Posts Tagged UDECOTT
Discussion is revolving around the country’s earnings from our energy resources and the likely size of the next year’s budget, expected to be delivered in early October.
Given the fact that our energy resources are reported to be declining in both quantity and value, it is very important that we make best use of that stream of resources to both sustain the existing arrangements and create a new series of industries to replace those declining earnings.
In my view, our focus in this critical transitional period has to be on making best use of those limited tax dollars. Although that is an objective on which we can assume broad consensus, there seems to me to be far too little discussion on the ways in which that can be achieved.
When we consider that most of the capital expenditure in the country takes place via the State and its agencies, it is clear that proper control of that expenditure is key to making the transition for our society. The other parts of State expenditure are recurrent, such as salaries and rents.
The growth of corruption in State expenditure is a clear danger to good order and national development. White-Collar crime, as it is sometimes called, is a growth industry because there is almost zero chance of being detected or punished and huge rewards.
The danger to good order is the fact that merit has a declining role in the way State spending decisions are made. It is clear that other factors have become dominant – things like friends, family and political affiliation are now well-understood to be the ingredients of success in getting work from the State. That is the case for all political administrations so far in our country, but it must change if we are to make the transition to a sustainable economy in which different values and income sources take the lead.
The budget of the present financial year is the largest in our country’s history and it is true that the major part of that expenditure could be classed as exceptional items, having to deal with settling large debts of State Enterprises and the huge CL Financial bailout payments. The point here is that those huge expenses arose in situations with a distinct lack of transparency and accountability, from the lack of accounts at UDECOTT and HDC to the naked corruption of the CL Financial bailout, there is a pattern.
If there is no transparency and no accountability, there will be corruption and that is inescapable.
Expenditure of Public money – Accountability – Transparency = CORRUPTION
Public Procurement refers to any expenditure or receipt of public money, which is money due to, or ultimately payable by, the State. That definition covers all the Ministries and State agencies as well as modern arrangements such as BOLT, PPP, concessions and so on. In the PP’s first budget, there were disclosed plans to spend almost $14.0Bn in the capital program of the Ministries and State Agencies. We need a proper Public Procurement system to manage these vast sums of money.
It is for this reason that the People’s Partnership commitment to implementing a new and effective Public Procurement system is to be welcomed. The JCC and its partners – the Chamber of Commerce, the Manufacturers’ Association and the Transparency Institute – have submitted a draft Bill for consideration of the Joint Select Committee established by Parliament.
Finance Minister Winston Dookeran made good on the PP’s pre-election promise to lay in Parliament the new Public Procurement proposals within one month of the election.
The level of political support for this initiative has been encouraging, but there is the issue of priorities to confront in this matter.
I am referring to the fact that the second part of the PP commitment to a new and effective Public Procurement system was that it was to have taken effect on the anniversary of the election.
That target has been missed and the work of the Joint Select Committee has been preserved so that it can proceed when the Parliament re-opens at the Waterfront.
The challenge we have to confront is the race to implement public projects in a manner which reminds me of the phrase I had coined for the last administration – ‘Project Fever’, like a new strain of political dengue.
The need to stimulate economic activity is something everyone appreciates and the perceived competition between Ministers is becoming part of the new reality. Provided that there are effective local content provisions, the more projects the country is doing, means more work for our professionals, contractors, workforce and suppliers. No one would argue against an increase in economic activity.
The problem is that, in the absence of proper controls, those short-term imperatives can lead directly to the dire long-term consequences which I referred to earlier. The State now has to spend immense sums to clear up debts which arose during an earlier spending frenzy, with operatives, who would have all said at the time that this or that project was essential.
These frenzied moments of activity are the correct place for the application of real leadership in terms of the national priorities, particularly in relation to the issue of expenditure. I am calling on Finance Minister Dookeran to make this issue of controlling expenditure a number-one priority in this budget.
Given that the ongoing flow of projects is strong and constant, a proposed program would look like this –
- New Public Procurement policy – Minister Dookeran must make this new system an absolute priority with a firm commitment to have the new framework made law by the end of this session of Parliament, which is in December. That is an indispensable part of building a new economy going forward and it would definitely be a manifestation of New Politics.
- Embargo new projects – In relation to projects which are not yet at the stage of Requests for Proposals, there needs to be an embargo until the new Public Procurement system is in place. There will be appeals that the struggle is for economic stimulus over proper process, but those must be dismissed. There is no way you can get to the right place after making a wrong turn. No way. Everybody knows that. Expediency taking precedence over principle has cost our country enormously, both in cash terms and lost opportunity.
- Projects ‘in the pipeline’ – Projects which are already at the stage of Requests for Proposals must conform with the principles underlying the new Public Procurement proposals – Transparency, Accountability and Value for Money.
Without proper control over expenditure, we will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis. We need to stabilize the economy and restore the importance of merit in our public decision-making.
As part of this pre-budget series, I am going to ‘take stock’ of some recent, significant happenings in relevant areas.
Given the unstable situation in relation to the State and its operations, many examples of which have been set out in previous ‘Property Matters’ columns, it is very important that a critical stance be maintained. That said, it is also important that any progress be properly recorded and acknowledged.
The notable items were –
Housing Development Corporation (HDC)
I was very pleased to read of the success HDC was having in collecting the serious rent arrears owed by its tenants, reportedly in excess of $240M. Of course this is not the first time there has been an effort to rectify this situation, so hopefully this will be a sustained program as it is vital that housing be treated with proper responsibility. That responsibility would extend from the quality of the designs and construction, the treatment of contractors and suppliers all the way to housing policies which respond to the needs of the needy.
Last week, there was a report in this newspaper that the Housing and Environment Minister, Dr. Roodal Moonilal, disclosed a new housing policy. According to that report, the new policy will favour distribution of serviced lots, with foundation slabs, over the provision of new homes. I have been calling for a review of our housing policy for some time now, so it was very disappointing to read that Cabinet had recently approved this important new policy without some formal process of dialogue or seeking wider views, much less a thorough examination of the shortcomings of the 2002 policy. Yes, a new housing policy was sorely needed, but there are solid benefits to wider dialogue.
Housing is too important an element of our Welfare State to ever become solely a creature of Cabinet, whatever the credentials of the current crop of Ministers.
This leads directly into my point about the poor flow of basic information, which can be detrimental to the best intentions. The 2002 housing policy disappeared from the internet about 6 months ago, but despite several written requests I have had no success in having those links restored, for whatever reason. The new housing policy is also not available online. In contrast, last month the Ministry of Finance issued a revised State Enterprises Performance Monitoring Manual and that is available online, together with the 2008 Manual it replaced.
The impending new Building Code is to be welcomed, having been developed in collaboration with key stakeholders. There needs to be a solid commitment by all parties to establishing proper enforcement of those critical standards. The Building Code will cover important areas such as earthquake and fire hazards as well as other quality issues.
The initiative is being piloted by Dr. Roodal Moonilal, Minister of Housing and the Environment. UDECOTT and the HDC both form part of his responsibilities, so that is a good fit. We will have to be vigilant to ensure that all State construction conforms to the new standards.
I can scarcely believe that the very Minister who understands the importance of collaborating with stakeholders on the new National Building Code, would state a week earlier that the new Housing Policy had been agreed by Cabinet, with no visible attempt at consultation. Incredible, but true.
A Culture of Consequence
I have consistently stated that the absence of consequence is inimical to any development and that consequence has to be restored to a proper place if we are to progress. Up to last Thursday, 11 August, I stated at a public meeting that I was unaware of any government in this country taking decisive action against its own appointees in the State Enterprises. The pattern has been one of charging people from the last political administration in what almost always looks like revenge.
The Sunday Guardian headline of 14 August ‘Cabinet fires Chairman of School-feeding Programme’ was as welcome as it was surprising. It was reported that the Cabinet had taken decisive action to fire a Chairman who had been appointed about 6 months before and that is a positive step, the first time any government in this country has done that, as far as I am aware.
According to that exclusive story, the fired Chairwoman of the National Schools Dietary Services Ltd (NSDSL)—Dawn Annamunthodo – had obtained extensive and expensive security guards for herself, due to some alleged death threats. There were also details of what seemed to be deceptive attempts by that individual to become a signatory to the bank accounts of that State-owned company. If those reports are true, there are two serious implications –
Firstly, it is extremely unlikely that this is the first time that this individual was involved in acts of that kind. Grown people do not just change their behaviour in a few months’ time, we all know that. My point being that this episode calls into question the screening which is carried out in relation to these appointments. Whatever screening processes now exist, will definitely have to be made stronger, together with ongoing reviews of Board performance.
Given that the Prime Minister is widely reported to have approved the Chairpersons of State Boards, that screening process needs to be reviewed urgently so as to preserve the integrity of that office.
Secondly, this individual is reported to have attempted to convince Republic Bank’s Ellerslie Plaza branch to make her a signatory and that matter must be promptly investigated by the Fraud Squad, with charges to follow if those allegations are true. It is an echo of the point I made here last week about a dutiful police officer allowing a motorist with a defective vehicle to just drive-off after a ticket is issued. Not good enough, if we are serious about road-safety. We have to restore a Culture of Consequence if White-Collar Crime is to be challenged.
But, even though no money appears to have been stolen in that School-Feeding episode, the saddest part was the bold-faced question that individual asked the Guardian reporter, when invited to give a comment
How did you get hold of those documents? Those are state documents. These questions are state business.
It reminded me very much of the response of Jewan Ramcharitar, former PriceWaterhouseCoopers partner, who suddenly resigned as eTeck Chairman almost a month ago. That entire affair remains mysterious, with Stephen Cadiz, the line Minister, stating that it was due to a ‘difference of opinion’ and the departed Chairman reportedly stating –
I am actually working on a project in the public service arena on a full-time basis and my time at eTeck is eroding the time and attention I pay to that.
“Just what that project is, he won’t say.”
I wonder if Ramcharitar would have found that dismissive answer to be acceptable when he was a partner at PWC? Probably not, yet we are continually beset by these evasive attitudes in public affairs. We need to hold our leaders to a high standard.
The latest twist is the sudden resignation of George Nicholas as Chairman of Caribbean Airlines and the opaque statement by the Minister of Transport, Devant Maharaj – “…Yes. I can confirm this. I am in receipt of his letter but I cannot say anything more…”
In the three cases, bare-faced conflation of State Business with Business which is private, personal or confidential.
Good steps are to be recognized and applauded, but we must always strive for better. We need to continue onward and upward. It would be good to have a statement from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Communications as to the governments’ commitment to a progressive policy in these important matters. The Housing policy needs to be published for comment and we also need to have a clear statement as to whether there can be any such thing as a confidential state policy.
Confidential State Policy may seem like an oxymoron, but readers will be aware of the reluctance of the Education Facilities Company Limited to publish its new Confidentiality Policy. I don’t want to say refusal, but when this budget season is over we will be continuing to examine those EFCL operations.
In the next few weeks, this column will cover some of the issues which are likely to have a bearing on the 2012 Budget.
In my view the State and its Agencies must perform in an exemplary fashion if we are to progress. A good example is worth a thousand words.
At page 22 of the 2010-2011 budget statement, the Minister of Finance said -
…Mr. Speaker, no coherent, co-ordinated planning or strategy for state enterprises exists. As a result we have begun to rationalise the state enterprises, including the special purpose companies, which will incorporate a new accountability system that goes beyond the presently operating company ordinances. It is these loopholes in public accountability that resulted in the UdeCOTT scandal. This must never again happen in Trinidad and Tobago…
The Ministry of Finance has now published a new State Enterprises Performance Monitoring Manual 2011, it is over three times longer than the previous edition, so it will be something to consider in weeks to come.
Certainly, there are stricter requirements in relation to the filing of accounts – at pg 30 of the 2011 guidelines -
3.2.5 AUDITED FINANCIAL STATEMENTS
State Enterprises are required to submit the following:
- Audited Financial Statements (2 originals and 120 copies) to the Minister of Finance within four (4) months of their financial year end. These reports are to be laid in Parliament and subsequently submitted to the Public Accounts and Enterprises Committee for consideration;
- Copies of their Management letters issued by Statutory Auditors…
At pg 16 of the 2008 edition -
1.3.10 Publishing of Financial Statements by State Enterprises
Government has agreed that State Enterprises be required to publish in at least one (1) major daily newspaper a summary of the audited financial statements within four (4) months to the end of their financial year and a summary of the unaudited half-yearly statements within two (2) months of the mid-year date.
Such summary statements must be in accordance with the requirements of the Securities Industry Act, 1995.
The new guidelines appear to be stricter, but the requirement to publish to the press seems to have been removed.
There are swirling issues on this -
- No accounts for years – As I have pointed out before, some of the largest State Enterprises have published no accounts for years. UDECOTT and NHA/HDC are just two examples of this flagrant breach of the shareholders’ instructions as set out above. In the case of HDC, there is a greater concern in my view, since sections 18, 19 and 20 of the HDC Act require the audited accounts to be produced and published. Anyhow you try to spin it, those are terrible signs. For a private company to have no accounts, for even a few months, is indicative of poor performance at the very least. No accounts for years is unacceptable. One can only wonder how clearly could anyone plan if basic information is being obscured in this fashion. We expect better from the chiefs of these State Enterprises and certainly we expect better from the Peoples’ Partnership. In his preamble to the 2010-2011 budget, Minister Dookeran said -
…We must at all times remember who we work for. We must make Government work for the people. As our Prime Minister always says: serve the people, serve the people, serve the people…
- Serious debts outstanding – There are continuing reports, despite some efforts, that contractors, consultants and suppliers are owed substantial monies by State Enterprises for extended periods. That has a disastrous effect on our local economy both on an immediate tangible level and in terms of the more subjective element of confidence.
- Ambitious new projects continue to be announced, even as the basic accounts are incomplete and substantial bills remain unpaid.
Apart from the evident confusion, at the very highest levels of the State and Government, the unacceptable part is that there is not even an attempt to explain what is the hold-up or what areas of the accounts remain unresolved. The few times anyone in authority has attempted to explain the delays in those accounts, it has been a model of vagueness and ambiguity. That uncommunicative behaviour does not augur well. These State Enterprises are not building a wartime bunker or a new spy satellite, only new homes and offices.
But there is more, according to S. 99 (1) of the Companies Act 1995
- every Director of a company shall in exercising his powers and discharging his duties act honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the company; and
- exercise the care, diligence and skill that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in comparable circumstances.
Those provisions make mismanagement of a company an offence. It is literally impossible to manage or direct the affairs of a multi-billion dollar company in the absence of audited accounts. So there must be serious concerns as to how the Directors of those State Enterprises without accounts could have properly discharged their obligations under S. 99 (1).
Apart from these points, there is now the fact that the SEC has made Orders in respect of Contraventions of the Securities Industry Act 1995 and the Securities Industry Bye-Laws 1997. Those Orders are in relation to the failure of these huge State-owned Enterprises to publish their accounts -
- 19th March 2010 against HDC, with fines totalling $121,000 – see http://www.ttsec.org.tt/content/pub100326.pdf.
- 15th June 2011 against UDECOTT, with fines totalling $120,000 – see http://www.ttsec.org.tt/content/Order-for-settlement-re-UDECOTT.pdf.
- 25th July 2011 against HDC, with fines totalling $400,000 – see http://www.ttsec.org.tt/content/Order-for-settlement-re-Trinidad-and-Tobago-Housing-Development-Corporation.pdf.
I was pleased to see the SEC taking this firm action against these offending State Enterprises, it is an important and necessary intervention. I am not at all sure what, if any, ongoing penalties are being applied. If there are no ongoing punishments or fines, this important regulator needs to take a tougher stand. It is simply not good enough in my view for the regulator to levy these fines and allow the companies to carry on with ‘business as usual‘. That would be like a dutiful policeman ticketing a motorist for smooth tires, no seatbelt and no headlights – issuing the ticket and then letting that motorist drive off. The SEC needs to consider heavy daily fines and banning orders against Directors of these companies in breach of the law, if such do not already exist.
The era of irresponsibility in high office needs to be brought to a close. The role of the Treasury in supporting this grossly irresponsible behaviour is questionable. The silence on the missing accounts is intolerable. The chapter of getting away with it needs to be ended.
Expenditure of Public money – Accountability – Transparency = CORRUPTION
State Enterprises were created to enhance the pace and quality of Public Procurement, yet they are now the scene of the most bedeviling paradoxes in the entire system of public administration.
Some of the key procurement issues which arise in this arena flow directly from the split character of the governance model.
The basic rationale for the existence of State Enterprises is they can be more effective because they are not bound by the strict rules which control the conventional civil service. The absence of those rules is supposed to allow more latitude in terms of hiring, borrowing and contracting. State Enterprises can hire professional staff at market rates, enter complex commercial arrangements and borrow on commercial terms, all of which should amount to significant improvements in public services.
The typical State Enterprise is owned by the State, with the shareholding held by the Corporation Sole, an exceptional legal creature which exists within the Ministry of Finance. Apart from its owner, the State Enterprise will sometimes have a ‘line Ministry’, which would be its sole or main client. For example, the Ministry of Housing & the Environment is the sole client of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and the Ministry of Education is the sole client of the Education Facilities Company Limited (EFCL).
State Enterprises can operate within the existing Companies Act or be established by a separate Act of Parliament, as is the case with the HDC. That legal framework ought to ensure that a satisfactory standard of corporate governance and accountability is maintained.
The fact is that many of the Directors and Officers of State Enterprises are political appointees, which puts the entire rationale onto a doubtful footing. Because the salaries and perks are so attractive, not to mention the commercial opportunities, the State Enterprises are prize targets for political appointments and favours.
Some of the main issues which arise when one is considering this sector are -
- the number of State Enterprises – there needs to be a reduction in the number of State Enterprises.
- If the politicians can instruct the State Enterprise, via the Permanent Secretary, on specifics, what is the purpose of the Board?
- Given the preceding point, do the Board members of State Enterprises have the same duties under the Companies Act as in the case of other registered companies?
- In terms of our proposed Public Procurement legislation, what is the boundary between the fiduciary responsibility of the Directors and the contracting powers of an ‘authorised officer’ – i.e. someone identified as having the power to enter certain contracts?
Proceeding along the Procurement Cycle and using the International Waterfront Centre (IWC) as an example –
- Needs Identification – This is the first stage of the Procurement Cycle and it ought to be an objective assessment of needs. In this case, the IWC was part of a huge, disastrous boom in building new offices in POS – this is all detailed at ‘Capital Concerns – New Office Buildings’ – here. Before the boom started in 2005, there was 6.5M sq. ft. of offices in Greater POS, at the start of the boom some 3.2M sq. ft., or an additional 50% of the capital’s office supply was approved for construction. Please remember that Nicholas Tower, which took 5 years to fill, is only 100,000 sq. ft. Just under 2.8M sq. ft of new offices was actually built in POS in the last 5 years, with 2.3M sq. ft. of that space (82% of it) actually built by the State. Every State project identified at the outset was executed, but in stark contrast, virtually half the private sector projects stopped before construction began. The obvious consequence of that over-building by the State has been a collapse in the office rental levels in the capital, which is detailed in the next point.
- Reconcile Needs with Funds – This is the stage at which a developer ought to consider critical questions such as the cost of funds, the cost of the project and the returns from it. That is sometimes called a feasibility test and this is where the IWC dissolves into utter confusion. When then PM Manning addressed the Senate on 13May 2008, he emphasized that every UDeCOTT project was approved by Cabinet and had been vetted by a Finance Committee on Financial Implications. That is the most important address if we are to see the depth of the problem with these State Enterprises – see here. The break-even point on such projects is the rent at which the project can repay its costs of construction – at minimum, those costs would have to include for land, design, construction and finance. On that ‘bare-bones’ basis, which makes no allowance for maintenance or periods when spaces are vacant, the break-even rent for the IWC is in the $30 per sq. ft. range. This is the largest single office building ever built in our capital and the best rents ever achieved for space of comparable quality is about half the break-even figure. There is no way that the IWC project could ever have satisfied any proper feasibility test. Every new office project started in our capital only increased the supply of offices, which reduced the market rent, which, in turn, increased the gap with the break-even rent. Under oath at the Uff Enquiry, Calder Hart tried to rationalize the confusion when he confirmed that only one of UDeCOTT’s projects had been subject to a feasibility test and that one was the IWC. He was even so bold-faced as to estimate a break-even rent in the $20 range, but, when pressed, had to admit that he had left the cost of the land out of the calculations! That is the extent of the deformed thinking which typified the best schemes of the leading State Enterprise. Only one of the State’s many office development projects tested for feasibility and in that case, the cost of the land is omitted, yet that same land is included as a part of UDeCOTT’s Assets at $224M in that very financial year. Political imperatives were allowed to pervert a process which exists to protect the public interest from this kind of empire-building. But it is in the next part that the full confusion comes to bear.
- The rest of the procurement cycle – This is the stage at which tenders were invited for design-build and the winning bidder selected, the project built and the complex opened. According to UDeCOTT’s statements, the IWC project is its flagship and an outstanding success, having been built on time and within budget. Even if one accepts those assertions as being true, the IWC project is an example of the tragic consequences of a limited application of proper procurement processes.
As a result we have a completed project which is said to have been built on time and under budget, yet makes no economic sense and has a break-even point at some uncertain point in the future, if ever.
Some collateral damage needs to be noted, to quote one of the former PM’s notable phrases. Contrary to his statement to the Senate which is cited here, UDeCOTT did not publish its accounts since 2006, which is a breach of both the Companies Act and the Ministry of Finance guidelines. A total breach of the elementary norms of good corporate governance, which is the protection the private sector structure was supposed to give us taxpayers as a safeguard. Because of the political element in the operation, we can see clearly that UDeCOTT was carrying-out the instructions of the Cabinet and those Directors have not been punished or censured in any way, apart from their public dismissal. The consequence of those breaches being condoned at the largest State Enterprises – UDeCOTT and HDC – how does one get the smaller and less-visible State Enterprises to conform to good governance?
If the priest could play, who is we?
This is why we need a complete review of our procurement controls.
This special publication is dedicated to the important issue of Public Procurement. It is written by the a private sector group, headed by the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC). The JCC consists of:
- Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad & Tobago (APETT)
- Trinidad & Tobago Institute of Architects (TTIA)
- Board of Architecture of Trinidad & Tobago (BOATT) – observer status
- Trinidad & Tobago Society of Planners (TTSP)
- Trinidad & Tobago Contractors’ Association (TTCA)
- Institute of Surveyors of Trinidad & Tobago (ISTT) comprising Land Surveyors, Quantity Surveyors and Valuation Surveyors.
The private sector group consisted of –
- Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry
- Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Industry & Commerce
- Trinidad & Tobago Manufacturers’ Association
- Trinidad & Tobago Transparency Institute.
The members of that Private Sector group were part of the Working Party on the Public Procurement White Paper, which was published in August 2005 and laid in Parliament the following month.
The Peoples’ Partnership’s manifesto, at page 18, commits to –
- Prioritise the passing of procurement legislation and appropriate rules and regulations
- Establish equitable arrangements for an efficient procurement system ensuring transparency and accountability by all government departments and state enterprises…
In keeping with those campaign promises, the Minister of Finance tabled two legislative proposals in Parliament on 25 June 2010. Those were a Bill to amend the Central Tenders’ Board Act (originally prepared in 1997, when Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj was Attorney General) and the Public Procurement Bill (originally prepared in 2006, after publication of the White paper). A Joint Select Committee (JSC) was established on 1 October 2010 to examine those proposals, invite submissions and make recommendations.
The stated target of the PP government is to have the new Public Procurement legislation in place by the first anniversary of their electoral victory – i.e. by 25 May 2011.
Our Private Sector/Civil Society group reconvened last year and made a joint submission to the JSC in December 2010 – it is available here from the JCC‘s website. Our Private Sector group has had several meetings with the JSC – which was chaired by Education Minister, Dr. Tim Gopeesingh – but the results of those are not featured in this publication.
This special publication is intended to inform readers of the necessity for new Public Procurement legislation in our country and to set out the objectives of our proposals.
The guiding Principles
These are –
- Value for Money
The broad picture
One of the most serious findings of both the Bernard Enquiry (Piarco Airport Project) and the Uff Report (UDeCOTT and HDC) was the extent to which the largest State projects were being executed outside of any normal system of accountability. The very purpose of setting up these companies and procurement methods was to bypass the Central Tenders Board. The natural consequence of that way of proceeding being that if the CTB could be sidelined as a deliberate act of public policy, then other important elements of the regulatory framework are violated as a matter of course. In the case of both UDeCOTT and NHA/HDC, accounts were not filed for years – since 2006 for the former and 2002 for the latter – in flagrant violation of the rules and laws.
These were the largest State projects – often described as being the flagship or centre-piece of this or that government’s policy – yet they were breaking the main rules and getting away with it. The ‘getting away with it’ is the cloudy part of the picture, because we never hear of any penalty being sought against those State Enterprise Directors who broke the governance rules.
But that is the very centre of the puzzle and we need to understand it before we can try to unlock it. So, we are told, time and again, that the only way to really get important and urgent projects done in the correct fashion is to go outside the rules. The stated reasons are that the old rules are too cumbersome, slow etc… and yet, we end up, time and again, in the same mess.
Some of the features of these fiascos are –
- Huge cost over-runs on virtually every project.
- Unfinished projects which virtually no one can make sense of – to date there is no proper rationale for the huge and loss-leading International Waterfront Project, apart from Calder Hart’s bogus explanation to the Uff Enquiry.
- A gross burden on our Treasury going forward – The continuing delay in completing the accounts for these State Enterprises shows how difficult it is to work out exactly what the State owes and to whom.
What all that tells us is that the existing rule-book seems to be blocking progress and the attempts to bypass it have done little better, if not far worse.
The dismal picture on public procurement is not limited to construction projects and can be found in all the other areas.
A new approach is needed and that is what is at the foundation of these legislative proposals.
What is Public Money?
Central to the new proposals is that any new Public Procurement system must be in full effect whenever Public Money is spent.
‘Public Money’ is defined at page 5 of our proposals as money which is either due to, or ultimately payable by, the State.
Our proposals are intended to form part of a financial management reform package to include for a National Audit Office and a Financial Management and Accountability Bill.
The intended move is towards a greater transparency and duty of care in terms of how taxpayers’ money is spent. Our citizens, particularly the unborn ones who will have to pay for some of the wasteful schemes which are littering the landscape, deserve no less.
The new equation confronting us is –
Expenditure of Public Money
We must fix that.
So, what is at stake here?
Our society is beset by large-scale corruption, which sustains wrong-headed decision-making. The wider social consequences of that toxic culture are now hatching, with a vengeance, in the naked violence and wily crimes which pre-occupy our head-space.
The killing-fields of East POS, the decimation of African urban youths, the URP and CEPEP gangs and the battle for turf are all part of this picture.
As long as our society continues to applaud and reward dishonest, corrupt behaviour, we will continue sliding downhill.
The structure of our economy is that most of the country’s foreign exchange is earned by the State in the form of oil & gas earnings. The rest of the society relies on the State and its organs to recycle those earnings for the benefit of those of us not directly engaged in the energy sector.
For that reason, the State casts a very long shadow in our country, far more so than in other places. Virtually every substantial business relies on the State and its organs for a significant part of its earnings. A healthy connection with the State is essential for good profits.
But that is where the particular problem is, since the conduct of the State and its organs is often found to be lacking in the basic ingredients of fairplay, accountability and transparency.
If the State is the biggest source of funds in the place and the State is not playing straight at all, a serious question arises – How can we hope to uplift our society?
The State has an over-riding duty to behave in an exemplary fashion in its policy and operations.
Due to its tremendous footprint, the State has to behave in that exemplary fashion if we are to move out of this mess. A positive shift in State conduct will have a salutary effect on the commercial culture and wider society, one that is long overdue.
So, who spends Public Money?
We have a vast, expensive and confusing array of organs, all of which are authorized to spend our money. For a country of about 1.4M people, we have 26 Ministries. Just consider that the UK, with a population of about 65 million, has 19 Ministries and the USA, with a population of about 300 million, has 16 Ministries. For a Caribbean example, Jamaica has twice our population and 16 Ministries.
Given the vast range of operations undertaken by these agencies, any new system would have to be flexible in order to cover all those types of transactions.
The main features of the new system
Three new independent organs will be created –
- The Procurement Regulator (PR), with the duty to create overall Guidelines and a common handbook to guide the public procurement process. The Regulator is appointed by the President in his own discretion and reports only to the Parliament. Agencies can create their own procurement handbooks, once these conform to the overall Guidelines, as approved by the Procurement Regulator.
- The Public Procurement Commission (PPC) will be the investigative arm of the new apparatus to which complaints will be directed.
- The National Procurement Advisory Council (NPAC) will be purely advisory and comprises 14 members from a broad range of named private sector/civil society organisations – the JCC, Manufacturers’ Association, Chamber of Commerce, Transparency Institute – as well as the Ministry of Finance and the Tobago House of Assembly.
All expenses are to be drawn on the Consolidated Fund, with the Procurement Regulator and Advisory Council required to report annually to Parliament.
A vital part of our proposals is that Cabinet, Government Ministers or politicians are prohibited from instructing or directing these new agencies in any way.
They are intended to be entirely independent of political influence, which conforms to the proposals in the White Paper.
That freedom from political influence was also specified in both the 1997 and 2006 draft legislation.
A Complaints Procedure
The proposed system will create clear rights to make complaints or report wrongdoing. Those rights are an important aspect of any modern procurement system and we propose three types of complaints/investigations –
- Potential tenderers/suppliers can complain, in the first instance directly to the Agency with which the tendering opportunity resides, then, if that is not dealt with satisfactorily, they can complain to the Public Procurement Commission. Ultimately, the right to seek the protection of the High Court is preserved, once the established complaints procedure has been followed.
- The Whistleblower – We are proposing that whistleblowers be given legislative protection and practical means to bring their complaints direct to the Public Procurement Commission.
- The Public Procurement Commission can also, on its own initiative, start an investigation into an area of concern.
There are strict time-limits for acknowledgement and resolution of complaints.
Our proposal is for the Public Procurement Commission to have powers to punish both frivolous complainants as well as parties found to be in breach of the new system. Those can range from fines to embargoes, during which offending parties can be banned from tendering opportunities. Offending public officers can be subject to both fines and/or imprisonment.
The concern over the cost of the new apparatus
One of the most frequently expressed criticisms is that as critics of the rationale and operations of significant State Enterprises, we seem to be proposing a new series of state-funded agencies. Some people have pointed out that these offices are unlikely to be cheap, particularly the PPC, which is to be constituted as a standing Commission of Enquiry under those existing legal provisions.
Yes, there will be new agencies and yes, they will cost money.
Given the recent revelations as to the cost of the Uff Enquiry – already estimated to exceed $50M – there are genuine concerns that we could soon have three new state-funded agencies which could absorb maybe $100M a year.
The challenge here is to move beyond the obvious and factual observations so that we can consider the decisive factors. Our proposals have the promotion of Value for Money as one of its founding principles and that is good for the public. So, how can we measure the value for money of these proposals, at this stage?
The scale of public procurement spending
In the case of expenditures direct out of the Ministries, the 2011 Budget has an anticipated capital expenditure for the Ministries of $7.050Bn, as per para 8 at page 4 of the Public Sector Investment Program (PSIP).
Also in that Budget there is an anticipated capital expenditure for the State Enterprises of $6.725Bn, as per the Foreword at page 4 of the Supplementary Public Sector Investment Program (Supplementary PSIP). The combined figure of $13.775Bn is only for projects, so it excludes the salaries, rents and normal running expenses. Please note that other elements in public expenditure, beyond just capital projects, will be covered by these proposals. The guiding principle being that those activities involve the expenditure of Public Money.
There are very limited exemptions from the proposed provisions and those can be viewed at the JCC website.
I am also sure that there are other ways in which Public Money is being expended which are not shown in the national Budget, so the amounts are surely larger than that estimate.
The potential for savings
The scale of the public transactions, involving Public Money, which will come under the control of this new system is huge, at least $14Bn in size. Even if the new system only saves 5% of that sum every year, we can easily justify an annual running expense in the $100M range, as mentioned earlier. 5% of $14Bn is $700M.
In the next 30 days, we expect our Legislators to make the crucial decisions on this series of proposals and we all need to be vigilant to preserve the key points.
Those key points would include –
- Heads of Independent organs to be appointed by the President
- Separation of the Regulator from the Investigator
- Regulations laid in Parliament for negative resolution, with no Ministerial or Cabinet approval required.
- Independent Organs funded from the Consolidated Fund, with no requirement to seek a Ministerial approval or Budget vote.
- Accountability is ensured by the requirement to report annually to Parliament.
- Private Sector/Civil Society oversight via the National Procurement Advisory Council.
- Proper provisions for complaints and Whistle-Blowers.
The ultimate question, given what we know now, is – Can we afford not to take this step?
At this unique and challenging moment in what has been a long, twisted journey, the prospects of more corruption and waste are grim.
For these proposals to succeed, the legislators will have to vote in favour of a new law which reduces their power and discretion. To some, that might be an impossible contradiction and an unreasonable thing to expect, but there will be considerable political credit to the account of those who make this change happen. Our citizens deserve no less.
Last week’s cover story in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian paper was of the same title. Readers were treated to a two-page article introducing UDeCOTT’s new Board of Directors and offering several views from the re-appointed Chairwoman, Jearlean John.
As a long-time UDeCOTT-watcher, I was really pleased to see their new Board appointed, but John’s opening quote in that article was provocative in the extreme. Speaking about the scandalous International Waterfront Centre (IWC), UDeCOTT’s flagship project, John is reported to have mused “…Whatever else he did, he did that…” Ms. John was referring to the now-departed Calder Hart.
Truer words were never spoken, but yet it was a provocative opening. How so?
Despite the regime change, it seems that the IWC remains UDeCOTT’s flagship project. On the one hand, its admirers point to the architectural merits of the complex and the repeated claims that it was completed on time and within budget. On the other hand, it is a monument to a chronically-flawed process of project conception and approval, being one of those classic ‘white elephant’ projects, with a ‘break-even’ point at some point in the distant future, if ever.
The IWC represents a serious paradox in the entire UDeCOTT fiasco, but more interestingly, it offers an insight into the extent of the issues facing that State-owned company. Yes, there is an unbroken thread of unreason through this flagship project to the bigger picture.
I will move from the general to the particular.
To begin at the very basic level, UDeCOTT has published no audited accounts since the end of 2006. Yes, that company, one of the hugest in the country, was operated throughout its period of greatest activity without audited accounts. Quite seriously, that indicates a far larger failure in terms of the rules and guidelines for State Enterprises, the oversight of the Parliament and of course the sheer dereliction of the Cabinet. At one point in the Uff Enquiry, UDeCOTT’s attorneys stated that it was a $12Bn company. Of course, the last Prime Minister repeatedly told the public that UDeCOTT was a leading State Enterprise.
At the Uff Enquiry, Calder Hart was questioned under oath by Alvin Fitzpatrick SC, the JCC’s attorney – the relevant extract is at http://wp.me/pBrZN-51 – and said on 28th January 2009 that all the issues with UDeCOTT’s accounts had been resolved. He went on to say that the accounts would be published shortly. Of course that has never happened, so we have to ask why.
In March 2010 I made yet another public call for the publication of those accounts. But even worse, according to a Newsday article on 18th March 2010, Jearlean John, the newly-appointed Chairwoman said
“…Explaining that she adheres to “good corporate governance” in her professional life, John said Udecott will adhere to the law and the standing accounting practices as outlined by the law…”
That published promise was never delivered.
The simple fact is that we cannot continue talking about performance and good governance, far less change, without knowing the condition of our largest State Enterprises.
That is a serious and inescapable point. We were sorely disappointed by the wanton mismanagement of the last regime and its consequences on the State Enterprise sector. The State Enterprises cannot and will not function if the actual strategy is unsound. The State Enterprises are meant to be servants to the Central Government.
I expect better from you both, Minister Mary King and Chairwoman Jearlean John. Much better. No continuation of the past follies and shameless excuses. I am saying plainly to you, Ms. John, that you promised us these accounts nearly a year ago and we have nothing. Sad to say, but a little further and your statements on this important matter could echo Hart’s, as he told his tale.
That article in last week’s BG stated that the new UDeCOTT Board would consider financials for 2008, 2009 and 2010 at its first meeting. No mention of 2007 and I hope that was a mis-print.
Where are the UDeCOTT accounts? What is the mystery? Are the issues resolved or not? Is there yet another ‘Code of Silence’ surrounding this nexus between Calder Hart, the PM’s office and PriceWaterhouse Coopers?
But what does the IWC have to do with all this?
You see, the various UDeCOTT supporters have continued to applaud this project as the flagship and a leading example etc. etc.. Even Jearlean John seems to be going in that direction.
So here are a few facts on that project -
- The break-even rent – This is the rent a project needs to earn to repay its cost (those costs include land, professional fees, construction and finance – they do not include for profits or maintenance). In the case of the IWC, that break-even rent was calculated by me, in this column and prior to the Uff Enquiry, as being of the order of $30 per sq. ft. Please note that rents of good quality space in POS at the time this project was approved would have been in the $12 psf range.
- The Feasibility test – I questioned Calder Hart under oath at the Uff Enquiry and he stated that only one UDeCOTT project had been the subject of a feasibility test- the very IWC. He stated that its ‘break-even rent’ was ‘…under $20psf…‘, but when I questioned what was the value he had attributed to the land, he replied ‘NIL’. Bogus and unprofessional approaches to massive investments. Hart was prepared to omit the property in order to carry out a feasibility test on a property development. That is the sheer scale of the failure we are looking at. All these projects were approved by the Cabinet, according to Manning’s 13th May 2008 statement to the Senate.
- The financing model – UDeCOTT’s 2006 Annual Report was strong on the point that that project in particular did not require a State letter of comfort or guarantee. It was meant to demonstrate the scale of achievement and independence.
- When will the IWC break even? – The best offices in POS are rented in the $15 psf range and the IWC comprises some 900,000 sf of offices – that is about nine times the size of the Nicholas Towers on Brian Lara Promenade. Due to its size, it would be reasonable to expect the IWC to fetch a rent of about $12-13psf now, if one were fortunate. Given that background, it seems that this project will never break even.
If UDeCOTT’s best project will never break even, the entire company must be insolvent or so close as to not make a difference.
If their best project is a big-time loser, it is no wonder that the last administration was reluctant to publish UDeCOTT accounts. The very year (2006) that project started was the very year the accounts stopped being published.
The profitability of the Hyatt, which was reportedly cited by John in last week’s article, needs to be backed up by those accounts. In any case the unprofitable offices far eclipse the Hyatt.
It is clear that UDeCOTT’s new Board have a heavy task before them in terms of fixing its many ills, but they need to start with an honest and straightforward approach. If the country has to count our losses, you need to do so now, Chairwoman John. Do so.
There is no right way to do the wrong thing.
This is the time to reflect on the changes we have witnessed in the last year and the several challenges arising from those. This column will attempt to combine the ‘Property Matters’ concerns with the ongoing examination of the CL Financial fiasco.
The Uff Report
For me, the largest single event this year was the completion of the work of the Uff Commission of Enquiry into the Public Sector Construction Industry, with particular reference to UDeCOTT and the HDC. The controversial Commission of Enquiry was at the centre of widespread public concerns as to the level of corruption in the State construction sector. To his credit, the Enquiry Chairman, Professor John Uff QC, PhD, insisted that the proceedings be televised and the results of each day’s hearings were also posted to its website.
The Uff Report made history in this country, since it is the first time that a government has published the Report of a Commission of Enquiry. That is no small accomplishment and despite the fact that these massive wrongdoings took place under the last PNM administration, the act of publication has to be welcomed.
But there are still challenges, because, for whatever reason, the Uff Commission’s website, www.constructionenquiry.gov.tt has now been shut down, which is a real pity, since it contains the important testimony of many witnesses on the issues in this area. That website needs to be re-opened and I am calling on the Attorney General, under whose Ministry the Enquiry was operated, to ensure that takes place. It is no large expense to have these important documents made available to the public. In light of their educative content, I would suggest that the actual documents be housed at UWI, as they have a direct bearing on the deliberations of the Engineering and Social Sciences Faculties.
Of course we had the sight of a fleeing Calder Hart and a defeated Patrick Manning, his PNM cohorts drinking bitter tea for his fever, all attributable in my view to the groundbreaking Uff Commission.
Looking forward, we have the fact that the 91 recommendations of the Uff Report were adopted by the Peoples Partnership in the run-up to the 24th May General Election. We have now been promised that those are to be implemented by Minister of Justice, Herbert Volney. We await Volney’s early report as to the implementation.
In that connection and taking from the PNM example, I am, once again, calling for the publication of the report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Piarco Airport project. The Bernard Report must be published now.
CL Financial bailout
The other huge event of the year was the budget speech on 8th September 2010, in which Finance Minister, Winston Dookeran, disclosed publicly that he was revising the terms of the CL Financial bailout. That bailout was a hugely suspect act, the largest financial commitment ever undertaken in this country, without proper due diligence or even any proper ventilation in the Parliament. Our Republic had never been so financially violated and in broad daylight. It was encouraging to see the Finance Minister take the point to its logical conclusion and of course that brought about the large-scale organisation of various aggrieved groups to put their point.
That series of organisations, committed to the doubtful mantra of the guaranteed investment – whatever that is – took on a series of bizarre and increasingly combative stances. The signature theme being that ‘We are not responsible for our decision’. We were being treated to a spectacle worthy of any of the ‘Ole Mas’ presentations of yore, in which successful investors – on average at least $700,000 was invested by each of these ‘protestors’ – having benefited from the operation of the capitalist system were seeking 100% redemption from the State.
The entry of the Prime Minister into this debate on 1st October was in my view a turning-point in our development. For the first time in my memory a politician, who had the majority, to achieve the significant changes which had been tabled, stepped back from that act of sheer power to attempt an act of persuasion. It was a signal lesson in the reality of possibility in our lifetime. Even if one is amongst the Clico Policyholders’ Group (CPG) and feeling aggrieved, the calm audacity of the Prime Minister’s decision must be respected.
Most importantly, we now have a one-man Commission of Enquiry established with the eminent UK jurist, Sir John Colman QC sworn in. That Commission is to examine the causes of the CL Financial and Hindu Credit Union collapses. The Colman Commission is expected to start sittings in January 2011 and the Attorney General has directed that its report be delivered in 6 months’ time.
The Manning Factor
The most comical event of the year is the bold-faced attempt by the former Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, to shift attention away from the PP’s revelations as to the illegal spying activities of various State agencies. Manning, the original PM, attempted to show-up the Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, with a series of allegations on the status of a house being built with private funds on private lands for a private purpose. The Prime Minister effectively dismissed Manning’s concocted concerns with the telling observation that all the refutations she quoted were available from the public record, if the accuser had ever been interested in examining that open source.
Having stirred to life and found his voice, it is important to note the several matters on which Manning maintains a stony silence -
- Calder Hart – Where is Calder Hart? The nation was told solemnly by Manning that he knewCalder Hart’s whereabouts and further, that Hart was not a fugitive. We are now told that Calder Hart cannot be located and Manning needs to speak on this. Is it true that Hart gave Manning his location? Has Hart changed locations? Or is it that Manning has not shared that information with the correct authorities?
- Election rationale – What, if any, was his rationale for calling the general election at mid-term? I am not sure that anyone knows the answer to this one, but it is surely of continuing interest.
- Guanapo Church – What is the truth behind the ill-fated Guanapo Church? It is not my habit to wax scriptural, but that was a ‘house built on sand’ if ever we saw one. The reason for the State Grant of this land and the rapid grant of full planning permission – a record of only one month between the date of application and the grant – remains unexplained. As for the architect’s plans for this huge church in the grounds of the PM’s residence, the mind boggles. Where is Pastor Pena? We need to insist that Manning tells us more about this miraculous church.
- Cleaver Heights – Another area is the wild allegation Manning made, at the close of the 2008 budget debate, as to a ‘missing’ $10M at an HDC project at Cleaver Heights in Arima. Or was it $20M? After inserting that case into the ongoing Uff Commission and having the embarrassment of having the allegation evaporate under cross-examination, Manning needs to tell us just how he came to learn of this allegedly missing money.
- CL Financial bailout – Manning’s conduct in this matter has been the crowning-point of his administration, in my view. The then Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Teshiera, was accused of using ‘inside information’ to make early withdrawals of her own funds from the CL Financial Group and to compound the mischief, being a shareholder of the CL Financial group in the sum of over $10M. Manning’s steadfast defense of his beleaguered Minister of Finance was a display of loyalty which is seldom seen in higher political circles. We need to know if the Minister told her colleagues that she was indeed a shareholder of the troubled group. Did she or did she not recuse herself from the Cabinet’s deliberations? My reading of the events, as told by the very Minister, is that she did not.
For Manning to fail to come clean on these questions, he would run the risk of damaging his hard-won reputation for upstanding values and leadership.
White Collar Crime
The obvious connection between these various events is the fact that White Collar Crime – which is sometimes, mistakenly, called victim-less crime – is afflicting our country in a big way.
The year ahead holds significant challenges as we try to go forward in this morass, to escape the conspiracy which I have titled The Code of Silence.
The only way political rulers can carry on as they do, wasting the country’s money for the benefit of their friends and family, is because they are sure of each other’s silence. The people in the private sector who were responsible for the financial collapse are no different. The financial collapse is not, as some have falsely claimed, in any way connected with the Wall Street crisis. That is only a handy coincidence. If our regulators and politicians were doing their jobs we would not be in this position.
Please remember that the alarm bells on CL Financial were sounded by Trevor Sudama, since the 1999 budget debate. More to the point, many of the people who still inhabit the Parliament were there at the time. Again, I give this administration credit for appointing a Commission of Enquiry into this sordid affair.
Also, please remember that both UDeCOTT and the HDC failed to file accounts for years, in breach of the law and State guidelines. That failure was not remarked upon by members of the then Opposition. More to the point, we have now had a change in administration, with no word on the UDeCOTT accounts. I do acknowledge that certain HDC accounts have now been published and that is to be the subject of upcoming commentary.
The Code of Silence must be broken if we are to progress.
For me, the key point at which we lost our way in the UDeCOTT/HDC/NIDCO bobol, was the crossroads of the Investment Decision.
That Investment Decision is an indispensable part of any rational process of development, for families, businesses and countries alike. The national level is my concern and there must be broader considerations in making those decisions.
It is clear from the depth of the failure, that the last administration lost its way completely, insofar as elementary concepts such as opportunity cost, payback periods, cost-benefit analysis and so on. We have only now begun to scratch the surface in terms of understanding the extent of the losses and corruption – readers, please be reminded that as yet, we have no accounts for UDeCOTT or HDC for several years. In normal business thinking, the failure to publish accounts without even an attempt at an explanation is tantamount to an admission of the most serious problems. Only State-owned organisations can get away with that kind of irregular conduct, which is maybe why they do it.
My concern in this article, is that apart from the Investment Decision in the case of specific projects, the State has an obligation to consider the wider picture in terms of fine-tuning, timing and phasing those projects. Our last land-use plan in our country was approved by the Parliament in 1984 and we have had several fruitless attempts to revise that plan.
The focus here is on the need for a proper practice of integrated planning, in particular long-term land-use and town-planning. By integrated planning I am speaking to an approach which takes account of varying principalities, such as land-use, financial constraints and national targets. In addition, the approach allows a balance to be struck between the competing demands within various time-horizons, such as immediate demands, medium term demands (say, 10 to 20 years) and longer-term considerations.
Lack of an updated national Land-use plan
As I wrote in the Business Guardian of 9th October 2008 –
“The Minister of Planning, Housing and the Environment spoke at a breakfast meeting of the Couva/Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce on September 10, and some of her reported comments deserve our close attention.
The minister told her audience that the National Physical Development Plan was passed in 1984 and had been continually updated, but that “that plan has somehow never reached to Parliament.” Somehow. The mind boggles.
One report said, “Dick-Forde said the external and internal committees on national development were working towards the completion of the National Development Plan, which will be taken to Parliament in the next two years.”
When this tidal wave of development is at an ebb, we will then have a plan tabled in Parliament for discussion. To what end?” see http://www.newsday.co.tt/politics/0,85974.html
Given the last Minister’s stated timetable, we ought now to be having a draft plan published for consideration. Where is this, Minister King? When do the consultations start?
This is a vital, related area and Minister of Works & Transport, Jack Warner, told us that the PNM government paid $21M for an incomplete Comprehensive National Transportation Study (CNTS) – see http://guardian.co.tt/news/general/2010/10/09/warner-pnm-paid-21m-non-study – and I agree. That fact only makes the situation more doubtful, since we seem to be making major transportation system decisions in the absence of a strategic plan.
Just consider –
- The Tunnel to Maracas
This was first announced in the 2011 Budget – see http://www.finance.gov.tt/content/Budget%20Statement%202011.pdf at page 24
…We all know how difficult it is to access Maracas Bay through the North Coast Road.
Currently, it takes approximately 45 minutes to get from Santa Cruz to Maracas Bay. Furthermore, landslips on the North Coast road are a major deterrent to persons wishing to access this scenic route for pleasure or business. As a result we will do a business plan for a new: ‘Connective Development Project’. This project would create an underground tunnel from Maracas Valley to Maracas Bay, to enable quicker access to the North Coast…
That strange project was then taken up by Warner at length – see http://guardian.co.tt/news/general/2010/09/26/warner-s-tunnel-take-next-year
- The expansion of the Highway Network
We are now aware that the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) is proceeding with ambitious Highways packages from San Fernando to Point Fortin, with the San Fernando to Mayaro route under active discussion – see http://www.newsday.co.tt/politics/0,124988.html.
- Coastal Water Taxis
It seems that the government has changed its mind, three times, on this part of our public transportation system. Firstly, we were disposing of two of the four new water-taxis as being superfluous. Secondly, there was an about-face, in which it was decided to keep the new water-taxis. Most recently, I have seen advertisements for the provision of brokerage services for the disposal of these vessels. Again, what is the basis?
Sewer Treatment plants and the threat of cholera
We recently had shocking stories about the leaking of significant amounts of untreated sewage into the Maraval reservoir – see http://guardian.co.tt/news/general/2010/11/19/wasa-boss-moka-residents-must-pay-repair-sewerage-plant. That is no surprise, given the widespread practice of property developers walking away with their profits in hand upon completing the sales of their properties, but with no proper plan for the maintenance of the sewer treatment plants.
Once again, this is an area which urgently needs to be addressed in terms of town planning, local health, WASA regulations and adequate financial mechanisms for ongoing maintenance of these facilities.
The Housing Development Corporation (HDC)
The HDC’s new target for 2011 is 6,500 new homes and that is still a huge number. Given our limited land resources and the absence of a national planning framework, how is this to proceed?
There remains the unanswered question as to what is the basis for these decisions?
The Limits of our financial resources
The Minister of Finance recently called for Ministries to not implement any new large projects, due to the financial limits constraining state expenditure – see http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,129148.html. That is a valid call, which shows that the time is ripe for us to plan our major strategies and projects so that they can conform to some sort of national context.
That context would have to include elements such as land-use, transportation implications, financial limits and the question of the capacity of the economy to meet the targets being set.
SIDEBAR: Fuel subsidies in national planning
The question of fuel subsidies is an important part of this integrated planning discussion, since, at approximately $2.8Bn, they are a large part of our national expenditure. More to the point, the effect they have on our behaviour is largely unremarked, which is paradoxical – the gas price being so low that we do not really consider it in our daily choices.
It is a classic example of the sort of ‘policy silos’ which the integrated planning approach seeks to overcome.
The Minister of Works & Transport speaks out strongly against the heavy subsidies necessary for the operation of the Coastal Water Taxis – no statement from Warner on the larger sums spent on the fuel subsidy. The Minister of Energy, in the run-up to the budget, says that these fuel subsidies may need to be reduced. The Minister of Finance, in his budget address, said –
“…The largest Subsidy is on petroleum products, particularly gasoline which usually represents one to two percent of GDP per annum. All of our citizens benefit from this subsidy. It is often difficult to determine whether resources are being used wisely to achieve the intended objectives of subsidies. We are currently reviewing whether alternate options are more efficient…”
We need to develop a holistic view of the various subsidies being paid in our economy and transportation subsidies, including fuel, are important considerations.
The goal of promoting the wider use of public transportation has to be adopted with some vigour and creativity. The fuel subsidies enjoyed by small vehicles – say, less than 12 passengers – should be gradually reduced with a shift of those subsidies to larger-capacity vehicles. They make more efficient use of our limited roadways and would reduce the adverse effects of traffic and pollution.
The three Ministries concerned should join with the Ministry of Planning in mapping out these strategies and policies.
The strategic goal should be to decrease the convenience of individual car-journeys and increase the convenience of the mass-transit approach.
It is no easy shift to go from today’s congested reality to the medium-term goal of a much-improved transportation system with travelers having several choices. That journey would involve a virtual culture-shock for most of us, but it is one we should start, sooner than later, for our common good.
That is one of the examples of how an integrated planning approach can offer fresh solutions to serious problems.
VIDEO: Morning Edition Interviews – March 2010
AfraRaymond.com, at this time chooses to re-issues these interviews on Morning edition on TV6 CCN, Trinidad and Tobago, to keep readers up-to-date on issues surrounding Uff Report and UDeCOTT Affair respectively.
- Afra Raymond sits with senior journalist Andy Johnson to discuss the “UDeCOTT/Calder Hart Affair” on Morning Edition television show on TV6.
- Programme Date: 10 March 2010
- Programme Length: 0:28:16
- Afra Raymond sits with guest host, William Lucie-Smith on the Morning Edition television show as part of a panel with senior counsel Israel Khan, to discuss the leaked Uff Report.
- Programme Date: 31 March 2010
- Programme Length: 0:26:52
VIDEO: First Up Interview – 18 May 2010
Afra Raymond sits down with Jessie May Ventour and Derek Ramsamooj for a discussion of matters pertaining to the construction industry prior to the national elections. Topics include UDeCOTT, the controversial Guanapo church and the Uff Commission Report.
- Programme Air Date: Tuesday, 18 May 2010
- Programme Length: 0:40:33