Martin Daly

Martin Daly

MONDAY last was a grim day for the pursuit of transparency and accountability.

Both the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice took the usual, but futile, refuge of chastising the media and metaphorically shooting all other messengers, oblivious of the message from responsible quarters that they should give an account of certain dealings.

Even more alarming for the pursuit of free speech, is the now routine claim that every statement that they do not like is alleged, in a curious duet, to be the product of partisan political or “tribal” affiliation or the product of “an agenda”.

The Government says it does not know of the BBC’s request for an interview as part of its documentary on Venezuelans who have fled to Trinidad. The Prime Minister has taken angry objection to certain parts of the documentary.

If the BBC misrepresented the Government’s position, that was a clear risk if an interview was in fact declined. In any event, it seems a stretch to say that the BBC was dishonourable and to mistake its status. It is clearly distinguishable from a State enterprise.

Let’s next return to the US$72 million contract between the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and the Chinese construction company, Gezhouba Group International Engineering.

The contract that HDC made with Gezhouba was so disadvantageous to the interests of the Government that the Cabinet rejected it. As a result, the contract was “cancelled”, a dubious move, given that cancellation by one party is not a legally recognised method of discharge of a contract.

Although he gave flippant answers about the reason for the cancellation, neither the Attorney General nor any other Cabinet member would take ownership of the offending contract. We also heard a startling statement that we could not look to a minister “holding on” in the Ministry of Housing on a temporary basis for answers.

Naturally, therefore, citizens concerned about this fiasco and what the “cancellation” might cost justifiably turned to the board of the HDC for answers.

Knowing the power customarily wielded by the chairpersons of Statutory bodies and State enterprises, whichever of our “hide-up things” political parties are in Government, eyes turned specifically to Newman George, the HDC chair.

I know Newman George as a nice tess with whom to lime. There is no agenda to hurt him but he has accepted high public profiles and, unfortunately, that comes with the burden of accountability.

However, he does not have to bother to account because the Prime Minister said he is not to be blamed. “This is not a Newman George thing”. “Many, many people” were involved. Okay, but who are these people and was there no board oversight?

It pains me to have to ask these elementary questions but, like many of my bona fide fellow commentators, I neither fear nor am I intimidated by attribution to us of an agenda or a political affiliation. We had plenty of that from the UNC. We have neither political affiliation nor agenda but we know the pattern with both parties: you good until you don’t agree with something and then they vex too bad.

So we will not be calling that George on transparency and accountability.

In these columns, since 2002, and in the Senate before that, I have insisted that the State board system permits the obscuring of responsibility between ministers and their chosen ones who sit on boards.

For Thema Williams’ sake, I will soon be giving a serious airing of the thoroughly rotten organisation of sports administration, which, in her case, condoned and is still condoning toxic discrimination.

As for the judiciary, we will see, this coming Friday, whether the membership of the Law Association calls that George on the Prime Minister’s Section 137 decision.

Regardless of that deeply troubling issue, the statistics for the disposal of cases on the criminal side do evidence a long and continuing crisis. Citizens spend years on remand. The Prison Officers Association has repeatedly warned of the explosive overcrowding situation.

Inexplicably, the sensible suggestion of former Archbishop Harris that there should be a release of all those on remand for longer than if convicted, had they been tried promptly, has been ignored.

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The sea-stage fiasco is a textbook case exemplifying the difficulty of doing business in Trinidad and Tobago.

When asked by reporters on January 23 about the length of time required for the replacement of a passport, the Minister of National Security said he was “not comfortable” with it and indicated his intention to do something about it. He made good on that intention after taking a walk-through at immigration offices on Monday, as the situation persisted. The minister owned up to having “instructed” that the waiting time be reduced from five months to one month. Just like that.

I was looking forward to the OWTU doing something really big for this country apart from boastful words.

When the late Maestro sang his 12 to 14 verses of “Mr Trinidad” he was, unknowingly, going back to the norm for the older calypsonians. It was only when they had to conform to the three-minute limit of the 78 rpm recordings that the four-verse calypso took centre stage.

There are news reports that former United National Congress leader and prime minister Basdeo Panday is hopeful of cobbling together an amalgam of disparate political elements to form a viable third party as the upcoming general election looms large on the horizon.

There is rightly national concern about crime and there are very many views and recommendations put forward by the citizenry and various organisations, including businesses, on how to combat crime.