“…3. (1) The object of this Act is to extend the right of members of the public to access to information in the possession of public authorities…”
—Objects statement in FoIA
“…Because outside of national security matters and matters of the Cabinet…there are few other matters on the government files, that should really be secret…”
—PM Dr Keith Rowley at the post-Cabinet press briefing on 23 May 2019.
Afra Raymond appeared on CNC3’s The Morning Brew with host Hema Ramkissoon on Monday 10 June 2019 to discuss the proposal to amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The FOIA has been an instrumental piece of legislation in the quest for transparency and accountability in governance. Any amendments to this act necessarily affect this process. Video courtesy CNC3 Television
Programme Length: 00:27:04
Programme Date: Monday 10 June 2019
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 –
- 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 second and third points will be covered in the next section. Continue reading “TSTT Matters – How the MASSY-TSTT Merger Affects Us”
Three laws being broken
- HDC Act (no 24 of 2005) – At sections 18, 19 and 20 require HDC and the Housing Minister to publish audited accounts within 6 months of the end of every financial year.
- Integrity in Public Life Act – At S.24 (3) prohibits Public Officials (which would include the HDC Board) from ‘…undertaking any project or activity involving the use of public funds in disregard of the Financial Orders or other Regulations applicable to such funds…‘
- Securities Industry Act 1995 and the Securities Industry Bye-Laws 1997 – These require HDC, as an issuer of bonds, to publish its audited accounts annually for the information of bondholders.
The HDC has never published its audited accounts since it was established in October 2005 to replace the National Housing Authority (NHA). The previous article highlighted the HDC’s missing accounts and made the point that their failure or refusal to publish those audits was in breach of at least three laws (see sidebar).
On 3rd January 2017, I made a Freedom of Information request for details of NHA and HDC transactions in Public Money in the period 2003-2016, during the life of the current (2002) Housing Policy. The Public Money received would include budget allocations; monies derived from property rentals and sales; bank loans and bond funding. It is important to separate recurrent and capital expenditures. I also asked for those amounts to be itemised by year so that trends can be identified for further examination. Continue reading “Property Matters – HDC Acts”
The State is the dominant agent in our national economy, which is the most vibrant in the Caribbean. It is therefore essential for us to understand how the State works so that we can better understand, or even plan, our interaction with that dominant party. Given the role T&T plays in the wider Caribbean, those concerns extend beyond our country to our region.
In order for us to understand how the State works, we must get quality information in the required quantities. We must also have the right to request further information from public bodies so that we can examine particular matters more closely – see Sidebar below.
This country’s Integrity Framework comprises elements such as –
- The Integrity Commission (IC), which is responsible for monitoring the integrity of Public Officials;
- The Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), which gives the right to ask for unpublished information;
- The Auditor General, the Independent body monitoring the financial reporting of Public Bodies;
- The Investments Division of the Ministry of Finance, monitoring the operations of State Enterprises;
- The two Parliamentary Accounts Enterprises Committees, providing Parliamentary oversight of Public Bodies
This sustained examination of our country’s Integrity Framework is directed towards an enhanced level of information on how our nation’s Public Bodies are functioning. Continue reading “Secret Society”