Saturday, December 16, 2017

Shashi, Sasha and so what?

The attempt to pitchfork Reshmi Ramnarine, as she was then called, into a top national security job when her qualifications for the job could be seriously questioned has hit the headlines again although the incident is now approximately eight months old.

Reshmi Ramnarine, like Jean Miles before her, became an unfortunate victim of the shoddy machinations of politicians. Unlike Jean Miles she did not fight the incumbent political establishment. On the contrary, she was poised to ride the tide of incumbency into a position of probably undeserved good fortune because of who her friends were. However the manoeuvre was exposed and the political surfboard she was riding toppled into the high waves generated by the thrusting tide of early incumbency.

Ms Ramnarine should be allowed to go in peace. She was cruelly used and ultimately she gained nothing for herself other than notoriety. In attempting to go in peace, she changed her name by Deed Poll to Shashi, no doubt attempting to shake the notoriety that might otherwise continue to follow her.

Her change of name was exposed in the no-confidence motion which came to an end last weekend. Exposing her again was said to be justified because it was alleged in Parliament that she had now obtained a job in the Ministry of Education. The Minister has vigorously denied that Shashi was ever employed in his Ministry.

At the time it occurred, two of the things I wrote about the Reshmi Ramnarine bacchanal were that we needed an assurance that none of her backers were still lurking in the corridors of power and that “it is contact not contract that is the source of the Government’s problems with governance.”

One might suppose that Shashi was fancifully but erroneously linked to the Ministry of Education because a photo of her in the company of the Minister of Education is frequently reproduced in the media.

From all reports, it appears that Shashi was part of a clique with connections. Around the time of Shashi’s employment demise Sashagate also occurred, apparently arising out of the same clique of political connections.

The abortive employment of Shashi’s services in a top national security job and the undue influence that drove it is just one example of the constant confusion surrounding Government procurement of goods and services. A substantial part of our political noise concerns this subject.

Many hours of the no confidence debate, no differently from nearly every debate in our Parliament, were consumed by each side hurling at the other allegations that this or that contract for goods or services had been procured by the use of contact, undue influence or corrupt means.

Deploying bacchanal as a substitute for debate on policy and issues concerning the needs of the country does the country no good at all. It fuels the feeling that if the priest could play, who is we. It is subversive of the maintenance of the moral authority of the State to govern in the broad interest of all. The practice will not stop anytime soon.

It will only stop when procurement laws and practices are passed and published and faithfully implemented, something which the current Government unequivocally promised to do, and which its predecessor equivocally mentioned from time to time.

Procurement laws are not rocket science. As I have indicated before, there are some valuable precedents. The laws and practices require a few basic things.

These are advance notice of the criteria for the selection of the supplier, disclosure to each supplier of how it was ranked at the conclusion of each process, announcing the winner and providing a reason, subject to the demands of commercial confidentiality, for the choice of the winning supplier.

In some jurisdictions there is provision for a short period of a week or two for disappointed suppliers to challenge the award.

During my tenure as an Independent Senator in the nineties I advocated that an executive summary of every deal that the Government made using our natural resources should be laid in the Parliament.

What is currently reported about the Saudi Arabian natural gas deal once more illustrates the need for this, including providing a reason for any grant (if given) of a discount on the price for the supply of natural gas for the project.

One beneficial effect of procurement laws will be to marginalise the undue influence of the cliques and batches.

Each successive Government allows these to flourish as a quid pro quo for campaign finance and other support or even a grappe of complimentaries for a fete. Without such laws, an incumbent Government which has a Shashi and a Sasha with access to the corridors of power, or even the Parliament elevators, will retort when challenged: “Shashi and Sasha, so what? Ent you had Johhny O and Calder fixing up too?”

In those circumstances the parliamentarians will simply continue to play political mud mas.