Thursday, February 22, 2018

Muddying the waters of Invaders Bay

Michael Harris logo38

Mark Fraser

Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie is clearly very upset and angry over the recent judgment given by the court in which the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) was given the right to see certain legal advice obtained by the Planning Ministry in relation to the tendering process for the $5.5 billion Invaders Bay project.

We can assess that he is very upset and angry because his various attempts to respond to the judgment have grown progressively more shrill, more obfuscatory and more tendentious. Dr Tewarie is not an unintelligent man so, after witnessing his verbal contortions and attempts to strew red herrings across Invaders Bay, one has to wonder whether the waters there do not conceal something more rotten than appears on the surface.

Dr Tewarie’s first response was to release a statement from his Ministry which, in its few paragraphs, contained so many glaring contradictions that it is difficult to understand what its purpose really was. The statement asserts that the issue the court adjudicated on was a very narrow legal one having to do with the issue of freedom of information.

The statement insists that the matter upon which the court had ruled had nothing to do with transparency or the legality of the project, or its validity to further our objective of economic diversification.

Even though this seems to be the main thrust of his argument Dr Tewarie, in the same statement, avers that, “At the heart of the Invaders Bay matter is the economic issue of diversification which this Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration is absolutely committed to as part of Government’s vision for our country. Debate on such issues is always healthy but we ought to proceed on the basis of facts.”

And, furthermore, that at every stage in the development of the project the Government has been “transparent, (and has) followed transparent procedures and sound legal advice”.

The source of the confusion in the statement is not difficult to find. For, as was stated by the judge in the ruling, “There must always be transparency in any project undertaken by Government and all attempts should be made as to dispel any perception of financial impropriety or misappropriation of public funds in the carrying out of those projects.”

So, as far as the court was concerned, the matter was indeed all about transparency and none of Dr Tewarie’s gyrations can make it not so. But there is more. For Dr Tewarie would also have to answer why, even before the matter went to court, his Ministry had refused for so long to respond to the JCC’s request that it explain why it decided to bypass the Tenders Board in the award of the contract for the project.

Dr Tewarie would also have to explain why, when his Ministry did respond, it told the JCC the Government was under no obligation to release the requested documents because “disclosure was not justified in the public interest” and “the decision to move forward with the process and the selection of the three chosen investors was agreed to by Cabinet”.

It is nothing short of astounding that Dr Tewarie and his Ministry could be so contemptuous of the intelligence and common sense of the citizens as to seek to argue that the matter in all respects was transparent, legal and above board because “the decision…was agreed to by Cabinet.”

But Dr Tewarie was not finished trying to muddy the waters of Invaders Bay. Not satisfied, perhaps, that his statement had had the desired impact, Dr Tewarie went to Parliament and sought to layer the obfuscation even more thickly.

In Parliament he resorted to tried and true People’s Partnership administration stratagem of accusing the PNM of “doing it before”. As he stated: “The history of Invaders Bay as a project predates the Partnership Government and involves a number of interested—and some may say self-interested—parties. The only reason it has become so controversial in our time is because there were deals already in motion before we came; there was a line-up of people for the project.”

No, Dr Tewarie. We are not going to let you get away with this one. The reason this project has become “so controversial in our time” is that, if we were to judge from your contortions and gyrations, you have failed to be open and transparent.

So we agree with your statement that, “Perhaps the time has come to put all facts related to Invaders Bay back in the public domain.” Do yourself and the country a favour by doing just that.