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N Touch
Wednesday 20 June 2018
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Commentary

A remarkable country

Reginald Dumas writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

What a remarkable country we live in!

The Law Association has just strongly chastised the Chief Justice for his silence on allegations made against him; he has finally given a reply of sorts. What action will the association now be taking? A purported friend of the Chief Justice is reported to have given the police a statement accusing a “high state official” and two others of plotting to kill him. Who is the official, and why would he want to have this man killed? Have the police launched a serious investigation? If the statement turns out to be substantially correct, what measures will follow? With what impact on TT?

The inter-island ferry tragedy continues. On November 30, Minister Stuart Young announced, as reported, that a ministerial team had been established to manage the tender process and find a passenger ferry in the shortest possible time. Why? Because the process used by the Port Authority had failed six times to come up with a solution, and the Cabinet had had enough. Nidco, he added, would be the executing agency.

Young also hinted at corruption in the previous tender processes. (In his appearance last September before the JSC, the Prime Minister had similarly expressed himself.)

Under the Central Tenders Board Act or the proclaimed sections of the Procurement Act, do ministers have the authority to be so deeply involved in a government procurement exercise? Under what law does Nidco function, and what are its powers? In general, what legislation governs State enterprises and the so-called “special purpose companies?”

If corruption is suspected, what action has been, or is being, taken to deal with it? Does Nidco have more expertise than the Port in ferry matters? And if it is the executing agency, and if speed in the acquisition of a new passenger ferry is really a priority, why would its chairman be reported on December 14, two weeks after Young’s remarks, as saying that Nidco had not been approached on the matter, and that all he knew about it was what he had seen and heard in the public space?

I am holding a ticket for travel to Trinidad by the T&T Spirit on May 28, returning to Tobago on June 3 — 2017, that is, not 2018. The ticket is valid for one year, and in the last few months I’ve made efforts, all unsuccessful, to use it. So I (and others) must travel by air, incurring additional financial and other burdens, like renting a car at Piarco Airport and spending time and energy in traffic to Port of Spain and back.

Meanwhile, the increasingly tiresome political accusations fly back and forth, puerile finger-pointing becomes an art form, and ferries limp, break down, or don’t appear at all. The ole mas’ would be a fitting prelude to the coming Carnival if the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and particularly of Tobago, were not being so disadvantaged.

The Prime Minister says that service commissions need to be reviewed. I agree. But then, if memory serves me right, he also says that they are in the Constitution because of an arrangement made during the 1962 independence negotiations in London.

How then to explain the proposal, in a TT Legislative Council motion on constitutional changes, that “the present advisory Public Service Commission … be an independent body … (and that) the Governor (be) bound to accept (its) advice …?” Who was speaking? Eric Williams, then Chief Minister. When? On September 20, 1957, nearly five years before the independence talks. (The motion also called for the introduction of the Cabinet system.)

Arnold Piggott decries political interference in the Education Facilities Company Ltd. Not so, demurs the PM; it was intervention. Perhaps. But I have a long experience, firsthand and through observation, of how easily intervention degenerates into interference, especially where officeholders — in “power” but not in “office” — rapidly persuade themselves that their word is gospel, that they are in control (God does get an occasional mention, I concede), and that the Cabinet is all-seeing and all-knowing, and therefore capable of thinking for the people who put it there in the first place. Remarkable.

Will the relevant JSC dig deeper into what Piggott said? I certainly hope so, because its findings and recommendations could help conduce to the good (I nearly said “better”) governance this country wants and needs.

The top-down approach, a colonial import which has dominated us for all our politically independent life, has never been efficient where our ordered development is concerned (though it has occasionally, but temporarily, been effective).

Leaders in all sectors must speak with the people, not at or down to them. A special responsibility in this regard rests on the shoulders of politicians, both in government and in opposition.

And I haven’t said a word about the THA. Yet.

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