Afra Raymond was interviewed by Steve Khan, Richard Ragoobarsingh, Paul Richards and Wendell Stephens on the Power Breakfast Show on Power 102 FM discussing the collapse of the Piarco Airport corruption case that involved defendants all the way up to and including the Prime Minister. The pattern of the failure to convict white collar criminals in Trinidad and Tobago is noted and a solution is offered to reverse the trend. Audio courtesy Power 102 FM
“If you are serious about making a difference, you have to develop the fortitude to turn away from matters which are merely true and interesting, so that you can focus your time and energies on what is really decisive…”
That is my attempt to paraphrase the late Lloyd Best, as he spoke emotionally to a meeting in about 2004 at the Centre of Excellence. If we are serious, we need to ignore the pathetic distractions and keep our eyes on the ball.
Following on from my previous column on S.34, there are two main issues emerging at this time.
Firstly, the entire Plot to Pervert Parliament was an outcome of the Piarco Airport scandal, said by the DPP to involve some $1.0Bn of stolen Public Money. Please note that the entire project cost about $1.6Bn, yet about $1.0Bn was stolen and hidden in offshore accounts. That is the true extent of the corruption we are fighting against and that is why I have called it a tidal wave of corruption. A well-planned assault on our Treasury by leading elements of international organised crime. This is to refute those deceivers who try to soften us up for the poison by saying that ‘is only a lil 10% and it does happen everywhere’. The truth has a power of its own. The JCC played a leading role in calling for and submitting evidence to the Bernard Commission which exposed abuse of power and corrupt practices in some of the highest offices in our country. The Piarco Accused needed to escape trial because of the effective work done by the Bernard Commission in exposing criminal abuses of Public Money. There are also strong elements of political party financing at work here, much like in the CL Financial bailout fiasco. The lack of an effective Public Procurement system is what allowed the Piarco Airport scandal.
Secondly, public trust in this administration seems to be at an all-time low after the Plot to Pervert Parliament was exposed. To a lesser extent, that loss of trust could also be affecting the Opposition PNM.
The offending S.34 has now been repealed, yet the public clamour continues. So what is to be done?
The campaign of wild distractions
Having had to endure an insulting and incomplete attempted explanation from our PM, we are now being subjected to a sustained campaign of distractions.
There seems to be a scramble from both sides to shower each other with allegations of large-scale corruption. No need to list the examples, there is plenty of mud to go around. While there are serious questions on the THA/BOLT project as well as the Calcutta Settlement lands, I will not be writing on those yet.
This crisis is an important opportunity to decide if we want to do differently. Do we? If not, crapaud smoke we pipe. If we really want to do differently, we have to start thinking differently and stop the point-scoring games.
This series of crises which have beset us are all related to weak controls over Public Money and a culture which sees white collar crime going unpunished.
There are three linked and effective actions which must be taken now –
The Bernard Report into the Piarco Airport scandal must be published now. This was completed in 2003 at public expense and it details how those vast sums of Public Money were stolen, who was involved and most importantly, what we need to do to prevent a repeat. One of the Commissioners on that Enquiry was Victor Hart, who has often said that if that report had been published and the recommendations implemented, we would not have had to go through the Calder Hart/UDECOTT experience. There has never been an official statement on the failure to publish.
The recommendations of the 2010 Uff Report need to be implemented, as promised so many times. Those recommendations would prevent a great deal of the theft and waste of Public Money which is fuelling this crisis.
Public Procurement reform – The Private Sector/Civil Society group has submitted a complete DRAFT BILL to the Joint Select Committee (JSC) – this Bill is ready to be laid in Parliament now. The Private Sector/Civil Society group comprises – JCC, TTMA, Chamber of Industry & Commerce and the T&T Transparency Institute. Those proposals have also been formally endorsed by the American Chamber of Commerce and FITUN.
These are three major initiatives which can be taken immediately to bring some long-overdue change. The work has been done, so the missing ingredient is the political will to change our society for the better.
The PM announced at the end of the budget debate that our DRAFT BILL on Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property was to be sent to Cabinet’s Legislative Review Committee (LRC) before being laid in Parliament.
Given that Legal Affairs Minister, Prakash Ramadhar is the Chairman of the LRC and he was also in both the Public Procurement JSCs, what new insight is he bringing to this Draft Bill? What is the time-frame for the tabling of this DRAFT BILL in Parliament for debate?
We need to insist on a better standard of representation. All those holding public office need to strive seriously to a better standard of contribution. Time is running short.
If our Politicians are serious about attacking the wave of white-collar crime which is drowning our country, those three initiatives must be implemented now.
Just consider this post from a blogger going by the name of livingdead on the Express comments on the October 17 front-page story ‘Bad Deal’ about PNM Senator Faris Al Rawi speaking on the Calcutta Settlement Land deal –
“…Like as said before Comments here are just asking PP for answer but we must ask both PP and THA question !!
AS usual PP follower will question THA and PNM Followers will question PP…
At the end Both PP and PNM must be laughing and having drink together…”