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Cabinet minutes cannot be confidential
Posted: Saturday, February 5, 2005

By Stephen Kangal

THE EDITOR: Having regard to the constitutional requirement that Cabinet in accordance with Section 75(1) be collectively responsible to Parliament "for the general direction and control" of TT, I cannot understand why Cabinet minutes/notes that constitute the legal authority for the disbursement of billions of taxpayers' dollars are considered confidential and not accessible to Parliamentarians or taxpayers. These minutes/notes have the status of executive fiat, rules and regulations (Cabinet laws). They must pass the test of transparency, accountability and be exempt from the practices of nepotism, political patronage, favouritism and discrimination.

The citizenry who stand to be affected by these quasi-laws (Cabinet's law making capacity) must be aware of these "laws" in their original text if they are to interpret them accurately. How can Cabinet fulfil its collective responsibility to Parliament, that is the custodian of the public purse, if Parliamentarians cannot scrutinise and have access to Cabinet minutes. Cabinet ministers now report to the media each week after Cabinet meetings and not to Parliament.

How am I, a taxpaying media commentator to verify accurately the conditionalities that Cabinet attached to disbursements to be effected by the $300 million TT Caricom Oil Facility to individual Caricom States when Minister Valley says that on the basis of Cabinet minute No 2625 they are (for) "poverty and social and economic development of the region." The beneficiaries must be individual Caricom States and not commercial entities such as LIAT. TT has established another fund geared to assist Caricom commercial entities. But the Prime Minister and author/originator of the Cabinet minute in question in his formal prepared speech delivered to the Tenth Special Meeting of Heads of Government says ". . . Caricom States (not LIAT?) can now draw down on these funds, which we have stipulated must be used for poverty eradication."

How can former Central Bank Governor and Parliamentarian Winston Dookeran, who legitimately raised the LIAT bail out issue in the House on Friday January 14 or for that matter The Speaker determine whether Minister Valley was correct? Cabinet minutes given their quasi-legal character cannot be shrouded in secrecy, be exclusively accessible to and the sole preserve of the Executive/Public Servants and be exempted from the Freedom of Information Act in an interactive democracy?

How are taxpayers to assess whether the daily expenditure of $1.2 million to provide a Tobago Sea Bridge Ferry Service is transparent if not by reading the relevant Cabinet minutes? I read that in the current Airport Construction Case that the Cabinet Secretary is being subpoenaed to verify the authenticity of a Cabinet minute admitted into evidence. A mere written authentication issued by the Cabinet Secretary certifying that it is a true copy of the original minute must be sufficient. The author of Cabinet minutes is the Honourable Prime Minister - not the Cabinet Secretary who has no Executive Powers and is a creature of Cabinet's creation.

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