The Importance of Memory

The Importance of Memory

I am writing this article on Friday 13th October 2017, which is the first time T&T has had a national holiday to honour the memory of our First Peoples.

These holidays are important, not only in the literal sense of having a day-off, but also marking certain critical events so that the collective memory could be preserved. That process of intentionally preserving important memories is seminal to the development of a civilisation. This extends to our business and professional life, even being decisive for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Our official record is so often vacant, by design, that one can scarcely assess the real situation or reliably make projections as to the likely outcomes of proposals. The Public Sector is a huge part of the national business, so it is critical how that sector conducts itself and how its ‘lessons learned’ are recorded. Ours is a sorry story of the public sector conducting itself outside the bounds of the law and good sense, not to mention actively suppressing or distorting reality.
Continue reading “The Importance of Memory”

Private State?

In Privacy Pros and Cons, I considered the Parliamentary debate around the recent SSA Amendment Bill. Most of that debate seemed to be concerned with the limits on the rights of citizens to privacy, but my concern was that there was precious little comfort being offered in terms of the secret conduct of our public affairs.

If we are to evolve to developed nation status it is essential that the State seriously reform its culture of obscurity and secrecy, that is the contention I am advancing here. Continue reading “Private State?”

Call for OPEN DATA for Parliamentary expenses

No More Secret Spending! Public Money is Our Money!

opendata

This is an open call for the Administration of our Parliament to take the lead in publishing all the details of Parliamentarian’s expenses for the past ten years – 1st January 2005 to 31st December 2015.

Recent revelations have sparked a national discussion on the use and abuse of MPs’ entitlement to Public Money for the operation of Constituency Offices. We are now having a vital and long overdue national conversation about the proper use of MPs’ benefits and the need for the public to scrutinize this aspect of public money expenditure.

Our Parliament provides freely-available information with great ease of access at www.ttparliament.org and in its various online broadcasts, as well as GISL and 105.5FM.

The details of the Constituency Office expenses of MP Marlene McDonald were disclosed to Fixin T&T under the Freedom of Information Act. That precedent having been established, it is difficult to imagine that any tenable objection could be raised to the publication of the same information for the other 40 MPs.

We are therefore proposing to the Administration of the Parliament that they take this historic opportunity to lead the transition from the current ‘Freedom of Information’ paradigm, in which citizens have to apply for information, to the modern, more proactive, approach of ‘OPEN DATA’ in which public information of interest is routinely published on a voluntary basis online, in searchable databases.

We also suggest that the Legislature consider the lessons from the UK Parliament (often considered to be the our ‘Mother’ Institution), which, as a response to the parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009, announced the creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), intended to manage Members’ expenses at “arm’s length” from the House.

Our Parliament is our highest Court and it is important that it take the lead in setting higher standards of Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance. These challenging times call for non-partisan and decisive leadership: we expect no less from our Parliament.

Specifically, our call is for the details of MPs expenses to be published for the ten year period – January 1st 2005 to December 31st 2015, with quarterly updates as necessary. The expenses which should be disclosed are –

  • Details of annual allocation of Public Money to be spent via Parliament for operation of Constituency Offices;
  • Guidelines on the use of those sums of Public Money, together with changes in those guidelines, with updates to show when these were in force;
  • MP’s names;
  • In relation to each MP’s office/s, names of employees to include period of employment, position held, salary etc;
  • In relation to each MP and their office/s, details of the non-salary expenses claimed and paid, to include utilities (TTEC, TSTT, WASA etc) furniture/equipment rental etc;
  • In relation to each MP’s office/s, details of the rentals paid, lease/tenancy agreement;
  • Annual Financial Reports submitted to the Parliament by MPs and the consolidated Financial Reports to the Parliament.

Many of the positive steps taken by our Parliament in relation to disclosure of information were supported by former Speaker of the House, Wade Mark. We expect this to be continued by the current Speaker of the House, Bridgid Annisette-George.

Friday 25th March 2016 Trinidad Express Link
Afra Raymond
Disclosure Today
Trinidad & Tobago Transparency Institute
Constitution Reform Forum