Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 14th 2014 Contents A22
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt September 14, 2014
Dear Minister Larry Howai, it
was a darling of a budget. I
have always maintained that a truly
civilised society is based on how you
treat the most vulnerable amongst
us. Naturally I thought it a sweet-
heart of a budget. It was the biggest
ever---$64.6 billion solid and liquid
dollars to be sliced up among just
1.3 million of us.
No oil-rich society can dispute
your handouts and largesse to the
people who need it the most. Flaw-
less: extra funds for senior citizens,
the tax amnesty, the personal
allowances for people aged 60 and
over, the NIS umbrella for those
earning $3,000 and less, the raising
of the disability grant, raising the
minimum wage (from $12.50 to $15
an hour), the $1 million grant to the
estate of soldiers killed in the line
of duty, raising the public assistance
grant, keeping the Gate programme
safe so thousands of our young peo-
ple can continue or start university
degrees free of charge.
But after the flush of exuberance
wore off, I looked at your budget
more closely, with greater unease.
I became unsure about the $500
monthly allocation for babies born
to underprivileged families, won-
dering if some foolish girls will decide
to have children just because of that.
Also the $410 million constituency
development fund troubles me. Is
it about handouts? Will it create
gangs? How will this be managed?
With what transparency?
I don t want to be a killjoy, but
Mr Minister, what happens to the
massive fixed costs to which you
have committed, when oil and gas
prices drop or fluctuate downwards?
What happens when the oil runs
out in 20 years? I am not being
What happens to all the people
who are now fourth- and fifth-gen-
eration beneficiaries of the make-
work programme when the money
I want you to think about how the
allocation of money shapes a national
psyche. People "look forward to a
budget like a Christmas treat hamper,
and not a tool or fishing line to help
ourselves. For instance, if there were
cash incentives for people who train
in the tourism industry, or for Cepep
workers who get a full-time job or
work towards self-employment, or
for mothers whose children get five
CXCs, then I would say we are
changing the way our people think.
We are teaching our people to be
self-sufficient, to be service-oriented,
to be prepared for a time when the
oil wells run dry.
Enough of that, Mr Minister; there
is something else. It s the elephant
in the room, Mr Howai. We have
dropped by a dramatic ten places in
Transparency International s Cor-
ruption Perceptions Index. Our glob-
al corruption perception is rising.
I agree that the Government has
a weighty job to do, to account for
such a large sum of public funds,
and that it is tiresome if you want
to get anything done, to go through
it.Procurement simply means stan-
dard rules to buying. The reason our
people get nervous when we get past
the glitter of giveaways in a budget
of billions is: we start wondering
The Central Tenders Board (CTB),
we all know, is required by law to
follow certain procedures in the
awarding of contracts. Its purpose
is to maintain total transparency.
The PNM was practically thrown
out for disregarding this and cir-
cumvented the tiresome rules and
regulations of the CTB "in the inter-
est of efficiency" through bodies like
Udecott. We all know what hap-
pened there. It was set up expressly
for not going through the CTB.
Sadly, the current Government is
reportedly carrying on this policy,
with parallel "service" bodies within
each ministry that hand out con-
struction projects, housing projects,
education projects. These "service"
entities are not subject to standard
rules set up by the CTB. There is no
process, no procedure, no trans-
parency in how they are handed out.
There is no way to prove who got
what and under what criteria.
Although the Government s inten-
tions are good, they remain opaque,
lack transparency, and are not open
The blogger Afra Raymond has
been working as head of the Joint
Consultative Council (JCC) calling
for the immediate passage of the
Public Procurement and Disposal of
Public Property Bill. This JCC, as
you know, is made up of (a) the Con-
tractors Association (b) the Institute
of Architects (c) the Institute of Sur-
veyors (d) the Board of Architecture
(e) the T&T Society of Planners. Do
you think you could inveigle your
Cabinet to look at this, Mr Minis-
The JCC has been in the forefront
of the call for a change in policy in
public procurement for contracts in
But how to stem the tide? Ray-
mond is convinced that passing the
long overdue bill "would play an
important part in greatly reducing
the scope for waste and theft of pub-
Yes, Mr Minister, a darling of a
budget; until I decided to dig deeper.
It was the usual missed opportunity
to allow us to leave poverty, lack of
transparency and dependency
behind, to become First World.
On Thursday, it s Scotland s
It has been a long, nasty cam-
paign, starting effectively in May
2011, when Alex Salmond s Scot-
tish National Party won a major-
ity in Scotland s parliament.
For most of those three years,
it has looked like a clear win for
One week ago, the "yes" side
snatched an opinion poll lead. Lon-
With more polls since, the result
is too close to call. But the tide is
So, if Salmond gets his way, what
On some counts, not much. Scot-
land s devolved parliament already
runs the legal system, police, health,
education---indeed, most things
north of the border.
Scotland has always had its own
banknotes---issued, oddly, by the
commercial banks. Scotland plays
its own in the World Cup---though
not the Olympics. Scotland s sense
of history and identity is second to
Independence would mean flags,
lots of them. It would mean Scottish
embassies and High Commissions,
an army, and a UN seat. There
would be national storytelling, and
a distancing from Scotland s role as
supporting co-star of Britain s slave
trade and empire.
Scotland last month wrapped up
a successful Commonwealth Games.
This month, Gleneagles hosts golf s
Ryder Cup. June marked 800 years
since the Battle of Bannockburn,
when Scotland routed an invading
A century ago, powerful neigh-
bours swallowed small countries by
force, or locked them out of markets.
With the WTO, EU and Nato, those
dangers are off Scotland s worry-
It s easy to see why many Scottish
hearts are with the "yes" campaign.
In some ways, a "yes" vote would
impact England more than Scot-
Scotland sends 59 MPs to West-
minster. Only one supports Prime
Minister David Cameron s Conser-
vative Party. With the Scots MPs
absent, he would have won a clear
majority in 2010; so, no need for a
If Scotland votes "yes," next May s
British election will be a mess. With
independence not yet finalised,
Scotland will elect 59 MPs.
British opinion polls currently
suggest a narrow win for the oppo-
sition Labour Party---on the back
of Scottish support; but perhaps
with no majority once Scotland
That shaky government would
negotiate the details of Scottish
independence---and perhaps lose its
majority on the dawn of Independ-
Britain would lose one-third of
its land area, and nine per cent
of its population. That would be
a nasty knock.
In principle, there could be a
new flag, and a new country
name to replace the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland. That can of
worms would be better left
By rights, Northern Ireland
should go with Scotland. Scots
Presbyterian settlers developed
its troublesome Protestant-
Catholic mix. But London will
be left to sort out that one; until
and unless the North votes to
join the rest of Ireland.
And Wales? Up to now, there s
not much sentiment for inde-
pendence. If an independent
Scotland can fly, that might
Within Europe, Britain would drop
a notch in the pecking order. Dis-
astrously, a bruised England might
stalk unlamented out of the EU in
a flag-waving huff, leaving Scotland
and Ireland prosperously within.
Britain s permanent veto-bearing
seat on the UN Security Council
would look even odder than it does
now. Britain would have a smaller
economy than Brazil and possibly
Russia, with India coming up fast.
That s the benign scenario.
Now for the nightmares.
Nightmare One. The Bank of
England refuses Scotland a cur-
rency union. So Scotland can
either invent its own currency,
use the euro, or keep the
pound---but without influence
over monetary policy or interest
Nightmare Two. Scotland hopes
to seamlessly join the EU from Day
One. But Spain may play nasty---
they want to deter a split from their
own Catalonia. Tough negotiations
might see Scotland forced to use
the euro and join the Schengen sys-
tem. That would mean passport
controls at the English border,
alongside the new cambios.
Nightmare Three. Spooked by
uncertainty, big financial firms like
Royal Bank of Scotland move to
Nightmare Four. These, and a
whole set of other squabbles, create
Last week s opinion poll fright-
ened the markets. Sterling dipped.
So did shares of big Scottish com-
panies. With years of fractious inde-
pendence talks, that slide could turn
to a rout.
David Cameron has trouble. North
of the border, his southern upper-
class face and voice just don t fit.
If Cameron wants to keep Scot-
land, he has made some gigantic
He gave full control of the refer-
endum to Alex Salmond.
He allowed a simple "yes" for
independence. Any marketing man-
ager will tell you "yes" is an easy
sell. "Alternative A / Alternative B"
gives a different feel.
He allowed a campaign lasting
years, not months or weeks.
A simple majority---however
tiny---can make an irreversible
Canada narrowly avoided a
break-up in 1995, when Québec
voted "no" by just 50.6 per
In 1905, Norway voted by
99.95 per cent to split from
Sweden. Just 184 ticked "no."
Alex Salmond may do well on
Thursday, but he won t get that
Who s next? Nevis again?
A SWEETHEART BUDGET: BUT WHAT
HAPPENS WHEN THE OIL RUNS OUT?
END OF THE ROAD FOR TEAM GB?
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