Archive for category Politics and Public Affairs
From: Afra Raymond <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 10:00 AM
Subject: Dismantling the Code of Silence
Noel Garcia served as General Manager of the Housing Development Corporation during the period in which critical decisions were made on the Las Alturas housing project. That project, in which two apartment buildings failed, is now the subject of a Commission of Enquiry. There have been several reports in the press (see below) that Mr Garcia was unwilling to testify to that Enquiry. We have been unable to locate any published responses from Mr Garcia to those reports.
Noel Garcia has now been appointed as Chairman of the UDECOTT Board. The JCC’s position is that the penalties for the failure or refusal to appear as a witness to a Commission of Enquiry must be increased sharply so as to discourage this deplorable behaviour. The present fine for non-attendance is only $2,000, which is why so many persons can show open disdain for a request to testify at a Commission of Enquiry.
The prospect of the Chairman of a State Enterprise declining to testify at a Commission of Enquiry is unacceptable and of course any continuing ambiguity can only feed suspicion.
The Las Alturas Enquiry resumes its evidence hearings on Monday 28th September 2015 and it would be a refreshing change from the ‘bad old days‘ if Mr Garcia, or his attorneys, were to promptly confirm his willingness to appear as a witness.
Noel Garcia responded via a media release, which was copied on social media on Sunday 27 September 2015 as follows:
Getting the Facts Right
I refer to a letter to the editor from Afra Raymond entitled “Dismantling the code of Silence” published in the September 27, 2015 edition of the Express Newspaper.
In his letter, Mr. Raymond, in reference to me and the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project, speaks disparagingly of “the prospect of the Chairman of a State Enterprise declining to testify at a Commission of Enquiry”.
I wish to categorically state that I have never refused to give evidence before the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project. Despite what Mr. Raymond claims to have read (and what he erroneously plainly believes), the Commission has never at any time contacted or subpoenaed me on the matter of the Las Alturas Project. This, although my postal address, email address and telephone number have remained unchanged for years.
For the record, I have never shirked my duty or my responsibility to give evidence before any court or any tribunal with respect to matters within my knowledge as a former employee of the HDC. I have previously given evidence in the High Court on behalf of the HDC and I have only recently filed an affidavit in support of the HDC’s position in another High Court matter. I am no stranger to and have given evidence repeatedly at Commissions of Enquiry including in the Piarco Airport Enquiry, the Landate Enquiry and the UFF Commission.
I wish to make my position abundantly clear that, were I to be subpoenaed or contacted to give evidence at the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project, I would have absolutely no difficulty in assisting the Commission.
In his self-appointed role as guardian of the public conscience, Mr. Raymond ought to be more careful about permitting his officious zeal to lead him into making what can be considered to be defamatory imputations about others. Mr. Raymond’s self-confessed inability to locate any published responses from me to press reports he has read is no licence for him to do so.
This clarification was all we were seeking, so I responded later that night, on social media, as follows –
“…Noel Garcia’s post ‘Getting the Facts Right’ is very helpful, it is the first public response I have seen to the several articles earlier on this issue – I thank him for it…as I said elsewhere on FB yesterday, one of the Officials in the Las Alturas Enquiry told me that they had been ‘unable to locate’ Mr Garcia, to which I responded that as he was the new UDECOTT Chairman, it was now impossible to sustain that claim…”
For ease of reference – these are the previous press reports –
- Trinidad Guardian of 7th April 2015 – ‘Las Alturas Hearing resumes today‘
“…Singh also assured Ibrahim that efforts were being made to locate former executive chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of T&T Calder Hart, and former HDC general manager Noel Garcia, to have them appear before the Commission…” then “…Garcia is said to be living and working in Ghana. HDC’s attorney Vincent Nelson, QC, had previously indicated that Garcia had declined to provide a witness statement when asked, following which they lost contact with him. Seemingly dissatisfied with Mohammed’s answer that every effort was being made to have Hart present himself before the Commission, Ibrahim suggested that there were legal means which could be employed to compel him to appear.”Ibrahim has promised that accommodations would be made not to keep Hart unduly when he does appear, while there was also the recommendation that an offer be made to pay Garcia’s travel expenses back to T&T, in order for him to testify. Both Hart and Garcia have been deemed “important witnesses” in the enquiry. During the 13-day enquiry four witnesses have so far testified before the Commission…“
- Trinidad Express – 20th March 2015 – ‘HDC lawyers ‘lost all contact with Garcia’‘ –
“…Attorneys representing the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) have lost all contact with former HDC managing director Noel Garcia. This was revealed yesterday during the sitting of the commission of enquiry into the Las Alturas housing project at the Caribbean Court of Justice in Port of Spain.“Garcia, who was expected to be called as a witness in the enquiry, is said to be currently residing in Ghana.“Junior counsel for the commission Jagdeo Singh told the commission all attempts by HDC’s legal team to locate Garcia had been unsuccessful. “Every effort has been made thus far to locate Mr Garcia and at some point in time Mr Garcia was in communication with the legal team for the HDC, but he has since ceased all communication with them,” Singh said.“Nelson had said at a previous hearing that Garcia did not appear to be willing to testify in the proceedings.
“Chairman of the commission Mustapha Ibrahim noted Garcia’s participation in the enquiry was necessary, as he was a “very important witness”…“
- CTNT News – 5th March 2015 – ‘QC: Garcia’s presence crucial to Las Alturas Enquiry‘ –
“…The absence of former HDC Managing Director Noel Garcia at the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Housing Project was raised by the company’s Attorney on Day Four of the proceedings. Mr. Garcia is one of the key persons who would be best able to add the pieces to the already puzzling situation which led to the partial demolition of two towers at the million dollar housing complex due to shifting soil.”At Thursday’s session, the Attorney representing the Housing Development Corporation, Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson, mentioned that Mr. Garcia currently works and lives outside T&T.”The position there is that Mr. Noel Garcia, who is a pivotal person in the project at the time, is someone who really, although it is difficult because he is outside the jurisdiction for the Commission to summon him, he is an important and pivotal person in terms of what occurred at the time.”Mr. Nelson was then asked by the Commission Chairman Mustapha Ibrahim if any efforts were made to bring him back to T&T for the Enquiry, including offering to pay his airfare.
“No. We haven’t done so but obviously that is something that I could take instructions on. I am told we lost communication with him at the moment. So that is the position but we will make further efforts but in the meantime, the position is the Commission may consider whether to call the Board at the time and/or see when Mr. Garcia is available.’…” There is also a TV clip here.
- Newsday of 6th March 2015 – ‘Noel Garcia not willing to testify‘ –
“…NOEL Garcia, former managing director of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), has indicated to lawyers for the HDC, that he is unwilling to testify at the Las Alturas Commission of Inquiry, attorney Vincent Nelson QC said yesterday…“
I have not seen any responses from Noel Garcia before his response on Sunday 27th September 2015.
Afra Raymond is interviewed by a group of young people on Synergy TV’s pre-election discussion series, “In The Chair”.
The discussions covered the CL Financial bailout, the role of campaign financiers and corruption in our country’s public affairs.
“…A small State such as Trinidad & Tobago must accord a very high priority to the judicious management and utilization of its land resources or perish. All elements of land policy must be designed to ensure that these finite resources are efficiently utilized and husbanded in such a manner as to serve the long term interests of the national community…”
—Conclusion of “A New Administration and Policy for Land” (19 November, 1992)
The PNM won national elections on 7 September 2015 by 23-18.
Two key themes emerged during the PNM’s successful campaign –
- Firstly, there was a strong emphasis on the critical need to restore proper standards of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance;
- Secondly, a commitment was given to ‘keep the various promises made by the PP government’.
When one considers the various promises, policy changes and actions of the PP in relation to land and property, it seems clear to me that those two campaign commitments made by the PNM are entirely incompatible.
Our country has a very high population density and the previous Minister of Land and Marine Resources estimated that some 63% of our country’s land belongs to the State. It is therefore a cardinal State responsibility to properly manage those critical resources so that short and long term interests can be reconciled in a sustainable manner. The present situation is so serious and damaging to our collective interests that I am calling for a halt to any attempt to keep promises with respect to land and property while a fact-finding and policy review is conducted.
The opening quotation is from the National Land Policy 1992, which is now a virtually unknown document since its very existence is denied by all the relevant agencies. This Policy provides critical guidance for how this scarce resource should be best managed in the Public Interest.
The severe crisis now evident in relation to our State Lands resembles a ‘Tragedy of the Commons‘ in which this crucial resource which should offer long-term collective benefits is effectively abused by self-seeking individuals. The pattern of abuse is facilitated by gross mismanagement, in profitable partnership with deliberate obscurity in how the State Land system actually operates.
This remains elusive since in March 2012 the Ministry of Agriculture, Land & Marine Resources published its Food Production Action Plan 2012-2015. The major goal of that Action Plan was to halve the country’s annual $4.0 Billion food import bill. Yet in March 2014, the Food Production Minister, Senator Devant Maharaj, stated that the food import bill had been reduced by only 2% since 2010.
The significant reduction of our food import bill will require a flexible plan, with dedicated implementation and continuous monitoring. The one inescapable requirement is for farmers to have access to land of suitable quantity, quality and location. Without a good supply of land, no food security plan can succeed.
Land for the Landless
The proposed revisions to the State Lands Act 1998 were approved by the Lower House of Parliament on 3 June 2015 and withdrawn after the JCC raised certain objections. The proposed change in the ‘Land for the Landless’ policy were approved by Cabinet on 19 March 2015 with these main elements –
- Occupation Date – Was moved from January 1998 to June 2014, which means many more persons would qualify.
- Income Limits – Previously the maximum monthly family income was $8,000, this was now revised to $30,000.
- Definition – the 1998 Act defined a landless person as one who was ‘disadvantaged’ according to the Ministry of Social Development, that word was deleted from the revised proposals.
- Designated Areas – these were specified in an extensive list of over 400 areas covering the entire country.
- The Numbers – The total number of persons identified was 250,000 and a commitment was given to regularise some 60,000 of those.
A policy which was originally intended to alleviate the plight of our poorest citizens has now effectively been extended to offer ‘Land for Everybody’. The existing commitment in respect of 60,000 lots will consume about 8,000 acres of land.
The EMBD website states that it is responsible for the development of the former Caroni lands – some 7,500 residential lots are being prepared for ex-Caroni workers as part of their retrenchment package, with a further 8,400 agricultural leases of 2-acre parcels reportedly being processed. That means about 940 acres are to be used for the residential lots, with at further 18,500 additional acres for the agricultural plots. The total land area to be used would be about 19,420 acres, which is about a quarter (26%) of the estimated area of the Caroni lands.
Caroni Lands were leased to ex–Caroni workers as part of their retrenchment compensation – they were entitled to one residential lot and a two-acre parcel for food-crop farming. The use of those lands for those purposes was intended to be controlled by the restrictive covenants in those leases. For instance, the residential lots were to be developed by a residential building within three years and the agricultural lots were to be held by the ex-workers for food-crop farming. In the 2015 budget, the restriction on sale of those agricultural lands was removed (pg 14). In addition, Cabinet Minute 3093 of 6 November 2014 approved the removal of the restrictive covenants in the leases to ex-Caroni workers – both agricultural and residential. No restriction on sale and no requirement to build on the lots.
This is tantamount to the State entirely gifting the development and transactional rights to these lessees, with no effective means of ensuring the originally desired results.
Housing Development Corporation (HDC)
The HDC sells new homes at heavily-subsided rates to middle-income families, subject to restrictive covenants which prohibit open-market sale within the first ten years. Under the terms of that clause, the owner of one of these homes is required to offer the property to the HDC at the original price. It now seems that the HDC has relinquished those restrictive covenants. I have seen several letters signed by the HDC which authorise the open-market sale of those homes within the ten-year embargo period. I am not aware of any policy decision which supports that pattern of approvals and none of the vendors I have spoken with have paid any penalties of profit-share to the HDC.
This is yet another example of the State or its agents abandoning its fundamental duty to properly manage the public property rights within its remit.
The proposed Property Tax would require a live, open-access database which would allow anyone to examine the details of any property in the country. Those details would include land area, building area, number of bedrooms/bathrooms and other facilities, transaction history, ownership and assessed taxes. One of the strongest sources of opposition to the Property Tax is persons who would wish to keep the details of their property holdings and dealings as secret as possible.
The new Property Tax system and the modern database is in fact a key element in unearthing the facts of our country’s property ownership and occupation.
Property Tax must therefore be a priority in this arena.
The unrealistic policy of homes with gardens consumes too much land and will jeopardise our country’s sustainable future.
SIDEBAR: How much Public Money has been spent on this CL Financial bailout?
These are the official statements as to the actual cost of the bailout since 2012. It really resembles the ‘carefully cultivated confusion‘ which I deplored recently in relation to the Invader’s Bay fiasco.
- 3 April 2012 – Affidavit of then Finance Minister, Winston Dookeran, which specifies the Public Money committed to this colossal bailout as –
Para 21 (a) $5.0Bn already provided to CLICO; (b) $7.0Bn paid to holders of the EFPA and Para 22 $12.0Bn estimated as further funding to be advanced.
Dookeran is saying in April 2012 that $12 Billion had been paid and an estimated $12 Billion remained to be paid, which is a total of $24Bn in public money to be spent to satisfy the creditors of the CLF group.
- 1 October 2012 – Senator Larry Howai, delivering his first Budget Statement, stated the cost of the CL Financial bailout at page six –
“…The cost to the national community has been substantial—an amount of $19.7 billion or 13.0 per cent of our current GDP; yet this expenditure was necessary and decisive for containing an economic and financial crisis…”
Howai is telling the Senate in October 2012, a mere six months after Dookeran’s Affidavit, that $19.7 Billion has been spent. If we follow this official account, which fixed the total spent in April 2012 at $12 Billion, an additional $7.7 Billion of Public Money was spent in six months. I continue to contest whether this bailout was at all necessary, but it was certainly an incredible rate of expenditure, that cannot be contested.
- 4 May 2013 – In this newspaper, under the headline ‘$25b and counting – Cost to taxpayers of CLICO bailout and enquiry‘ –
“…However, Government’s intervention into the CLICO fiasco has cost taxpayers more than $25 billion…”
- 17 May 2013 – UNCTT’s website contains a formal Press Release from the office of the then Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan SC –
“…It should be noted that efforts to stabilize and resuscitate CLICO have thus far cost taxpayers over $25 billion dollars…”
- 2 April 2014 – At the Senate sitting , Minister Howai stated at page 35 of Hansard –
“…Mr. President, as you would perhaps be aware, the cost to the country of the CL Financial bailout—the actual cash that has been put out—is approximately $20.8 billion. This was done in an effort to preserve the stability of the economy of Trinidad and Tobago…”
- 7 August 2015 – I was therefore astonished to hear the Minister of Finance, Larry Howai, stating on CNMG TV, that the cost of this bailout is ‘not quite $20 Billion‘.
The first item, Dookeran’s April 2012 affidavit, is the one for which Howai is now being required by the Court to produce the details.
Some of my views on this, from last week –
“…Well, this is the usual practice, in which the public right to know is subordinated to private, undisclosed interests…it seems to me at these moments that the job of the State’s attorneys is to shroud the entire indecent affair in ‘something resembling an important principle’, but ultimately the effort is intended to wear me down and let the issue fade from collective memory…I am continuing to fight this very hard…what we have here is the ultimate collapse of our Republic by Public Officials who are sworn to uphold the Public Interest without fear or favour, but end up exposed as serving the toxic interests of the financial robber barons…I am reminded of Simon Johnson’s ‘The Quiet Coup‘ published in The Atlantic of May 2009…in T&T, we too, had a quiet coup…”
As the Season of Reflection and the impending election flow together, there is a bitter brew now being offered in relation to the CL Financial bailout.
Disdain is an attitude which denotes someone or something as being unworthy of proper consideration. I think that in relation to our collective interests in the CL Financial matter, we are now being subjected to Larry Howai’s ‘studied disdain’ in relation to our collective interests in the CL Financial matter.
On Tuesday 10 August 2015, the State announced its decision to appeal the recent High Court ruling that the details of the CL Financial bailout must be published. That appeal was also filed that day and the State applied to have the stay of execution extended to the end of the appeal process – the latter issue will be heard on 19 October 2015.
The Minister of Finance & the Economy is the main public official with responsibility to account for how Public Money is spent. The Public Money being used to bailout the CL Financial creditors is our money. The Minister of Finance therefore has a fundamental duty to publicly account for how our money has been spent.
Our collective interests in this matter, of exactly how $25 Billion of our dollars were spent, far outweigh the undisclosed interests on whose behalf the Minister is now appealing.
This appeal is against every one of the orders made in the High Court judgment of 22 July 2015 and therefore represents an utter abdication of the fundamental duties of the Minister of Finance and the Economy.
Our collective interests could benefit from the unintended juxtaposition of national elections, the apparent halt of USD sales by the country’s leading bank and the hostility of the Minister of Finance to the truth. These are rare moments in which we might gain insight and regain fundamental rights, but we have to be aware of what is at stake.
The Ministry’s Press Release deserves stern scrutiny, so these are my points. Read the rest of this entry »
Afra Raymond sits with host, Larry Lumsden on the Good Morning T&T television show to discuss his recent High Court victory over the Minister of Finance to get accounting details on the CL Financial bailout. Video courtesy CNMG
- Programme Air Date: Friday 7 August 2015
- Programme Length: 0:17:13
Two important laws were partially-proclaimed by the President at the end of July –
- The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, which is intended to control transactions in Public Money, and the
- Planning & Facilitation of Development Act, which is intended to provide for effective control of physical development.
Both those laws would be critical in controlling the worst excesses in terms of waste and theft of Public Money as well as the scourge of unplanned development. There is still substantial work to be done to properly implement those new laws, neither of which will actually come into effect before elections on 7 September, so our stern attention will therefore be essential.
The campaigning and committee-work to achieve those new laws has been demanding, so it Is important to re-state our fundamental concern as to the sheer hostility of high-level public officials to the truth. This is a fundamental point since the new laws create modern, transparent and participative processes. If the key public officials maintain their hostility to the truth, we would be entering a period of serious struggles to implement these new laws.
These examples speak to the official hostility to the truth with which we are beset.
Read the rest of this entry »
JCC President Afra Raymond issues a corrective to the lead story in the Sunday Guardian of 9th August 2015. This ‘Letter to the Editor‘ was published in the T&T Guardian on Tuesday 11th August 2015.
The cover story in Sunday’s Guardian on the Invader’s Bay development requires a response to dispel some of the carefully cultivated confusion around this important set of proposals.
The Public Property known as ‘Invader’s Bay’ comprises 70 acres of reclaimed land at the waterfront in west POS and it is proposed to be the largest development in our capital city in living memory. It is unacceptable that this large-scale development could be proceeding without any public consultation and in the seriously improper manner against which the JCC has protested. It is sobering that the very Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development (MPSD) has been leading this process for the last four years without seeking to engage in public consultation.
The Request for Proposals (RFP) process used in August 2011 by MPSD was improper and voidable, since, according to Minister Tewarie himself, the Assessment rules were published one month after the closing date. Any reputable organisation running a competition or tender would accept that the rules must be given to all the competitors at the same time and well in advance of the competition itself. That basic and inescapable breach has been pointed-out to MPSD several times by the JCC, but we are yet to see any response on that point.
After JCC specified its concerns that the RFP was in breach of the Central Tenders Board Act, the Minister repeatedly stated that the legal advice was that MPSD was in conformity with the law. Despite our several requests, that advice was never published, so the JCC sued under the Freedom of Information Act. The High Court ruled that the requested information be published and MPSD appealed. One can only wonder at this reluctance by politicians to publish legal advice which supposedly supports their actions. This type of official reticence is a first, so on this count at least, the Invader’s Bay project has a significant element of innovation.
The JCC has enquired as to the cost of the High Court case and the subsequent appeal, but that too has remained undisclosed, for whatever reason.
According to Ms Jearlean John of UDECOTT, a tender has been awarded for design of infrastructure on this 70-acre site, but we also know from MPSD that no planning applications have been made for these developments. That raises the serious question as to how an infrastructure layout can be designed in the absence of either public consultation or relevant approvals.
The carefully cultivated confusion can be seen in three glaring examples – firstly, the question of official responsibility – with Minister Tewarie referring detailed queries to UDECOTT, whose chairman refers those queries back to that Minister. Secondly, according to MPSD, the 10.2 acre parcel allocated to Derek Chin was valued at $204.5M, yet Chin is reported as saying that “…the price is $130M…”. Finally, the entire property is 70 acres and 23.2 acres have been allocated, so it seems that 46.8 acres are to be left undeveloped at this stage. So, how can UDECOTT be responsible for only 51 acres, with Minister Tewarie saying that “…there are about 40 acres of land at Invader’s Bay still open for development…”?
These are a few of the real concerns with this proposed Invaders’ Bay development.