A call has been made for the people of Trinidad and Tobago to break their silence and demand that the Government repeal the controversial Public Procurement Amendment legislation.
A petition has been launched by the United National Congress (UNC) urging the population to sign and demand the repeal. It can be found at: http://chng.it/PKt6jBmtr5
The UNC's call led by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has been supported by persons including former PNM Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira, former Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith, Gary Aboud, President of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea and former Foreign Affairs Minister Ralph Maraj.
They all spoke at a webinar hosted by the UNC on Monday to discuss the repeal of the procurement legislation.
Aboud said corruption in Trinidad and Tobago brings him to tears.
He criticised his relative Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and the millions collected in rent for #1 Alexander Place saying he (Al-Rawi) could afford to build the very building three times over with the rent collected over nine years.
Aboud criticised the millions spent to purchase boats in Australia without any transparency in place.
"Imagine the Prime Minister can stop in to Australia and spend $80 million in buying ships..I feel to cry, I don't know how to say it.
Somebody estimated that five billion dollars a year could be saved if we had the procurement regulation properly. Just imagine we paying my good friend and relative $165 million to rent #1 Alexander Place for nine years, seven of which it wasn't even occupied...he could build the building three times with what he collected in rent in nine years," he said.
He said there should be a calculation of all the monies Government spends on rental of buildings.
Aboud said the masses should not stay silent.
"It is evil for us to be quiet, Satan if there is one must be rejoicing at the silence of the masses," he said.
He added religious leaders are doing a disservice to your religion by keeping quiet.
"I don't think there is any God that would want you to keep quiet, it is evil to keep quiet when evil is occurring in front of your eyes and you know that the treasury is being raided," he said.
"Unless we act together as one, we will perish together as fools," he said adding that he is not against politicians but concerned about the future of the country.
Maraj said people are silently sitting in armchairs allowing Governments to do what they want because of the nature of politics.
"That is one of the tragic things about Trinidad and Tobago, the politics has not mobilised the population to wake up and attend to itself and protect itself," he said.
He said if the PNM or UNC is in power "half of the population goes silent, goes sedentary, goes passive".
Maraj said this is the reason why they can get away with all kinds of things.
He said political parties have a responsibility to lead the way out of this tribalism.
He said the amendments to the legislation constitute a corruption of our democracy.
Maraj said the amendments eliminate independent oversight in the sale of the country's resources for example the sale of the Petrotrin lands and refinery.
He noted that Professor Selwyn Cudjoe, a PNM member had stated that "the PNM it seems is always working in the interest of their wealthy friends rather than the people who elected them,".
Nunez-Tesheira said she got criticisms for being part of the webinar but country comes first.
"I understand what we are opening our country to is more corruption and unbridled corruption," she said.
She noted that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley defended the exclusion of certain services from the oversight of the procurement regulator such as medical, legal and any other service the Finance Minister wish to add.
She further noted Rowley had questioned where you ever heard you can hire a lawyer or doctor on the basis of the lowest price.
"He knows very well that is not correct," said Nunez-Tesheira.
She pointed out that in 2004 the former Patrick Manning led administration set out a policy document on passing a procurement legislation and the model they decided to adopt was the "principled model".
She said it is in the preamble to the legislation where it states very clearly "accountability, transparency, integrity and value for money".
"You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that value for money can never mean the lowest price," she said.
Nunez-Tesheira questioned why would the Rowley Government remove protections from the legislation when he himself as a Minister under the Manning Government spoke out about corruption at UDeCOTT and was fired.
"So I ask the Prime Minister as the person in charge of this country at this moment, I ask of him that he reconsiders his position.... otherwise it may look like you making track for gouti to run," she said.
She said the people have to stand up and be counted and not allow the Government to eviscerate the legislation.
Hamel-Smith said the poor will suffer the most as a result of having improper procurement legislation as it means the country's wealth will be pilfered away.
He said the Government through the amended legislation has opened the door to more corruption rather than less.
"The Government is really telling the people 'we in charge, not a damn dog bark and we will do as we please because we are the Government of the country and that is not acceptable, we must rise up and we must call upon them to change this legislation," he said.
He said the amended legislation brought by the Government sought to eliminate Government to Government contracts from the purview of the regulator and this is a retrograde step.
He said these regulator now has become unimportant and been disempowered
Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said the repeal process is simple and would require the Government to bring it to the Parliament.
She said the rationale for the gutting of Tue legislation is for corruption to continue and impacts those in need.
"It is a painful thing that people getting millions of dollars for rentals and you can't but laptops today in 2021 for children," she said.
She sais the people can come together to remove this "evil" law.
Persad-Bissessar further said that the parallel system set up by Government as it relates to procurement can trigger litigation.
Opposition Senator Wade Mark said the gutting of the legislation by the Government ensures there is no oversight of the procurement process
He said over the past five years the PNM has spent over $170 billion without effective accountability and value for money.
"We need urgent intervention, powerful resistance and organised action to cage this wild beast which has been let loose on the people by this reckless and irresponsible administration," he said.
The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was passed in the Senate in December 2020.
The Government, which does not have a majority in the Upper House, needed to convince at least one of the nine Independent Senators to lend support to pass the Bill.
That support came from the vote of Independent Senator Dr Maria Dillon-Remy.
The Bill was passed with 16 votes for, six against and eight abstentions.