It’s the day of the PNM-led march on the controversial Section 34 issue, and Margaret Rose is so fired up that she begins speaking even before she sits down. She’s not excited for political reasons, but by the intense reaction of the general population. To her, the outcry strikes at our pervasive apathy towards matters of public importance. “There’s a general malaise in the country,” she explains. “We feel impotent.” Rose is an Attorney-at-Law with 17 years’ experience, having started her career in the chambers of influential figures like Theodore Guerra SC and Pamela Elder SC before launching her own practice. While a substantial part of her early career was spent on criminal defence, she turned her interest to public law. Being appointed to be part of the Commission of Inquiry into the Piarco Airport project proved to be a watershed in her career, as it raised questions she hadn’t been trained to face. How does our government spend our money? Why is procurement—the purchase of goods, works or services—seen as a low-level administrative function, when it is strikes at fundamental issues like integrity, transparency and value for money? After Rose was appointed to several other major inquiries such as the Uff Commission and the Landate probe, she became more aware of the paucity of rules and systems governing procurement transactions and a lack of professional capacity, a situation made worse by outdated legal texts, and little emphasis being placed on this area by the major training institutions. “Given the limited application of the Central Tenders Board, there was no overarching framework that governed public sector procurement.”
This awakening of interest spurred her on to obtain a Master’s in Corporate and Commercial Law. She has also sat on the boards of several State enterprises, where she describes her initial approach to the role as being “as being no-nonsense, very aggressive about compliance, because of my background in fraud and bid-rigging investigations.” For Rose, the hot-button issue of procurement opened up a whole new aspect to her legal career. In conjunction with Caribbean colleagues such as Senator Helen Drayton and Jamaican Quantity Surveyor, Woodrow Whiteley, she founded the Caribbean Procurement Institute. The private organisation works to educate and create a network among financial, legal, audit and procurement professionals, policy-makers, and international universities. The CPI immediately threw itself into intensive training initiatives. By invitation from various universities and even governments, Rose has lectured on the issue in places like Canada, Tunisia, Sweden and Nigeria. She hopes her efforts will bring about reform, not just within the private sector, but, more importantly, in public sector contracting. “Procurement is one of the most critical government functions. It permeates every government activity: roads, health care, infrastructure, defense... If it’s not done well, the people’s resources are open to abuse, waste, and mis-management.” Since 2008, through the CPI she has also hosted biennial Caribbean Public Procurement Conference (CPPC), which has been received with enthusiasm by regional and international professionals at the highest levels. The third instalment will be held on October 18th-19th at the Hyatt Regency.
Rose promises that this is a conference with a difference. Beyond the dynamic presentations there are also intensive training seminars. In what she calls a ‘third gear’, participants will be given ongoing capacity building support to kickstart professional and organisational transformation. Delegates will receive conference materials on a new iPad3, loaded with all the conference materials and a mobile networking app. They will also have access to the Governance, Anti-Corruption, Procurement and Social Responsibility (GAPS) Resource & eLearning Portal. GAPS will give attendees access to resources and research, and an ask-the-experts forum at no extra charge. This gives attendees the opportunity to apply what they have earned when the conference is over. She is also offering delegates complimentary benchmarking and review of their company’s ethics and anti-fraud policies, and tender documentation.
The CPI is also partnering with the Caribbean Institute of Forensic Auditing to help companies set up a “Speak-Up System” that allow employees to discreetly report aberrations in the way their employers do business. All very exciting, but, as she admits, the intensity of the pace led her to make a critical life decision, giving up her private practice to focus on the CPI full time. The intense workload is even more of an issue as Rose has a one-year old son, the child of her second marriage. This marriage, by the way, caused a ripple or two, seeing that it was to Queen’s Counsel, Andrew Goddard...who represented Udecott on the Uff Commission, while she represented the MP for Diego Martin West, Dr. Keith Rowley. She also has a 20-year-old son. “I always thought I could do it all, but there are only 24 hours in a day. After a lot of soul-searching, I realised it is more critical that I work in the CPI, for the public good.” She has no regrets. “It’s been difficult, but I’ve always been passionate about making a difference.”