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Daly Bread: Should we call that George? In pursuit of transparency and accountability

Monday last was a grim day for the pursuit of transparency and accountability.

Both the prime minister and the chief justice took the usual futile refuge of chastising the media and metaphorically shooting all other messengers, oblivious of the message from responsible quarters that they should give an account of certain dealings.

Even more alarming for the pursuit of free speech is the now routine claim that every statement that they do not like is ‘alleged’—in a curious duet—to be the product of partisan political or ‘tribal’ affiliation or the product of ‘an agenda’.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (centre) stands between his wife Sharon Rowley (far right) and Chief Justice Ivor Archie (far lefT) during the Independence Day Parade on 31 August 2018.
(Copyright Ministry of National Security)

The government says it does not know of the BBC’s request for an interview as part of its documentary on Venezuelans, who have fled to Trinidad. The prime minister has taken angry objection to certain parts of the documentary.

If the BBC misrepresented the government’s position, that was a clear risk if an interview was in fact declined. In any event, it seems a stretch to say that the BBC was dishonourable and to mistake its status. It is clearly distinguishable from a State Enterprise.

Let’s next return to the $72m contract between the Housing Development Corporation (the HDC) and the Chinese construction company Gezhouba Group International Engineering (Gezhouba).

The contract that HDC made with Gezhouba was so disadvantageous to the interests of the government that the cabinet rejected it. As a result, the contract was ‘cancelled’—a dubious move, given that cancellation by one party is not a legally recognised method of discharge of a contract.

Although he gave flippant answers about the reason for the cancellation, neither the attorney general nor any other cabinet member would take ownership of the offending contract. We also heard a startling statement that we could not look to a minister ‘holding on’ in Housing on a temporary basis for answers.

Naturally, therefore, citizens concerned about this fiasco and what the ‘cancellation’ might cost justifiably turned to the board of the HDC for answers.

Photo: (From left) HDC chair Newman George, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and HDC CEO Brent Lyons listen to a Greenvale resident during a walkthrough.

Knowing the power customarily wielded by the chairpersons of statutory bodies and state enterprises—whichever of our ‘hide-up things’ political parties are in government—eyes turned specifically to Mr Newman George, the HDC Chair.

I know Newman George as a nice tess with whom to lime.  There is no agenda to hurt him but he has accepted high public profiles and, unfortunately, that comes with the burden of accountability.

However, he does not have to bother to account because the Prime Minster said he is not to be blamed. “This is not a Newman George thing”, “many, many people” were involved.

Okay, but who are these people and was there no Board oversight?

It pains me to have to ask these elementary questions but, like many of my bona fide fellow commentators, I neither fear nor am I intimidated by attribution to us of an agenda or a political affiliation. We had plenty of that from the UNC.

We have neither political affiliation nor agenda but we know the pattern with both parties: You good until you don’t agree with something and then they vex too bad.

So we will not be calling that George on transparency and accountability.

In these columns since 2002, and in the senate before that, I have insisted that the state board system permits the obscuring of responsibility between ministers and their chosen ones who sit on boards.

Photo: Former Sport Minister Anil Roberts (centre), ex-SPORTT Company CEO John Mollenthiel (left) and former SPORTT chairman Sebastien Paddington.
The three men were key figures in the controversial Life Sport fiasco.
(Courtesy SPORTT)

For Thema Williams’ sake, I will soon be giving a serious airing of the thoroughly rotten organisation of sports administration, which, in her case, condoned and is still condoning toxic discrimination.

As for the Judiciary, we will see, this coming Friday, whether the membership of the Law Association calls that George on the prime minister’s section 137 decision.

Regardless of that deeply troubling issue, the statistics for the disposal of cases on the criminal side do evidence a long and continuing crisis. Citizens spend years on remand. The Prison Officers Association have repeatedly warned of the explosive overcrowding situation.

Inexplicably, the sensible suggestion of Archbishop Harris that there should be a release of all those on remand for longer than if convicted had they been tried promptly, has been ignored.

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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