“When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong.” Ecclesiastes 8: 11
Last week’s avalanche of news robs any politician of the right to criticise any citizen for being cynical. It was like a hit parade list of things that can go wrong.
The story of billions of dollars being unaccounted for, the withdrawn prosecution in an alleged political bribery case, and the failure of the State’s attorney (now Attorney-General) to act in another wrongful dismissal case all came together in a single week.
How much can the nation take? Is it one law for some and another for others?
We cannot help but feel that the whole game is rigged. We are increasingly overwhelmed and cannot catch our breath. But this is another level in the decay of our nation.
In 2010, Victor Hart, then chairman of Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, said: “We have all grown up in a society of high corruption on an everyday basis…we [as a people] facilitate payments to get goods cleared or get building plans approved, or install WASA connections. This is the type of widespread petty corruption that…fuels and encourages grand corruption.”
This is how our democracy will end. We are witnessing the corruption of our institutions and the cowardly compromising by legislators. Facts and truth are besieged. Do the legislators believe there is no limit to what people will stomach?
The tribal nature of our politics has turned what is right and wrong on its head. “What my friends and I do is right; what others do is wrong!” is our mantra. Nothing done by some politicians and their associates will discredit them. Pure shamelessness.
This behaviour leads to an inability to ask: “how would this action look if the other side did it?” Or we excuse our actions because someone else did it before.
The nature of political corruption is that the worst offenders are the most powerful ones. They compromise a broad swathe of people through favours dispensed and job placements. But the citizens enjoy a lower standard of living and enjoy life less—this lowered life satisfaction is particularly infuriating on many levels.
But we will focus on the last week’s hue and cry raised in the Parliament’s halls over Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP).
Sadly, the Honourable Senator Wade Mark appears to suffer from amnesia. He chaired the Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee (PA(E)C) that received the CEPEP accounts for 2009 – 2014. That jaw-dropping report demonstrated the rogue elements were already at work. A whopping $3.1b was spent in that period versus $1.5 Billion for 2015 – 2021 (the period under review).
It was noted that the last auditor had not returned the requested Company’s files. One would have expected that a reputable audit firm would be selected when dealing with billion-dollar companies.
How was a relatively unknown auditor appointed for that size of business? As an act of civic duty, how could the Honourable Member, the then-line Minister, not persuade that auditor to extend customary courtesies to the incoming one?
Numerous issues were identified in that earlier PA(E)C report, including “lack of internal controls, procedures and policies; the lack of inventory control; and the absence of a fixed asset register.”
Another huge red flag—zero cash balances yearly, which meant that the Company’s revenue and expenditure were identical every year for six (6) years—was noted yet ignored.
Why did the rental of the Chaguanas office increase from $288,154.00 per month in 2009 to $422,173.00 by 2012? When did CEPEP reporting become roguish, Honourable Senator?
Lest we forget, there was a public spat between the then Attorney-General and the Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams in the wake of the 2013 construction of the Duncan Street Police post.
It was reported that the $2m job was done by a company owned by a gang leader. Williams said, within days of the event, “the police has intelligence that the person (the contractor) was involved in gang activity”.
Anand Ramlogan retorted: “If the Commissioner knows who the gang leaders are […] go and put handcuffs on them… The awarding of a contract is not an entitlement… get the names.
“If these people do not get work, what will they do, and how will they live? Will it result in a further spike in crime?”
Then Housing Development Corporation head, now a Senator, also chimed in. “He’s there every day. If you go there, now you will see him.
“The ‘Spanish guy’ is very enthusiastic. People like a little swagger. Sometimes people just want a chance.”
Each party appears to have their favourite guy, who embarrasses them at high-profile events. Remember Burkie and the President’s House fiasco?
But in a Guardian February 2019 exclusive, Gary Griffith confirmed that he had prepared a 17-page 2014 report as the honourable minister of National Security. He warned the then government that the fight for State contracts could lead to increased gang warfare.
“It has been a problem for the past 14 years where gangs fight to get their claws into State contracts which is the catalyst for gang wars and increased homicide.”
Gangs obtained million-dollar contracts through the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP), according to the report.
Dear honourable members, what ought we to make of this disclosure? How do we square this support with the lack of quality, well-resourced schools in the area? Are we still hoping for ‘trickle-down’ benefits? How do we fight crime?
Now the Honourable PA(E)C Chair castigates the new CEPEP management about the slow process of getting audits. An MBA graduate should know that performing audits requires the previous audit finalisation. The horror of the state of documents there is mindboggling.
But the present CEO and Board appear to be chickenhearted: they never complained to the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICATT)—the disciplinary body for auditors.
The ICATT has the power to revoke the practising licence for malpractice. It is usual for the outgoing auditor to meet with his counterpart. There is no obligation to provide working papers, but the documents provided by the Company for conducting the audit belong to the Company.
The outgoing auditor needed to be brought before ICATT for a disciplinary hearing.
The professional body apparently never reads the newspapers. It appears to be remarkably incurious. But it is not their money—it is poor people’s taxes. Poor people do not hire ICATT professionals.
How could a Board not act when facing the problem their management described?
CEPEP senior internal auditor Alicia Austin reported: “I went in and looked for a lot of old documents to aid in rebuilding when we realised what had happened and a lot of documents were missing, hundreds of documents.”
The CEO Keith Eddy added: “… we found a container…where things were destroyed. We don’t know—we can’t account to tell you what would have happened to that information.”
Did David Nahkid, pre his Senate appointment, assess the situation right?
“[…] It may be true that Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s rise […] represented a breakthrough for women in politics. But did she not put together and give free rein to a Cabinet comprising, inter alia, Jack Warner, Anil Roberts, Herbert Volney and Anand Ramlogan, the needle of all of whose moral compass, one might conclude, steadfastly pointed away from nought?
“We must not let them get away with their corrupt ways. Let us resolve not to forever hold our peace. And let us resolve, when we do speak up, to put an end to the never-ending hypocrisy…”
Victor Hart advises: “Society would be ‘shocked straight’ and corruption would be destroyed once there are successful prosecutions and convictions of persons on such charges.”
Should we keep hope? Can we reasonably expect that our honourable members will do the right thing?