Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 19th 2016 Contents BG14 COMMENTARY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt MAY 19 • 2016
This was the response by the
chairman of Transparency Inter-
national to UK Prime Minister,
David Cameron, following the
latter s comments that some
developing countries are "fan-
tastically corrupt." The context of the rebuttal
was that while there are significant levels of cor-
ruption in many third world countries, the fact
is funds associated with corruption often ends
up in countries such as the UK where it finds
a safe haven.
This was essentially the debate at the recently
concluded Anti Corruption Summit held in the
UK and attended by the Prime Minister of T&T.
Here in T&T we look forward to tangible
moves towards transparency in government.
Appreciate that I used the term "transparency"
as opposed to "anti corruption" and that is delib-
erate as the goal is the former. The latter is just
a milestone on the path and transparency is
where our aspirations should be focused.
To understand the bigger picture, I will ref-
Currently, there is a lot of discussion on
whether China is slowing down and, if so, by
how much. On the surface that may seem like
the typical economic or stock market debate but
the situation runs much deeper than that. China
has approximately five workers for every retiree.
However, due to their one child per couple policy
once this generation goes into retirement the
current economic model will collapse by 2040
as the ratio of workers to retirees moves to 1.6
I have spoken about our demographic chal-
lenges in T&T repeatedly and specifically men-
tioned this over the past two weeks.
The median age in China is 34.9 years. The
median age in T&T is 34.3 years. China may age
slightly more rapidly than T&T but the demo-
graphic challenges are similar.
China s economy has been built on a large
labour pool that allowed it to become the man-
ufacturing centre of the world. However, in the
years to come that labour pool is going to diminish
and so the structure of their economy has to
change. In T&T our economy is built on rents
collected from the energy sector. As our economy
transitions the fundamental question of the
country s economic planners and one which has
not yet been answered: is our supply of labour
into the future sufficient to sustain our diver-
sification efforts and, if not, what are the solutions
As the population ages an ever growing social
safety net is required. For a smaller aged population
we have in the past funded this safety net through
windfall revenues from oil and gas. To the extent
that the paradigm has now shifted, we have to
determine a much more sustainable approach to
funding this safety net going forward and, based
on current trends, we have to expand this safety
net with a shrinking labour pool. If we are not
able to achieve this we are effectively conceding
that an aged population in the years to come will
be faced with higher levels of poverty.
The funding of that safety net has to take
place now and this is where the issues of anti-
corruption and transparency come to the fore.
Money wasted through corruption means fewer
resources to address this urgent challenge. While
this is obvious, the point is there is a huge social
cost that has not been considered in this dis-
cussion. To the extent that those who have ben-
efited from corrupt practices are not judicious
in their management of their gain, they and their
children can find themselves with the same chal-
lenges in years to come. The old principles of
"easy come, easy go" apply and, in the end,
recognise there is no free lunch.
Discussions centred on the issue of trans-
parency and accountability in government is not
new. The Prime Minister has raised this issue
on the international scene over the past two
weeks but we have been here before.
In the 2011/12 budget presentation then
Finance Minister, Winston Dookeran, under a
People s Partnership administration said:
"Some of our behavioural patterns nurtured
over the past must shift. Unsatisfactory levels
of productivity, insensitive customer care, lack
of competitiveness, social inequity and lack of
transparency must be left behind.
• We must hold ourselves accountable as indi-
viduals, as families, as institutions, as civil society
and as a government.
• People must be held accountable for the past
recklessness in our financial sector and the harm
they have caused to many vulnerable people.
• People must take responsibility for their personal
• People must comply with regulations and tax
• We must exercise fiscal responsibility.
• It is time to take responsibility for adhering
to the rule of law."
The rhetoric sounded great and it was exactly
what the population wanted to hear. We all know
how that story ended. Five years later, we are
hearing more of the same and, of course, we
hope this time it will be different.
Certainly our economic prospects are different
and so the need for transparency is more critical
now. During the discussion on the 2012/13 budget
I discussed "Shared sacrifice". It was a theme I
repeated on one of the morning talk shows on
the day the current budget was read and, coin-
cidently, it was also a phrase referenced by the
Minister of Finance.
What we must appreciate is that shared sac-
rifice is a process that must be engineered. This
is where leadership is required and a government s
job is to lead. We are at a stage where politics
has to take a back seat in favour of accountability
and transparency for without these two ingre-
dients there is no moral authority to call for any
type of sacrifice by the national community.
Returning to China, those following develop-
ments there will note that the state has indicated
that they are taking steps to weed out corruption.
External analysts have offered a view that this
is simply a move by the existing leadership within
the Communist Party to eliminate challengers
and strengthen their grip as the economic and,
in particular, labour challenges unfold.
Given this risk the recent debates over
enhanced surveillance legislation in T&T should
be considered in the context of reciprocity where
the increased scrutiny by the State should be
matched by increased transparency and account-
ability of the actions of the State.
While in Opposition the Prime Minister put
forward the idea of a "general accounting office"
The purpose of this unit is to provide "ongoing
oversight of operations as and when money is
being spent in various government departments
so there will be a requirement for those who are
spending money to subject themselves to people
who will come in to ensure at the time that it
is being done that it is being done in the way
that it is expected to be done."
I am not aware that this body has, as yet,
been constituted but I anxiously await its imple-
mentation. In my view, we need to do more.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant and I have called
for a registry under the Office of the Prime Min-
ister during the People s Partnership adminis-
The time seems right to raise the issue again.
This registry will allow the public to view records
of all contracts issued by each and every ministry
and state enterprise that operates on the basis
of government subventions. The names of the
suppliers to the state, the size of the contracts,
the deliverables and a post analysis of the quality
of work should all be publicly accessible infor-
We could even go so far as to ensure all directors
and shareholders of said companies are known.
Following the Anti-Corruption Summit, T&T
has offered to share information internationally
on companies registered here. Before we go there,
let us share information on contracts awarded
with public money to the public.
Any issues of confidentiality or commercial
rights does not arise as we are dealing only with
contracts awarded by ministries and state com-
panies that operate from government subventions,
as opposed to commercial profit seeking oper-
ations of the State. Further, we have recently
established that the right to privacy is not sacro-
sanct and one can extrapolate the same thought
process and apply it to corporations which are,
in fact, legal persons in law.
If the end justifies the means in assessing
criminal conduct by individuals in the planning
stage then the same can be argued for corporate
entities. Instead of the forensic approach to deter-
mining wrongdoing, let us be consistently proac-
tive and ensure there is a full disclosure of entities
doing business with the State and assessments
of whether we are getting value for money.
The current economic situation demands
nothing less than transparency in government.
If the State and its citizens are to move forward
together then it really takes two to tango.
It takes two to tango...
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