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More criticisms for Imbert’s handling of Caricom exemptions

Martin George & Company > Newspaper Articles  > More criticisms for Imbert’s handling of Caricom exemptions

More criticisms for Imbert’s handling of Caricom exemptions

More criticisms for Imbert’s handling of Caricom exemptions

Economist and former minister in the Ministry of Finance Mariano Browne says Finance Minister Colm Imbert must answer several questions arising out of recent reports concerning the legitimacy of a three-month Order exempting out of the procurement law, goods and services associated with visits by foreign dignitaries.

The Order was made on the eve of the Caricom summit.

Imbert continues to face criticisms for his handling of the summit exemptions.

During an interview with Guardian Media yesterday, one day after Opposition MP Saddam Hosein raised the matter following the conclusion of the Caricom Heads of Government summit and 50th-anniversary celebrations in T&T last week, Browne said, “The first question we have to ask is what was the total value of goods and services procured for this conference? If it was a material value, material in the sense of amount and value, and also why were the exemptions given?”

Browne contended that given the Government’s knowledge about the series of Caricom events, it was unusual that it sought the seemingly last-minute exemptions.

He said, “Part of the problem with the Government is that it often passes law that applies to everybody except themselves and this was an example of that. This was the ideal opportunity if they were serious about procurement and demonstrating their commitment to the act, this was the time to follow the process.”

Back in April, Attorney General Reginald Armour announced the full proclamation of all remaining sections of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, 2023. In a subsequent media briefing, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley assured that the law will be operationalised for the benefit of citizens.

Attorney Martin George also questioned the rationale and validity of Legal Notice 206 of 2023 on the issue of public procurement in relation to last week’s events which included high-level discussions with regional leaders.

Also among the dignitaries who participated in talks surrounding safety and the economy was US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

George said the Government must clear the air on how the law was operationalised. “The lack of public accountability in public procurement has been the root cause of Trinidad and Tobago losing billions, maybe trillions of dollars over the years through profligate spending and wastage and excesses, and if it is we now finally have public procurement legislation on the books it is incumbent upon the Government and authorities to ensure that these laws are complied with.”

According to George, a legal notice by Imbert dated June 29 appeared to bypass Parliament for affirmative resolution.

Former senate president and political leader of Hope TT Timothy Hamel Smith also questioned whether the legislation was flawed.

 “I am not in a position to say definitively whether he could do it by negative or affirmative resolution. I think the legislation, the amended legislation of 2020 has gone awry and there is a wrong cross reference, and I think we are left in a bit of uncharted territory.”

Transparency Institute wants explanation from Finance Minister

Meanwhile, the Transparency Institute of Trinidad and Tobago (TTTI) has called on the Government to explain why amendments to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, 2015 were published without the affirmative resolution of Parliament as is required.  

Responding to questions sent via WhatsApp, TTTI Chairman Reynold Cooper said the decision to block the dissemination of information regarding public spending was concerning.

“The principle of transparency requires that information, with regards to public expenditure, should be accessible and understandable. This is the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act which gives members of the public a right of access to official documents with specific exceptions. Good governance requires that a government should not publish an order that would block the dissemination of information regarding the expenditure of public funds,” Cooper said.  

He said that to promote good governance, Imbert should tell the population why the information is being withheld especially since the public should be considered when policy changes are effected.

Imbert, he said, should also explain why the decision was taken at the particular time and for three months. If he does not publicly explain the rationale for the decision, Cooper said “his silence may create a cloak of secrecy.”

More criticisms for Imbert’s handling of Caricom exemptions

By: Jesse Ramdeo

Guardian Newspaper Trinidad and Tobago

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