In the statement announcing his resignation from the Public Procurement Board, attorney James Chang Kit said he was pushed to that point, partly on account of what he called the relative silence and acquiescence of the society and some members of the board.
He said collectively they accepted what he termed a sorry state of affairs in a fast dwindling and bankrupt economy. He said this drove him to despair and that he submitted the letter of resignation with a heavy heart.
In a quick response to this development, the Minister of Finance sought to cheapen the presumed import of this action. He said Mr Chang Kit’s term of office would have ended at the end of this month.
It was, in those words, no big thing. The minister’s response was classic contempt for the reasons which lay behind the resignation in the first place. He ignored the substance of Mr Chang Kit’s argument. He overlooked the fact that eight of nine independent senators voted to abstain, after heavy criticism of the amendments to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act 2020. The lone member of that bench who voted in the affirmative was so pilloried by public sentiment that she begged for time to recover.
This was a matter against which a broad-based amalgam of private sector and pubic interest organisations and individuals came together almost historically to denounce the Government’s actions.
Mr Chang Kit’s statement of resignation, and the Finance Minister’s response, appeared in the press on January 5, days after the country’s Head of State had issued a New Year message in which she presented a partial list of those matters which, in her view, represent examples of subjects about which the population clamours for clarity. Procurement was the first on that list. She said it was among the many and varied items of the people’s concerns which in her view are entirely reasonable. The Finance Minister appeared to have missed that call, by the manner in which he brushed aside Mr Chang Kit’s concerns.
On the other hand, it is not entirely correct to claim, as Mr Chang Kit did, that the population was relatively silent on the issue.
While we had no fire-and-brimstone-type marches in the streets, the reactions of those organisations which got together and issued their joint statement were powerful and significant.
All the country’s Chambers of Industry and Commerce, the Coalition of Service Industries and the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute are among those who have taken positions, in one form or another, against the Government’s decisions in the matter. They came together under the umbrella of a Private Sector-Civil Society grouping.
Winston Riley, leading figure in the Joint Consultative Council for the construction sector in the country, accused the Government of committing a travesty. He said the amendments in question almost completely destroy the efficacy of the legislation.
Public citizen Afra Raymond has described them as having crippled the Office of the Procurement Regulator. He said they represent a serious blow to the long-term campaign for proper control over transactions in public money, and they are extremely detrimental to the public interest.
In its own statement of concern, and of disagreement on the matter, the TTTI said the long delay in moving for full operation of the OPR was inordinate and unnecessary. It said the amendments as proposed were going to undermine credibility and throw into question the Government’s credibility on the issue.
Mr Chang Kit clearly seemed to have wanted more. He accused the Government of successive stalling and stymieing the efforts of his office to have the regulations proclaimed. He referred to amendments in 2016 and 2017 which had the effect of, among other things, signalling the Government’s reluctance against proper procurement oversight.
And all the minister could say in providing what sits as the Government’s response was that his term of office was coming to an end. No love lost, is how we should read that. So much for having agreed to serve in the public interest.
And then we get lectures from on high about persons who may turn out not to be so disposed.
Angie Ramnarine runs a self-generated NGO in San Fernando addressing the needs of desperate Venezuelan nationals. She accuses the Government of operating without a clear, thought-out policy in addressing the matter, and its consequences.
Louise Tillotson is the Caribbean area researcher for Amnesty International. She accuses the Government of having prioritised a response focused on protecting national security and border protection, rather than finding ways to fulfil its humanitarian commitments.
Former deputy Central Bank governor Dr Terrence Farrell says the UNC’s “troubling assaults” on the Central Bank during its term in office pale in comparison to the “sledge-hammer approach” adopted by the current administration.
A single thread runs through all of these commentaries. They are held to contain no politically-inspired invective, and are spoken without taint of malice.
• Andy Johnson is
a veteran journalist