Noble: Dr Picou’s galling treatment and auditor general impasse reveals T&T’s darkening mood

“It is hardly possible to build anything if frustration, bitterness, and a mood of helplessness prevail.” Lech Walesa, 1983 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

As a country, we are becoming more shameless. The scant regard that the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC) staff displayed to Dr David Picou is galling.

Dr David Picou.

His widow described their care of him in his last days as atrocious and without humanity. Dr David Bratt called it nauseating.

Dr Picou was chairman of the Mt Hope Medical Complex Task Force, which implemented that complex of 71 buildings and structures.

“Before him, it was meandering along the Trinidad way… He and the administrative team he created from scratch took control in 1980 and got what was an idea in the minds of others moving.”

The Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex.

Today, we question: “Who is he?” His gentle nature meant nothing to the nursing staff, who are now in charge. Brutish. Shamelessly so.

We have a strange relationship with public money. What my friends and I do is fine. When you do the same thing, it is wrong and corrupt.

Remember when Mr Patrick Manning insinuated that Dr Keith Rowley had stolen $10 million?

After months of evasion, the truth came out at the UFF Commission of Inquiry: no money was stolen. It was a tough time, but it did not descend to the depths of today’s approach to accountability.

In his eulogy at Mr Manning’s funeral, Dr Rowley characterised his disagreements with Mr Manning as phases in a long relationship. Some days, you are up, and others, you are down.

Martin Daly applauded this speech as “gracious despite memories of former fire”. Will we ever see this type of generous gesture again?

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks at the state funeral for former prime minister Patrick Manning on 9 July 2016.

Today, we are witnessing bile, clothed in the garment of human rights. We see actions that pretend to be anti-bullying but in themselves are giving cover to trolls. We do not see unchallenged facts—only hatred, racism and partisan accusations. The public square has been polluted.

Can you believe that Dr David Bratt, a leading paediatrician, was painted as a PNM-ite because he contextualised the deaths in our Port of Spain ICU? Sigh.

We see attempts to pound opponents into submission. It is as though we do not have to live together. The only court that matters to some is public opinion, where legal rules do not apply.

Dr David Bratt is regarded as one of Trinidad and Tobago’s foremost paediatricians. Photo by Mark Lyndersay/Causeaneffect.

The public should not believe the Auditor General’s Report and circumstances are new events. Let us stop parroting the arguments of protagonists without examining them for ourselves. Will we be in a better place because of the expended heat?

The role and duties of the auditor-general are vital to our democracy. This person “identifies and assesses the risks of material misstatement of the financial statements, whether due to fraud or error, designs and performs audit procedures responsive to those risks, and obtains audit evidence that is sufficient and appropriate to provide a basis for an opinion.

Auditor general Jaiwantie Ramdass (left) receives her instrument of appointment from President Christine Kangaloo.
(via OTP)

The 2014 Report noted the guidance used by the auditor general. It remarks that these Regulations, Instructions and Circulars are intended to safeguard state property and to ensure the collection and use of state resources in the public interest.

The Report further remarks: “While these are quite robust, they have not been updated with changes in accounting standards and practices for almost five decades.

“Consideration should be given to updating local financial directives to conform to current best practice.”

Minister of Finance Colm Imbert.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

Did anyone read this? Let’s skip the talk about protecting the auditor general when these essential tasks remain undone yearly.

To shore up the independence of this office, the Parliament has a sub-committee, headed by an Opposition member, to review their report and track the implementation of the recommendations. Are we, the public, aware of or satisfied with the oversight?

Has the 2014 recommendation been brought to Parliament that we “adopt the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), considered best practice guides and adopted by governments worldwide to increase transparency and accountability and facilitate better governance”?

Attorney general Reginald Armour SC (centre) is flanked by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (right) and Finance Minister Colm Imbert in Parliament.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2023)

Why not? Who is genuinely interested in guarding our public purse? Will Mr Dave Tancoo, the incumbent chair of the Parliamentary sub-committee, now take time to effect this recommendation?

The 2014 Report, submitted by Mr Majeed Ali, the then auditor general, was summarised this way: “The examination of records and documents revealed in many instances there was non-compliance with financial instructions, financial regulations and other financial directives.”

He noted that accounts were received from six ministries/departments after the 31 January 2015 deadline. Where was his hissy fit?

Photo: The Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.
(Copyright Central Bank)

If you do not do it, I will write you up. Every auditor knows the limits of their job responsibility.

The Central Bank’s activities form a significant part of our affairs. This account impacts our fiscal balance. With purported changes in the Central Bank’s processes, the present auditor general should have been like the proverbial white on rice in her audit plans and execution.

Nobody should be telling her about a material misstatement. How does our present auditor general hear, many moons after, from the audited parties that there was a material misstatement? Mindboggling stuff.

Auditor general Jaiwantie Ramdass.

The responsibility of her office is: “to ensure that the examination is conducted following auditing standards, which require that ethical requirements be complied with and that the audit be planned and performed to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements are free from material misstatements.”

What would her Report say about the Central Bank’s reconciliation errors?

The 2014 Report stated: “…access to certain data at the Inland Revenue Division was denied by invocation of the official secrecy provisions of section 4 of the Income Tax Act, Chapter 75:01.”

Photo: The Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.
(Copyright Central Bank)

Why? Curious indeed.

Mr Ali’s restrained but firm response was: “Legal advice has been sought with respect to this limitation.”

He asserted that under section 10 (1) (f) of the Act, the auditor general is entitled: “to lay before the attorney general a case in writing as to any question regarding the interpretation of any written law concerning the powers of the auditor general or the discharge of his duties, and the attorney general shall give a written opinion upon such case.”

Attorney general Reginald Armour.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament)

No drama! Write out the case. This is not an issue to talk about with the attorney general.

Did we ever hear about this 2014 Inland Revenue impasse? Who should have informed the public that the Board of Inland Revenue was allowed not to cooperate? Who should have taken the requisite action to insist that they cooperated?

The upshot is that Inland Revenue cannot pull that card again. Matter fixed.

The sloth of Parliament and the then Cabinet has now landed us in a place where venom accompanies what should be simple matters. How do we now reach the place of legal letters flying everywhere?

Ahmm…

One Sunday newspaper gave prominence to a document that looked suspiciously like the first draft of an affidavit. Why?

Is the finger on the scale, as we recently discovered in the Trump trial with the New York Times’ journalist Maggie Haberman and others?

Why is the present attorney general, who diffused a similar constitutional impasse with the chief parliamentary counsel, baulking now? Same lawyer on the opposite side.

Attorney general Reginald Armour SC.
(Copyright Office of Parliament 2023)

Was the difference because of the public servant and the motivation? Mr Amour needs to let the public know what else is in the pestle besides the mortar.

There are many ways to compromise the independence of the auditor general’s office. The 2014 Cabinet approved the Official Overseas Travel for the auditors to visit specific missions, based on a risk profile seven months after the request, on 15 January 2015. Too late for the Report submission.

The visits were not done. If you eh laugh, you go cry!

Spectators look on during the 2019 Independence Day Parade in Port of Spain.
Photo: Ministry of National Security

Trinidad sweet, Trinidad is a paradise.

None of the 2014 subventions to the state enterprises could be audited because of a lack of documentation. Certain arrears of revenue were not received from 13 Receivers of Revenue.

Almost one billion dollars in roadworks were unaccounted for. That figure does not include the Point Fortin Highway.

The cost of corruption…

How well is the public money being spent? Is the current heated exchange going to be beneficial to the public? Or what is it?

We must do better with accountability, but not drink bush tea for other people’s fevers!

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One comment

  1. Onesided view..shaded bias..feigning objectivity.. you could have been a bit more ‘noble’ than that….the country is going into undiplomatic dogs..

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