In the red zone
State banditry! Is that a fair comment, Subero?” was the reaction of a friend to a line in my column of last week.
I explained that the term was not new; it was used by Lenin to describe the depravity and corruption in early 20th century Tsarist Russia. In modern times, it has characterised the political sleaze at work in places like Portugal, where citizens — just like us — debate the values of the corrupt but efficient politician.
In India, it is part of the political fabric, where the corrupt politician is just mocked, while the honest ones are viewed with intense suspicion. And in Mexico such banditry is acknowledged as part of that country’s cultural history.
In the early 1960s VS Naipaul described T&T as “unimportant, uncreative, and cynical” a place where “every person of eminence was held to be crooked and contemptible”.
“In recent times the floodgates had been opened, and sadly there are too many instances of betrayal of trust”, former president Max Richards warned students at St Mary’s College in his final days in office. And in another instance, he added that “self-gratification was overwhelming… and right and wrong are seen, more and more in relative terms”.
State banditry now appears not just overwhelming, but more engulfing given the floodgates that have opened. And wherever its murky waters are taking us it does not appear to be pleasant.
Opposition politician Colm Imbert, looking at T&T’s position at number 80, with a low score of 39 out of 100, on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, recently said that “we are in the red zone”.
One can easily conclude that we are there because of the way —within recent times — the business of the state is being conducted. All this has not gone unnoticed in the international community.
In February 2012, former US ambassador Beatrice Welters wrote the Prime Minister expressing the US government’s concerns over the handling of two energy projects, valued at US$5.3 million.
Then there is the allegation that $638,844,310 of “dirty money” transactions reportedly passed through the country’s financial system in 2011 — but only one person has been charged for wrong-doing in this area.
Then Stephon Gray, managing director of BDO Forensic Accounting, an international investigative agency, reported that one Government financier had amassed over $1 billion in contracts over the past three years.
In the state sector the Auditor General’s 2012 report revealed that seven ministries increased their expenditure by more than 50 per cent.
For example, expenditure in the Sport Ministry moved from $28.786 million in 2011 to $395.884 million in 2012 — a variance of $367.098 million or a 1,275 per cent increase.
In the Ministry of Works, expenditure moved from $514.999 million in 2011 to $2.4 billion — a variance of $1.9 billion or 378 per cent.
The Transport Ministry’s expenditure rose from $218.585 million in 2011 to $1.1 billion in 2012 — a variance of $843 million or 386 per cent.
Expenditure in the Housing Ministry moved from $1 billion to $1.9 billion — a variance of $924 million or 90 per cent.
Significantly, the Auditor General reported the operations at the Prime Minister’s Office as one of the areas of “concern”.
Operations in the state enterprise sector should have been of more concern to the Auditor General, however.
There have been reports of corruption in 22 of the 30 wholly-owned enterprises. There are also corruption reports in the Government’s majority-owned companies, those less-than-50 per cent owned, those indirectly-owned, and the statutory bodies.
** At the Estate Management and Business Development Co (EMBDC) the CEO, Seebalack Singh, who worked previously at the Agricultural Development Bank, signed off $22 million to contractors Mootilal Ramhit and Sons, in the absence of a board. Four months after the chairman was reappointed, he was fired over questions of a building in Chaguanas leased at $200,000 a month which did not have Town and Country Planning approval.
** At Caribbean Airlines, Mohan Jaikaran, vice chairman of the Rabindra Moonan board, gave 19 of his friends complimentary tickets to attend Mother’s Day concerts in New York and Toronto.
** At T&TEC, Omar Khan was forced to resign as chairman, because his qualifications were discovered to be fraudulent.
** At Namdevco, the CEO Krishna Ramrattan was suspended last May over allegations that he authorised some $3 million in contracts, without board approval.
** WASA, under its then CEO, Ganga Singh, now Environment Minister, was ordered to pay $100 million by the London-based International Court of Arbitration to an Israeli company, Merhav Mekorot Development, because of its failure to honour an agreement. The board, under questionable circumstances, scrapped a $70 million maintenance contract.
Corruption reports now come daily from T&TEC, CDA, Lake Asphalt, NP, Airports Authority, you name it.
Just state banditry at work.
* Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since
followed a career in communication and management.