In Tobago Dr Anselm London’s bridge is ready to fall down. In Trinidad, the case against the architects of the new Flying Squad is building up.
Both involve conflicts of interest, and amidst PNM claims that the Chief Secretary’s cousin is uniquely suited as senior consultant to the THA’s Secretary of Finance, some people miss the simple point.
Exceptional qualifications are no reason to overlook conflicts of interest. And, in avoiding conflicts of interest, “how it go look” is a sensible test, especially when politics is in play.But, before we cross this $60,000-a-month bridge the Chief Secretary is building between Dr London’s 11 years as Secretary of Finance and his life outside the
Assembly, let us consider the conflicts of interest already afflicting the new Flying Squad investigations.
Amidst the investigation of the Minister of National Security and national security personnel by the said Minister and national security personnel, the Minister, Director of the National Security Operations Centre (NSOC) and other key players remain in their posts.
Now, this is no trifling investigation.
We know that the core of the maligned Flying Squad reassembled on the fringe of law enforcement, allegedly gained access to the national security command, and had privileges not afforded to the man in the street. In the exchanges, a million-dollar proposed budget is sent back and forth; a supplier of vehicles to national security is tapped; the Director of the NOSC allegedly asks the proposed squad for help with a draft letter, intended to prod a Deputy Commissioner of Police to help rebuild the squad; and, specific anti-crime assaults are considered with much irony by a group already operating outside the law, and at odds with the law.
At a minimum, this illegal group has either been aided and abetted by national security leaders, or ignored by them. And, on that account national security bosses are too conflicted to be close to the investigations or, if they knew nothing, are too incompetent to be in their sensitive roles. Either way, they should have been removed for now, and independent investigations continued under the Police Complaints Authority.
This brings us back to the Dr London and the matter of conflicts of interests. I have said before that in his dual role as Chief Secretary, and Deputy Political Leader of the PNM, Orville London failed to consider the conflicts in the Milshirv deal since no other bidder had an opportunity to offer a competing deal to the THA, or even knew the possibility existed.
This was not meant to cast aspersions on the Chief Secretary, but merely to say that even with the best intentions, he could not have exercised independent judgment, sitting across the negotiating table from persons who may have financed the PNM, and owed their position to a sole, unsolicited proposal.
Likewise, despite his unique mix of talents and unquestioned integrity, Dr London owes his proposed appointment to the Assembly his cousin leads. Sure, this is not a political minefield conceived by the Chief Secretary, his cousin Dr London, or the various people whose names are called in matters like this from time to time. This is the product of our tit-for-tat politics, an unceasing charade in which a glance in the rearview mirror at the previous government’s actions, fortifies the wrong judgment of a current one.
The THA has a wide range of options to fill the gaps in technical support available to the Assembly.
Under the THA legislation, the Assembly can contract staff or seek seconded employees from Ministries or the University of the West Indies. If the THA goes the way of tender, it must follow the Central
Tenders Board process, which includes sole, selective tender. What
the THA should not be allowed to do is to reverse engineer the process by deciding upon the person to fill the post; determine on its own that the appropriate method of procurement is sole, selective tender; and then proceed with the appointment, ignoring the conflicts of interest generated by political connections and the obvious family relations.
And in that context, the same PNM supporters who weeks before thumped the desks for Keith Rowley’s sensible challenge of the appointment of a politician as Inspector of Missions, now declare Dr London’s engagement an open and shut case. If engagements like Dr London’s, and those previously challenged in this space, are allowed to go ahead, they make a mockery of the system of a Chief Personnel Officer (CPO), Central Tenders Board, Salaries Review Commission (SRC), Auditor General, and Integrity Commission for controls and oversight. It is a waste if with all this oversight, it remains possible for PNM, UNC and all other politicians to use contract employment or sole selective tender to procure the services of political colleagues and relatives.
Like Milshirv, the Chief Secretary cannot be reasonable in defending a process, in which his Assembly selects his cousin by sole tender, without public advertisement, and without an opportunity for every possible candidate to be considered, if only to pale in comparison with Dr London’s uniqueness.
Likewise, it cannot be reasonable, sensible, or tolerable for the Prime Minister to ask the police to investigate the role of the Government and itself in the almost take-off of the new Flying Squad.
The PCA is eminently qualified to do that. But, of course, when the PNM rises to condemn the Partnership’s conflicts of interest, it will applaud the brilliance of Dr London’s bridge that keeps him close to his cousin for another four years.
(Happy birthday today to my brother Terrence)
* Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer