Friday, December 15, 2017

Over to you, Madam PM


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OKAY, Prime Minister. The report on the Debe to Mon Desir highway review is here. It comes just as Senior Counsel hold the top executive positions of President, Prime Minister and Attorney General. And, Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith is in his 40th year as a lawyer. Prime Minister, if this highway report reveals disregard for the law, what would you do?

Of course Prime Minister, the details of the review are not yet known. So, before the details start fermenting in public, and you are forced to do something, let me help a bit. In 2009 the opposition UNC had strong objections to the hosting of the Fifth Summit of the Americas. The Leader of the Opposition refused to attend the Summit opening, citing wanton wastage by the PNM government. Current Minister Vasant Bharath had a question about costs on the Order Paper; and then COP leader Winston Dookeran was "sceptical" about the figures.

But Prime Minister, in October 2010 the Auditor General sent you a draft audit report on the Summit for comment. Four months passed and you said nothing. Laid in Parliament in February 2011, the report says in Chapter Five the Summit could have been better served in the areas of planning, risk management, ministerial oversight, the involvement of support agencies, an effective strategy for the management of procurement, strong internal control and a proper system for accounting.

Prime Minister, two years passed and, despite your party's concerns in 2009, you still did nothing on that report. You missed an opportunity to consider the culture of last minute the Auditor General highlighted, and look what continues to happen? The National Carnival Commission (NCC) got a letter from an event producer telling the Commission it would not bid to produce the 2013 Dimanche Gras show, but would bid in 2014. The NCC found that letter to be sufficient to justify a sole selective award to the letter writer; $3 million or more Prime Minister, spent with whimsical justification, without regard for planning and without concern for transparency. All of this justified by the NCC chairperson who is non-executive but speaks without reference to a CEO or NCC management.

Now, look at the Uff Commission report. As Leader of the Opposition at the time, you said in an April 2010 statement, "Government must as a matter of urgency and in the interest of the public purse appoint a special team of investigators to do what the Uff Report recommends with regard to criminal investigations." You also called on the AG, "to provide the human, physical and technical resources to the police to immediately begin their investigations, since reports emanating from inside the Police Service indicate that they are being frustrated in their work."

As it turned out, one month later you became PM and Dr Keith Rowley, UDeCOTT's biggest antagonist, became Leader of the Opposition. What has your Attorney General done in support of that call you made in April 2010? And, what have Dr Rowley and you done to make public procurement right, or at least better? Isn't the Uff Commission report something you have consensus on?

Prime Minister, your interest in UDeCOTT was surely renewed last week with Genivar's confession in Canada that one of its executives participated in illegal political party financing in Quebec. Did Genivar, a controversial UDeCOTT contractor, do anything like that in Trinidad? After all, there were questions about the "coziness" of UDeCOTT's executives and Genivar, including Calder Hart's 2006 sale of a sailboat called Ace of Harts to a Genivar executive. Those issues prompted then COP activist and current Senate President, Senator Timothy Hamel-Smith to speculate, just before your election win, about a charge of misbehaviour in public office for Calder Hart. What resources have been given to the DPP to move things along?

Prime Minister, tell me. What has your Government done on your disclosures of corruption in the scholarship awards; your disclosure that the Auditor General found corruption at CEPEP under the PNM; and, your statements while in opposition, and now in Government, that there was corruption at UDeCOTT?

Wait, I can answer that. In calypso terms, you formed a line and wined on taxpayers, PNM-style!

And, what has your Government done with your own allegations of discrimination by the PNM? In that 2011 contribution on the budget, you cited the Constitution on meritocracy. Well, recently a politician landed a plum diplomatic post on the basis of the Partnership's version of merit "is we time now", or, as the AG once described it, "the pendulum swing", Partnership-style!

So, Prime Minister, be careful with the swinging pendulum. Our new President has a solid understanding of the rule of law, and an understanding of crime and the society. In 2008, as then justice Carmona, he said, "in the bowels of the URP there is rank criminality and the authorities need to address this." As President-elect Carmona he could command intense public attention, and could put the Constitution to full stretch. Significantly, His Excellency's stark regard for law and justice would magnify any political disregard of it.

Prime Minister, the highway report is before you, and if you want good advice, just revisit the many suggestions you made to the PNM over the years. In case you did not know, you are in charge, Senior Counsel.

(Remembering retired Ambassador Henry S Gill, former Director-General of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery, Barbados. Rest in peace)

* Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and university lecturer