I participated in an online conference organised by the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute on Governance Practices in the State Sector with the specific focus on Public Sector Procurement. I spoke on Ensuring Transparency in the Procurement Process. Video courtesy the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute.
This is the interview I did with Dennise Demming on Saturday, 17 October 2020 on talking about Procurement Law and Governance of Public. Institutions in T&T. (Up to 27 minutes) Video courtesy Izzso Media.
‘…Doublethink is the ability to hold two completely contradictory beliefs at the same time and to believe they are both true…’
—from George Orwell’s ‘1984’
“…Rowley said the new “slang” was that his Government was one of secrecy. He said he fully agreed that the public had a right to know, but if one is conducting business, information develops in stages. He said the Government was hiding nothing about the Sandals deal…”
—Reported speech of PM Dr. Keith Rowley from ‘Rowley: Petrotrin figures not the issue‘ in the Trinidad Express on 20th September 2018
The previous article, together with my presentation at the pre-budget seminar hosted by the Greater Tunapuna Chamber of Industry & Commerce on Monday 17th September 2018, sparked a series of responses. More information is clearly needed to clear up what I call ‘carefully crafted confusion‘. That phrase emerged during the Invaders’ Bay imbroglio while the Peoples Partnership was in office.
The official practice in our country is to withhold details of important public agreements and contracts. That is now the standard, in which if those are ever disclosed it is only when the contracts have been signed and sealed. Those opaque practices are not limited to the current PNM administration. Last week I closed with a list of examples which span both political parties.
This article explains how opacity in public contracts is inimical to the public good since it inhibits good procurement outcomes and deprives the public of necessary details at a high-tide mark in the Global Information Age. Sad to say, it all comes down to notions of trust, since the previous conduct of our rulers has been so poor that public trust is at an all-time low. Continue reading “OPEN CONTRACTING? Part Two”→
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 PNM’s successful election campaign placed strong emphasis on the critical need to restore proper standards of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance. That was a commendable and necessary stance in the face of widespread public disgust at the falling standards of morality in public affairs as experienced with successive political administrations.
The new PNM government was installed about a fortnight ago and we expect the 2016 budget to be delivered in about another fortnight, so this is a good time to set out our position. This column will be a simple list, with notes of what are the main priorities to be pursued with the new government in relation to our industry –
Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Act 2015
This law was partially-proclaimed, but the government has proposed amendments, so we would be available for discussions if those are needed. The public interest requires that this new law be swiftly implemented so as to properly control transactions in Public Money. We have to bring the era of epic waste and theft of Public Money to a close.
Planning & Facilitation of Development Act 2014
This law is intended to control physical development in our country. It was partially-proclaimed at the end of July 2015, so there is some work to be done to have that important law implemented. Its companion law, the Urban & Regional Planning Profession Bill (2014), also needs to complete its passage through Parliament so that there would be proper regulation to control the professionals in that field.
Our country has never had a legally-enforceable building code to govern the standard of construction. That is a serious gap in terms of our physical development, given that we live in an earthquake-prone island, together with the risk of flooding due to occasional tropical storms and ineffective drainage systems. The PP administration established a multidisciplinary National Building Code Committee which the JCC participated in. That Committee completed its preliminary work about two years ago but was unable to secure the required money to prepare a draft building code and do the necessary consultations. This is an important item to be completed.
We are seeking updates to the laws controlling professional practice of Engineers and Architects (planners are mentioned above) as well as our long-term efforts to secure an effective Licencing system for Building Contractors.
This is the Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Piarco Airport project which was completed at the end of August 2003. Of course that project and the allegations of grand corruption within it actually triggered the collapse of the UNC government in its previous incarnation. US-based persons who were involved in this international criminal gang which successfully targeted our Treasury have been arrested, tried, convicted and have completed their terms of imprisonment. Here in T&T we suffered the ‘Plot to Pervert Parliament’, which is what I call the entire S.34 fiasco, intended to engineer a loophole through which the Piarco Airport Accused could lawfully evade the Courts. That is bad enough, but despite the fact that the legal right to suppress the Bernard Report has expired, the previous administration refused to publish it. Apart from the Bernard Report, I would really like to know the exact time at which S.34 was taken to then President Max Richards and at what time it was signed on Friday 31st August 2012, the 50th Anniversary of our country’s Independence. That kind of detail will bring real clarity to this sordid chapter. We will soon see the position of the new government on this matter.
These comprise the witness statements and transcripts of the hearings which were available on the Enquiry’s website, together with TV footage of the hearings which was stored by GISL. The Enquiry website disappeared at the end of 2010 and our constant efforts to have that information re-published were all effectively ignored. That is fundamental primary information on how our society handles its large-scale affairs and it must be republished.
Beetham Water Recycling Project (BWRP)
This project is an unconventional Public Private Partnership to process wastewater for subsequent sale for industrial cooling. BWRP is stated to cost in excess of $1.0 Billion yet it has never been properly shown in any budget. BWRP represents just the kind of ‘off-balance-sheet’ project of which we need to be cautious, especially at this time of budget constraints with the consequent temptation of our public officials. Quite apart from our stated concerns on the tendering and evaluation process, the JCC has made the point that no business case has ever been made for this huge PPP. Does the BWRP improve WASA’s financial position? Does it improve or diminish the financial position of NGC? The ultimate destination of these 10 million daily gallons of water is Point Lisas industrial users – are they prepared, in terms of their own plant, to receive that supply? Have they agreed to pay the necessary charges? In terms of opportunity cost, what are the other uses to which those funds could have been put? If one includes finance, maintenance and other charges, what is the total cost of the BWRP? Given our country’s high level of annual rainfall and the degree to which our pipe-borne water is wasted via leaks, is this the most cost-effective way for WASA to have ‘harvested’ an additional 10M gallons (daily) of potable water? I am sure the answers to those questions will be of great public interest.
The Minister of Agriculture, Lands & Fisheries, Senator Clarence Rambharat, has already announced his intention to do an audit of State Lands. We support that initiative as an essential step in establishing the true position with our State Lands. It would be a very important strategic step if that audit were followed by a thorough review of National Land Policy, which dates from 1992, and the UWI’s 2003 study of the role of Caroni Lands in National Transformation. It would also be critical for that review process to be broad-based and consultative.
This huge, ambitious project to develop 70 acres of State-owned reclaimed waterside land in west POS was mired in serious controversy from the very beginning due to the improper RFP process adopted by the State. The JCC went to Court and won an order forcing the State to publish the fundamental legal advice supporting the RFP process. The State has appealed, but it is time for a new start at Invader’s Bay.
These are the main areas of concern which we would want properly addressed.