Dancing on the OPR’s Grave
Five months after a dagger was wrenched into the heart of our fleeting aspirations for transparency and accountability in Governments buying and selling, our Leaders have returned to dance on the Office of the Procurement Regulator’s (OPR) grave.
Unbeknownst to the public, PM Rowley and his Cabinet have clandestinely brought to Parliament an evil far worse than the amendments to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Property Act, 2015. This demon is known as the Shipping Management Bill, 2019.
The Shipping Management Bill, 2019 proposes to create a ‘special purpose company’ known as the Maritime Authority, which is given control over our nation’s maritime affairs. Hidden in a singular provision in the almost 600-page document, Section 46 of the Bill sets an ominous precedent, the consequences of which can only be interpreted as an attempt to further undermine the OPR and facilitate a continued raid on our Treasury.
Section 46 provides, “The Authority, in the performance of its functions is not subject to the provisions of any written law for the procurement for goods and services using public funds, but the Authority shall, until such time as it makes its own Rules, observe the provisions of that Act.” Simply put, Section 46 allows the Maritime Authority to voluntarily remove itself from the OPR’s purview once it implements its own procurement procedures.
Trinidad and Tobago has a long history of ‘special purpose companies’ conducting grand heists on our Treasury. One remembers the infamous Calder Hart who through the Urban Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (UdeCott) pilfered billions of our tax payer dollars in meaningless and defunct projects or the recent allegations of ‘contract cartels’ existing in the Estate Management and Building Development Company (EMBD).
Do we really want these Companies to have the ability to self-regulate their own transactions? Can we trust any State Company to Act with an iota of transparency or integrity?
Given our country’s history of wastage by “special purpose companies”, the Rowley Government’s actions suggest they are allergic to transparency.
Is Section 46 a sign of the times? Can we now expect all existing and future “special purpose companies” to be excluded from the OPR’s remit?
Already, neither the Auditor General nor the Central Tenders Board exercise any purview over these “special purpose companies” and these legislative attempts to exclude them from the OPR’s remit are a dangerous trend that must be stopped. Are we doomed to forever be a bankrupt, failed and corrupted resource cursed country?
For far too long friends and financiers have sat on State Company Boards lining their pockets with our people’s bounty. Amidst a deadly pandemic and crippling economic uncertainty, we have all been asked to act responsibly with the interests of all in mind. Is our Government doing the same? Unless the Rowley Government, who have become champions of responsible conduct and communal duty, applies their own wisdom and removes Section 46 in its entirety, our failed state will continue to suffer from major leakages on an already sinking ship.