This event was organised by Disclosure Today to make two awards for Civic Entrepreneurship to former AG Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC and Afra Raymond. Maharaj received his award for his outstanding work in creating effective laws which advance the fight against White Collar Crime and promote the Public Goods of Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance. Those laws were the Freedom of Information Act; the Judicial Review Act; the Proceeds of Crime Act; the Prevention of Corruption Act. Raymond was given an award form his successful litigation under the Freedom of Information Act in landmark cases. It was held at La Boucan in Trinidad Hilton Hotel and Conference Centre. Video courtesy Disclosure Today
Programme Date: 16th May 2015 Programme Length: 02:51:25
Radio station Power 102.1 FM hosted an all day retrospective discussion on the burning issues of 2018 on Wednesday 19th December 2018. Host Andy Johnson speaks to Afra Raymond on his main issue, being the two successful challenges to the State to get information in the public interest, namely, the memorandum of understanding between the State and the Sandals Hotel group for the construction of a resort in Tobago and the details of the CL Financial bailout. They are joined by David Abdullah. Audio courtesy Power 102.1 FM
Programme Date: 19 December 2018 Programme Length: 00:33:40
— Winer, Lise. Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago: On Historical Principles. (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2008) p. 758
Many years ago, in an earlier life, I was taught about the perils of the short-lived ‘remou’ and that word snapped back into my mind when considering the current position with this Sandals MoU, in which all points are supposedly open for discussion. That stated position of no signed contracts will be the subject of this article. So many eminent people and responsible institutions were involved in this matter, that it is unfathomable how our Government could have signed that Sandals MoU on 10th October 2017.
My campaign to have that MoU made public got this far due its clear focus on the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) and the ‘Underlying Commercial Arrangements’, which are never discussed in public. The decisive element in the complicated process of creating these large-scale projects is intentionally kept from public view, by agreement. Our national assets are traded and degraded for decades, after the sheer outrage of colonialism, with the new leaders relying on the cultivated economic and financial illiteracy of our citizens. Continue reading “Property Matters – The Sandals Re-MoU”→
Afra Raymond was at the Scarborough Public Library in Tobago on 13 December 2018 to speak on his successful Freedom of Information request to see the Memorandum of Understanding between the T&T government and the Sandals Group to develop and run a Sandal/Beaches resort in Tobago. His analysis of the MoU was discussed and Q&A followed.
Programme Date: 13 December 2018 Programme Length: 01:40:58
I applied to the High Court for a Judicial Review of the refusal of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to provide the Tobago Sandals MoU under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA). On 11th October 2018, I was granted leave to proceed with the Judicial Review and the Case Management Conference is set for 29th November 2018.
Does the public have the right to know what are the terms and conditions of the various large-scale projects being done by the State?
The twists and turns in this episode seem to be ‘Carefully Crafted Confusion‘ – a phrase I coined during the Invaders’ Bay imbroglio under the previous PP administration. Large-scale projects on valuable public land, expected to require heavy public investment, all being done for the benefit of the public of course, yet the details are kept under covers.
The State’s shifting positions on Tobago Sandals are striking. For example, Minister Stuart Young gave these interviews on CNC3 TV –
Wednesday 28 February 2018 – in which he insisted that there was no secrecy or any reluctance to engage with the public on this mega-project.
Wednesday 17th October 2018 – in which he stoutly defended the need for secrecy of the MoU. Of course, having been sued for the refusal to provide the not-secret MoU, an entirely different position is now adopted. With ‘a straight-straight face’, as David Rudder would say. Well I tell you.
This was published on Emancipation Day 2018, as we start the Season of Reflection. Sober reflections as one tries to close the gaps.
This summarises the reply of Ministry of Finance PS Dhanpaul on 14th June 2018, to my original request of 24th April 2018. Dhanpaul wrote that the Ministry –
had no details of legal fees as the lawyers were not retained by them;
had no CLF audited accounts from 2008 to date, but management accounts for 2015, 2016 and 2017 were sent;
denied my request for the presentation made to Independent Senators in September 2011 on the grounds that since we had agreed to omit that item from the Consent Order my request was ‘an abuse of the process of the court‘. In any case the file could not be located.;
Legal and other advice was being obtained on the outstanding items;
Further letters were to be sent via hard-copy, other formats would be ignored.
From – Afra Raymond
To – Vishnu Dhanpaul
Date – Fri, Jun 22, 2018 at 7:42 PM
Hello PS Dhanpaul,
I have carefully considered your reply of 14th June 2018, the overall tone and content of which is perturbing, given the background in this matter.
My reply is itemised here for ease of reference –
The group accounts for CL Financial – Thank you for providing the management accounts of CL Financial Limited as at December 31st 2015, December 31st 2016 and April 30th 2017. Of course the 2015 accounts show balances for 2014, so what is the document from which those 2014 numbers were derived? My original request was for ‘…audited accounts of CL Financial Limited…to include interim, preliminary, draft, unaudited or management accounts…‘. Those broad request terms were submitted precisely to allow for the related matters of opening balances and source documents to be accommodated. In light of that, please provide the set of accounts from which the 2014 balances were taken, whatever the permutations in which those might appear. Also, please provide the available accounts for the outstanding years – 2008 to 2014 – whether those be interim, preliminary, draft, unaudited or management accounts;
Legal Fees – Please reply to indicate which Ministry or State Agency had responsibility for retaining and paying the attorneys who represented the Ministry of Finance in these two court case – I find your answer to be verging on the obtuse;
Presentation to Independent Senators made in September 2011 – The consent order of 24th January 2018 in no way affects that this document is disclosable – indeed, the Ministry’s 22nd January 2018 Supplemental Submission set out a clear position, which accepted that there are no applicable exemptions in the FoIA to prevent publication of the presentation made to Independent Senators in September 2011. Its twelfth paragraph states – “…As to the Order in relation to Request No. 2 the Appellant’s position is that it accepts that there is no exemption on which the Appellant can rely…” For your information, a copy of that document is hyperlinked above for ease of reference. In the circumstances, the Ministry’s position is risible in that even if one accepts its position, which I do not, any other applicant would be entitled to obtain the document without that defence being available. In any case, a presentation of that importance would have been the subject of considerable email traffic, which means that there would have been drafts and attachments exchanged between the Ministry and its advisers – those email records need to be examined for those documents. Your suggestions as to an abuse of process are quite misplaced and somewhat ironic, given my next point;
The outstanding items – The issue of the details of the costs of the CL Financial bailout was litigated since March 2013, with the Ministry having lost at the High Court in July 2015 and conceded defeat at the Appeal Court in January 2018. What could possibly be your rationale for seeking further legal and other advice on these requests? This series of requests for information is being made to the same Public Authority in respect of the same bailout process, the only material difference being that the information being requested now was not previously requested. This series of requests is being made, in the public interest, to obtain the outstanding details of exactly how this bailout was funded. By way of illustration and for the benefit of other readers, take the case of a request for information under the FoIA which sought certain details of applicants for certain state training with names from A-F. In that example if the application was refused, then became the subject of judicial review, then the High Court ruled in favour of the publication and the State conceded its case at Appeal Court level, how then could the State refuse a subsequent application for the same details of applicants for the same training program with names G-Z? It is my considered view that for a Public Authority to be seeking further legal and other advice in such a situation would be tantamount to an abuse of process. I am stating that for the benefit of any other readers who might be unclear as to the important principle at stake in this matter. I have no doubt that you fully understand the issues as stated. Quite apart from the commitment of scarce public resources to obtain further advice on this matter, please note that the Ministry is now beyond the 30-day deadline specified at S.15 of the Act to indicate whether it is refusing or approving my requests;
Communication – I reject your proposals as to our future communications. At this time, the vast majority of my communications are via email, possibly 95% – I have little doubt that the ratio is any different at the PS level of our public service. In these circumstances, what could possibly be your rationale for proposing the hard-copy mode for our further communication? In any case, all the Ministry’s letters in this current exchange are being delivered to my office, notwithstanding the typed address being my home.
I await your early reply so that this long-outstanding matter can be properly concluded, in the public interest and without any further delay. For the avoidance of doubt, please do not take this correspondence as in any way representing my acceptance of your delay, now well outside the time-limit stipulated in the Freedom of Information Act. All my rights are hereby reserved.