As the 57th anniversary of Independence approaches, the charges laid against a sitting minister have demonstrated that there is need for clear standards that are agreed by all, the governed and the governing and that no one is above the law.
It has also demonstrated that there are systemic weaknesses that must be corrected. Both UNC and PNM have been hypocritical and self-righteous seeing the mote in the other’s eye.
Every year we are treated to list of accounting deficiencies in the Auditor General’s report without the reassurance that the loopholes have been closed, systems corrected or that there is an ongoing improvement process.
Lest we forget at least 10 people connected to the PNM-controlled San Juan Regional Corporation were arrested for fraud. In Mayaro, the Chairman of a UNC-controlled corporation clings to office despite being charged for bribery.
A former attorney general is before the court on conspiracy charges. The Police Commissioner has complained of “government-financed crime” citing a Special Branch report which noted that persons with gangland connections have been in receipt of contracts. Rather than commit to rooting out any malpractices or tightening the administrative systems, the Prime Minister has said that the police must do their job. The point is that everyone, including the Prime Minister, must do their job to ensure that the best principles of accountability are upheld.
Local Government elections are due in a few months and general election soon after. The Minister of Finance has said that he will release the spending brakes saying that “to allow the economy to take off” noting that he had already accessed US$200 million for road repair. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that we can expect the next budget speech to be an “election budget”.
Times have changed. URP, CEPEP, state enterprises and government projects have always been dogged by allegations of corruption, favouritism and other ills in the management and use of public funds (Colour Me Orange, Life Sport etcetera). The charges laid over the last year against current and past political officer-holders from both sides indicate that the allegations carry more than a grain of truth.
Both parties have in the past complained that regional corporations controlled by them have been starved of funds when the other party is office. In an election year, we can expect the UNC claims to be louder, especially since the rainy season has brought flooding and other inconveniences to some rural communities.
Each political party has campaigned on the platform of local government reform since 1965 to be precise. After several commissions of enquiry on local government, the improvements are marginal. When key corporation officials and MPs were contacted to ascertain how known criminal elements could have obtained contracts no answers were forthcoming. The time for talk is over. Our current circumstances demand action.