Govt's problem with transparency
THE phenomenon of jobs for the boys and girls has undermined past People's National Movement and United National Congress administrations, and it is now undermining the People's Partnership coalition. Yet our politicians continue to practise this pernicious practice, apparently unmindful of the socio-economic harm to the nation or even their own electoral prospects.
The imbroglio at the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC), reported exclusively in this week's Sunday Express, is only the latest in a long line of such controversies. Faced with a situation where the utility's insurance coverage was about to lapse within days, T&TEC awarded a three-month contract to a company whose major shareholder, Neil Gosine, has close links to the People's Partnership. Mr Gosine is also chairman of another State enterprise—National Petroleum (NP).
The utility's general manager, Kelvin Ramsook, insists this decision had nothing to do with Mr Gosine's political connections. Even if this is the truth and nothing but the truth, didn't Mr Ramsook and the T&TEC board not realise such an action would appear to be cronyism?
Obviously not, and their failure to do so in itself reveals a shocking level of managerial standards. In such situations, politicians and other officials typically assert that their acceptance of public office should not debar their friends, families or even themselves from conducting business. Even more typically, however, politicians and their supporters never apply this rationalisation when the beneficiaries are members of the opposing political grouping. And some go even further and argue that "the other side did it too", as though two wrongs add up to a right.
Now it is true, in a small society like ours, familial and social relationships with officials are difficult to avoid. And it is also true such linkages should not, in themselves, debar anyone from getting business or jobs which they would have otherwise obtained by virtue of their qualifications. But, that being the case, it is even more crucial for a society like ours to have fair and transparent criteria for the award of contracts and in hiring practices.
Instead, every administration has steadfastly avoided making such criteria a priority. The PNM never instituted procurement legislation during its 2001-2010 tenure, and it was largely the perception of corruption in construction projects that got it ousted from office. The People's Partnership, more than two years into its tenure, has also put procurement regulations on the back-burner and seems complacent about the many allegations of cronyism being made against it.
It is not too late, however, for the authorities to launch an investigation into what transpired at T&TEC in the awarding of the contract, and to correct the obviously serious flaws in the entire process.
Should the People's Partnership fail to learn from history's lessons, it is very likely to repeat them.