FFOS Appeal to President Weekes
Today Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) have written to Her Excellency, President Paula Mae Weekes (ORTT), appealing to her to not proclaim the Public Procurement and Disposal of Property (Amendment) Bill (2021) until our Government meets with the public to address several concerns raised by numerous independent third parties regarding the purpose/benefit of these amendments.
For months the Government have appeared unwilling to meaningfully address the following:
Firstly, the amendment of Section 7(2) of the Bill removes Government to Government arrangements from the Office of the Procurement Regulator’s (OPR) purview. Whilst our Government has cited “international best practice” as their reason for doing same, FFOS remain concerned that our close ties to countries such as China, whose “debt trap policy” is well documented internationally, necessitates some level of independent third party oversight. In 2019, our Government entered into and cancelled a USD $71.7M contract with the China Gezhouba Co. Ltd, for the construction of 5000 unit apartments. This was a contract the likes of which had never been agreed to in our Country’s history and the cancellation of which would normally have attracted stiff penalties. However, our mysteriously close relationship with China buried this atrocity and was resolved under a cloak of secrecy. How was our Government able to enter into such an enormous contract then cancel it without any known consequences? By removing the OPR’s ability to tangibly oversee Government to Government arrangements including the mechanisms for dispute settlement, the extent to which our Government uses tax payer’s dollars in such dealings remains secret.
Secondly, the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) raised serious concerns about the exemption of Public Private Partnerships from the OPR’s purview. Should there be credence to their reasoning, the entire aim of the Procurement Legislation is undermined as our Government’s dealings with the private sector fall outside the OPR’s scope. The Attorney General is yet to respond to the LATT’s statement and the public is left clueless as to whether our Government has clandestinely legalized corruption.
Finally, the Government has also exempted legal and medical services from the OPR’s purview. They have given no explanation for these exemptions which are especially concerning as:
1) We are in the midst of a pandemic and there is uncertainty whether it allows the procurement of vaccines/medical services without independent oversight.
2) The Government is prosecuting former members of the Opposition for exorbitant legal fees during their tenure, yet seek to exempt the same conduct which they deem criminal.
FFOS were heartened by Her Excellency’s denouncement of “secretive politicians” in her 2021 New Year’s address and know that she values our Nation’s economic stability. We trust that our President will ensure that this Bill is not proclaimed until our Government fully addresses these concerns. In its original form this Bill halted the historic abuse of our Treasury and put a stop to the secretive disposal of our assets. Our Country will continue to suffer until we stop apparent dishonesty in public affairs.