Yes, Prime Minister, a fiasco

By Winford James
June 12, 2013 –

Dr. Winford jamesNEVER mind Jack Warner’s denial, Prime Minister, it is a fiasco. Warner is focused on the rest of the Cabinet blaming him for it, despite acknowledging, in his usual convenient way, the doctrine of cabinet responsibility, but that is a red herring: it is still a fiasco. You could have said “bacchanal’’, “disaster’’, “catastrophe’’, “debacle’’, “shambles’’, “farce’’, “mess’’, “foul-up’’, or “screw-up’’. Yes, “screw-up’’. Everybody knows your government has been screwing up—monthly, weekly—but I’ll take the Italian word and its conservative figurative meaning: “failure in a performance’’.

Your Cabinet, not for the first time (and not for the last either), failed the people in deciding, with eyes wide open, to pay a contractor $6.5 million to hoist a seven-year-old fire tender from below a main road up onto the road and then to some garage. By your own admission, following the principle that your ministers must trust one another when they bring notes to cabinet, the latter, including your good self, trusted Mr Warner and so paid the money.

When Warner said Junior Sammy was the only company in the country that could handle that kind of job, you believed him. When he said Junior Sammy charged first $10 million, then $8 million, and then $6.5 million, you believed him. Probably without question, too! And when he said he told Junior Sammy the government could not pay any more than that, you believed him.

Did Warner take an invoice to the Cabinet meeting? Did he just take a note requesting Cabinet to authorise the $6 million payment and support it orally? If we are to go by what he has said in his maverick self-defence, he took only the Junior Sammy proposal to the Cabinet meeting. If that is the case, does your Cabinet make million-dollar decisions on the basis of just one proposal? And on the basis of a minister’s say-so to boot?

Alarmingly, Prime Minister, Warner seems to have claimed he did the data collection on the wreck and retrieval himself. Is that the case?
If it is, aren’t these mundane kinds of things supposed to be done by officers in his ministry?

Do you embrace or promote micromanagement in your ministers’ conduct of their portfolios?

If I were the chief fire officer and a company told me it would charge $6.5 million to retrieve the tender, I would tell it to go seek psychiatric help. My tender is some seven years old, cost about $2.2 million brand new, has now depreciated to probably less than $1 million, and you want to charge me $6.5 million? You crazy or what? I could probably buy two brand new tenders with that kind of money!

So, Prime Minister, nobody resisted paying that outrageous, ridiculous sum for the retrieval? Not even you? All of you sat there with your eyes wide open and let Warner and his hand-picked contractor jook them out?

Is it because it is not your money or your ministers’ but the people’s?

Or is it because Cabinet’s hands were tied by Warner who had already had the job done without their authorisation? If the latter, had the contractor already signed an agreement to be paid the $6.5 million for the job in anticipation of Cabinet approval?

And when this kind of embarrassment happens, do you automatically cough up the money? Regardless of the amount?

No consequences for the errant minister? Outrageous!

This incident, which has only now come to light, occurred when Warner was Minister of Works, so clearly he was not punished for it. If anything, he was given the Ministry of National Security in spite of it.
At its last and previous turns at the trough, the PNM spent the people’s money as recklessly. Remember Gary Hunt’s $2 million flag at the Hasely Crawford Stadium?

Remember George Chambers’ air-conditioned horse stables? Where’s the PNM now?

CLICO spent the people’s money as recklessly too, and look at where the company is now.

I too preside over a cabinet—well, a board really (of a small financial institution), but same difference. We handle people’s money—many ordinary people’s money—and it is a matter of policy that we request a variety of proposals in respect of jobs that arise, base decisions on facts and evidence, and justify personal positions with facts, evidence, and good reasoning.

We pride ourselves on these standards! And at every annual general meeting, we scrupulously give account. We would dismiss outrageous matters—like the one in your fiasco —out of hand.

Prime Minister, is it too much to ask the Cabinet of the country to hold themselves to standards such as those of my little institution?

You have after the fact asked for a report on the fiasco. What good will that do now? Far better is your decision to get the facts for your decision making from now on!

But isn’t this a bewildering state of affairs? The ordinary person has been saying, with overwhelming incredulity, that that is what they expected the Cabinet of the country to have been doing all along.

Why is it so difficult for your government to change its cavalier, reckless course?

Winford James is a UWI lecturer and political analyst

6 thoughts on “Yes, Prime Minister, a fiasco”

  1. “Prime Minister, is it too much to ask the Cabinet of the country to hold themselves to standards such as those of my little institution?”
    Winford is right, it must be noted that Jack has a very “colorful past”. He is the Robin Hood of TnT politics, taking and giving other people money, a sort of wealth redistribution.
    In the process Jack has been able to escape scrutiny but as the Good Book teaches “what is in darkness will come to light”. Everyone knows that $10 million to retrieve a $2 million fire truck did not make sense. It would have been easier to purchase 5 additional trucks with that money. Even the agreed $6 million was wrong, 3 trucks could have been purchased.

    To the PM credit she has run a tight ship seeking to deal with such issues as quickly as possible. The overpayment should be returned and this contractor “flagged” for future contracts. It is important that the media exposes these follies to ensure that such behavior does not occur again.

  2. Probably Verna was right too. The Prime Minister is clearly not in charge, but she is big and over 21, so she can fool herself.

  3. If I were the chief fire officer and a company told me it would charge $6.5 million to retrieve the tender, I would tell it to go seek psychiatric help. My tender is some seven years old, cost about $2.2 million brand new, has now depreciated to probably less than $1 million, and you want to charge me $6.5 million? You crazy or what? I could probably buy two brand new tenders with that kind of money!

    They don’t check them things when they are engaged in robbing the till. Some people should never govern. The kleptomaniac disposition they bring to the game means that they will ignore the obvious when money is involved. Warner is a paid slave, so he is accorded an honorary ethnic identity.

  4. George defends $6.8M fire truck bill

    By Andre Bagoo
    June 16, 2013 –

    MINISTER of National Security Emmanuel George on Friday night presented his findings in relation to a review of the issue of the $6.8 million retrieval of a fire truck, stating there was “nothing questionable” with the bill brought by the former Chief Fire Officer Carl Williams who had sole discretion to make the decision on whether to retrieve the truck when the accident occurred last November, before the matter reached Cabinet.

    Speaking during debate of legislation raising State spending by $2.9 billion, George said the fire truck, which fell off the Arima Blanchisseuse Road not far from the Asa Wright Nature Centre, had to be removed since it was valuable State property and there may have been environmental concerns. At the same time, he said sometimes human beings make mistakes.

    “All of this hullabaloo comes now, but the whole thing simply shows that the CFO took a decision,” George said.

    “We are always wiser after the event. If he had left it there, there would have been another set of criticism. It would have been said that he didn’t care about Government equipment. More than that, the environmentalists might have got down on him.”The current Acting Chief Fire Officer had been due last week to submit a report on the matter. George said he reviewed “the file” on the case.

    “In my looking at the file, there was nothing unquestionable with what was done,” George said. “Yes, the bill was originally $10 million and it came down to $6.8 million. But that is what happens all the time: these things go down all the time and then when it comes to Cabinet, Cabinet is asked to give covering approval because it is something that happens after the fact because you, as the officer in charge, have to do something as a person in a responsible position.”

    George said it was for the CFO to manage the Fire Service and not persons higher. He said the CFO made a judgement call when the accident occurred on November 17, 2012, and called in the contractor. That was the CFO’s judgement.

    “There is a penchant or tendency of people on lower levels to give to the person above them all responsibility,” George said. But he suggested high officials must delegate responsibility. “You take the decisions at your level and I will back you 100 percent even if you are wrong because you have to give people the power to make decisions otherwise every single decision will come up to you and if every single decision comes up to you ,you will have your head underwater,” the Minister said. “Even when they are wrong – because human beings will make mistakes – but you have to support your staff and your people otherwise the organisation will not be able to run because the person at the top will not be able to physically to do so.”

    In terms of the $203 million increase in allocation to his Ministry, George said $8 million would be added to the $62 million CCTV camera project which is ongoing and involves the installation of 873 cameras throughout the entire country.

    “About 125 have already been installed at Tobago,” he disclosed. “I think they are way ahead of the coverage.”

    He said an extra $10 million had been allocated to the Office for Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) since that agency, “Has to be beefed up for the coming hurricane season.” He added that, “because of the flooding and devastation that took place for the last year in 2012 a lot of the supplies have been beefed up.”

    Additionally $126 million more has been allocated for the acquisition of four AW 139 medium twin turbine helicopters, pushing that cost to $313.2 million. George said this was due to delays in financing arrangements.,179208.html

  5. The fire truck issue is a great example that common sense is not common. How can any sane person or government spend three times the cost of an item to retrieve it from a ditch? Or is it a case of corruption and not the lack of sense. The electorate will decide what to do to those who fail to do right in due time.

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