Following on from my previous column on Section 34, there are two main issues emerging.
Firstly, the entire plot to pervert Parliament was an outcome of the Piarco Airport scandal, said by the DPP to involve some $1 billion of stolen public money. The JCC played a leading role in calling for and submitting evidence to the Bernard Commission which exposed abuse of power and corrupt practices in some of the highest offices in our country. The Piarco accused needed to escape trial because of the effective work done by the Bernard Commission in exposing criminal abuses of public money. There are also strong elements of political party financing at work here, much like in the CL Financial bailout fiasco. The lack of an effective public procurement system is what allowed the Piarco Airport scandal.
Secondly, public trust in this administration seems to be at an all-time low after the plot to pervert Parliament was exposed. To a lesser extent, that loss of trust could also be affecting the Opposition PNM.
The offending Section 34 has now been repealed, yet the public clamour continues. So what is to be done?
Having had to endure an insulting and incomplete attempted explanation from our Prime Minister, we are now being subjected to a sustained campaign of distractions.
There seems to be a scramble from both sides to shower each other with allegations of large-scale corruption. No need to list the examples. There is plenty of mud to go around. While there are serious questions on the THA/BOLT project as well as the Calcutta Settlement lands, I will not be writing on those yet.
This crisis is an important opportunity to decide if we want to do differently. Do we? If not, crapaud smoke we pipe. If we really want to do differently, we have to start thinking differently and stop the point-scoring games.
The crises which have beset us are all related to weak controls over public money and a culture which sees white-collar crime going unpunished.
There are three linked and effective actions which must be taken now.
1. The Bernard Report into the Piarco Airport scandal must be published without delay. This was completed in 2004 at public expense and it details how those vast sums of public money were stolen, who was involved and most importantly, what we need to do to prevent a repeat. One of the commissioners on that enquiry was Victor Hart, who has often said that if that report had been published and the recommendations implemented, we would not have had to go through the Calder Hart/UDeCOTT experience. There has never been an official statement on the failure to publish.
2. The recommendations of the 2010 Uff Report need to be implemented, as promised so many times. Those recommendations will prevent a great deal of the theft and waste of public money which is fuelling this crisis.
3. Public procurement reform — the private sector/civil society group has submitted a complete Draft Bill to the Joint Select Committee (JSC) — this bill is ready to be laid in Parliament. The private sector/civil society group comprises — JCC, TTMA, Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the T&T Transparency Institute. Those proposals have also been formally endorsed by the American Chamber of Commerce and FITUN.
These are three major initiatives which can be taken immediately to bring some long-overdue change. The work has been done, so the missing ingredient is the political will to change our society for the better.
The PM announced at the end of the budget debate that our Draft Bill on Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property was to be sent to the Cabinet's Legislative Review Committee before being laid in Parliament.
Given that Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar was in both the Public Procurement JSCs, what new insight is he bringing to this Draft Bill? What is the time frame for the tabling of this legislation in Parliament for debate?
We need to insist on a better standard of representation. All those holding public office need to strive seriously for a better standard of contribution. Time is running short.
If our politicians are serious about attacking the wave of white-collar crime which is drowning our country, those three initiatives must be implemented now.
Just consider this post from livingdead on the Express blog on the October 17 front page story, "Bad Deal'' about PNM Senator Faris Al-Rawi on the Calcutta Settlement Land deal -
"...Like as said before comments here are just asking the People's Partnership for answer but we must ask both the Government and THA questions!
"As usual the Government followers will question THA and PNM followers will question the Government.
"At the end both the Partnership and the PNM must be laughing and having drinks together..."
Those are widespread sentiments.
• Afra Raymond is president of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC) and managing director of Raymond & Pierre Limited