While the Prime Minister has declared there is no evidence of corruption in her Government, the public perception is that corruption exists, according to several political analysts and business heads.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had said on Sunday night—during a fund-raising dinner hosted by the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya—there is no evidence of corruption in her Government and if such came before her, she would take swift action, as she did previously.
Former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas said yesterday: "There is certainly a perception of corruption and unethical behaviour on the part of many members of boards. I think the media have spoken about a number of things recently.
"If the Prime Minister wants evidence, I think that she should set up a couple of people to go look for evidence... you have to go and look for evidence. It will not come before you.
"I don't think it is right enough for the Prime Minister to say that there is no evidence. There are too many instances now that we have seen over the years, in the last few months in particular, where representatives that have been appointed are not behaving at the kind of ethical level one would expect."
Political analyst Dr Winford James said the Prime Minister needs to explain her definition of corruption so people would understand exactly what she meant.
"I myself, using a particular definition, might say we don't have any evidence, in the sense that no charges were made, there is no court case from a legal standpoint," said James.
"But, if you stand back and you ask what was involved in the appointment of Reshmi Ramnarine as head of the SSA (Strategic Services Agency), when Ramnarine was not qualified for the job, you have to ask whether that was corruption. Clearly the Prime Minister was not referring to that," he added.
James continued, "What was involved in the Section 34 fiasco? The Prime Minister denied that there was any attempt to hoodwink anybody. What then was there? An indecent haste to proclaim a section that would benefit financiers of her party? Some people would say corruption was involved."
The Prime Minister, said James, may have been right that there was no evidence of corruption, based on her notion of what corruption is.
The Government's non-fulfilling of its promise of procurement legislation, he said, was also cause for concern, as "we see people getting contracts left, right and centre and we don't know how they are getting these".
"There are certain acts this Government has taken, which suggests to me that all was not above-board," said James.
Political analyst Derek Ramsamooj said there is a perception from the people that there is corruption in the Government, but this was a problem that plagues not only this administration but those of the past.
"The fundamental challenge of the various administrations has been their political will to bring about public procurement legislation that will ensure accountability and transparency in the disbursement of public funds for public goods," said Ramsamooj.
"Any political leader that wishes to transform the political culture of our country must have the tenacity and the capacity to change the tendering process so as to avoid any public perception of kick-backs or fraudulent activities," he added.
Ramsamooj said what was required is public integrity hearings, in which all public officials can justify their revenue resources to the electorate. "To bring about the transformation of our political culture, meaningful and relevant constitutional reform to our society must occur. The culture of patronage must be transformed into a culture of productivity," he said.
Political scientist Bishnu Ragoonath said, "Like the Prime Minister, I don't have any evidence either."
However, he said it was clear there was a lot of mismanagement in the system, as reported in the media.
"I don't know whether there is corruption or not, but what the media is putting to us is that there is corruption... public perception is that there is corruption," he said.
President of the American Chamber of Commerce Hugh Howard said the perception of corruption in this country can hamper investments.
"If what she is saying is that there is no evidence of corruption, she would be correct in that no one has come forward and found evidence to say X has done so. But in life, perception and, in particular, in terms of investment, perception is a reality," he said.
"So if the business sector believes there is a problem with fairness... they are going to sit back and say 'I am not going to invest unless there is a level playing field'. Even though there may not be any concrete evidence, the Prime Minister must note the sentiments that are being expressed and ensure that things are done in such a manner that the business sector can check to verify if they have any concerns about anything," he added.
Head of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association George Hadeed told the Express generally there is the perception that there is corruption. He said in the private sector, there are number of ways which one can monitor for discrepancies.
The correct tools to ensure accountability and transparency must be put into place so as to avoid anyone from casting judgment or even making mischief, he said.
"I don't believe that is being done sufficiently in the country. Generally speaking, there is not enough being done to ensure accountability and transparency," he said.