Oil and gas-rich Trinidad this week moved to curb decades of runaway corruption in the country even though critics say too late is the cry.
The Senate voted to approve the Public Procurement and Disposal of Property Bill 2014 with 24 government and independent members voting for the bill. The six opposition representatives abstained, upset that it was not more wide ranging to curb excesses by authorities.
Its passage comes less than a year before general elections are scheduled to be held.
One of the main complaints from reasonable thinking people on the island, civil society groups such as Transparency International and the main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) is that the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has allowed corruption to take over the country and even stifle development as respected columnist Tony Fraser wrote this week.
To the administration’s credit, however, it can claim kudos for passing the bill even though like neighboring Guyana, every single infrastructural project the government is involved in or supervising has been riddled with societal complaints about theft, graft and malfeasance involving high officials, most of them either close associates or friends and family of those in government.
Planning Minister Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie said after the vote that he is satisfied with the piece of legislation that could result in fines of a minimum of $160,000 to $1.5M and at the discretion of the judge, jail time as well.
It caters for the rigging of bids, collusion of contractors and tender board and other officials and bribery to obtain contracts, be they from the public or private sectors.
“The next step would be to prepare the groundwork that would be done by the Ministry of Finance, and they have already engaged the United Nations Development Program to help them with a number of things,” the minister told reporters.
He said the law also focused on issues of transparency, accountability, value for money and local industry development among other issues.
The PNM, which could likely win general elections in 2015 based on the most recent polling and a number of missteps by government, had pointedly accused authorities of delaying the bill until now so as to give them free reign to operate without one. Now that elections are at its doorstep, officials rushed to have it approved by parliament the PNM charged.
The issue usually dominated radio and television call in programs, newspaper letters and the contribution of contributors. Just this week, veteran journalist Tony Fraser wrote the following as fears of a one-term government looms, thanks largely to corruption.
“Corruption, in all its variegated forms, and entrenched deep in the society and culture, not crime, the latter being a fallout effect of the former, is the most pernicious problem facing T&T in the 21st century. This evil infests itself on the poor and systematically destroys the soul of a nation and culture is no more institutionalized than in the financing of political parties by corporate interests that seek first preference to contracts funded by the public purse.”