By Raffique Shah
October 19, 2015
If a mere ten percent of the sums of money quoted by almost every new PNM minister as having gone to waste or astray under the previous government is factual, then at least a billion dollars was squandered or stolen during the tenure of the People’s Partnership.
If the ministers were accurate and truthful in their allegations of profligacy, then an astounding ten billion dollars, at least, found its way into the bank accounts of assorted thieves and accomplices.
The allegations were so startling, they had me speechless. A billion dollars in fees paid to select attorneys for representation that could have been had at a fraction of that. Houses constructed at inordinately high costs, much more than what private home owners would pay-and that without the benefits of economies of scale.
The much vaunted early childhood education centres costing three, four times what they did when the project began under the Patrick Manning government. Roads restored by the heavily-indebted WASA after pipe-laying at exorbitant costs, and over surfaces well beyond the scope of works. Fraudulent distribution of “food cards” to the tune of tens of millions.
And they have not scratched the surface of what may have been siphoned off mega-projects such as the $7 billion highway to Point Fortin, the $1 billion wastewater plant, the $500 million Debe campus, the $1.5 billion children’s hospital, to name the more prominent.
It is not that we did not suspect that the politicians were squandering, maybe even stealing the oil dollars as they flowed into the coffers by the billions, at an average of US $85 a barrel for the duration of the PP’s tenure.
We expect politicians to waste taxpayers’ money: hell, it does not come out of their pockets, although a reverse-flow is not unusual. It’s our money that they waste or steal, and we have no say over the banditry except once in five years (nearly six, last time around).
It is the sheer scale of the squandermania that boggles the mind: not millions, not billions, but tens of billions-gone, buried in concrete and pitch, under over-priced bridges and roads, and in bank accounts that are beyond the reach of the short arms of our law enforcement agencies.
And you know what is more distressing? You and I know that not one political thief will make a jail, quite unlike the destitute mother who shoplifts to feed her starving children, or the underpaid father who “tief a lil ting’ to send his kids to school.
I challenge Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to show me otherwise.
I do not expect, nor do I want, the new Government to waste time and more money on commissions of enquiry, costly forensic investigations and similar devices that take us nowhere.
The Uff Commission sat for months, the CLICO/HCU probe for longer, but to date not one of the thieves who stole taxpayers, depositors or policyholders’ money has been brought to book.
Like the late calypsonian Penguin’s Devil, they “shaking up dey tail in people face”.
So no, I don’t think the population would want to see scarce good money thrown after the bad billions already lost.
However, where there is clear evidence of malfeasance, loose the lion on the culprits, whoever they are, whatever their status or office: they are capital thieves.
More important, the PM has a great opportunity to put an end to waste and banditry under his watch, as he promised on the campaign trail.
I note the cutbacks in air travel for all public officials, and the reining in of abuse of public vehicles as positive signs. Let every high official know that wrongdoing, especially fiddling with public funds, will be met with the full force of the law.
To misquote big brother Makandal Daaga when he spoke on the PP platform as he too enjoyed fruits-of-the-boom, “Never again!”
Now, a word to my colleagues in the State-owned media and other government agencies who found themselves wildly feeding in the multi-million-dollar trough, so much so you couldn’t tell the difference between hog, politician or journalist.
When all else fails, when leaders and institutions abandon the people, they expect journalists and writers to rise to their defence, to rescue them from abuse and pillage.
In the words of master-writer Frederick Forsyth, best known for his thrillers, especially “Day of the Jackal”, but who was and continues to consider himself a reporter: “A journalist should never join the Establishment, no matter how tempting the blandishments.
“It is our job to hold power to account, not join it in a world that increasingly obsesses over the gods of power, money and fame…
“A journalist must remain detached…watching, noting, probing, commenting, but never joining…” (The Outsider, 2015)