In the previous article, the most glaring lacuna in the procurement puzzle was identified as the gap between the recommendations made by the State Enterprises and the decisions taken by the Cabinet in relation to the award of large-scale contracts.
In this context, a lacuna is an informative, usually intentional, gap in a discourse. Just consider that, in all the many statements on these interlocking issues, not one person has actually said ‘Cabinet ratified this recommendation by that State Enterprise‘ or ‘Cabinet made that decision which was not recommended by this State Enterprise‘. Fascinating, really, almost as if there is a joint select decision not to discuss how they reach their decisions. In relation to the Invaders’ Bay imbroglio, I dubbed that kind of thing ‘carefully cultivated confusion‘. You see?
A gap analysis measures actual against desired performance so as to establish what are the changes needed to improve results. This article will sketch a gap analysis of this crucial stage in the public procurement process and suggest the implications of those gaps. Continue reading “Property Matters – The Gap Analysis”→
After the imbroglio with NIDCO’s award last month of a $400M contract to KALLCO for a 5Km stretch of highway, we have once again been treated to a series of related high-profile announcements.
On Monday, 16 October 2017, Minister of Legal Affairs, Stuart Young MP, announced the counter-suit by State-owned Estate Management & Business Development Co (EMBD) against five contractors; former Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Dr Roodal Moonilal MP; and its former CEO, Gary Parmassar. The five contractors were:
Mootilal Ramhit and Sons;
Namalco Construction Services Ltd;
Fides Ltd; and
According to Young, there was over 18 months of investigative work to ground those counter-claims which allege collusion and bid-rigging, resulting in over $200M defrauded from the State. The most decisive allegation seems to have been that then-Minister Moonilal was making the decisions on those contract awards. I have not yet been able to read the EMBD’s court filing. Continue reading “Property Matters – Horses for Courses”→
User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made…
(The emphasis is mine)
Is there a link between the Uff Report and Tobago Sandals? Is Tobago Sandals such a unique opportunity that we ought to adopt unique standards to assess its costs and benefits? What are the various benefits being proclaimed by the supporters of that project? This article will examine some of those claims against the factual background.
I returned to the large-scale and controversial proposals for Tobago Sandals by using that important Uff Report recommendation as my opener. The Uff Enquiry into the Construction Industry arose due to strong protests and complaints from the JCC, T&T Transparency Institute, myself and other individuals. One of the most decisive voices calling for those operations to be probed was Dr Keith Rowley, who was at that stage at loggerheads with his colleagues in government. I think Dr Rowley gained considerable kudos for taking a stand against the improper practices of his colleagues in that area. Continue reading “Property Matters – Tobago Sandals”→
Two important laws were partially-proclaimed by the President at the end of July –
The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, which is intended to control transactions in Public Money, and the
Planning & Facilitation of Development Act, which is intended to provide for effective control of physical development.
Both those laws would be critical in controlling the worst excesses in terms of waste and theft of Public Money as well as the scourge of unplanned development. There is still substantial work to be done to properly implement those new laws, neither of which will actually come into effect before elections on 7 September, so our stern attention will therefore be essential.
The campaigning and committee-work to achieve those new laws has been demanding, so it Is important to re-state our fundamental concern as to the sheer hostility of high-level public officials to the truth. This is a fundamental point since the new laws create modern, transparent and participative processes. If the key public officials maintain their hostility to the truth, we would be entering a period of serious struggles to implement these new laws.
I call this the Season of Reflection, being the two-month period starting with Emancipation Day on 1 August, centred by our nation’s Independence on 31 August and closing with Republic Day on 24 September. To me that is a compelling sequence in which those days of national importance are celebrated. It is a good time for reconsidering the role Conscious Citizens should play in the process of National Development.
Our country is relatively tiny, at 5,128 square kilometres, and its population density is relatively high, at an estimated 239 persons per square kilometre. I say estimated, since those figures effectively yield a population of 1.225 million and it seems to me that our population is far higher, but that aspect is for another column. What concerns me here are the implications of our high population density in terms of our physical development.
Given that over 60% of our land is effectively alienated by physical factors such as its being swampy or heavily forested, there are in fact only very limited areas readily available for development. Place that fact alongside the concentrations of economic activity/population and the growing environmental awareness and there is cause for a pause.
The recent past has been a series of large-scale, impactful developments carried out in our small country with little or no regard for citizens’ input or review. The established pattern is the creation of big development plans, behind closed doors and in secret, to be announced at the most opportune moment for publicity purposes. The Citizen, who ought to be at the centre of our Republic’s development, would seem to have been ‘re-purposed’ into a mere audience. The factors I have outlined above mean that the present way of proceeding is no longer going to be acceptable.
The most glaring example of this obstinate and wasteful impulse to develop, at literally any cost, is the large-scale redevelopment of POS by the previous administration. The Patrick Manning/UDECOTT/Calder Hart axis was responsible for rebuilding a huge proportion of our capital with no consultation whatsoever. What is worse and as confirmed at Calder Hart’s cross-examination at the Uff Enquiry, every single project was commercially unfeasible. According to Hart, only UDECOTT’s so-called flagship project, the International Waterfront Project, was subject to a feasibility test, which was revealed, under oath, to have been entirely rigged. Bogus.
User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made. (Emphasis mine.)
I maintain my view that UDECOTT has not been adhering to that standard, and despite its many statements to the contrary. That failure or refusal by UDECOTT was the issue settled in ‘The Uff Bluff’, published in this space on 8 January 2014, so that Uff recommendation is an important standard to which we should aspire in these areas.
In relation to the controversial Invader’s Bay project, a serious aspect of improper official conduct has been the failure or refusal of the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development to host even one Public Consultation. This is unacceptable since there are Public Consultations on King’s Wharf redevelopment proposals in San Fernando; the South-West Peninsula Growth Pole; the proposals for City status for Chaguanas and so many other issues. There is no justification for this blatant attempt to develop Invader’s Bay without public input.
Next we come to the sharpest example of them all, the actions of the Highway Reroute Movement (HRM) on the controversial Debe-Mon Desir segment of the Point Fortin Highway. That issue came to the fore during the November 2012 hunger strike by the HRM’s leader, Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, intended to force a State review of the implications of that segment of highway. That hunger strike was only broken by both sides’ acceptance of the Civil Society proposal for an independent review of the issues in contention. That proposal was made by the JCC, the T&T Transparency Institute, Working Women for Social Progress and the Federation of Independent Trades Unions and NGOs (FITUN). The review was conducted over a 60-day period by a 19-member team under the Chairmanship of then Independent Senator Dr. James Armstrong and it is all here.
After a prolonged series of legal battles on the point, the Armstrong Report was finally accepted into evidence in the High Court case between the HRM and National Infrastructure Development Company Ltd. (NIDCO) on 10 July 2014. The HRM has now lost in the Appeal Court in its attempt to have the Court order a stop to work on the disputed segment and it is not clear whether or not the Appeal Court decision will be appealed via the Privy Council.
The reality is that the Armstrong Report is the first time a major State-sponsored development has been the subject of an independent review at the instigation of private citizens, with the State making a substantial financial contribution to the costs. The entire HRM episode represents a notable high-water-mark in this struggle for proper citizens’ participation in national development.
As in so many other episodes, the entire HRM issue has become pointedly political, with pronounced positions being taken. Some people have taken the position that the HRM’s concerns were definitely out-of-place, given the traffic woes suffered by people living in that South-Western part of Trinidad. Those people were anxious to have the political administration and the Courts dismiss the Armstrong Report.
Just consider the position of Dr. Keith Rowley, who stated in March 2014 his intention to implement the ‘Rapid Rail Project’ if he is elected Prime Minister. Rapid Rail was one of the heavily-criticised projects which had been proposed by the previous administration and to his credit, Rowley has said that proper feasibility tests would be carried out before proceeding with this, the largest single project ever proposed in our nation, at an estimated cost in the region of $20 Billion.
The important point here is that we need to keep sight of the important lesson of the HRM episode, that an independent, State-funded review of large-scale development projects is in our collective best interest. The HRM episode is still ‘in play’, but a critical aspect of that main lesson is that the review must be carried out before decisions are taken, as recommended by Uff.
The people must have their say, decisions must be fact-based and the public servants must do just that, serve the public. That has to be our goal.
R v Secretary of State for Social Services, ex parte Association of Metropolitan Authorities  1 All ER 164, where Webster J stated- “…in any context the essence of consultation is the communication of a genuine invitation to give advice and a genuine consideration of that advice…it must go without saying that to achieve consultation sufficient information must be supplied by the consulting to the consulted party to enable it to tender helpful advice. Sufficient time must be given by the consulting to the consulted party to enable it to do that, and sufficient time must be available for such advice to be considered by the consulting party…”
Also, the case of R v North and East Devon Health Authority, ex parte Coughlan  3 All ER 850, where Lord Woolf stated: “It is common ground that, whether or not consultation of interested parties and the public is a legal requirement, if it is embarked upon it must be carried out properly. To be proper, consultation must be undertaken at a time when proposals are still at a formative stage; it must include sufficient reasons for particular proposals to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response; adequate time must be given for this purpose; and the product of consultation must be conscientiously taken into account when the ultimate decision is taken…”
At para 71-
In Fishermen and Friends of the Sea v The Environment Management Authority and Another  2 LRC 384, Lord Walker at para 28, emphasizing the need for public consultations, indicated that –
“Public consultation and involvement in decisions on environmental issues are matters of high importance in a democracy.”
On December 11, I wrote ‘Invader’s Bay Review‘ in this space, calling for an immediate public review of that improper large-scale development being proposed on reclaimed State lands in west POS. I also took the opportunity to make the point that there had been no consultation on that proposed development and that UDECOTT’s repeated public statements that its operations are now compliant with the Uff Report recommendations are false.
UDECOTT’s response was to place full-page advertisements in the three daily newspapers, on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 December, in an expensive attempt to refute my criticisms. My letter to the editor, carried in this newspaper on the Sunday, put UDECOTT’s misleading advertisement in context and reaffirmed the continuing falsehood of their claimed compliance with the Uff Report. The episode is recounted here.
There are several lessons one can draw from this exchange – the sheer hostility to the truth which is now becoming a disturbing ‘new normal‘ in our society; the invisible hand of the bureaucracy in devising large-scale developments, stated to be for the benefit of citizens, without citizen inputs; the inescapable reality that these obstructive forces operate across and within all our political administrations.
Sunity Maharaj wrote a fine overview of these burning issues in ‘Amandla! Now listen to the people‘ in the 15 December Sunday Express. In that article, Sunity detailed the development of a perverse consultation industry “Its specialty is in designing events that look like consultation, sound like consultation but do not actually involve consultation…”.
There is a serious challenge facing us here, since there is no will to implement the beneficial recommendations contained in the Uff Report, despite the repeated false promises. The failure to implement those proposals is deeply detrimental to our society as it entrenches the colonial idea that development is not something which really concerns the people of this country. Worse, the deceptive policy of politicians claiming to intend to do the right thing, while doing the underhanded thing, is imposing a neo-colonial reality. The State has a duty to be exemplary in its conduct and for the State to fail to do so and to act deceptively in that failure, is to increase cynicism and instability in our society.
In addition to failing to implement the Uff Report recommendations, there was also another significant setback. The Enquiry website – www.constructionenquiry.gov.tt – which held all of the proceedings and evidence, became inaccessible at the end of 2010, about 6 months after the Peoples Partnership electoral victory.
The JCC has been pressing for the implementation of the Uff Report recommendations and the restoration of the Enquiry website. Those efforts have ranged from the Attorney General, who directed us to the Minister of Justice, to the then Minister Volney who ignored our three letters on the matter – see http://www.jcc.org.tt/uff.htm. When we pressed-on with Volney’s successor, Christlyn Moore, the exchanges were sobering.
The two previous Ministers of Justice – Volney and Moore – both claimed that the Uff Report recommendations were to be implemented by the impending Public Procurement legislation. Quite apart from the inordinate delay in bringing these critical new laws into being, that claim is entirely false, since only one of the recommendations, the 56th, relates to new Public Procurement laws. 90 of the 91 recommendations could have been implemented by now with no need to get any new laws passed or any use of valuable Parliamentary time. The JCC’s repeated offers to assist and advise in any working party for that purpose have also been ignored. The implementation of those 90 recommendations would have greatly reduced the criminal theft and waste of Public Money with which we are now beset. The failure to implement those recommendations is probably the largest single ingredient in the continuing decline in our ‘morality in public affairs‘.
Even worse is the steadfast refusal to reinstate the Uff Enquiry website. There is no way to tell if the website was deliberately removed or if there was a mundane technical reason for its disappearance. What we do know for sure is that there is solid official resistance to even offer a sensible explanation for the continuing refusal to reinstate.
It is critical for us to learn from our errors if we are to avoid a repetition and it is therefore important that we excavate those lessons so that they can be considered. To fail to do that is to thwart the entire move to a ‘developed nation status’. Our nation’s primary information needs to be properly documented and published so that anyone who wants to learn the lessons can do so.
The evidence in the Uff Enquiry offers a deep, unprecedented insight into the state of affairs in our country and the conduct of our substantial business dealings. That information is first-class primary source material for research and teaching in critical fields such as Government, Finance, Engineering, Surveying, Planning, Economics, Sciences, Law and Management. We cannot become a ‘learning society‘ if first-class primary information is suppressed. It does not matter how many universities we build or how many pupils we certificate, the ignorance of our own primary information will frustrate the drive to a higher level of education.
On 26 March 2013, then Minister Moore replied to the JCC –
“…It is inappropriate to make available the evidence revealed in the Uff Enquiry at this time as they may ground future criminal enquiry…”
On 23 May, we invited the Minister to reconsider her position, pointing out that –
“…To quote from the final remarks of the Enquiry Chairman, Professor John Uff QC Ph.D. – “…Finally we would like to thank the Press for their continued and expert coverage of the Enquiry; and the public for their unflagging interest in the proceedings. There are few countries in the world where an Enquiry into the construction industry could fill a prime time television slot for over a year. For me it has been a unique experience and I am personally honoured to have had the opportunity, as I hope, to serve the interests of the construction industry and the people of Trinidad & Tobago…” There can therefore be no doubt that the entire proceedings of the Uff Enquiry were published widely…”
This is the Minister of Justice, claiming that our request to reinstate this invaluable website, would amount to ‘making the evidence available‘. Evidence which had been widely televised, all day long and rebroadcast at night. I tell you.
The Minister promised to revert to us by the end of June 2013, but that reply never came.
So now UDECOTT’s stance is clearer, given the overarching policy of the State on these critical matters of public concern. I maintain that UDECOTT did not conform to the 17th Uff recommendation in its involvement in the Couva Children’s Hospital. That recommendation is –
“User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made.” (emphasis mine)
But the current concern goes beyond the ongoing Couva Children’s Hospital, since UDECOTT is playing a leading role in the Invader’s Bay development. In December 2013, UDECOTT published full-page Requests for Proposals in the newspapers for Designers for Infrastructure Development of Invader’s Bay. UDECOTT is seeking to hire a designer for the infrastructure element of this large-scale development which means that the selected designers would have to conform to the client’s instructions in preparing their plans. The client’s instructions would have to be based on some kind of concept, proposal or outline. That raises the obvious questions of when were these concepts, proposals or outlines conceived and by whom? Most importantly, who approved these? We know for sure that there has been no consultation with the public, user groups or other interest groups.
So, we are witness to yet another episode of large-scale development being undertaken, in this case by UDECOTT, with none of the promised consultation.