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Citizens need whole truth on BAE settlement
The concern and disbelief which lingered last week after the announcement by the Attorney General that British Aerospace Engineering (BAE) had committed to paying Trinidad and Tobago $1.3 billion for failing to meet specifications on the order of the OPVs were related to transparency and credibility issues surrounding AG Ramlogan.
Cabinets and governments all around the world need to understand that people are determined to be at centre stage, fully informed of and participative in matters which affect them. It is not sufficient for the AG to make generalised statements about agreements arrived at in the negotiated settlements; people want details because they do not trust politicians/governments.
And so should it be. The resources of the State belong to the people. Matters negotiated in national, regional and international fora are their business; they do not trust government officials to make arrangements in their name without laying bare all that is involved so they can determine whether the policies and arrangements have indeed been in their best interest. It is good that something of the detail of the BAE settlement has begun to unravel in the newspapers.
Governance systems and styles which have transparency, public accountability and a consultative base are challenges which governments and political parties seeking office have to recalibrate to meet the mood of people all over the world who are demanding quality reporting by ministers and cabinets.
The claim by the AG that the arbitration settlement was based on secrecy is a lame excuse and does not approach the standard of reporting required. It is the Cabinet which agreed on the secrecy clause; it did not fall like manna out of the sky onto the contract. The Cabinet agreed to it and when it signed on to the document requiring secrecy, it became culpable and violated the principle of honest reporting to the citizenry.
For contemplation on this issue of secrecy, let us consider what it means and what are the motivating factors that would make partners to such an agreement desire secrecy. Essentially, such a secrecy agreement is an attempt to hide incompetence and or corrupt dealings on the part of one or the other or both parties.
Given what has been made public, inclusive of the very important leaks in the media, it can be reasonably assumed that BAE failed to meet specifications of the agreement and was therefore willing to pay the price but on the condition that the information be kept quiet.
If such a formulation has merit, it is understandable that the British company would have been attempting to prevent the company from acquiring a reputation for failing to meet customer specifications. On the other hand, the yet-to-be-released full details could show that T&T had some complicity in the matters and so the Government was anxious to keep the details away from the shareholders of enterprise T&T.
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth of the matters involved can only be known and analysed when all information, inclusive of motivations of the parties concerned, are known. It is only through such a process that the electorate can decide on the capability and loyalty of the Government it has put in office.
Our notions of democracy, those which have come to be the foundations of western civilisations, are associated almost exclusively with the holding of free and fair elections. Increasingly, that 20th century definition of democracy made popular by western civilisation has become a quite inadequate basis for quality governance.
However, based on the evidence made available so far, the Government, led by Attorney General Ramlogan and ably supported by senior coast guard officials, has at minimum recouped the T&T finances that were sunk into the OPVs deal with BAE; the AG is claiming a $300-million surplus.
That, however, is the financial element of transactions. The delay in having an adequate surveillance system in place is another factor to be calculated. Unlike what the AG is claiming, ie that there has been no major escalation in cross-border trafficking and crime because of the delay in putting the security wall in place, the reality is that there is no evidence either to suggest there has been a slow-down in the trades.
Nevertheless, that there has and continues to be healthy scepticism about the information given is directly related to the plunge in the credibility/believability associated to statements of Ramlogan, the Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet in the still-to-be-explained Section 34 fiasco.
However, while credibility will not be easily repaired and returned, the good work put in on the financial arrangements which resulted in the British company agreeing to pay for its inadequacies is acknowledged by this column unless there is evidence to the contrary.
The sketchy information available on attempts at acquisition of another set of security vessels from Colombia is another very different set of issues. In this instance it is now expected that the Government will make full disclosures on its intent to purchase vessels and the process to be adopted.