Questions raised by the Opposition Leader over the award of multi-million dollar contracts to companies owned by a government senator, who also holds a senior executive position in the ruling PNM, have once again raised the perception of nepotism at state-run companies.
This is not a new claim and the issue has been debated ad nauseam by political parties, depending on which one is in power.
In a relatively small country such as Trinidad and Tobago, businesses owned by people involved in politics or affiliated with politically-exposed people are bound to surface in the tendering and award of state contracts.
These business owners should not necessarily face discrimination but another layer of transparency should be instituted and greater public oversight instituted to erase all doubt of collusion.
The allegations which form the crux of the criminal cases against politicians and contractors who constructed the $1.6 billion Piarco Airport Development Project is just one such instance which has dogged the transparency of the former Basdeo Panday administration.
Government ministries and special state-run companies are involved in various levels of business operations. Many of these companies follow protocols established by the Central Tenders Board on how they review prospective tenders from contractors and sometimes, based on the specific job, can only award the contract based on sole selective tendering.
Mrs Persad-Bissessar chose a political platform on Sunday to raise questions about contracts awarded to companies affiliated with PNM General Secretary Foster Cummings.
Mr Cummings has refuted the innuendos of favouritism, as did state organisation UDeCOTT, in the award of the contract to demolish the old Besson Street Police Station and construct a community centre.
UDeCOTT, which has in the past been accused of not following proper tender rules in its haste to construct mega-projects under the former Patrick Manning administration, was adamant it complied with its tender rules and regulations in the award of contracts for the demolition of the police station and construction of the Indian Trail Community Centre in Couva.
While the company maintained it does not dissuade people or corporate entities, political party or otherwise, from tendering for a contract, it noted that it was unfortunate the allegations inferred the projects done by companies owned or affiliated with Mr Cummings were given based on party affiliation.
Mr Cummings meanwhile noted he had been in business long before he was appointed a senator and dismissed the Opposition Leader’s claims as desperate politics.
The Prime Minister, who once held the portfolio overseeing UDeCOTT, has chosen not to respond to Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s claims.
While we hold no brief for Ms Persad-Bissessar, such claims ought to be doused quickly with facts to ensure public confidence in those institutions is not eroded.