From the Gas Station Racket to the Piarco Airport Project to the health sector to the CL Financial collapse to the construction sector, successive administrations have used commissions of enquiry (CoE) to respond to matters of public concern.
That response has almost always been reluctantly given on the part of prime ministers. The most recent CoE, in fact, took 20 years to happen, with former prime ministers Basdeo Panday and Patrick Manning steadfastly ignoring all calls to investigate the event that overthrew democracy in Trinidad and Tobago.
Now, more than three years after the appointment of a CoE into the 1990 coup attempt, the commissioners have submitted a 1,324-page report to the President. This comprises four volumes, with 44 recommendations. Most of those recommendations were not to be made public because, according to CoE chairman David Simmons, the document contains sensitive information on national security. However, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar wisely decided to lay the report in Parliament yesterday.
But what will happen now? The Gas Station Racket Enquiry took place in 1965, and no one was ever prosecuted nor did the revelations prevent further corrupt schemes such as the Caroni Racing Complex and the DC-9 aeroplane scandals. The Piarco Airport Project is still making its snail-like journey through the legal labyrinth of T&T’s courts ten years after that commission’s report was submitted and after the American perpetrators have actually served their sentences in Miami for fraud.
Other CoE reports have suffered similar shelving. Enquiries into the health sector, the CL Financial collapse, and the construction sector appear to have had no effect on bad practices. Babies continue to die; no executives or officials have been held culpable even as the Treasury continues to pay out billions in compensation to affected citizens; and suspect procurement procedures still bedevil billion-dollar projects like the Point Fortin Highway and the Beetham Wastewater Recycling initiative.
The 1990 coup is a different, and worse, beast. Although Chapter Six of the report lists persons who may have been involved in the coup attempt, the only perpetrators still alive are the senior lieutenants of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen. So legal action is unlikely. Chapters Seven and Eight look at national security deficiencies and the performance of the security forces, and Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar assured yesterday that some of these recommendations will soon be implemented.
So it may turn out that the CoE was not a complete waste of time. And, in any case, citizens now know far more about this traumatic event because of the CoE.
But, if the report does not lead to effective action, it will become nothing more than the most expensive historical document in the National Archives.
We hope this will not come to pass.