Fifteen years ago, shortly before becoming a columnist—as a guest speaker at an event organised by the late Lloyd Best—I characterised our political contests as a fight for the national cash register.
I also asserted that in politics you can lawfully t’ief, based on the way the State enterprise system facilitates the award of juicy contracts.
Cash register politics, as my readers are aware, means fighting an election in order to win power and gain access to the Treasury and subsequently to distribute public funds for the benefit of some politicians, their loyal or opportunistic followers and legions of others, who are willing to like it so and trade silence for easy money and perceived status.
In my first column on the State enterprise system, published in August 2002, I wrote that the “state enterprise system is an important component of the cash register.”
Years later, I submitted that column to the Uff Commission. As a result of that, I was called to give evidence and the Commission made a specific recommendation about the use of the private companies, as mentioned below, to do public business.
I have continued regularly to point out the unholy facilitations of “the tenderpreneurs” and “the contactocracy” and I have complained against the expanding of cash register politics by the ruthless expansion of the State enterprise system.
The State enterprise system is the vehicle by which the unholy facilitations are carried out. It all goes on behind the corporate veil of the State enterprise corporations, which are usually private limited liability companies, incorporated under the Companies Act, and in which the Government is the sole or majority shareholder.
It may strike readers as odd that the National Gas Company and Petrotrin exist in the form of private companies. Each private company is a separate legal entity, separate in law from the Ministers to whom they report.
Their separate legal status readily permits the so-called line Minister to place the blame on the State enterprise when something goes wrong or when incompetence, conflicts of interest, t’iefin’ or other forms of corruption are exposed.
This shift-the-blame option is available even when a minister has regularly interfered in the management or supervision of the enterprise or his or her hands are all over the questionable acts or omissions.
Ministerial interventions are not minuted or otherwise recorded and sometimes they take the form of hints and winks in a social setting or wishes delivered by the Chairman or a compere Board member or a member just grateful and on a high that he or she got a pick to be on a Board.
What I wrote about the shift-the-blame option in 2002 was this: “The State enterprise system provides cover for the venality of politicians because these State enterprise veins run below the surface of the political skin, so that the skin of the political face can say one thing about how the veins operate while the politician behind the face is interfering intravenously” with the supplies of goods and services and the provision of jobs.
Independent-minded persons who accept these Board appointments—even as a chairperson—can be subjected to intimidation or be deceived by politicians or tainted elements within the enterprise. In other cases, the Chair can be domineering and dominant and no damn dog bark, particularly if the Chair is, in reality, a Minister’s surrogate.
Another common problem afflicting State enterprises is undisclosed agendas. The board members may be placed on boards with agendas to be carried out on behalf of the person who secured their appointment, who may not necessarily be the line minister.
Alternatively, members may be suborned to lobby for third parties and conflicting factions of board members may develop within a board, each with a different lobbyist or interest on his/her back.
It must be emphasised that State enterprise business is also done through statutory corporations, bodies incorporated by Acts of Parliament, which may operate no differently.
Some of the well known ones are the water and electricity utility providers, the seaport and airport authorities and the National Carnival Commission. This list is also very long.
The end result of this State enterprise system is that vast sums of our money are spent or directed to be spent by persons who are essentially operatives acting at the behest of the political executive and by contact in a manner neither envisaged nor protected by the Constitution.
The conduct of business through a system such as this has not only resulted in imprudent use and downright squandering of our country’s money without checks and balances. It has been destructive of honesty, accountability and transparency. It has irrevocably warped our sense of value for money and created a mocking pretender celebrity class.
This column is dedicated to all those currently attempting to comprehend fake oil, ocean flowers, Galicias and certain senatorial appointments.