ATTENTION paid in recent days to court matters relating to the Estate Management Business Development Company (EMBD) under a previous administration demonstrate Faulkner’s famous line: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Yet Justice James Aboud’s ruling on Thursday, in a case involving multiple contractors and multi-million-dollar claims, was on a preliminary matter. While the judge effectively determined there is a case to answer, no substantive findings were made. In fact, defences are pending.
You would not be able to tell that, however, judging from the heavy weather made of the ruling. So focused are politicians on the court of public opinion, they have become judge, jury and executioner.
“The wheels of justice turn slowly but they do turn,” the Prime Minister said on Thursday. Days earlier, Dr Rowley had facetiously called out the Law Association, asking whether it would intervene in an application from contractors to defer Thursday’s ruling.
Ironically, that application cited “the intense and inflammatory views” expressed in public by politicians in both the PNM and UNC.
Those who have a case to answer must answer. The allegations – and they await judicial interrogation – are serious and disturbing.
But a political platform is no substitute for a court of law.
What makes the sound and fury doubly disappointing, though, is the relative silence on one of the deeper issues at the heart of the case: the need for public procurement reform.
In fact, had proper regulation of state contracts been in place, the need to pursue a High Court lawsuit against contractors might not have arisen. The alleged offences might not have been possible to envision.
Politicians should explain why the new public procurement regime, introduced with such fanfare, is still not fully operational. This is a matter outstanding for so long the EMBD lawsuit cannot but raise a sense of déjà vu. As the PM himself asked, remember Piarco?
Yet daily we witness the spectacle of ribbon cuttings or signings – all with little sign of any up-to-date policing in terms of value for money or bidding practices. We are left to take the Government at its word on those issues.
Saying there has been “considerable dialogue” and “capacity-building” in relation to the new Office of Procurement Regulation, the PNM manifesto promises to enact the regulations necessary to implement the law “early in our next term.” The UNC promises to give the regulator the resources it needs.
Yet if it is true that the EMBD court case is taking far too long, so too are the moves to implement the procurement rules.
One possible verdict: though sparring in court, both parties have held back reform by mutual, if tacit consent.