Posts Tagged transparency
The PNM’s successful election campaign placed strong emphasis on the critical need to restore proper standards of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance. That was a commendable and necessary stance in the face of widespread public disgust at the falling standards of morality in public affairs as experienced with successive political administrations.
The new PNM government was installed about a fortnight ago and we expect the 2016 budget to be delivered in about another fortnight, so this is a good time to set out our position. This column will be a simple list, with notes of what are the main priorities to be pursued with the new government in relation to our industry –
Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Act 2015
This law was partially-proclaimed, but the government has proposed amendments, so we would be available for discussions if those are needed. The public interest requires that this new law be swiftly implemented so as to properly control transactions in Public Money. We have to bring the era of epic waste and theft of Public Money to a close.
Planning & Facilitation of Development Act 2014
This law is intended to control physical development in our country. It was partially-proclaimed at the end of July 2015, so there is some work to be done to have that important law implemented. Its companion law, the Urban & Regional Planning Profession Bill (2014), also needs to complete its passage through Parliament so that there would be proper regulation to control the professionals in that field.
Our country has never had a legally-enforceable building code to govern the standard of construction. That is a serious gap in terms of our physical development, given that we live in an earthquake-prone island, together with the risk of flooding due to occasional tropical storms and ineffective drainage systems. The PP administration established a multidisciplinary National Building Code Committee which the JCC participated in. That Committee completed its preliminary work about two years ago but was unable to secure the required money to prepare a draft building code and do the necessary consultations. This is an important item to be completed.
We are seeking updates to the laws controlling professional practice of Engineers and Architects (planners are mentioned above) as well as our long-term efforts to secure an effective Licencing system for Building Contractors.
This is the Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Piarco Airport project which was completed at the end of August 2003. Of course that project and the allegations of grand corruption within it actually triggered the collapse of the UNC government in its previous incarnation. US-based persons who were involved in this international criminal gang which successfully targeted our Treasury have been arrested, tried, convicted and have completed their terms of imprisonment. Here in T&T we suffered the ‘Plot to Pervert Parliament’, which is what I call the entire S.34 fiasco, intended to engineer a loophole through which the Piarco Airport Accused could lawfully evade the Courts. That is bad enough, but despite the fact that the legal right to suppress the Bernard Report has expired, the previous administration refused to publish it. Apart from the Bernard Report, I would really like to know the exact time at which S.34 was taken to then President Max Richards and at what time it was signed on Friday 31st August 2012, the 50th Anniversary of our country’s Independence. That kind of detail will bring real clarity to this sordid chapter. We will soon see the position of the new government on this matter.
These comprise the witness statements and transcripts of the hearings which were available on the Enquiry’s website, together with TV footage of the hearings which was stored by GISL. The Enquiry website disappeared at the end of 2010 and our constant efforts to have that information re-published were all effectively ignored. That is fundamental primary information on how our society handles its large-scale affairs and it must be republished.
Beetham Water Recycling Project (BWRP)
This project is an unconventional Public Private Partnership to process wastewater for subsequent sale for industrial cooling. BWRP is stated to cost in excess of $1.0 Billion yet it has never been properly shown in any budget. BWRP represents just the kind of ‘off-balance-sheet’ project of which we need to be cautious, especially at this time of budget constraints with the consequent temptation of our public officials. Quite apart from our stated concerns on the tendering and evaluation process, the JCC has made the point that no business case has ever been made for this huge PPP. Does the BWRP improve WASA’s financial position? Does it improve or diminish the financial position of NGC? The ultimate destination of these 10 million daily gallons of water is Point Lisas industrial users – are they prepared, in terms of their own plant, to receive that supply? Have they agreed to pay the necessary charges? In terms of opportunity cost, what are the other uses to which those funds could have been put? If one includes finance, maintenance and other charges, what is the total cost of the BWRP? Given our country’s high level of annual rainfall and the degree to which our pipe-borne water is wasted via leaks, is this the most cost-effective way for WASA to have ‘harvested’ an additional 10M gallons (daily) of potable water? I am sure the answers to those questions will be of great public interest.
The Minister of Agriculture, Lands & Fisheries, Senator Clarence Rambharat, has already announced his intention to do an audit of State Lands. We support that initiative as an essential step in establishing the true position with our State Lands. It would be a very important strategic step if that audit were followed by a thorough review of National Land Policy, which dates from 1992, and the UWI’s 2003 study of the role of Caroni Lands in National Transformation. It would also be critical for that review process to be broad-based and consultative.
This huge, ambitious project to develop 70 acres of State-owned reclaimed waterside land in west POS was mired in serious controversy from the very beginning due to the improper RFP process adopted by the State. The JCC went to Court and won an order forcing the State to publish the fundamental legal advice supporting the RFP process. The State has appealed, but it is time for a new start at Invader’s Bay.
These are the main areas of concern which we would want properly addressed.
The 2016 budget statement was made on Monday 5 October 2015 by newly-appointed Minister of Finance & the Economy, Colm Imbert MP. Imbert is a professional engineer, so the fact that he lacked any formal certification in the financial field sparked much debate. The budget proposals have been made, so we are well past that point now.
These expenditure and revenue figures are from the Budget Statements, so no account has been taken of either actual outcomes or supplemental appropriations – this is the process used by the Government to obtain authorisation from the Parliament to exceed the approved spending limits in the national budget.
T&T Transparency Institute presented “Sangre Grande Plenty Pepper! A Community Event” on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 at which Afra Raymond, in his capacity as president of the JCC, was the feature speaker. His topic was “Facing the Facts!”
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.
“…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.
A five-minute clip on the CL Financial bailout, the State and the ‘Code of Silence’ around how $25 Billion of your taxpayers’ Dollars were spent.
At a time when we hear of falling State revenues and we know there is no soap or toilet paper in our public hospitals, this is the story of how $25 Billion of our money was used to bailout the wealthiest man in the Caribbean.
This is the story of the fight by the Ministry of Finance to conceal the details of that massive payout.
In 2013 I sued the Minister of Finance & the Economy for his continuing failure or refusal to provide the details relating to the huge $25 Billion bailout of the failed CL Financial group.
On Wednesday 22 July 2015, the High court ruled in my favour by ordering the release of all the requested information.
The basic principle behind the Freedom of Information Act is that the information held by Public Authorities belongs to the public, unless one of the valid exemptions is applicable.
The Court also granted the State a 28-day stay of execution which seems intended to allow them the time to decide whether to appeal before they have to provide the requested information. Given the ongoing Information War and the high stakes to maintain the ‘Code of Silence’ in relation to this bailout, I would not be at all surprised if the State were to appeal against this ruling.
The unexplained gap
On 1 October 2010, the Prime Minister addressed Parliament to explain that $7.3 Billion had been spent on the bailout and that a further estimated $7.0 Billion was required to settle all debts. That is a 2010 estimate of $14.3 Billion to settle the CL Financial bailout, but the current estimated cost of the bailout is in excess of $25 Billion. That means that over $10.5 Billion more than the 2010 estimate has been spent, so where did all that extra money go? That information and the defined official policy of secrecy are at the heart of this scandal. Read the rest of this entry »