RECENTLY, the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago declared that he intended to establish a set of ethical rules to govern the conduct of his ministers. Hardly had he made the announcement than news of a scandal broke concerning the leasing of two ferries for sea transport between Trinidad and Tobago. Within weeks of that hint of scandal, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley was quoted in the press as saying that something looked “crooked” with respect to the procurement of those vessels.
While the scandal into the purchase of the Tobago ferries was being investigated, another scandal broke with respect to the over-invoicing of crude oil sales to the government by a local producer. In this case, the owner of the accused company is a friend of the Prime Minister, leading Dr. Rowley to give the assurance that friend or foe, he was committed to stamping out corruption in government wherever it was found.
Dr. Rowley has also recently stated that corruption is the biggest problem that his government faces.
There is a price to corruption, however, as in Trinidad, quite apart from the economic losses that any corruption in the leasing of the ferries will cause, four separate inquiries have been established by the government into those leases. In addition, forty-seven witnesses have appeared before that country’s Joint Select Committee of Parliament as the truth is sought.
There is an economic cost to those inquiries, but the greater cost is that no matter what their outcomes, at least half of Trinidad & Tobago is likely to dispute them because it is politically convenient to do so. So that no matter what is done, the perception of corruption will be sustained, and public confidence in any government is likely to be further destroyed.
While we have had our share of public inquiries, today we have the spectre of government politicians telling us that, having begged and borrowed our way into spending EC$100 million on the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction project, we should now consider demolishing it and starting all over again, with another EC$100 million needed to be found to do so. Then, as if to soften the blow, we were told that demolition does not mean that all of the buildings are to be demolished.
Recently, too, rather than make that EC$1 million Audit Report of the St. Jude Reconstruction public, Minister Guy Joseph chose instead to tell the nation what the Fire Department would say if they inspected St. Jude, and threatened to hold another press conference to further explain his treatment of St. Jude, youtube.com/watch?v=gUOxOZoyrO4, (0:59 mins.).
No sooner had the Minister made this statement, however, than a copy of a memo dated January 26, 2016, entitled “Re: Fire Safety Appraisal of St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project, Augier, Vieux Fort”, appeared in the press (stluciaonline September 25, 2017). Not only were the buildings not condemned as fire hazards, but the report listed a number of relatively simple steps which were to be taken for them to be brought into compliance.
But in continuing to offer his explanations for condemning this project, Minister Joseph has obviously decided that a sufficient number of us are as morally bankrupt as our politicians appear to be, and has concluded that we might eventually accept his judgment if he keeps repeating it.
Minister Joseph has also now granted absolution to Dr. Kenny Anthony, claiming that it was the professionals who were at fault at St. Jude, youtube.com/watch?v=gUOxOZoyrO4, (1:40 mins.). But he cannot absolve himself of his responsibility for parliamentary oversight during the hospital’s reconstruction.
Neither is he to be allowed to touch a single stone of this hospital until he can confirm, in our Courts, just whom is to be held liable for the cost of any further redesign and reconstruction of St. Jude.
We will not pay this price, neither will we pay the price for Minister Joseph’s political ascension.
Next week, we return to the “St. Jude and the Art of the Con” series as, in its mismanagement of the St. Jude issue, this Government has now repeatedly confirmed that it is the biggest threat to our democracy that our country has ever faced.
Not only is this demonstrated by this Government’s continued rejection of transparency, but also by its open denigration of public servants and professional institutions without a shred of evidence being offered in support of these attacks on the integrity of those who offer themselves for public service.
That threat to our democracy lies in the repeated innuendo from this government which leads to rumour being eventually accepted as fact, so that today many are convinced of fraud in the execution of this St. Jude reconstruction project, again without a shred of evidence being presented.
That threat to our democracy lies in the numerous misleading statements made by this Government as it seeks to achieve its aim in respect of the reconstruction of St. Jude, and by its own later contradictions of those statements.
The price of this government’s “freeness” to do as it pleases is the loss of our democracy, and the further shredding of our society into opposing factions.