Property Matters – Social Housing notes

The Rotary Club of Penal invited me to speak at their handing-over ceremony on Saturday 29th June 2019. My presentation summarised recent findings of my research into national policies and programs for social housing. I started that research in 2004 and the officials at the Housing Ministry and the NHA/HDC have always been supportive of my work over that period. I again thank them publicly – it is important to say that.

Showing Trinidad and Tobago A New Way HomeThe national housing policy (18th September 2002) states the provision of affordable housing for low and middle income applicants as its main objective. Having carefully examined the housing market and the details provided from the public officials, it is clear that the national program for social housing is not proceeding in conformity with the actual housing policy. I have closely examined the 16 years in which the housing policy was in effect 2003 to 2018.

This article will be light on my analysis of those figures, because sometimes the facts can be more effective than anything I could write, this is one of those times. Continue reading “Property Matters – Social Housing notes”

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VIDEO: Speech at Rotary Club of Penal event – 29 June 2019

penal rotary
Outgoing president Narda Ramkissoon present Afra Raymond with a token of appreciation after his address at the Penal Rotary Club handing over ceremony. Photo courtesy Rotary Club of Penal.

penal rotary logoThis is the recording from Saturday, 29 June 2019 at Rotary Club of Penal’s Handing Over Ceremony at which guest speaker Afra Raymond spoke on the national housing policy and programme of Trinidad and Tobago. Video courtesy Rotary Club of Penal.

Programme Length: 00:32:02
Programme Date: 29 June 2019

Freedom of Information shifts

OGP_logo“…Trinidad and Tobago maintains that the principles of open government-accountability, transparency and citizen participation are essential for effective democratic governance…In the execution of good governance, efforts are currently underway to increase the availability of information about governmental activities, support civic participation, implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout the administration and increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability…”
—These extracts are from the T&T official statement on the Open Government Partnership, which this country joined in 2013.

The ongoing Information War is increasingly driven by the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), which in 1999 created the right to obtain information held by Public Authorities, subject to certain limitations as to State security and private or commercial information.

The relationship between a bank and its customers is a useful analogy to understand these principles. The customer depositing money into her account does so for safekeeping and to earn some small interest. Although the bank is responsible for that money, at no point in time is it the property of the bank – indeed, it is a liability in the bank’s accounts. The bank merely has custody of that money and must follow the customer’s lawful instructions as to how that money is dealt with.

The FoIA at S.4 defines ‘official documents’ held by Public Authorities as – “…a document is held by a public authority if it is in its possession, custody or power…”.

The Privy Council ruled on 20th May 2019 in favour of well-known UNC activist, Ravi Balgobin Maharaj, who was seeking leave to file a judicial review of the refusal of Petrotrin to release two witness statements made in intended legal action against a former Board of Directors. That was a PNM-appointed Board, chaired by the late Malcolm Jones, and the intended US$97M legal action was in respect of alleged negligence in Petrotrin’s large-scale investment in the Gas to Liquids project. That legal action was stopped during the term of the current PNM administration, so the air was rife with allegations and denials.

At the post-Cabinet press briefing on 23 May 2019, PM Rowley made a commitment to have refusals of FoIA requests by Public Authorities subject to vetting by the Attorney General so as to reduce ‘unnecessary liabilities’, in terms of legal costs, on the State. Dr Rowley made two further important statements –

  1. A general principle – “…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…
  2. In relation to the Petrotrin matter, on which the Privy Council had just ruled – “…I am instructing the Minister of Energy to use the authority that he has under the Constitution to instruct Petrotrin to make the two witness statements, the same thing that went to the Privy Council, that they (the UNC) claim is the smoking gun, available and public, so that the public can read them and determine whether Malcolm Jones can rest in peace…

The FoIA judicial review against Petrotrin has now been reportedly re-filed, since those two witness statements have not been released –

“…Maharaj said Rowley and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi have both said there is nothing incriminating or conspiratorial in the witness statements. He questioned why the statements have not been released. Maharaj also claimed the law firm representing Petrotrin, JD Sellier and Company, refused to accept service of the claim. He alleged the firm said it had no instructions on the matter.

As such, Maharaj said he now has to serve the FoIA claim directly on Petrotrin…”

While the PM’s statements on the application of the FoIA are welcome, I am aware of a cosy consensus across the so-called political divide. Let me explain.

Under S.40 of the FoIA –

“…40. (1) The Minister shall, as soon as practicable after the end of each year, prepare a report on the operation of this Act during that year and cause a copy of the report to be laid before each House of the Parliament…”

foia2That Report was a valuable examination of the operation of the FoIA, but the last such Report was laid in Parliament in 2010. Since 2010, we have had no official Report on this important aspect of our rights as citizens, but it does not seem to have disturbed either political camp. I am subject to correction, but no protest or strong statement on that breach of the law comes to mind.

More particularly, the Invaders’ Bay matter was an action by the JCC to disclose the legal advice relied upon by the Minister of Planning and Development in relation to the proposed large-scale development of public property at Invaders’ Bay in POS. In that case, the State lost at both the High Court and Appeal Court stages, with no further action taken to file an appeal to the Privy Council. Indeed, para 38 of that Privy Council ruling on the Petrotrin FoIA matter refers to that Invaders’ Bay ruling as “…the leading decision of the Court of Appeal…”. Yet that Court of Appeal ruling that those legal advices be published remains unenforced. Of course, it is entirely unrealistic to expect that the UNC would ever protest that failure or refusal to satisfy the Court of Appeal ruling, since the illegal decision to refuse disclosure was made during its term in office as the Peoples Partnership.

That is the cosy consensus which binds us, in this Information Age.

Property Matters – Cycle of Consequences

This article will delve deeper into the State Enterprise sector and its role as an agent of government policy with huge transactions in Public Money. I will do so by continuing my focus on the State-owned hotels and their performance, drawn from the official record.

The poor quality of investment decisions with our limited Public Money has left us saddled with projects no private investor would have contemplated beyond an initial appraisal stage. Public Money ought to be managed to and accounted for to higher standards than those applicable to Private Money. That standard learning appears to have evaporated in our country.

ppp

The Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in relation to our State-owned hotels are evidently beneficial to the hoteliers but of limited, if any, benefit to the Public as shareholders. PPPs here in T&T are ones in which we have privatised the profits and nationalised the losses. That is what happened at Tobago Hilton and, in significant respects, at Carlton Savannah – as detailed in ‘Carlton Savannah Swirl‘ published in this space on 15 February 2015. What is more, some of the leading beneficiaries of those arrangements, such as Arthur Lok Jack, can declare – “Government has to get the hell out of private sector business.”. Continue reading “Property Matters – Cycle of Consequences”

Property Matters – Hotel Reservations

The concerted attempts to sell the Tobago Sandals project were driven by high-level Public Officials who repeatedly assured the public that the existing arrangements for the three State-owned hotels were working satisfactorily. So much so that we should be pleased that the existing arrangements were to be adopted for the new project. The two main promoters were PM, Dr Keith Rowley and the Minister in the Office of the PM, Stuart Young.

Of course, we now know, due to the unplanned publication of that Tobago Sandals MoU, what were the terms and conditions on which the State intended to engage that project. No other hotelier had ever had a deal like that.

But there is a deeper series of official conversations on these existing State-owned hotels which need to be spotlighted so that a better view can be had as to ‘Who is Who and What is What’.

I am relying on the official records in this one, with my sparing commentary shown below – Continue reading “Property Matters – Hotel Reservations”

VIDEO: Post-budget Forum at CCLCS – 10 October 2018

cclcs 2019 budget review

Afra Raymond was a participant in a Post-budget Forum at Cipriani College of Labour & Cooperative Studies (CCLCS) on Wednesday 10th October 2018, along with Senator the Hon. Allyson West, Minister in the Ministry of Finance; Corrine Gregoire, lecturer and researcher at CCLCS; and, David Muhammad sociologist, author and host of the Black Agenda. Video courtesy CCLCS

0:00:00 Introductions
0:04:07 Allyson West
0:23:59 Corrine Gregoire
0:47:43 David Muhammad
1:12:31 Afra Raymond
1:36:32 Vote of Thanks