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Thursday 24 May 2018
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Letters to the Editor

Institutional and governance impairment

REGINALD DUMAS

FOR YEARS now, I’ve been warning of decline in the quality of our institutions and of our governance structures and implementation. The ears to which I principally speak strike me as increasingly deaf.

Worse, in too many instances those who are directly charged with the task of protecting and strengthening those institutions, and of providing good governance, are themselves the vanguard of the assault on the institutions, and the cynical proponents of improper, often bad, governance. There have been some recent examples.

First, the Minister of Planning, Camille Robinson-Regis, was quoted (Express, April 11) as saying that “all members of Parliament have an obligation to the parties first.” Their parties first! No wonder we find ourselves in a quicksand of political partisanship rather than in a lake of national statesmanship.

Read how Winston Churchill defined the duties of an MP: “The first duty … is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgment is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate… It is only in the third place that his duty to party organisation or programme takes rank. All these three loyalties should be observed, but there is no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy.”

Are we a healthy democracy, or was Churchill misguided?

Shamfa Cudjoe, at least, appears to see things differently from her senior colleague. She is reported (Guardian, April 12) as saying: “At the end of the day, we are here to serve the country of Trinidad and Tobago and to advance national development…”

I have no idea what skills she brings to her new ministry that were so conspicuously missing in her former, but I applaud her for putting TT first. Perhaps she should have a word with Mrs Robinson-Regis.

Second, the Darryl Smith show. According to an April 10 media release from the Prime Minister’s Office, Smith was fired after a meeting with the PM and Mrs Robinson-Regis “during which new information came to the attention of the (PM).” The release added that a committee had been appointed “to thoroughly review the circumstances surrounding the dismissal (of) and payment of compensation to Ms Carrie-Ann Moreau at the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs.”

How are we to interpret this? Is it that the “new information” that prompted Smith’s dismissal has nothing to do with the firing of, and compensation to, Ms Moreau? How else to explain the dismissal? But then, why would Stuart Young say – so he is reported in the Express of April 13 – that the PM would “act on the basis of fact obtained from investigations by people with the expertise and … experience?” Does this mean that there’s just one matter, which is the committee’s remit?

If so, would that mean that the PM did not have all the facts, “new information” or not, before he guillotined Smith? Why else would Young then warn against anyone presupposing that there was wrongdoing on Smith’s part, and say that if the committee absolved Smith completely, it would be up to the PM to decide if Smith would be made a minister again. Eh? And all of this is good governance?

Further, a payment to Ms Moreau from public funds would be entirely wrong. If Smith sexually harassed the lady, he would not have done so in execution of government policy (and even if he had, he and the Government would have a case to answer). He would have acted in his personal capacity, and it would therefore be for him to pay.

But who would have instructed that the payment be made from taxpayers’ money (if that was indeed the case)? What does the Minister of Finance have to say?

It isn’t only the politicians. Who would have authorised such a payment? The role and functions of the accounting officer in a ministry are very clearly set out in the Financial Regulations to the Exchequer and Audit Act. The officer “shall be responsible for ensuring that public funds entrusted to his care are … applied only to the purposes intended by Parliament.” (Parliament would not even have known about this bassa-bassa, let alone intended anything.)

And if the officer and his or her minister disagree, and the latter insists on pulling rank, the officer “shall accept the (minister’s) decision and act thereon only on the (minister’s) written instructions …” Copies of such instructions and of the officer’s objections “shall be forwarded to the Treasury and the Auditor General.” Was this done? If so, how could you have a non-disclosure agreement involving public monies?

And note, I haven’t said a word yet about General Dillon.

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