Letter to the Editor: COVID-19 Fines

THE EDITOR: As we enter yet another tight covid19 lockdown, one cannot help wondering how we slipped from our generally commendable performance in the first half of 2020 to these terrifying numbers of deaths and hospitalisations.

In August 2020, the COVID-19 regulations were changed to penalise unauthorised congregations and failure to wear masks. Despite the high stakes, I was sceptical as to how many of those tickets were actually issued and how many fines had actually been paid. For one thing, the evident levels of congregation and liming testified to people ignoring the law.

The AG confirmed – in Newsday’s May 5 edition – that fines for breaches of the covid19 regulations will actually be payable from May 15, with electronic payments also being an option. So it was previously impossible to pay those fines and it is deplorable that such an important element of our pandemic planning was allowed to remain incomplete at the stage of utmost importance. This was a true and costly failure of our public administration.

I have no doubt that the reckless behaviour would have been curbed if those fines were actually collected from those who received the reported 10,000 tickets issued. Yet here we are, on the edge of the precipice, wondering which official or department was responsible for this grievous lapse. No comment on this from the PM or any officials, so the Code of Silence seems intact, even when the health of the general public is at stake.

The Judiciary just invited expressions of interest (EoIs) for an electronic payments system, with a closing date of May 11. After examination of those EoIs, qualified contractors will be identified before they can be invited to tender, so some delays could be expected.

Will anyone be held responsible for these lapses?

AFRA RAYMOND

Port of Spain

Proposals to the Post-COVID-19 Recovery Team

I am making two proposals to the Post-COVID-19 Recovery Team appointed by the PM on 16 April 2020 –

  1. Transparency – the draft/interim/provisional Reports of the Recovery Team should be published now for the widest public participation and;
  2. Procurement – the very first priority of these Recovery efforts must be full implementation of our country’s new Public Procurement system.

These proposals are set out in greater detail here –

Recovery Team Process

Given the unprecedented scale and scope of this crisis, it is imperative that maximum public confidence and participation be achieved.  The current method is for public submissions to be invited and for the completed Report to be published, presumably after it is approved by Cabinet and debated by Parliament.

We are are all in this together‘ must move, from being a slogan, to a different and embracing way of working so that the invaluable and intangible fundamental of public trust could be built in this period.

Given the highly-charged atmosphere emerging from this major disruption and the added fact that this is an election year, it will be extremely difficult to achieve the required high level of public confidence, or buy-in, if the usual approach of publication at the final stage is adopted.  This is an opportunity to take a more inclusive approach which would see the draft Reports published for public input as the Recovery Team does its important work.

In support of this proposal, please consider that we have long adopted an effective and open process for creation of new public policy and/or laws via the appointment of working parties/advisory committees; invitation for submissions; publication of Green Paper; further comments on that Green Paper; publication of White Paper; final comments on White Paper and ultimately, official adoption of new Policy and/or creation of new law or regulations.

One can readily accept that these are exceptional times which significantly limit the time one could allow for comments, but equally, one could realistically assert that today’s ease of communication is so great that the opportunity ought not to be missed to place this exercise of national importance into the front and center of our inescapable journey to being an open society.

Priorities and Targets

This crisis presents at least three interlocking challenges –

  1. sharp declines in national revenue due to convulsions in the global energy markets;
  2. steep increases in claims on those declining Public Monies in terms of relief for unemployed persons and affected companies;
  3. the stark fact that no one can tell just how long this crisis will endure, or indeed, what shape it will take in time to come.

It is therefore now more important than at any point in our past that every possible step be taken to get the most from our dwindling Public Money.  We need strong measures, first of which should be full implementation of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, including operationalising the Office of Procurement Regulation.  This would be an indispensable safeguard to greatly reduce the large-scale, widespread wastage and theft of Public Money with which we have been beset and which we can least afford at this time.

On 28th February 2020, the Finance Minister told Parliament that –

…The last correspondence from the regulator was received by the Minister of Finance on December 18, 2019…Following that letter of December 18, 2019, the draft regulations and proposed amendments to the Act were submitted to Cabinet and sent to the Legislative Review Committee for final review.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, it is anticipated that the final amendments to the Act will be laid and debated in Parliament in March 2020, followed by the regulations shortly thereafter….”
(pages 6 & 7 of Hansard)

COVID-19 only forced office closures towards the end of March 2020, so the LRC has had those papers for final review for at least three months.  The completion of the regulations, handbooks and guidelines for the implementation of this important new law is now imminent, so we need to ensure that this is a first priority in light of these exceptional challenges. 
The global story is as criminal as it is common, with widespread reports of large-scale corruption unfolding in the new situation of fear and urgency caused by the COVID-19 crisis.  We are witness to the Shock Doctrine in real-time as a proof of the olden learning that ‘haste makes waste‘.  We must do better.

A variety of authoritative source material is attached in support of my latter proposal (see below) and I trust that these proposals will be given due consideration by the Recovery Team.

Afra Raymond – afraraymond.net

VIDEO: Process and Priorities for the PM’s COVID-19 ‘Road To Recovery’ Committee

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, appointed a 22-member COVID-19 ‘Road to Recovery’ committee on 16 April 2020 to handle and advise on the path of the post-pandemic economic and social recovery. Afra Raymond discusses what he believes should be the priorities of this committee.

  • Programme Length: 00:10:15
  • Programme Date: 18 April 2020