NOTHING better describes the woeful state of governance in this country than the unending waste of public funds by one government after another. Two recent examples reported in the Sunday Express not only illustrate the extent of waste but the lack of accountability of those entrusted with managing the public purse and the public’s inability to secure redress.
It has been over 12 and half years since Lawrence Duprey’s too-big-to-fail CL Financial empire went belly up, prompting a taxpayer bailout last calculated at $30 billion. The Sunday Express report calculated legal fees arising from the subsequent investigation at about $611.3 million. On a comparatively miniscule scale but no less wasteful is the State’s ill-fated lease of the Sikorsky S76D helicopter which has cost taxpayers roughly $4 million in legal fees and other still undisclosed fees associated with settlement costs which could be significant.
Financial wastage by the State is so endemic and the details of each are so incredible that it has assumed the proportions of caricature. If justice is ever served, much less served on time, nobody will be more surprised than the public. The average person has settled on the cynical conclusion that the most likely outcome from exposing financial abuse by the State is that the episode will be milked for all its political worth and that some lucky lawyers and accountants will become multi-millionaires. Trinidad and Tobago may well be on speed-dial for British QCs for whom it has been a lucrative destination.
The culture of State waste with impunity and unaccountability runs deep. One might start with the Caura Dam racket of the 1940s and follow the stream that runs into the gas station racket of the 1960s, the DC-9 and Caroni Racing Track scandals of the 1970-80s; the airport scandal of the 1990s, the collapse of CL Financial and the scandal of Petrotrin’s GTL plant in the 2000s and the Beetham Wastewater plant after 2010. This week, we await Cabinet’s announcement on the future of ALNG’s Train 1 and the explanation for the National Gas Company’s inexplicable decision to spend $250 million and counting on a project all but shuttered by its majority shareholders.
While rival political administrations argue over who “tief” more than who, and who wasted more than who, the wider perspective reveals a pattern across political boundaries that mocks our notions of responsible government under the Westminster parliamentary system.
Until our system of governance can be relied upon to hold to account those responsible for wasting public funds, in a fair and timely manner, the problem will be perpetuated regardless of who is in government. The lack of consequences for exploiting and abusing State funds is encouraging more and more people to take the risk, including in ways that may even be legal. It has also given rise to the phenomenon of state capture in which private interests exercise control over the State decisions to their own advantage.
As the economy falls further into recession and tightens the squeeze on the population, the Government should expect the public to become less forgiving of wasteful, irresponsible and corrupt State expenditure that creates millionaires at their expense and without delivering justice. Political mud-slinging might entertain but it does not strengthen accountability systems or make the guilty pay.