There is a proliferation of Chinese businesses in communities across the country, including a strong presence in the country’s capital, Port-of-Spain.
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Empower citizens as watchdogs
“For any leader or decision maker to act improperly with regard to public resources, on average, five public sector professionals would have had to have turned a blind eye, turned a deaf ear, or not have spoken up.” So said Margaret Rose, attorney and executive director of the Caribbean Procurement Institute Ltd (CPI).
The CPI will host the fourth Caribbean Public Procurement Conference on December 1 and 2 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Rose said the CPI has been hosting these conferences since 2008, but that the event was very timely given that the Public Procurement and Disposal of Property Bill 2014 is being debated in the Lower House.
Rose said while having the correct legislation in place was important, the role of culture and the individual in ensuring that these laws were followed cannot be ignored. “We find that in this context, especially in procurement and anti-corruption, citizens and professionals tend to perceive governance in a top-down manner. They believe the responsibility for good governance lies in the hands of the leadership.”
Rose said the conference, themed “Redefining Governance, Empowerment and Collaboration as Elements of Change,” will focus on the empowerment of the public in playing their role as watchdog, focusing especially on professionals in the public service and public service suppliers.
“What we are trying to do is empower all of the stakeholders to share responsibility for good procurement. They can only share responsibility if they are empowered, not only with knowledge, not only with strategies, but also with tools which support them.
“I am convinced that the vast majority of public sector professionals and suppliers want to do what is right. It is a very small minority that is attempting to and is engaging in corrupt activity, and we must empower those who want to do right, to do so in a way where they are also protecting themselves.”
‘Create an environment where people are not victimised for standing up’
The lawyer said the conference will equip those who want to stand up against wrongdoing with the tools to do this in a responsible and lawful manner. Some of the workshop modules over the course of the two days include The Art of Whistle Blowing, Public Officers and Public Interest: The Ethics of Dissent, and Managing Procurement Fraud Risk. Rose said it was important that people understood that there is support for those who want to come forward with what they know.
“That's one of the things we started to see. There are people who started to gain in the knowledge, gain in the sophistication, understand fully what needs to be done. But they felt there was no support for them if they stood up to their superiors or if they thought to speak out in any way.”
She said T&T needs to create an environment where people are not victimised for standing up. Also, where people understand strategically how they can protect themselves while seeking to protect the public interest.”
At this year's conference, Rose said, several global procurement experts are expected to speak, including Dr Sope Williams Elegbe, author of Fighting Corruption in Public Procurement, and Norma Garza, head of the World Bank's Open Contracting Partnership Initiative. Former head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas will chair a session.
On December 1, Rose said, the public can attend a free session at 4 pm for a panel discussion on the new procurement legislation being laid in the Parliament. She said regional and international experts will “weigh in on the bill, benchmark then interrogate it.” The attorney said procurement was an issue everyone should be interested in, since it is inextricably tied to a country's development.
“It is very important to the man on the street because a government cannot achieve its first development goal, it cannot secure the nation, it cannot provide appropriate health care, it cannot provide appropriate and adequate education...All of the goals that impact the man on the street, a government would not be able to achieve those goals if they do not procure accountably.”
Disclose Today platform available
Speaking about a platform called Disclosure Today, Rose said, “Everyone will be able to go onto the platform and engage with it right there. We are very excited about it. The platform is powered by lawyers seeking the public interest. And the platform is entirely free.” Explaining how it works, Rose said, it is an online and mobile app which features a disclosure aspect. “Anyone with knowledge of wrongdoing can upload it to this part of the site,” she said.
“It is public interest disclosure. That aspect of the platform is entirely confidential. There are lawyers supporting the platform who will vet the public interest disclosures and we will take it from there.” Rose said The Lisbon Innovation Kluster was sourced through a procurement process to develop the platform and will be on hand to walk the public through a demonstration of its features.
Of Disclosure Today, Rose said, “We intend to scale it globally. We are giving Trinidad and Tobago the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that we are leading in terms of technology and governance.” The CPI executive director said while she believes in the platform 100 per cent, it remains up to the public to come on board and see its usefulness.