…
At the end Both PP and PNM must be laughing and having drink together…

Those are widespread sentiments.