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.

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Telling Truths

“…The first responsibility that devolves upon you is the protection and promotion of your democracy. Democracy means more, much more, than the right to vote and one vote for every man and every woman of the prescribed age…”
Dr Eric Williams, in his first Independence address, on 31st August 1962.

We are now at a place in which our political parties routinely subject us to misleading promises to win elections, followed by a sharp dose of reality as we realise which financiers are actually in charge of important public policy. This has been happening for a while now, but while we can criticise the various political parties, our gullibility is at the root of the problem. Many of us still believe in ‘Father Christmas’, so we remain stuck in a loop of high expectations leading to deep disappointment. Frustration and outrage appear to be key features of the ‘new normal’ we are all now living.

Obviously, we need a big shift in how the membership of the political parties hold their leaders accountable once office is attained, but there are other aspects of public affairs which need to change. Some say that once we choose not to vote, we have lost the right to criticise the actions of public officials, since we are effectively opting-out of the system. I believe it is important to remember that politics is not a single choice made by the voter at elections: politics is how we live our lives together and choose everyday.
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