Murky waters

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales - Angelo Marcelle
Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales - Angelo Marcelle

THE WRANGLING between Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales and Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal has been revealing. It has shown just how little we know about the affairs of entities like the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) and the State’s dealings with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

When it comes to the IDB, there is a lot we do know, in theory. Governments love to trumpet whenever the latest agreements or loans are signed.

A review of such announcements over the last decade discloses deals for purposes as various as: strengthening of financial-sector supervision, incorporating climate change in national policies, flood alleviation, bolstering electronic services and exports, promoting healthcare planning, and improving the Registrar General’s department.

One line minister in a previous government even entered into four separate agreements in a month.

In sharp contrast to the announcement of these deals, involving reportedly favourable repayment terms, is a dearth of detail in relation to terms and conditions. No one can say whether such conditions are met because no one knows them in the first place.

If finances are accessed, it can often be hard to tell where the money went, despite a robust budgetary review process which encourages detailed examination of loan provisions in ministerial accounts.

This is the context of this week’s spat between Mr Gonzales and Dr Moonilal. So opaque are IDB arrangements it seems the two parties cannot agree what exactly were the terms of proposed measures relating to WASA in the past. Both allege dishonesty.

At a time when global interconnection is increasingly under attack owing to nationalist impulses and political factors, it is important to acknowledge the key role played by regional funding bodies such as the IDB.

One of the latest loan agreements signed was to help meet the rising cost of covid19 pandemic relief for the most vulnerable, something the State clearly needs help doing.

The key role of such agreements alone is reason for greater transparency on the part of governments in relation to how money that has been accessed is spent, or whether money has even been accessed at all.

It is for the government of the day, which is accountable to the electorate, to spell out the provisions of matters agreed with the IDB, which is itself hamstrung by the need to show deference to executing states. While the IDB might have reason to be secretive, no such reason exists for governments.

Meanwhile, Mr Gonzales, who is currently asking us to accept far-ranging restructuring at WASA, would do well to clarify his own remarks about a purported arrangement with a Canadian firm that has been highlighted by Dr Moonilal.

If we had a stronger tradition of – or law on – disclosing government-to-government arrangements, perhaps the minister would not have to.

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