Posts Tagged corruption
This column sets out my reasons for seriously questioning the motivation and priorities of the Integrity Commission. Despite my doubts as to the way in which successive Commissions have operated the Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA), I have continued to offer suggestions as to how their work could be made more effective.
The continuing Code of Silence on the CL Financial bailout, the sharp attack, from many quarters, on our substantial national institutions and the very doubtful history of the Integrity Commission are clear signs that the Public Interest needs to be safeguarded with utmost vigilance at this time.
TIMELINE – these points are detailed in here.
- 28 May 2009 – I pointed-out in ‘Judgment Time – Moral Hazard, Part III‘ that there was a link between the control the State was now exerting on the CLF group and the requirements of the IPLA.
- 12 June 2009 – CL Financial Shareholders Agreement is signed – clause 3.1 of which gave the Government the right to nominate four of the seven CL Financial Directors.
- 10 September 2012 – I formally wrote to the Integrity Commission with my concerns that the requirements of the IPLA are apparently being disregarded since CLF Directors were not filing declarations. The main document supporting that submission was the CL Financial Shareholders Agreement of June 2009.
- 20 March 2014 – I wrote to the Commission to request its update.
- 21 March 2014 – The Commission states that a reply was either sent or would be sent.
- 22 May 2014 – I wrote at length to the Commission to record my concern at their delay and ambiguity in dealing with my original complaint. The Commission’s Annual Reports contain details of how complaints are disposed of, but the 2012 and 2013 editions had no mention of my complaint.
- 22 May 2014 – The Commission replied to explain that my concerns had been classified as a query, not a complaint. In addition, the Commission stated that “…With respect to your query we have sought and obtained legal advice…” but that they were unable to proceed further due to the fact that they did not have the full number of members. To my astonishment, the Commission also requested a copy of the CL Financial Shareholders Agreement which had been attached to my original complaint. If the Commission did not have that fundamental document, which is available online at my blog, this request raised the question of ‘Just what were the instructions to the lawyer from whom advice obtained?’ I submitted the requested document the same day. The second issue arising from the Commission’s statement that it had sought legal advice, is the extent to which it appears to have lost sight of its proper ‘watchdog’ role. My point being that the CL Financial Shareholders Agreement was announced by the Ministry of Finance in June 2009, yet it was not until my complaint of September 2012 that legal advice was sought as to its implications for CLF Directors.
- 23 May 2014 – The Commission wrote to acknowledge receipt.
- 25 September 2014 – Pete London was appointed as the ‘Chartered Accountant’ member of the Commission, which means that the full number of members is now in place.
In relation to the Commission’s history, we need to note the shocking details unearthed during Dr Keith Rowley’s litigation against them. The Commission had made certain findings without giving Rowley the opportunity to respond, as recommended by its advisers and in 2009 the High Court made an historic finding that
“…The Court declares that the Integrity Commission has acted in bad faith in relation to Dr. Rowley and is guilty of the tort of misfeasance in public office…”
At Para 45 (i) of the 2009 ruling –
“…The Court does not accept the Integrity Commission’s explanation as to why it wrote to the Honourable Prime Minister on the 19th October, 2004, to ascertain whether an inquiry was to be undertaken and if so, the names of the persons to man the enquiry and their terms of reference. The Court notes that the Integrity Commission is an independent constitutional body which ought to act independently pursuant to its constitutional and statutory powers and duties…”
The entire Commission resigned immediately as a result of that High Court ruling.
The Commission’s independence was fatally undermined by its decision to write to then Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, to seek his instructions on how the complaint against Dr Rowley was to be handled. At that time, the Commission was chaired by Gordon Deane, with John Martin serving as its Deputy Chairman.
The fateful and ultimately fatal compromises made by the Commission were only forced into the open by Dr Rowley’s litigation. Had Rowley not sued, we would likely never have learned of this betrayal.
This is the single largest expenditure ever undertaken on a project in our country, the reported sums are upward of $25 Billion, and the State is in control of the group of companies receiving those huge sums of Public Money.
The State has failed and/or refused to provide details of those huge sums of Public Money, no audited accounts and no other details have been provided in reply to my Freedom of Information requests. I am now litigating that failure or refusal in the High Court.
Some years ago, one of my few lawyer-friends told me of an old ‘coping mechanism’ – ‘Sometimes you get a case which is so wretched…the facts and the law are against your client, so the only thing to do is to hold on for dear life and dance it out by the sheer effluxion of time‘. For whatever reason, that phrase occurred to me in relation to this matter.
My original complaint to the Integrity Commission was made well over two years ago. The sobering conclusion, to my mind, is that the inaction of the Commission in this matter is entirely coincident with the secretive conduct of the State. Hence my title, Integrity Reflections – are we seeing a reflection of the Integrity Commission’s deplorable past?
“They’ve got twelve Aces up their sleeve!
So who the Hell can we believe?”
—Rudder, David Michael. “Back to the Same Ole Same.” The Autobiography of The Now. Lypsoland, 2001. Used with permission
The CL Financial bailout seems to be entering its end-game, with repeated claims from the Minister of Finance that the recovery of the $25 Billion of Public Money spent is now on the cards. The consistent failure or refusal to publish any audited accounts and my ongoing research are telling. We are witness to yet another ‘Plot to Pervert Parliament’, this time it is the biggest project to ever hit this country. The CL Financial bailout.
Plots to Pervert Parliament
In January 2013, I identified the first of these, otherwise known as the ‘S.34 Fiasco’, which of course led me to the CLF Bailout Perversion, committed in January 2009 when our country was presented with its largest-ever public expenditure. The original bailout, presented to our Parliament, as a fait accompli, was the original Plot to Pervert Parliament.
I have come to the sobering conclusion, after much research and consideration, that the Colman Commission is not ever going to provide the details we were led to believe it would. I am now of the view that once again we have been misled and bamboozled by our Parliament. Yet another sick trick, a third ‘Plot to Pervert Parliament’.
The rationale stated for the Colman Commission of Enquiry is in serious conflict with the terms of reference for and consequently, the conduct of that Commission. This article will detail those assertions and show how the public interest is once again being subordinated to powerful private interests.
To understand this crime, one must take a stern view of dates and time.
- 30 January 2009 – The bailout is announced at a Press Conference on Friday 30 January 2009 at the Central Bank. At that time, we were told that the estimated cost was about TT$5 Billion.
- 12 June 2009 – Ministry of Finance signs the ‘CL Financial Shareholders’ Agreement’ which, for the first time, discloses that shareholders’ interests were to be specifically protected.
- 8 September 2010 – Winston Dookeran’s first budget statement as Minister of Finance, following the Peoples Partnership electoral victory in May 2010, was notable since Dookeran announced a dramatic policy shift. The entire CL Financial bailout was declared to be the first of the ‘great uncertainties’ to be resolved. Dookeran outlined the problem before reducing the rate at which Public Money would be paid for this bailout. A huge storm of protest erupted, with several ‘Depositors and Shareholders groups’ emerging to represent those interests. With Dookeran isolated and the government under mounting pressure from these new protest groups, laws were swiftly drafted to stifle the protestors’ legal options.
- 1st October 2010 – The PM’s historic address to Parliament on 1 October 2010 at which the Commission of Enquiry was announced. Most notable was the PM’s outrage at the mystery of the bailout – at pgs 25-26 –
“…The $5 Billion has been spent—we are advised—to repay matured EFPA policies in an ad hoc and unstructured manner where payment arrangements were entered into based on levels of funds invested. What criteria did you use to repay investors? Whom did you choose to pay? How were they chosen? These questions need to be answered. Because if it is today after the $7.3 Billion, all these EFPA people, the policy group and so on, they are out there, where is their money? Where is their money? Did you have a priority listing of who should be paid? Why did you go—and you are now crying crocodile tears about trade unions, credit unions, the poor man and the small man—why did you not pay them first? Why did you not pay them first? Where did that $7 Billion go? We need those answers, Mr. Speaker. We deserve those answers. The taxpayers need to know. Because when a parent has to buy school books and bags to send his/her children to school but they have to pay tax out of the little money, they need to know where that money has gone…Where, how and why; we need to know…”
The main argument made by the PM was that this was a case which needed serious investigation to establish what had caused this huge collapse and where had over TT$7 Billion of Public Money gone. I could not agree more.
- 17 November 2010 – The Colman Commission with its Terms of Reference published in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette. Those were divided into two limbs, causes and consequences. The first to examine the causes of the crisis and the second to make recommendations for prosecutions or other policy changes to prevent a repetition of the crisis.
- In September 2011, the Parliament voted unanimously to pass two laws related to the CL Financial bailout. The first was to permit the Minister of Finance to borrow a further TT$10.7 Billion to fund the bailout and the second was to grant the Central Bank, which was administering the bailout on government’s behalf, immunity from any legal challenge. For those who consider these assertions of mine to be harsh, just look at Winston Dookeran’s closing words to the Senate on 16 September 2011 –
“…I just want to give you the assurance which I gave to the Lower House when we debated this, that already the Ministry, along with the Central Bank and Clico, have begun the preparation of a public document—many questions that are still to be answered—to provide the necessary information. In addition to that, we did present to the hon. Senators, for those who afforded us the opportunity to accept our invitation, a document that is in the vicinity of 57 pages as of now, outlining all the necessary information that led to the story that assess what is the current challenges and why the proposals to go forward have been put forward. This document, I assure you, along with the questions and answers, will be converted into a simple, easy to read, hopefully, document for the sake of establishing that this Parliament has mandated us to put this as an anchor document for the purposes of evaluating our performance in the future…”.
I requested that document via the Freedom of Information Act but it was not provided, which is why my litigation started.
In the course of recent research it became clear to me that the PM’s outraged demands for detailed information as to how the huge sums of Public Money spent in the bailout had been discarded, just like a flimsy Carnival Costume. At no point in its Terms of Reference was the Colman Commission required to examine the details of the actual Public Money spent on the bailout. A new species of lie is born here in T&T, once again…we used to have one called the ‘White Lie’ in those bad-old-days, now we have the ‘Bright Lie’. Right up in our face, as the Parliament is told one thing, with an entirely different thing being done. The Carnival was over, but the Ole Mas was now starting.
One can imagine the ebb and flow as these public promises were neutered in private discussions. Reasons are never given. I suspect that the influence of party financiers and voting blocks was a great element in this travesty. The public right to know how and why these vast sums of Public Money were spent is obviously of low priority for the highest public officials in this Republic.
Truth has a Power all of its own. At this point, in litigation against the Ministry of Finance for that information – the Ministry is represented by a five-member team headed by former AG, Russell Martineau SC and CL Financial is represented by three attorneys. Something resembling legal overkill to prevent publication of information which the PM told the Parliament it was her intention to unearth. Information which then Finance Minister Dookeran assured the Parliament he was compiling into a public document. Another writer has labelled the situation – ‘Afra, the Deviant‘. I tell you.
At every turn, the public interest has been subordinated to secretive private interests. The Courts are literally the last refuge to uphold the lawful rights of the public to obtain detailed information on these matters of the highest importance.
|Safeguard||Status of query|
|Audited accounts for CL Financial?||NONE|
|Details of Management accounts, Estimates, Drafts or any figures used by Ministry of Finance?||NONE|
|Details of official briefing to Independent Senators in September 2011?||CLAIMED TO BE EXEMPT|
|Details of Public Money paid out to people and institutions owed money by CL Financial?||NONE|
|CL Financial is now under State control, so do its Directors comply with the Integrity in Public Life Act?||NOT ACCORDING TO MY EXAMINATION OF INTEGRITY COMMISSION RECORDS.|
|Do we understand why the CL Financial group is enjoying this beneficial exemption from the lawful obligation to file declarations?||NO WORD YET FROM THE INTEGRITY COMMISSION.|
All of the usual integrity, accountability and transparency safeguards have been disconnected. All.
The Code of Silence rules.
The proposed development of Invader’s Bay will be the largest in our Capital City in living memory. The entire process is tainted by fundamental irregularities, any one of which ought to be enough to stop the development.
Some of those irregularities at Invader’s Bay include an improper and voidable tendering process; failure or refusal to hold Public Consultations; breach of the Central Tenders’ Board (CTB) Act and most recently, a wrong-sided policy on legal advice.
The State has appealed the High Court decision of Justice Frank Seepersad on 14 July 2014 to order publication of the legal opinions on which they had been relying thus far. That hearing is now set for Wednesday 28 January 2015 at the Appeal Court in POS. At the preliminary hearing on Thursday 20 November, the State was represented by a seven-member team of attorneys, led by Russell Martineau SC.
Minister Tewarie has repeatedly told the public that the Appraisal rules for the Invader’s Bay development were first announced in his speech to the Annual Dinner of the T&T Contractors’ Association on Saturday 5 November 2011. That is true, I was there and heard the Minister do just as he said. The issue here is that the closing-date stipulated in the Invader’s Bay Request for Proposals (RFP) was 4 October 2011, which was over one month before the rules were published. Given that fact, the proposers would not have known the rules of the competition and it is fair to say there was no competition at all. None. Just imagine the rules for a Calypso competition being distributed the week after the singers had performed. The RFP process for Invader’s Bay was therefore improper, voidable and illegal.
The most disturbing aspect of this nonsense, is that it raises disturbing questions as to what is fast becoming a new normal in our society. To my mind, there are two possibilities.
The first is that the Minister was simply unaware that he was describing improper and unlawful acts. If that is the case, one has to wonder at the quality of advice available to our Cabinet. Are we now to accept that this is the proper way to proceed?
The second possibility is that the Minister was properly-briefed that the late publication of those rules was improper and that the entire RFP process was therefore voidable, but chose to act as if the whole process was ‘above-board’. That Minister continues to insist that there is nothing improper taking place at Invader’s Bay and so on. I tell you. Read the rest of this entry »
It seems to me that we are entering a sustained and hard-fought Information War, global in extent, but with local flavour. The main features of this are the attempted redefinition of Privacy as a defunct notion, right alongside the State’s duty to know all about us, but tell us as little as possible of their own operations. That is the name of the game, so these issues are going to be challenged strongly as we go forward.
The High Court ruled on 14 July 2014 that the Minister of Planning & Sustainable Development must provide the legal advice which was said to have justified the development process at Invader’s Bay. This case was brought by the JCC after the Ministry refused to publish the legal advice obtained in response to our challenge that the Invader’s Bay development process was in breach of the Central Tenders’ Board Act. Given the repeated statements that the legal opinions supported the State’s actions in relation to the CTB Act, the obvious question is ‘Why the secrecy and refusal to publish those opinions?‘
The JCC requested the legal opinions and the letters of instructions under the Freedom of Information Act and the judge applied the ‘Public Interest Test’ in deciding that the public right to that information eclipsed the accepted point as to the existence of ‘legal professional privilege’. There have been many comments on what has been described as a landmark ruling and it appears that the question of just what is an official secret is once again up for discussion.
We are now being told that the right of the client to maintain the confidentiality of legal advice is now under threat, so the State is reportedly considering an appeal of that High Court ruling. Read the rest of this entry »
Property ownership is a critical ingredient of the society we are trying to build. No one can deny that. The wealthiest people and companies in this society have made a great part of their wealth through property dealings – buying, leasing, sub-dividing, selling, renovating and so on. We all know that property is critical to amassing and holding wealth.
The single largest owner of all classes of property in the Republic is of course, the State. Those properties are described as ‘Public Property‘ in the Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Bill 2014 which is now being debated in Parliament. The penultimate paragraph of the Private Sector Civil Society group (PSCS) group statement of 13 June 2014, is clear –
“…Whilst very pleased with the progress to date and while not having sight of the amended bill we note two areas that remain of serious concern; the Role of civil society and the acquisition and disposal of public property…“.
At pg 7 of that Bill – “public property” means real or personal property owned by a public body;”
‘Real Property’ usually means real estate (freehold or leasehold), while ‘Personal Property’ usually means all other types of property such as licenses, concessions and tangible items of worth.
‘Owned’ usually means literally owned, as in the case of a freehold or leasehold interest, but there are other important types of property which are not literally in the ownership of a public body. Public Property is important because it is extremely valuable. The power of the State or its agencies to allocate those Public Properties must therefore be exercised in an equitable and transparent fashion if we are to foster proper conduct of our country’s public affairs.
In relation to real estate, it is important to note that the system of Crown Grants was used during the colonial period to encourage immigrants of a particular type. Immigrants who were of acceptable race, religious belief or station in life were allocated public lands for the purpose of agriculture. The actual documents are called ‘Crown Grants’ and they can be seen in our country’s records. The allocation of those lands to those selected people established a pattern of substantial wealth which took generations to displace. Of course such a system of property allocation, on the basis of ones’ external appearance and belief system, would be incompatible with our Republican status.
That history and the important role which property plays in today’s society are both reasons why the ‘disposal of public property‘ is an inescapable part of the new law, so that we can ensure good governance in these matters.
The Maha Saba Episode
This is a good example of a type of Public Property not literally owned by a Public Body. The dispute was over the decision of the previous administration to allocate radio licenses overnight to the Citadel Group, which was owned by a PNM member, at the same time as delaying the grant of broadcast licenses applied for by the Maha Saba. The Maha Saba had to take legal action all the way to the Privy Council to obtain a favourable judgment as to the breaches of principles of good public administration by that PNM government.
A new law intended to control dealings in Public Property as defined above would be one which extended beyond those literally owned by Public Bodies to include species of property in the ‘care, custody or control‘ of those bodies. That would allow future occurrences of a ‘Maha Saba episode’ to be rapidly rectified, also at less expense, by the Procurement Regulator as that type of property transaction would be within oversight of the new law.
In point of fact, it was reported that the Citadel group which comprised three radio stations was sold in 2012 to the CCN group (owners of this newspaper) in 2012 for a sum reported to be over $50M. So it is clear that these species of property have serious value, quite apart from any other aspects.
When Caroni Ltd. was closed in August 2004, about 76,000 acres came out of cultivation and become available for alternative uses. The Caroni lands stretch from Orange Grove at Trincity (near the large new Blue Water facility) as far south as Princes Town.
Given the fact that Chaguanas has been our fastest-growing town for almost 20 years now and the ongoing growth of investment in San Fernando and its outlying districts, it is clear that the Caroni lands have a critical role to play in our medium to long-term prospects. But those possible outcomes would be conditional on just how the Caroni lands are allocated in the short-term. As far as I am aware, a decade after abandoning sugar cultivation, there is still no strategic plan for how these lands are to be utilised. In the absence of a proper strategy for the management of those important State lands, there is scope for missed opportunity in terms of development and re-distribution.
The decisive land allocation issues would include –
- How does the allocation policy work together with the State’s broader economic policies?
- To whom are the lands allocated?
- On what terms are the lands allocated – i.e. for how long are the lands to be leased and with what restrictions? Some of the ex-Caroni workers are demanding grants of freehold interests from the State, but no decision seems to have been made on that.
- Does the State have the right to repossess the lands upon expiry of the lease?
- Does the allocation strategy have dynamic measures to control speculation? This is to prevent the growth of ‘flippers’ who just acquire property to hold and re-sell. There is a serious view that ‘flippers’ are a part of the market, but there is also a way that their presence can retard development as they do not typically improve or maintain their properties.
All of those issues must be located within equitable and transparent arrangements as required by the new law.
State Leases of offices
When the State leases offices or other property it is in fact procuring property via a transaction in Public Money. Those transactions must take place within a modern system which ensures good governance by attaining accountability, transparency and value for money.
There is a huge oversupply of offices in greater POS as a result of the State’s overbuilding during the last regime and the current administration is now shifting significant public offices out of POS. The combined impact of those ought to be a steady decline in both the gross amounts paid to landlords via State leases and the amounts paid per sq. ft.. That kind of change can only be obtained and monitored if the State’s leases of offices and other property are also part of the new Procurement system, so that the details are published as part of the database of State contracts.
The State-owned reclaimed lands at Invader’s Bay in west POS are another pregnant example of how the use of improper land allocation processes can injure the public interest. The JCC has mounted a legal challenge to seek publication of the legal advice obtained by the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development as to the legality of their activity ‘thus far’ in respect of that 70-acre parcel of prime land.
It is interesting to recall that one of the legal opinions on which the State seems to be relying, notes that this proposal was to grant long leases (about 99 years) to the successful bidders at Invader’s Bay. That was not considered a disposal since the State would have retained the freehold interest. Now that is probably the best example of why these types of transactions must be controlled by these modern and effective laws. The attempt to conflate a residual freehold interest with ownership, while at the same time denying the tremendous commercial value of a 99-year lease over prime lands was scandalous.
The most valuable properties in the capital are the leaseholds in St. Clair and Woodbrook, that much is indisputable, which is why we have guard against this kind of evasive advice to facilitate arrangements to escape proper oversight.
The Landed Interests
The ill-fated 2009 proposals for a new Property Tax would have required an updated and open database of the entire country’s property holdings. The campaign to ‘Axe the Tax’ was successful and that database never saw the light of day, which entirely suited the Landed Interests who are wary of any system which would expose their operations to easy scrutiny.
We need to be vigilant to ensure that the Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Bill 2014 does not leave a gaping, purposeful loophole thorough which our Public Money will continue to pour.
Given that our political parties receive financing from business-people, how will those party financiers be rewarded? In a situation which properly controls the award of State contracts for goods, works and services, how can they be rewarded?
The answer is Public Property.
One of the big unanswered questions arising out of the recent ‘grand corruption’ cases in relation to the Public Sector remains – ‘How can we lawfully punish those wrongdoers who are looting our country?‘
Most discussions proceed along the lines of what I call the ‘bag of money‘ idea, in which we are looking for the actual stolen money. The belief being that the stolen loot can actually be located and linked to the thieves, who will then face a harsh penalty. My preferred solution is for full disgorgement of all the stolen monies as a starting-point, even if that is a remote goal.
In re-examining the issue practically, one has to ask “Why do we persist in these ‘pipe-dreams’, while ignoring the ‘low-hanging fruit’ all around us?” So I am considering a new strategy for action on these critical issues.
‘Public Money’ is the term used to describe money due to or payable by the State, including those sums for which the State would be ultimately liable in the event of a default. Public Money is sometimes called Taxpayers’ Money, it is our Money. Read the rest of this entry »
On Wednesday 11 June 2014, the Senate unanimously approved the Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Bill 2014 and that Bill is soon to go to the House of Representatives for their deliberation. I was present to witness the collective efforts made by Senators on Tuesday 10 June and it was a really thought-provoking experience for me. I started to wonder just how much we could achieve if the banal point-scoring and ritual picong was to become a thing of the past. The basis of decision-making on public issues would have to shift to a fact-based one, which would be a huge, healthy step away from the sad formula of ‘might is right’.
What a day that would be for us all, just imagine.
But we have to exist in this place, as it is, with all its imperfections. Which leads me to discuss the constant questions put by people who want to know if ‘this law we are fighting for‘ could prevent this-or-that corrupt practice. So the two projects which I would use to give worked examples are –
- the THA/BOLT office project on which the High Court recently ruled;
- Calcutta Settlement/Eden Gardens land purchase by HDC.
This project was analysed in a previous article, which set out certain questionable aspects of those arrangements. In my opinion, the greatest areas of concern were –
- Size – THA stated that the Divisions for which this building was being leased now occupy 28,500sf, yet the completed project is to comprise 83,000sf – almost three times more space.
- Quality – The new building is projected to cost $143M, which equates to $1,723 per sq ft and that is at the upper end of office costs, even when we consider that the contract was reported to be for a fully fitted building.
- Rent – The current rent paid by the THA for the Divisions to be located in the new facility is an average of $8.17 per sq ft. The rent for the new facility was agreed at $15.61 per sq ft, which is almost twice the rate now paid. It was telling that the THA relied on the statements of a Civil Engineer, Peter Forde, who sought to justify that rent by reference to the fact that $10 per sq ft was being paid for some offices in Scarborough. Mr. Forde is an esteemed engineer with whom I have worked well in the past, but that is like relying on my advice, as a Chartered Valuation Surveyor, as to the correct steel to use in some complex structure.
- Total Costs – The total monthly rent now paid by THA for those Divisions is $231,788, while the new project is set to cost a monthly rent of $1.295M – more than five times more.
All of these arrangements being made by a public authority which makes a compelling case that the Central Government has starved them of financial resources over a considerable period. The THA, starved of money, is justifying a deal which will hugely increase their monthly rent bill, for an office building three times larger than required at a higher quality than any other in Tobago. That is the sense of this deal.
The recent litigation over this project was altered after it started, to two questions of ‘construction’, being ruled by the Court to be issues of public interest –
- Finance Ministry approval – Is THA required to obtain approval from the Ministry of Finance before entering a BOLT arrangement?
- Tendering procedure – Is THA required to follow the procedures of the Central Tenders Board Act (CTB Act) in entering a BOLT arrangement?
The High Court ruling on 30 April 2014 was claimed by THA to be an endorsement of their course of action, but this is what it actually meant.
|ISSUES||High Court Ruling||Proposed Public Procurement Law|
|Preliminary considerations||No ruling by the Court.||A Needs Assessment would be required to take account of a life-cycle costing, which includes both initial and cost-in-use aspects.|
|Ministry of Finance approval||At para 33, the Court ruled that THA is not required to obtain approval of the Minister of Finance. In that respect, one can understand THA’s claim to have been vindicated.At para 29, the Court makes the inescapable point that since this is a 20-year recurrent commitment which would have to be paid for by financing from the Central Government, it would be prudent for the THA to consult with the Finance Ministry before entering such arrangements.||This is a transaction in ‘Public Money’ via a ‘Public Private Partnership’ which is included in the remit of the proposed law.|
|Tendering Procedure||At paras 48 through 51, the Court was emphatic that the THA was required to follow the provisions of the CTB Act.||The proposed law abolishes and replaces the CTB Act and would include this kind of project under the oversight of the Office of Procurement Regulation.|
In this case, the THA’s claims of victory appear unrealistic, but the good news is that the proposed arrangements will act to prevent a recurrence of this wasteful type of project.
This 2012 purchase of 50.5 acres (comprising 264 residential lots with ancillary uses) by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) was also the subject of a series of articles in this space, which highlighted these questionable aspects –
- Private sales as individual lots – Eden Gardens lots were being offered for sale in 2011 at $400,000.
- HDC Valuations or Offers? – HDC obtained a private valuation of the property at $52M in November 2011. In January 2012 Eden Gardens is offered to the HDC at $200M. So why did HDC order a valuation in November 2011? Was there an attempt to offer the site to HDC before November 2011 and at what price?
- The State valuer exceeds the opinion of a private valuer? – Of course that is virtually unknown, but the fact is that the Commissioner of Valuations issued an opinion of value in April 2012 placing the property at $180M.
- HDC Purchase – The HDC buys the property in November 2012 at $175M, which equates to $663,000 per lot. Given that those lots were available in 2011 at $400,000, that is a 66% increase in the value of those lands within one year, which can make no sense. It makes even less sense when one considers that HDC was buying the all that land at once, so a discount would be the rational and expected commercial practice. So what was the basis on which this price was settled?
- Plan ‘B’ – The State had the power to compulsorily acquire the land if it was required for a public purpose, which housing is. The point being that the State could have lawfully acquired Eden Gardens for no more than $35M, if they had chosen to use their powers of compulsory acquisition. So, why did they choose to go the Private Treaty route?
- The ‘Ultimate Beneficial Owner’ – The basic business practice required of bankers and other finance professionals is to ‘Know Your Customer’ as a fundamental part of ‘Anti Money Laundering’ (AML) laws now in force in this country. Those laws and professional practices have now extended to cover the activities of real estate agents, so anyone selling land would be required to conform. The vendor of Eden Gardens was Point Lisas Park Limited, but from my research at the Registrar General’s Dept, it seems that PLP Ltd. has never issued shares. Which means that we can only speculate as to who was the ‘Ultimate Beneficial Owner’ of Eden Gardens and indeed, who received $175M for that property.
The proposed new laws do not contain any provisions to govern the State in ‘acquiring public property’, which was the case in Eden Gardens, since the State was buying land.
This is one of the outstanding serious concerns as to the proposed new law, which would not act to prevent this type of corrupt practice. Our Parliamentarians need to consider these aspects in finalising this law.