HIGH COURT judge Justice Frank Seepersad has delivered a landmark ruling supporting transparency in actions of the State in the expenditure of public funds.
In a written judgment delivered yesterday at the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain, the judge found in favour of the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) for the construction industry which was seeking the release of information from Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development, Bhoe Tewarie, on the $5.5 billion development at Invader’s Bay. The minister was given seven days to provide the requested information to the JCC but a stay of the execution of the order was also granted by the judge should the State decide to appeal the ruling.
Attorneys representing the minister had insisted that documents being requested by the JCC for the construction industry, which concerned legal advice received by the ministry in relation to the tendering process for the Invader’s Bay project in Port of Spain, were exempt under the Freedom of Information Act.
However, in his judgment, Justice Seepersad stated there must always be transparency in any project undertaken by Government and that 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.
“Recently the issue of procurement legislation has engaged the attention of Parliament, much to the approval of civil society. After 51 years of Independence, the society must demand transparency and legislative moves in that direction should be welcomed and applauded,” said the judge.
Seepersad said the proposed development of Invader’s Bay was of national concern and that accountability by Government for its decisions and actions is of utmost importance in a democratic society.
He said the refusal to release such information could result in a breakdown of public trust and confidence in the Government and could create a perception that there may have been misfeasance in the tendering process.
“Every effort therefore ought to be made to avoid such a circumstance and if there is a valid and legally sound rationale for the adoption of the request for proposals process, then it must be in the public interest to disclose it and the rational behind the process adopted ought not be cloaked by a veil of secrecy,” said Seepersad.
In the judicial review application, the JCC was seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act relating to the tendering process for the construction of the proposed $5.5 billion property at Invader’s Bay since 2011. The JCC, which had sought an order which would mandate the Ministry to release the information, had contended that the tendering process had been done without going through the Central Tenders Board. The JCC has expressed its concerns about the “opaque Request for Proposals process”.
Senior Counsel Russell Martineau, Kelvin Ramkissoon, Shiv Sharma, Petal Alexander and Leah Thompson appeared for the minister, while the JCC was represented Kingsley Walesby.
Attempts to contact Tewarie for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.