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PP’s Anansi politics

Published: 
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
TONY FRASER

“We have to stop the endless flow of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political process, and drowning out the voices of our people” —Hillary Clinton New York, June 13, 2015

The Prime Minister’s accounting for the failure of her Government to table legislation in Parliament to end corruption in the award of billions in contracts is illustrative of why Jack Warner can make claims of having financed the People’s Partnership from Fifa’s money in 2010.

Last Friday in Parliament, PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar sought to illustrate how committed her party has been to reforming the system in which parties receive hundreds of millions to finance their campaigns. 

When in opposition, she said the United National Congress put forward proposals in 2006 and 2009 for reforming the system. 

Further, she said the People’s Partnership had in its manifesto, campaign finance reform measures as a major objective.

However, five years after, the Prime Minister could only say that she established a parliamentary committee in November 2014 to propose recommendations for legislation to govern the donation of funds to parties by corporations and investors in the Treasury.

The statement was deceptive, disingenuous and was classic Trini Anansi politics. The mandate given to the committee was to discuss and propose recommendations. Those recommendations would have had to be submitted for public discussions and approval before being drafted in legislative form; all of that was to happen in seven months.

If Persad-Bissessar had somehow forgotten about her party’s history and commitment to bring legislation to eliminate “dirty money” financing parties, she should have remembered when Independent Senator Helen Drayton moved a motion on the issue in 2013.

Given the time-frame allocated, it is clear that the PM and her Government never intended to effect change which would curb the flow of unaccounted for tens of millions into the 2015 general election. 

Indeed, then Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said check us in January 2016. 

PM Persad-Bissessar then poured salt in the wound by promising that campaign finance reform would be a major plank of the People’s Partnership’s platform for re-election. 

Stated differently, she effectively said she did not keep the sacred promise of 2010; but vote for me in 2015 and I promise you...That is contempt and disregard for the political intelligence of the population.

Political Leader of the Congress of the People, Prakash Ramadhar, followed his Prime Minister on television last Friday and informed that legislation to control campaign finance was most important and imperative. What a revelation!

Almost every major issue of corruption allegation over the last five years has been linked to financiers of the ruling party being given preferential treatment in the award of billions of dollars in contracts. 

Section 34 was about opening the door for UNC financiers to walk free from corruption charges; the award of the Point Fortin to San Fernando highway contract by special tender featured similarly; the NGC/WASA contract to SIS had similar question marks over it; so too the Chaguaramas land deal; the Invader’s Bay project; the removal of a water tender valued at no more than $100,000 from a ditch by a contractor for $7.5 million and several others have been reported to have been awarded on the basis of companies which contributed to the 2010 campaign and those which have put in a promissory note to do so in 2015.

So too has the People’s National Movement (PNM) done little to advance its claims that it is for campaign finance reform.

It is not incidental that the outstanding $400 million Curepe Interchange contract is now scheduled to be awarded after Parliament has been dissolved. 

Word is the contract will go to a company that was assessed by Nidco to be lacking in the capacity to do the job effectively. 

It is also not by chance that there are problems on the Maracas, St Joseph bridge contract, a firm having taken short cuts; maybe there were also shortcuts in the award of that contract. 

The Sunday Guardian reported that “Nidco is now in talks with all major road contractors, including Junior Sammy, Seereram Brothers and Lutchmeesingh, for them to work as a unit to complete the road works in conjunction with Brazil-based OAS Construction, which controls the project,” that is the Point Fortin highway. 

Then there are projects in the offing such as the Diego Martin interchange and the San Fernando to Mayaro highway and other projects running into billions. 

The kick-back on projects is said to be in the range of 15 to 20 per cent.

It is also instructive that the companion legislation needed to eliminate corruption in the award of contracts, the recently-passed Procurement Bill, will not come into effect before the election. That effectively means no oversight in the award of contracts.

While the Prime Minister promises to make campaign financing an issue in this election, the party is already selling shares in the contracts to be awarded between 2015 and 2020.

The moment could not be more propitious for the conscious electorate to intervene against parties being funded by investors seeking a clear path to receiving contracts from the state.

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