AUDIO: The Showdown Show Interview, i95.5FM – 6 April 2014
Afra Raymond is interviewed on the ‘Showdown‘ show on i95.5FM about the public procurement legislation recently laid in parliament. 6 April 2014. Audio courtesy i95.5FM
- Programme Date: Sunday, 6th April 2014
- Programme Length: 0:38:25 + 0:48:59
FAILURE to ACCOUNT
The main issue now arising in relation to the Beetham Water Recycling Project (BWRP) is the complete failure of our country’s system of Public Financial Management.
The $1.043 Billion BWRP was omitted from Trinidad & Tobago’s 2014 national budget. By any standard that is an unpardonable failure to account for that mammoth sum of Public Money. Although the national budget-making exercise is collective in nature, the ultimate responsibility for that function is held by the Minister of Finance & the Economy. That Minister is Larry Howai, who is a Certified Management Accountant and was a career Banker, up until his appointment in June 2012.
The JCC have been long-time campaigners for Public Procurement Reform, together with our Kindred Associations – T&T Chamber of Commerce; T&T Manufacturers’ Association; T&T Transparency Institute; American Chamber of Commerce; Federation of Independent Trades Unions & NGOs and the Local Content Chamber. In the preamble to our 2012 draft Bill we identified Public Procurement Reform as heralding the “stated intention to strengthen the quality of governance by promoting these principles of good governance by systemic re-engineering of the public financial management system. This Bill is thus one of a raft of relevant Bills for the re-engineering of the public financial management system…”
The title for this column is borrowed from the ongoing, expensive advertising campaign being mounted by WASA & NGC to promote the attributes of the Beetham Water Recycling Project. (Click thumbnails at right to magnify)
The Project is in two stages – to Design and Build a water recycling plant at Beetham and to Operate & Maintain that plant for a period of five years. The recycled water is to be piped to Point Lisas for the cooling requirements of industrial customers, which we are told will ‘free-up’ about 10 million gallons per day of drinking water. This Design & Build contract for $1.043 Billion was awarded to SIS Ltd and its sub-contractors on 10 March 2014.
Despite the attributes presented by this project, there are grounds for serious concern as to the process adopted and the actions of the various public officials involved.
The Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Keith Rowley, first raised this matter in the budget debate of September 2013, following that with a formal complaint, on 10 March 2014, to President Carmona. In addition, Dr. Rowley’s Private Motion was to be debated in Parliament on Friday 28 March calling for the Prime Minister to stop the project and investigate the matter.
Having considered the available facts, the JCC issued a Press Release on 20 March 2014 calling for the project to be immediately halted. The JCC is also calling for an independent public investigation into this entire matter.
The JCC’s preliminary concerns are -
The project is not mentioned at all in the 2014 national budget. It is not in the Budget Statement or any of the supplementary documents which record the figures for State Enterprises (such as NGC), Statutory Corporations (such as WASA) or the overall national accounts.That omission itself is grave enough to warrant a complete halt to this dubious operation, but that is not the worse of it. Not at all.When one carefully considers the 2014 budget, two even more serious issues become apparent.
- The first is the timeline. The NGC published the Request for Proposals (RFP) for this huge project on Monday 2 September 2013. The 2014 budget statement was delivered by Minister of Finance & the Economy, Larry Howai, on 9 September 2013.
- The second is that the 2014 budget actually has a section dedicated to ‘Water Resources’ at pgs 31-32. That section of the budget states that “In fact, Trinidad is making significant progress towards achieving water for all” and “Tobago is well within achieving water for all”. Details of upcoming projects were also provided – “We are expanding and improving wastewater treatment, collection and disposal systems in Malabar, San Fernando, Maloney, Cunupia and Scarborough, Tobago.”
So, the Minister of Finance & the Economy assured the nation that we are well on the way to ‘Water for All‘, only one week after NGC published that RFP. That sequence of events raise fundamental questions as to just what reliance we can place on our national budgeting process. Reports which are silent on large-scale proposals are unreliable. For our national budget to slide into that category of unreliable document is unacceptable.
What is more, Minister Howai’s statement as to the nation’s water supply and WASA’s intended projects really give us cause for a pause. If the Minister’s statements are reliable, why do we need this project? If those statements cannot be relied upon, we are really at a sobering moment.
The State Enterprises Investment Programme (SEIP) is an integral document in the national budget, which shows all capital infrastructure projects financed by State Enterprises and Statutory Authorities. NGC’s projects are detailed at pgs 8-12 of the 2014 SEIP, but there is no mention of this Billion-dollar Water Recycling Project.
The silence in the budget as to the Beetham Water Recycling Project is unacceptable. It raises the direct question as to the reasons for the actions of these public officials. It is unacceptable that a project of this size and consequence could be conceived and implemented as a ‘phantom project‘. This is a mammoth ‘off-budget‘ expenditure to be funded by Public Money, via the NGC…
VIDEO: Morning Edition Monday 24 March 2014
Afra Raymond sits with host, Fazeer Mohammed on the Morning Edition television show to discuss the JCC’s position on the recent Beetham Water Recycling Project. Video courtesy TV6
- Programme Air Date: Monday 24th March 2014
- Programme Length: 0:22:23
Guarding the Guards
Our country continues its perpetual grappling with the question of conduct in public office, but at this time we are faced with particular threats and opportunities in respect of the Public Interest.
Before getting to the present particulars, some critical facts and concepts must be stated. Trinidad & Tobago is a leading nation in the Caribbean region, so progress made here will be to the wider benefit of the region. That said, the particular shape of our economy is such that the State is easily the dominant player in the country’s commercial affairs. Given that reality, the question of illegal or improper conduct by the State and its Agencies, goes far beyond principled assertions. The State must be exemplary in its conduct, not just because that is a principled position, but because its regular misconduct and illegality will continue to distort the behaviour of non-State players.
The size and wealth of the State makes its control and oversight a continuing and seemingly-insurmountable task. Like the old proverb – ”…Where does an Elephant sit? Wherever it wants to…” It is essential that the State be subject to ongoing and timely oversight, so as to preserve the society’s stability and progressive development.
The State’s power emanates from its unique legal powers and the fact that it has more money than any other element of the society.
These two streams of power work together in a special relationship to which we must be most alert. We rely on the State to seek our collective interests, so we have a special duty to be most vigilant as to its operations.
That is the background against which the current threats and challenges must be viewed.
The main element driving the episodes of State misconduct and illegality is the ability to transact in Public Money, which is money due to or payable by the State, to include any money for which the State will be ultimately liable in the event of a default. Public Officials transact in Public Money, on our behalf. Those Officials are defined in the Schedule to the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) – that list includes politicians, Permanent Secretaries and Board members of State Enterprises, Statutory Bodies performing a public function and bodies in which the State has a controlling interest…
Government to Government arrangements (G2G) are made between two states, so that the less developed one can benefit from the technology and methods of the more advanced one. Given the scale of projects now being undertaken via these arrangements; the current high-level State mission to China, with its key objective of deepening the strategic ties; the long-promised and impending Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property law and our recent G2G experience, this a critical issue to delve into.
These G2G arrangements have been controversial since their introduction to Trinidad & Tobago in the 1970s, during the ‘petro-dollar boom‘. The Central Tenders Board Act was amended in 1979 to exclude both State Enterprises and G2G arrangements from what was seen as the heavy hand of bureaucracy. In that period, the most memorable projects done via G2G were the Mount Hope Medical Complex, the Twin Towers and the Hall of Justice. There were other projects, often shrouded in allegations of corruption and improper practice. After strong protests, the then PM George Chambers appointed the late Lennox Ballah to enquire into the entire series of G2G arrangements. The Ballah Report was published in March 1982 and it should be required reading for those who are committed to national development. Chambers accounted for the petro-dollar by reporting to a shocked nation that two out of every three dollars had been stolen or wasted. Most of the G2G arrangements were stopped after that publication.
Yet these damaging arrangements have now re-emerged and what is more, there does not appear to have been any fundamental improvement in our terms within the new agreements. Once again, despite the clarity of the Ballah Report and its publication, we do not appear to have the capacity to learn from our history. That is a fatal blind-spot in our society.
It is clear to me that G2G arrangements, as presently configured, are severely detrimental to our national interest. Supporters of G2G would say that those arrangements allow a more rapid pace of development at costs which can appear to be competitive.
The main criticisms of the existing arrangements are -
- Sidelining of the elementary Tendering Process – the procurement process is effectively outsourced, since the more powerful country has the right to select the contractor;
- Limited, if any, role for Local Participation in terms of labour, professionals or contractors;
- Weak or nonexistent contract controls, due to the disparity in power between the parties;
- Serious drain on Foreign Exchange;
- Lack of the promised Transfer of Technology.
The Elephant in the Room
The huge potential supply of State-built, unfinished office buildings in our capital is the ‘Elephant in the Room‘. There are potent elements at play here in terms of the viability of the long-term and large-scale investments which have been made in Port-of-Spain by private and public capital.
At this point, taking account of offices over 25,000 sf in size, there are over 1,500,000 sf of incomplete offices in our capital. This article will examine the likely outcomes for our capital and those investors as the various projects are completed.
The State has 1,329,000 sf of incomplete offices in POS and the private sector has 224,800 sf. The State has virtually seven times more incomplete offices than the private sector and that is the ‘Elephant in the Room’. This chart portrays the reality – the details are set out in the table below.
The legacy of the POS offices built during the previous administration is a matter which deserves serious consideration. The sheer volume of offices built by the State during the previous administration is sobering – 2.3M sf. Given that Nicholas Tower – that elliptical, blue tower on Independence Square – contains 100,000 sf, it means that the State built the equivalent of ‘23 Nicholas Towers‘ in our capital in that period of rapid development.
We also know that there was no attempt at public consultation or feasibility studies by the State or its agent, UDECOTT. At the Uff Enquiry, the Executive Chairman of UDECOTT, Calder Hart, admitted that a feasibility study had been done for only one of those projects. That project is the International Waterfront Centre (IWC), which comprises the two office towers of 890,000 sf, the Hyatt Hotel, New Breakfast Shed and carparking/outdoor facilities. Hart also admitted, under oath, that the value of the land had been omitted from the viability study for the IWC, so it was a bogus exercise. The break-even rent is the amount which must be earned by a project to repay the cost of land, construction, professional fees and finance. The IWC, repeatedly boasted-of as UDECOTT’s flagship project, is not a viable project, since its break-even rent exceeds the highest rents now earned by A-class offices in POS.
CL Financial bailout – Paying the Devil
Today is the 30th of January 2014: five years since the State bailout of CL Financial was announced to a shocked nation and region. It is necessary to mark this moment in time with solid facts and stern meditation.
The Carnival season is upon us, so J’ouvert is near the front of my thoughts. J’ouvert is simple, yet tremendous, because of the experience of passing from night into daylight and of course those around you becoming clearer as the light overcomes the darkness. For me, the defining feature of Jouvert is the terrifying portrayals of ‘Devil mas‘ in its various forms – ugly and dirty, covered with mud, oil or paint; real noisy, beating pitch-oil tins and such; forceful, in demanding payment from you before you could pass. You have to pay the Devil to go away. Pay the Devil, so he could leave without dirtying you up.
The vast amount of detail which has emerged in the last five years, means that I can only focus on one key aspect of the CL Financial bailout scandal.
My main theme is that vast amounts of Public Money have been committed to repay the debts of CL Financial, while the chiefs who directed and controlled that conglomerate seem free to come and go as they please. Or, in the case of Duprey, who refused to testify at the Colman Commission, to go and refuse to come. Once again, Trinis in the running for some awards for innovation and so on, with Duprey being the world’s first ‘Penniless Philanthropist‘.
Public procurement pressure
The complete overhaul of our country’s public procurement system is urgently required, given the daily reports of large-scale theft and waste of public money.
The last administration lost public confidence due largely to the high levels of corruption, as revealed in the Uff Enquiry into the Public Sector Construction Industry.
The JCC met in April 2010 with the leadership of the People’s Partnership at its request and with the media in attendance.
At that meeting, the People’s Partnership made three significant promises:
- Implementation of the recommendations of the Uff Report – This was the first item at the first post-Cabinet press briefing on July 1, 2010, with the Justice Ministry being tasked to implement those critical recommendations. That promise has been broken.
- Tabling of legislative proposals for public procurement within one month of an electoral victory. Then Finance Minister Winston Dookeran did lay two draft bills — a 1997 draft to repeal the Central Tenders Board Act and a 2006 draft Public Procurement Bill — so that promise was fulfilled.
- Creation of new laws for Public Procurement & the Disposal of Public Property within one year of an electoral victory. Despite the statements at pg 18 of the People’s Partnership Manifesto, the appointment of a Joint Select Committee (JSC) and many public pronouncements, that has not happened.
The Uff Bluff
On December 11, I wrote ‘Invader’s Bay Review‘ in this space, calling for an immediate public review of that improper large-scale development being proposed on reclaimed State lands in west POS. I also took the opportunity to make the point that there had been no consultation on that proposed development and that UDECOTT’s repeated public statements that its operations are now compliant with the Uff Report recommendations are false.
UDECOTT’s response was to place full-page advertisements in the three daily newspapers, on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 December, in an expensive attempt to refute my criticisms. My letter to the editor, carried in this newspaper on the Sunday, put UDECOTT’s misleading advertisement in context and reaffirmed the continuing falsehood of their claimed compliance with the Uff Report. The episode is recounted here.
There are several lessons one can draw from this exchange – the sheer hostility to the truth which is now becoming a disturbing ‘new normal‘ in our society; the invisible hand of the bureaucracy in devising large-scale developments, stated to be for the benefit of citizens, without citizen inputs; the inescapable reality that these obstructive forces operate across and within all our political administrations.
Sunity Maharaj wrote a fine overview of these burning issues in ‘Amandla! Now listen to the people‘ in the 15 December Sunday Express. In that article, Sunity detailed the development of a perverse consultation industry “Its specialty is in designing events that look like consultation, sound like consultation but do not actually involve consultation…”.
Raymond & Pierre and Afra Raymond v Harry Harnarine
The High Court decision of Wednesday 18 December 2013 now formally bankrupts Harry Harnarine, of Hindu Credit Union infamy, with the debt owed to our firm, Raymond & Pierre, and myself – the Chief State Solicitor was appointed as the Official Receiver.
The actual debt is some $868,000 with 12% simple interest since July 2008, plus costs fit for Senior & Junior Counsel. This effectively debars Mr Harnarine from any further participation in our financial system. The original action arose out of libellous statements uttered by Harnarine on HCU’s Radio Shakti in October 2005 and our side was well represented by a strong legal team, headed by Seenath Jairam SC.
Congratulations are due to those hard-working advocates and advisers.
I am attaching/linking these other important items -
- Ernst & Young Report to Colman Commission on HCU, evidencing at pg 30 in the Statement of Affairs for Hindu Credit Union a shortfall of $486.5M as at 31 May 2008.
- ‘Final Straw to Kill me‘ Express article of 6 May 2013 detailing Harnarine’s final defeat at the Appeal Court to his challenge to the Bankruptcy Order we obtained.
- 19 December 2013 – Newsday and Guardian articles on the High Court ruling making a Receiving Order against Harry Harnarine
- 20 December 2013 – Newsday reports Harnarine to be baffled by the High Court ruling.
Letter to the Editor – UDECOTT’s failure to consult response
In response to a full page UDECOTT advert (embedded below) in response to my article “Invader’s Bay Review” (excerpted above), also published in the Business Express.
From: Afra Raymond <email@example.com>
Date: Sat, Dec 14, 2013 at 9:30 AM
Subject: Letter to the Editor – UDECOTT’s failure to consult
To: Editors of daily newspapers. Email addresses withheld
The 17th recommendation of the Uff Report is -
“User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made.”
The decisive part is ‘before decisions are made.‘..
Invader’s Bay Review
There now needs to be a complete and open review of the Invader’s Bay matter. That is imperative if the public interest is to be safeguarded.
The catalogue of irregular dealings and improper procurement practice at Invader’s Bay has now grown so that we are facing an important moment of decision. At this point there has been no announcement as to an award of contract or grant of any lease, so the threshold of binding legal agreement has not been crossed. In investment language, we are at the ‘inflection point’, which is where the prudent investor has to make a decision to continue or abandon a course of action.
This is the exact moment we should be calling for an open review of this major public project, before any binding commitments are made.
The Commission of Enquiry is an often-used device to probe into matters of serious public concern. In relation to construction and property development, we have had recent CoEs into the Piarco Airport Project, UDECOTT, Land-Date and the Biche School Project, to name a few.
The public has a sceptical attitude to these Commissions, since they never seem bring the desired results in terms of arrests of prominent public officials or disgorgement of stolen monies. Many people dismiss CoEs as ‘talk shops’ set up to enrich lawyers, but I do not dismiss them as effective ways to serve the public interest. Despite the imperfections of the Enquiry process, including the fact that key witnesses can refuse to appear without incurring any serious penalties, there are real benefits. The main one, in my view is that a CoE allows us in the public to learn about major matters of public concern which would likely have remained hidden…
AUDIO: Heritage Radio Interview: JCC update 4th December 2013
JCC President Afra Raymond interviewed on Heritage Radio 101.7FM by Hans Hanoomansingh to discuss JCC matters such as Public Procurement, Invader’s Bay and G2G Arrangements. 04 December 2013. Audio courtesy Heritage Radio 101.7 FM
- Programme Date: Wednesday, 04 December 2013
- Programme Length: 1:23:27
The State is the dominant agent in our national economy, which is the most vibrant in the Caribbean. It is therefore essential for us to understand how the State works so that we can better understand, or even plan, our interaction with that dominant party. Given the role T&T plays in the wider Caribbean, those concerns extend beyond our country to our region.
In order for us to understand how the State works, we must get quality information in the required quantities. We must also have the right to request further information from public bodies so that we can examine particular matters more closely – see Sidebar below.
This country’s Integrity Framework comprises elements such as -
- The Integrity Commission (IC), which is responsible for monitoring the integrity of Public Officials;
- The Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), which gives the right to ask for unpublished information;
- The Auditor General, the Independent body monitoring the financial reporting of Public Bodies;
- The Investments Division of the Ministry of Finance, monitoring the operations of State Enterprises;
- The two Parliamentary Accounts Enterprises Committees, providing Parliamentary oversight of Public Bodies
The sheer pace of events surrounding the Integrity Commission and the startling series of revelations demand our attention, given the critical role of the Commission as the State’s principal anti-corruption agency.
The rising tide of corruption in our public affairs has been a constant, whichever political administration is in office, seemingly increasing since the IC was established in 1987. Two general observations emerge from that – we certainly need a respected, effective agency to tackle corruption in our public affairs, so we therefore need to look soberly at how the IC can be improved. I repeat that the Commission’s 2012 Annual Report contains serious proposals to improve its effectiveness.
CL Financial bailout – Really learning from the past
I am responding to the points made by Central Bank Governor, Jwala Rambarran, in his 6 November speech to the T&T Coalition of Service Industries.
This speech attempted to both re-affirm the Central Bank’s important role in our economy -
…as the country‟s prime financial regulator, the Central Bank has an almost fifty year record of maintaining the safety and soundness of the financial system…
and to distinguish Rambarran’s tenure as Governor since July 2012 -
…These are just a few of the initiatives the Central Bank has been working on over the last fifteen months to rebuild confidence, strengthen financial stability and to help create our future financial system…
The Integrity Account
Having completed my four-part series [1, 2 & 3, 4] on what I termed ‘The Integrity Threat‘, I was intrigued by two recent public notices on the meaning of the Appeal Court’s recent activity on these matters.
- 6 October – The Integrity Commission issued a Public Notice which was a clear statement by the Commission that State Enterprises were within its lawful remit, according to the Appeal Court ruling on 27 June. My reading of that ruling was that it effectively narrowed the 9th part of the Schedule to the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) so that it only applies to Directors of Statutory Bodies performing public functions. I maintain that view. Even if one accepts the Commission’s reading of events, as set out in the exchange of emails in the sidebar, this ruling was a seriously retrograde step in the operation of our nation’s Integrity Framework, as I will illustrate;
- 5 November – the Judiciary issued a Media Release on the recent reports in other newspapers on a 28 October Appeal Court hearing on a 2006 Freedom of Information request made to TSTT. I want to read the actual ruling/findings of the Appeal Court at that hearing before writing in detail on this. Two things are clear – firstly, the Judiciary is able to set the record straight if there is a danger of the media misunderstanding important rulings. That is the behaviour of a healthy Public Institution. I am also noting here that the Judiciary has made no such efforts in respect of #30 of 2008, despite the several pointed criticisms in the media. The second point is about the subject-matter of this lawsuit, which is the 2006 letter the Commission wrote to TSTT’s Directors confirming that they did not have to submit declarations. That letter and the official efforts to conceal it, were the subject of this 7-year lawsuit. I had raised this arrangement with senior officials of the Commission in earlier discussions, since it seemed incredible to me that TSTT could have gained such a concession. I was told that the Commission had agreed to ‘hold its hand‘ since the issue was subject to the Court’s ruling – this is my paraphrasing of conversations, so of course I am subject to correction. On the one hand I was recently told by the Commission that this arrangement was ‘in order‘ and on the other, it is now emerging that TSTT expended considerable time & money to conceal those details. I am calling on the Commission to publish those details…
Invader’s Bay part 3: MORE Invaders Bay Ingredients
I closed last week’s article by restating my view that all the ingredients for corruption were present at Invader’s Bay.
What are those ingredients?
Here is my list -
- Extensive public assets coming onto the market, in turbid circumstances. Those assets can include property, concessions, contracts and jobs;
- Questions of access to the gatekeepers – in these scenarios, some people will have unbelievable access to the decision-makers;
- Conflicting and confusing versions of the project or proposal. The confusion is as persistent as it is deliberate, a part of the tangled web.
- Blatant double-standards and lying is the norm in these situations;
- Apart from ceremonial fluff, such as sod-turnings and ribbon-cuttings, there is no intention whatsoever to give any proper public account or statement of intentions. True transparency is evaded like taxes;
- Professional Civil Servants who are unable or unwilling to insist on the maintenance of minimum standards…
Pre-action letter to the minister of Finance and the Economy
This is the Pre-Action Protocol letter to the Minister of Finance challenging his failure to reply to my Freedom of Information Act request of 18 March 2013, seeking details of the beneficiaries of the CL Financial bailout, particularly the EFPA holders.
Invader’s Bay part 2: All the Ingredients for Bobol…
Since my previous article on this controversial proposal, we have seen that certain legal advice reportedly considered by the government has been featured in another newspaper. If that is the advice the State is relying upon in advancing their Invader’s Bay proposals, we are seeing a large-scale act of intentional illegality and a worrying return to the ‘bad-old-days‘.
My main concerns are -
Compare the lack of consultation at Invader’s Bay with what happens elsewhere. In particular, the large waterfront lands near the city centre of San Fernando at King’s Wharf, which has been the subject of ongoing public consultations over the years. The press reports that various design and redevelopment concepts were presented to and discussed with a widely-based audience.
Whatever the criticisms one might make of the King’s Wharf proposals, it is undeniable that views have been sought from the public/stakeholders and various proposals have been made for consideration.
The JCC and its Kindred Associations in Civil Society met with Ministers Tewarie and Cadiz on 26 September 2011 to express our serious concerns. Yet, when Minister Tewarie was challenged by the JCC and others as to the complete failure to consult with the public, the only example of consultation he could cite was the very meeting we had insisted on, which took place after publication of the Ministry’s Request for Proposals (RFP) and just about one week before the closing-date for proposals.
AUDIO: Forward Thinkers Interview – 24 October 2013
Afra Raymond chats on the show ’Forward Thinkers‘ with David Walker on 104.7FM, dealing with the CL Financial bailout and my lawsuit against the Minister of Finance to get at the detailed information as to how the $24B in Public Money was spent. 24 October 2013. Audio courtesy More 104.7 FM
- Programme Date: Thursday 24th October 2013
- Programme Length: 0:45:41
CL Financial bailout – Lawsuit against Minister of Finance
This is my reply to the Ministry’s affidavit of 12 July which seemed to rely on the fact that CL Financial is a private company to refuse publication of the requested information.
Of course that line of reasoning is yet another emerging threat to our country’s Integrity Framework, so our reply challenges the validity of this assertion.
At our hearing on 1 October, Justice Boodoosingh ordered me to formally notify CL Financial and we have done that, so at our hearing earlier today, CL Financial were represented by a team led by Stephen Singh and various dates were set, with our next hearing on 27 February 2014. Of course that is the very Carnival week, so stay tuned. I expect there will be significant other developments well before that.
Integrity Commission Public Notice
Having written four critical articles consequent on the Appeal Court’s 27th June ruling and having been preceded by two leading commentators— Andre Bagoo & Anthony Wilson — I was intrigued by this Public Notice published at p. 49 of the Sunday Express of 6 October 2013.
Invader’s Bay payday?
Invader’s Bay has re-emerged from the shadows via PNM Senator Faris Al-Rawi’s budget contribution on Monday 23 September 2013 (pp. 168-175). The twists and turns in this controversial proposed scheme are detailed at JCC’s webpage.
Invader’s Bay is a 70-acre parcel of reclaimed State land off the Audrey Jeffers Highway – just south of PriceSmart & MovieTowne – in the western part of Port-of-Spain. Its value was estimated by the State in 2011 to be in excess of $1.2Bn, so these are prime development lands, possessing these attributes -
- Water, Electricity and all urban services are readily available;
- Flat/gently-sloping terrain;
- Direct access to Audrey Jeffers Highway;
- Waterfront location.
Before proceeding to the latest revelations, it is important to restate the main objections raised by the JCC and others with respect to this proposed development -
- The Request for Proposals (RFP) was published by the Ministry of Planning in August 2011 seeking Design-Build proposals for the development of these lands and specifying an entirely inadequate 6 weeks for submissions;
- There has been no public consultation at all, so the public has not been involved in this, the largest proposed development in our capital in living memory;
- The RFP was silent as to the other three, extant strategic plans for the POS area, all paid for with Public Money. Given that the RFP was published by the Ministry of Planning, that is a tragic irony, to say the least;
- EIA – The RFP is silent as to the requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment in a development of this scale;
- The proposals were to be evaluated against the “Invader’s Bay Development Matrix and Criteria Description”, which was only published after the closing-date for submissions. That is a clear breach of proper tender procedure, which renders the entire process voidable and therefore illegal.
Property Tax Facts
Property Tax is back and the controversy has naturally returned since the ‘Axe the Tax‘ movement was a signal moment of unity in the anti-PNM campaigns of 2009/2010.
In my opinion, the anti-Property Tax movement was an important measure of the extent to which our national discourse is now irrational and baseless. The disenchantment with the Manning administration and the thirst to have them removed seemed to occupy more time than any substantial discussion as to the merits of the proposed Property Tax.
Now, as then, I hold the view that our nation’s Property Tax regime is long-overdue for reform and updating. I support the proposals to do so and we will have to wait for more detail to analyse these proposals further.
Here are a few of the basic facts on Property Tax.
The size of the Property Tax Take – Proportionally
The Estimates of Revenue disclose that in 1995 property tax was 2% of tax revenue and in 2009 it was expected to be a mere .18%. Property tax, when last collected, contributed a small fraction of the amount it did 15 years ago. The official projections for the Property Taxes proposed by the PNM were for that revenue to increase to $325M in 2010 – even at that level, the contribution would have barely exceeded 1% of the national tax revenue.
The Draft Estimates of Revenue (2014) published in the recently-approved budget are unclear and I have requested an official clarification before making any detailed comments on those. As an example the Total Tax Revenue 2014 is estimated (at p. vii) to be $46.8Bn, with ‘Taxes on Property’ comprising $3.914M, which is a tiny proportion of the total, about 100,000th of 1%. The accompanying chart, on that very page, shows Property Tax at 1% of the total. There is more to say, but I am awaiting the requested information, hopefully before next week’s deadline.
The key point here is that property is a vibrant engine of wealth in our country and has been so for many decades, every successful person knows that. Given that fundamental, it is obvious that property has to be properly taxed if any kind of economic justice is to emerge. The historically paltry percentage of revenues raised via Property Taxes is solid justification for a comprehensive mapping of who owns what and the where. This is a flourishing sector of the economy, so proper taxes are long-overdue…
Integrity Threat: Part 4
I am fully in support of a vigorous and conscientious Integrity Commission (IC). I do not want to see the IC abolished or sidelined. The IC must realign its limited resources to ensure a decisive impact on the conduct of Public Officials. The proposals contained in its 2012 Annual Report show clearly that the Gordon Commission has started to seriously grapple with that challenge.
The derailment of the IC between 2004 and 2009 is a clear example of what can happen to an Independent Commission if we do not maintain vigilant oversight.
This matter is of the greatest interest for those of us campaigning for Public Procurement reform so as to get effective control over all transactions in Public Money. The arrangements we are proposing include new Independent Commissions/Officeholders. It is therefore critical that we learn the lessons from this debacle so as to safeguard the bodies we are proposing. The stakes are very high for our nation’s Integrity Framework, which must be strengthened, with swifter resolution of allegations.
To continue in the current manner is to drag the system into further disrepute, encourage even more bold-faced thieves, more reckless public officials and we can expect complete loss of the residual respect for the post-independence civilization we have tried to grow. That would be an ugly and violent future for our society, so this episode requires stern and conscientious examination.
One of the emergent issues is how to reconcile the competing need for an effective anti-corruption agency independent of external instructions or directions, while remaining sensitive to the views of its stakeholders.
In this case, the Commission’s formal reporting device – its Annual Reports – was silent at the time of its momentous decision to seek to omit State Enterprises and bodies under State control from its remit. That failure to publish its 2008 & 2009 Annual Reports might be understood as a natural consequence of the virtual collapse of the Commission – the February 2009 resignations of the John Martin-led Commission were less than two months before the scheduled release of the 2008 Annual Report. The May 2009 resignations of the Fr. Henry Charles-led Commission dealt a further blow to this beleaguered Institution.
Integrity Threat: Part 2 & 3
The previous column discussed the Appeal Court judgment in #30 of 2008, in which both TSTT and the Integrity Commission sought to challenge the High Court ruling in #1735 of 2005. That High Court ruling found that the phrase contained at para 9 of the Schedule to the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) was to be taken ‘as read’ to define those people who are subject to its provisions -
- “Members of the Boards of all Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises including those bodies in which the State has a controlling interest.”
The Appeal Court – comprising CJ Archie, together with Mendonca JA and Smith JA – ruled that -
- TSTT is not a State Enterprise. The members of its Board are not subject to the Integrity Provisions.
- It is only the members of the Boards of those Statutory Bodies which exercise public functions that are subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission.“
No appeals were filed against that ruling, so the law at this time is that Directors of State Enterprises are now exempt from the provisions of the IPLA. The Appeal Court has now removed all 59 State Enterprises from the scrutiny of the Integrity Commission…
AUDIO: Heritage Radio Interview: Treasury Scandal – 27 August 2013
Afra Raymond chats with Joseph Berment-McDowall on Heritage Radio 101.7 FM about the Treasury Scandal article. 27 August 2013. Audio courtesy Heritage Radio 101.7 FM
- Programme Date: Tuesday, 27 August 2013
- Programme Length: 1:21:45
Integrity threat from the Appeal Court
On 27th June the Appeal Court ruled that -
- TSTT is not a State Enterprise. The members of its Board are not subject to the Integrity Provisions.
- It is only the members of the Boards of those Statutory Bodies which exercise public functions that are subject to the jurisdiction of the (Integrity) Commission.
Telecommunications Company of Trinidad & Tobago (TSTT) is a company established between the T&T State and the British-based multinational, Cable & Wireless. C&W holds 49% of the shares in TSTT, while the State holds about 42% of the shares together with the right to nominate 5 of its 9 Directors.
That unanimous ruling has serious consequences for the viability of our nation’s integrity framework.
The intended purpose of that framework is to ensure a satisfactory level of transparency and accountability in the way Public Money is transacted and Public Functions are discharged. There is still a strong case for this Integrity Framework as a necessary ingredient in the Good Governance of our nation. The Integrity Framework includes the Auditor General; the Integrity Commission; the Investments Division of the Ministry of Finance and the two Parliamentary Accounts Enterprises Committees. Ours is the most vibrant Caribbean economy and the State is clearly the largest player, so the proper management of that sector is critical. Given the continuing rise in the waste and theft of Public Money, there will always be a need for an improved, more effective Integrity Framework to oversee these huge, controversial operations.
The Appeal arose from the 2005 case, in which TSTT sought an interpretation from the Court as to the meaning of the phrase in the Schedule to the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA), defining persons in public life -
(9) Members of the Boards of all Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises including those bodies in which the State has a controlling interest…
The Treasury Scandal
I wonder if is Bobol?
What dey doing with Taxpayer’s Money at all!?
I wonder if is Bobol?
What dey doing with Taxpayer’s Money at all!?
—Opening stanza of ‘The Treasury Scandal’ by Atilla the Hun (1937)
I took this title from the late 1930’s kaiso by the great Atilla the Hun (Raymond Quevado) on the scandal of some $200,000 missing from T&T’s Treasury. His outrage was rooted in the fact that the story came-out in bits and pieces and of course, none of the ‘Big-Boys’ was ever jailed, or even charged for that theft. That was a massive amount of money in the 1930s – at that time a good Woodbrook house cost about $6,000 – so that could give you an idea. Atilla was lamenting the lack of accountability and transparency in how Public Money was being managed. The ‘Treasury Scandal’ was a true episode from the bad-old-colonial-days of the 1930s, but of course we have progressed a great deal since then, having achieved Independence, Republican status and universal education.
The problem is that despite the obvious movement forward, we are witness to yet another ‘Treasury Scandal’. I am referring to the CL Financial bailout, announced in January 2009 and still ongoing at an anticipated cost of $24Bn – according to paras 21 and 22 of the 3 April 2012 affidavit of then Finance Minister, Winston Dookeran.
AUDIO: Forward Thinkers Interview – 15 August 2013
Afra Raymond chats on the show ’Forward Thinkers‘ with David Walker on More 104.7 FM about State Enterprises. 15 August 2013. Audio courtesy More 104.7 FM
- Programme Date: Thursday 15th August 2013
- Programme Length: 0:54:33
Ministry of Finance Dance
This is a most interesting document for several reasons -
- Attorneys – The legal team is led by Russell Martineau SC, former AG and former President of the Law Association. Martineau was lead attorney for CL Financial’s auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, during the recently-concluded Colman Commission and he strongly opposed my submissions as you can see in this revealing clip. His Junior in this case is Gerald Ramdeen, who was Junior Counsel to the said Colman Commission.
- My recent supplemental application – On 18th March, I made a further application under the FoIA for the details of the creditors of CL Financial, particularly the EFPA holders, in relation to the amounts repaid and claimed. It is interesting that the Ministry of Finance chose to treat with this in the their affidavit.
- The objection – Despite several readings of this 5-page affidavit, I am not clearly able to see just what is the Ministry’s real reason for objecting to the release of the requested info.
- State-controlled Enterprises – The recent Appeal Court ruling in #30 of 2008 on the meaning of State-controlled Enterprises is a real threat to the public interest in relation to the governance arrangements in situations like this. The final sentence of para #14 is “In any event, CL Financial Ltd. is a private company and is not a public authority under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.” Well I tell you.
- The fundamental position – At the Court hearing on 23rd May, the lead attorney for Finance, Russell Martineau SC, was emphatic in stating to Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh that there was no intention of compromising or considering the release of even some of the requested information. It is going to be a fight for every item of information.
- Public Secret – We are now being told that the bailout process for CL Financial is nearing its end with a procedure having been agreed for the recovery of the Public Money which has been spent. Serious and justified concerns are being voiced at this time since there is no way to be sure how much money has been spent or the terms of the final settlement. I will be writing more on this shortly. We are being told that the agreed terms of the settlement are solid in protecting the public interest, yet this very Ministry, Finance, is using a highly-paid legal team to oppose the publication of fundamental information.
The burning question remains…
VIDEO: Time to Face the Facts – 26 May 2013
The audience was regional via cable and global via their Facebook page. The interviewer is Jerry George and the format was a live call-in. Video courtesy Jerry George
- Programme Air Date: 26 May 2013
- Programme Length: 2:00:00
Charting our losses: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’
The last four articles in this series have focused on what I call ‘two sides of the same coin’ – the coin being the large-scale and improper use of Public Money.
I examined the THA/BOLT office project called MILSHIRV being undertaken with the Rahael group and the Calcutta Settlement land scheme in which the HDC acquired developed lands at several times the proper price the State could have paid.
Throughout this type of critique one has to strive for effective balance and fundamental integrity. The extent of the waste and/or theft is never easy to pinpoint when one is working from outside and relying solely on published documents, but my best efforts to establish those facts is what is presented. Of course it is impossible to say for sure that any amount of money was stolen in a particular project, hence the phrase ‘wasted or stolen’.
Objectively, it does not matter whether the money is wasted or stolen, if it is ultimately unavailable for the benefit of the Public. Once spent, that Public Money is gone forever, which is why Value for Money is of such importance in any proper Public Procurement system.
Subjectively, however, the errors of inexperience or poor process must be differentiated from an active conspiracy to defraud. Although the objective measure of loss might be identical in terms of the dollar-amount, there are different long-term consequences. Innocent errors and miscalculations can be rectified over time by ongoing review processes. Deliberate conspiracies to defraud require concerted and well-grounded attacks in order to be eliminated. What is worse about the deliberate conspiracies is that they affect the very atmosphere in which public business is conducted.
Order granting leave to file judicial review in Afra Raymond vs Ministry of Finance and the Economy
This is the Order by Justice Boodoosingh to grant me the right to have the Judicial Review heard in Court…our first hearing is set for 1 May 2013
Application for judicial review in Afra Raymond vs Ministry of Finance and the Economy
The case is a critical challenge to the detrimental notion that $24Bn of Public Money can be spent without Accountability or Transparency. That notion does violence to any healthy conception of the Public Interest, so I expect this contest to be a sharp one.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand…”
Frederick Douglass…Freedom Fighter and esteemed ancestor…
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant!”
Former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis…
Calcutta Settlement review
The simple, inescapable fact is that the State could have lawfully acquired the ‘Eden Gardens’ property for less than $40M. The HDC paid $175M in November 2012 to Point Lisas Park Ltd (PLP) for that property, which is the reason I am calling this an improper use of Public Money.
Despite having available the advice of the Commissioner of State Lands, the Commissioner of Valuations and various attorneys at HDC and so on, the Cabinet approved this transaction. This Cabinet, with two Senior Counsel at its head and several other seasoned legal advisers, appears to have been unaware of, or intentionally ignoring, the legal safeguards.
Some readers may be surprised at those assertions, so here are my reasons for making such.
The last two articles examined the steps leading to the HDC’s purchase of land at ‘Eden Gardens’ in Calcutta Settlement. In my opinion that transaction, as well as the one which preceded it, are both highly improper and very probably unlawful. The HDC purchase must be reversed and the responsible parties investigated/prosecuted as required by our laws.
Pre-Action Protocol letter to Ministry of Finance pursuant to FoI Application of 11 May 2012
What is being pursued here is our right as citizens of a modern republic to the details of these huge expenditures of Public Money – the CL Financial bailout is costing some $24Bn, about $3.5Bn USD! – and the background to how critical legislative support is obtained. It is my view that S.34 was not the first time and that the spectre of ‘regulatory capture’, which underlines much of the discourse around the Great Depression 2, is in fact founded on a sinister degree of ‘legislative capture’.
Having had a series of ‘cat and mouse’ exchanges with the Ministry of Finance since my Freedom of Information Act application made on 11 May 2012, this is my pre-action protocol letter sent to them by my attorney on Thursday 7 March, seeking their proper reply in 7 days…that time expires at midnight today, Wednesday 13 March, so stay tuned, because we are going to the High Court after that…
Calcutta Settlement again
In light of the many questions raised by readers after the last article on the HDC’s purchase of land at ‘Eden Gardens‘ in Calcutta Settlement, I am continuing there.
The previous article discussed the Calcutta Settlement scheme and its relation to implementation of national housing policy. There is little, if any, connection between the provision of affordable housing and the acquisition of those ‘Eden Gardens‘ lands, at what is surely the highest price in Central Trinidad. How we create and implement a progressive housing policy is a critical part of this discourse, but there is more.
Another important aspect of this episode is the fact that sound land administration policy appears to have been abandoned for expediency. Expediency should never eclipse proper policy, especially when neither the process nor end-result advance the ultimate objective of serving our citizens.
The sidelining of sound land administration policy was essential in order to get the Calcutta Settlement scheme approved. National Land Administration policy is important so that we can be strategic in using the country’s property assets for proper national development, as opposed to the enrichment of a select few.
Afra joins the top 1%TEDxTalks featured on the TED.com website
Afra Raymond’s talk at TEDxPortofSpain 2012 is part of the 1% of TEDxTalks that get featured on the TED.com website. Congratulations to Afra. So far there have been 5,900 events held in 1,683 cities producing 25,500 talks worldwide. Only 247 TEDxTalks have feature on the TED.com website and now Afra is one of them.
From THA/BOLT to Calcutta – tangled webs: Part 2
Last week I set out my main concerns in relation to poor procurement processes with the THA/BOLT project. A large amount of Public Money was being committed to a project with little apparent regard to Value for Money concerns in an arrangement which seems to expose the THA to the principal risks at a time of limited financial resources.
Today TED featured Afra Raymonds TEDxPortofSpain talk as a talk of the week.
Each week TED selects four of their favourite talks, highlighting just a few of the enlightening speakers from the TEDx community, and its diverse constellation of ideas worth spreading. Afra’s talk was chosen. Congratulations to Afra and the TEDxPortofSpain Community.
From THA/BOLT to Calcutta – tangled webs: Part 1
With the THA elections having become a kind of national contest, the issues of governance and integrity loom large. The two relevant controversial issues, both of which emerged late last year, were the THA/BOLT office project and the HDC’s proposed purchase of land at Calcutta No. 2 Settlement.
Both those projects have given me serious cause for concern in terms of proper public procurement practice, so much so that I see them as being two sides of the same coin. Both these cases are models of inadvisable dealings in Public Money of a type which no prudent or reputable company would undertake. I am choosing my words carefully since recent reports are that litigation has already started on the THA/BOLT project and there may well be further legal action on both projects as we go forward…
VIDEO: The three sides of corruption: Afra Raymond at TEDxPortofSpain – 12.12.12
Replying to the Ministry of Finance on our Freedom of Information application of 8th May 2012…
- CL Financial accounts and if those are not available, the figures on which the Minister of Finance has been relying
- The presentation made to Members of Parliament in September 2011 to brief them prior to the debate on the Central Bank (Amendment) Bill and the Purchase of Certain Rights and Validation Bill 2011
- Details on the composition of the creditors of the CL Financial group, in particular EFPA holders. I was asking who was owed money and who got paid. That is at the centre of this issue
- Declarations filed by Directors and Officers of the CL Financial group under the IPLA - I have since established that those declarations are not being filed, so this pursuit is about the first three questions.
A fuller background on all this can be read here.
This is my reply to the letter sent by the Ministry of Finance on 14th August 2012.
Stay tuned, because this is going to be a real battle to get at the truth.
The Plot to Pervert Parliament
We have witnessed two grievous Constitutional outrages. We have to keep our eyes on the ball in this season of mass distractions. For the government, there is every reason for us to ‘move on’ and forget about these deliberate violations of our constitution.
- The first was the State of Emergency – declared on August 21 2011 – with no proper reason ever being given for the suspension of our Constitutional rights. All the persons arrested were poor people. All of whom had to be released for lack of evidence, in a situation where the Police had the complete freedom to search for evidence. But what is worse, the suspension of our Constitutional rights was not used to gather evidence against the White-Collar bandits who have this nation by the throat. That State of Emergency would have been an ideal opportunity to gather evidence against this most evasive, well-advised and malodorous class of criminal.
- The second was the S.34 scandal – on August 31 2012 – which I have called the Plot to Pervert Parliament. This abuse of our legislative process allowed high-profile White-Collar Criminals to escape justice.
An abusive double-attack, so how do we speak the Truth to Power?
According to Abraham Lincoln “…Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power…”
These scandals continue to echo in the mind of so many people that it is only a matter of time before we have a thorough Public Enquiry. We must record who abused their office. Also, we need to remember clearly, who are these apologists who are now insisting that nothing big happened and in any case, it is all over.
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