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WHO LET THE DOGS OUT? by David Walker

posted 23 Jan 2019, 05:13 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 23 Jan 2019, 05:20 ]
Image result for rottweiler on the attackJust about a decade ago, there was much controversy about the lack of accountability at a State owned enterprise, UDECOTT, that operated as Project Manager for large state construction projects. 

Leading the complaints about the company and its behaviour was Dr. Keith Rowley despite the fact that his party was in power and that at the beginning he was a Minister in Cabinet. To understand what happened and its relevance today, I now share three media reports from the time.

1. “The Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDECOTT) insists that the attacks on the company were political in nature. UDECOTT pro­duced a 210-page report, dated March 1, to Professor John Uff and Commissioner Desmond Thornhill, in which its lead counsel, Andrew Goddard, QC, wrote: "The commission needs to also recognise that a primary purpose of the war on UDECOTT is to damage the Prime Minister by damaging UDECOTT. "The campaign against UDECOTT is thus political in all senses and respects," he said. "Rowley (the former Housing Minister), it is surely obvious to all, is fighting for his political survival. He has staked his whole political future on seeking to damage the Prime Minister.”

2. “Prime Minister Patrick Manning acceded to many calls for the commission of inquiry, the most vociferous of which came from Dr 
Keith Rowley, whom Manning fired as Trade Minister in April 2008, contractor Emile Elias, the Joint Consultative Council, and the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter of Transparency International. Rowley and Manning disagreed over the role of UDECOTT, which is chaired by Canadian Calder Hart, and UDECOTT’s apparent access to public funds without proper oversight.” 

3. “Speaking in the Lower House on the Validation and Immunity from Proceedings Bill 2009, a bill which seeks to validate the Uff
Commission of Inquiry into Udecott and the local construction industry, Rowley unleashed his verbal assault against Manning while at the same time appealing to his PNM colleagues to, “do the right thing” and save the party from being tainted by the UDECOTT scandal.”

The first report illustrated what just about everyone thought at the time, which was that regardless of motive, the political future of Dr Keith Rowley was inextricably linked to his complaints, and the inquiry that would emerge therefrom. He would undoubtedly benefit politically from his actions and that reality must have been a great incentive to attack his own leader and the sitting Prime Minister.

The second report shows that the Joint Consultative Council was a key supporter of Dr. Rowley’s position. In fact, most observers would likely agree that their role was critical. The President of the Joint Consultative Council for most of that time, and a key advocate for an inquiry in his own right was Mr. Afra Raymond. Nobody then or now has ever suggested that his advocacy for transparency and accountability in the UDECOTT matter made him a supporter of Dr. Rowley’s personal political positions or those of his party. One of the other commentators who supported Dr. Rowley’s position quite vociferously was yours truly.

The third report shows Dr. Rowley beseeching his fellow party members to “do the right thing”, meaning that they should act in the party’s and country’s interest by speaking and acting forcefully against perceived wrongdoing by your party and its leaders. Afra Raymond, along with many other independent commentators, myself included, needed no encouragement to do the right thing. We didn’t then and we do not now.

Fast forward to 2019 and we again have the state engaged in actions that merit close examination. In the proposed expenditure of more than 500 million USD, there is an abysmal lack of transparency and accountability and very important questions are left unanswered. Even the most mundane information is only released at the end of a Freedom of Information request followed by expensive legal proceedings.

Despite the challenges, the advocates for transparency and accountability, most notably Mr. Raymond, have managed to prise the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) from the government’s hands. That MoU has now been examined and critically reviewed. Its one-sidedness in favour of Sandals and against the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago has rightly been condemned and brought shame to Sandals and the government, sufficient to push Sandals to abort the negotiating process - to paraphrase Sandals and the government.

Given the many questions outstanding about both the project and the utterances of the protagonists, most especially the Prime

Some of the outstanding questions:

 

1.      Did the Mottley committee ever meet (dates, attendees, venue)

2.      Have they filed any reports (copies if yes)

3.      Who reviewed the MoU before its was agreed

4.      What did the reviewers recommend

5.      Why did the Prime Minister not know that it included a confidentiality clause

6.      Was a Feasibility Study done

7.      Was an Impact Analysis done

8.      How much has been spent thus far

9.      What commitments have been made for ancillary projects like the Power Plant etc. and at what cost

10.  How was this project to be financed

Minister, one hoped for a recognition of the need to provide those answers. Just a few of those questions are listed in the Sidebar. Instead, Prime Minister Rowley responds by speaking about “controlling the narrative”. There is no public recognition of his failure to answer legitimate questions. Rather, he has heralded an intention to continue a policy of “distract and demean”.

In response to uncomfortable questions he has let the dogs out. Already, we see attacks on Mr. Raymond and others alleging political motivation. Such rich irony! Some of today’s sycophants are the very people who attacked Dr. Rowley all those years ago while his position got support from those being accused of political spite now. They are too blinkered to understand their own hypocrisy. They should revisit Dr. Rowley’s entreaties to “do the right thing” of a decade ago.

To my colleague and friend, Afra Raymond, my advice is that you recognise the 
Image result for afra raymondattacks for what they are. They reflect the validity and success of what you have achieved and the impact that you’re having on public opinion, most especially on people who would instinctively support the “party position”. The public is doing what Dr. Rowley invited his party members to do a decade ago and he doesn’t like it. His reaction and that of his supporters in attacking you and others expose their inability to answer the valid questions that have been raised.

Every pointless attack on personality is a further indicator of the power and reach of your research, your arguments and your questions. Don’t expect reasoned arguments, they have none. Instead, view every blunt personal attack as a compliment and a measure of your success. Derive from them the inspiration to continue. The energy that they expend in such futile attacks has already rebounded against them, and that will doubtless continue as long as we all stand firm.

There is today another dimension to this débâcle that I wish to comment on and which was referenced briefly by Mr. Raymond in a recent presentation to a large audience in Tobago. It is the Caribbean perspective. My starting point is that Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is reputed to have possessed probably the most powerful and dynamic economy in the Caribbean over several decades. It is said that when the American economy catches a cold the world sneezes. The same could be said of the T&T economy in relation to the Caribbean. That is an accolade of which most of our citizens are justifiably proud and which begets a burden of responsibility that we should not shirk lightly.

How sad then that our leaders have brought us to the position reflected by these Sandals negotiations, now mercifully terminated. In attempting to diversify our economy we are seeking to copy what other islands have done twenty years or more after they have done it. We are so desperate to follow in their footsteps that we negotiate with no regard for cost, environmental and other impact or financial returns. We tear up our procurement legislation and procedures and prostrate ourselves before a major corporation who rightly seek their best interests and extract every last benefit that they can. We should be ashamed.

Rather than be the leaders that the Caribbean and T&T desperately need, we’ve enthusiastically joined in the race to the bottom, offering our suitor (or are we the suitors?) any and everything they ask for and more besides. Is this who we are, and what we’ve become? The region needs leadership to ensure that we all benefit when these large companies come knocking. T&T must find the fortitude to lead again in such negotiations whether it be with Sandals or with BP.

I am compelled to pay tribute to the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Mr. Gaston Browne who has taken the lead in recognising that the Sandals problem is a Caribbean one and that it must be addressed at the Caribbean level. I salute his stated commitment to make that happen and his frank disclosure of the nature of the demands and some of the coercive measures utilised by Sandals in pursuit of their corporate interests. I urge all to listen to his speech on the issue and to lobby across the Caribbean in support of his initiative.
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