Bridging the credibility gap

By Derren Joseph
December 13, 2011

Derren JosephTransparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranks Trinidad and Tobago in position 91 out of 183 countries–falling from a 2010 rank of 73. Remember this is a temperature check of how corrupt we perceive our own public sector to be. So if you are a statistician; walk away–it is not a rigorous quantitative research methodology. If you are a politician, listen-up, as perception drives voting patterns. On one hand, it can be argued that this cannot be completely blamed on the present administration because it reflects a consistent slide from 2001 when we were ranked at 31.

The counter argument, however, is that the 2010-2011 decline in trust of our public institutions has to be placed at the feet of the present administration as it is no longer sufficient to point fingers at the previous regime and shout, “at least we are not as bad as them”. We need only look at the actual simple index score. After a gentle climb in confidence in public sector institutions in 2008, confidence remained steady for three years before declining over the last year. The fact that paid bloggers (or trolls) now patrol the Internet reflects how aware the ruling party is of this growing cynicism.

The decisions which disappointed the many who voted PP in 2010 are fairly obvious. From where I sit, I see three key areas. Firstly, there is the failure to make examples of any “big fish”. I remember a law class from one of my favourite lecturers (a former parliamentarian) who noted that it is absolutely important that justice “be seen to be done”. The situation with the two released UNC financiers is disappointing. Further, there is the $2 million in drugs hidden among car parts last September, the $1 billion in cocaine found by Spanish/UK patrols on the yacht that sailed from Chaguaramas in September 2010, and the $34.6 million in drugs hidden among chicken parts in another container this year. Some are saying that even with a state of emergency, the “big fish” are untouchable.

Secondly, the public is still awaiting their promised legislation. Despite campaign promises we still await implementation of the recommendations of the $50 million (or more) Uff Commission of Enquiry into the Construction Sector; or Public Sector Procurement Reform Legislation incorporating the ideas advanced by the JCC, The Chamber of Commerce, TTMA and TTTI, or whistleblower legislation to cover both the public and private sectors, or legislation to regulate political party financing and election campaign financing, or legislative changes to the Integrity in Public Life Act to improve the efficiency of the Integrity Commission and provide the Commission with greater financial resources.

Thirdly, there are just too many unforced errors born of a political culture which remains intact partly because the Government ignores the two points above. Too many of us were disappointed by the way the security intelligence agency was treated, and the way in which technology that was meant to protect the nations’ borders was politicised. Furthermore, at state enterprises, the headlines just do not stop. We see the untouchable chairman of one loss-making enterprise appearing to operate as an executive chairman and violating policy in so doing. Many are still confused by this loss-making enterprise donating US$5 million to a particular charity with no clear governance structure available to public scrutiny.

Furthermore, there is the odd situation at PURE. This is a state entity which the popular yet controversial Works Minister described as “the one thing he would commend the previous government for introducing”. Yet we are hearing of a conspiracy within the ruling party to victimise the Works Minister with PURE being unfortunate yet necessary collateral damage? Finally, we hear about the Tourism Development Company Board being “reconstituted” allegedly because the contract of a minister’s relative was not renewed? When state boards were first appointed, remember there was a big meeting of all directors at NAPA and we were told that certain principles of good governance were discussed. How quickly these have been forgotten.

Someone on Facebook speculated that the next election would be fought around the failed state of emergency. Unless an early election is called, I think we would have long forgotten about it by then. I think the next election would be a vote on disappointment. So much was promised yet so little continues to be delivered. But it is not too late! I am begging those in positions of public trust to please demonstrate greater transparency in all dealings. As a goodwill gesture, please start by publishing the report on the Piarco Airport Enquiry?