So said Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley as he castigated critics of the amendments proposed by the Government to the public procurement bill.
Speaking in the House of Representatives, at the Red House, Port of Spain, immediately after the Opposition Leader yesterday, the Prime Minister defended the decision to remove legal, financial, auditing, accounting and medical services from the purview of the bill.
“Where have you ever heard that you could hire a lawyer on the basis of who gives you the lowest price? Where on earth have you ever heard that you choose a doctor who gives you the lowest price for medical services? Anyone of us, God forbid, gets sick, you want to know who is the best doctor in that area,” he said.
He said the State needs to know when it is going before a judge who is the most competent lawyer because if it loses a matter, there is “a big price and big consequences. You (Persad-Bissessar) want to come and tell me we must choose the lawyer of the lowest price.
“And then (the) former attorney general, trained by you, would put in the lowest bid and you want to ask this Government, as you do it in your party and as you did in your government, to hire people who are disgraced and who are appearing before court still because they win the bid. Not on you, Nellie!” he declared.
“So don’t come and tell me that we must pass a law that ties the Government’s hands to hire the cheapest lawyer, ties the Government’s hands to hire the cheapest consultant. The Government has to have the flexibility,” the Prime Minister said.
PM: Provisions were impractical
The Prime Minister also defended the decision to remove government-to-government arrangements from the ambit of the law, saying the Government discovered some of the provisions were impractical. One was it would stymie any government-to-government arrangements, he said.
“I know that there are contractors and their associates who have a problem with that,” he said, adding they feel they would be excluded from getting contracts under such arrangements, “and (therefore) they make all kinds of allegations and accusations, much of it unsubstantiated by fact”.
He said he made no apologies for using his authority as Prime Minister to approach the Government of Australia to secure funding for the two ferries.
The Prime Minister said the Government’s position was reasonable.
He said of all the people on the Government’s payroll, the only people who are held accountable in Trinidad and Tobago are ministers of Government. So when the Opposition behaves as if ministers having responsibility under this bill is “something to cry about”, and that “all will fall down” as a consequence, he had to disagree.
He said the Government should not find itself in a situation where, by virtue of the authority being put in somebody else’s hands, the Government’s position is stymied on matters critical to the interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
Saying that Government’s responsibility for the country’s 1.3 million people is rooted in the Representation of the Peoples Act, the Prime Minister said the Opposition was saying it did not want the Government to have responsibility for government-to-government relations and instead it must be the regulator.
“If that is what we are being told, then that is a gross misrepresentation of the role of the regulator,” he said.
Stressing the regulator is not a procurer, he said: “The country holds the Cabinet responsible for every single governmental action. But you (Opposition) are saying put the responsibility in the hands of the minister and the Government while placing the authority somewhere else.
“And so they write the papers and some uninformed person talks about gutting the law and the Leader of the Opposition comes in, grabs it, regurgitates it here today. Absolute poppycock, Madam Speaker!” the Prime Minister declared.
More opportunities for corruption
The Prime Minister said he hoped the country understood that the public procurement bill would provide more opportunity for corruption for many people, if they are so inclined.
He said the law required that in every department of the Government there is a procurement unit. “When we didn’t have this, we had a lot of corrupt people interfering with public money and being very corrupt about it.
“What the procurement law does, Madam Speaker, is to multiply those opportunities throughout the Public Service and throughout the country, and we hope and we trust that we have become less corrupt because now we are going to have more opportunities for many more people to engage in corruption,” he said.
The Prime Minister then slammed the Opposition Leader for equating recusal with corruption.
When one recuses oneself in conducting public business in the Cabinet, according to the Opposition Leader, Senior Counsel, it is because you are corrupt, and she has been beating that for the last nine months like a steelband, he said.
The Prime Minister then read documents from the Dutch authorities who are investigating suspicion of foreign bribery committed by the Damen shipyard.
He said according to the documents, they received various signals in 2015 about corruption in a number of transactions, including the Trinidad and Tobago acquisition of the 12 Damen vessels for the Coast Guard.
He recalled it was in March 2015 that Persad-Bissessar announced she was ordering 12 vessels, “like 12 hops”, from the Damen shipyard. The contract was €177 million. He said according to the Dutch investigation, a commission was paid to Trinidad and Tobago Best Marine Ltd and its St Lucia affiliate of €23 million, that is TT$210 million.
“Yet, my friend (Persad-Bissessar) suddenly wakes up like Rip Van Winkle and suddenly knows about corruption and procurement,” the Prime Minister said.
Kamla the town crier
The Prime Minister said the law was passed in 2015 because the United National Congress (UNC) “on its way out of office” wanted to use it for political mileage and hurriedly brought the bill to the Parliament, getting PNM support because in those days, the Opposition supported the government.
He said after the bill was passed, it fell to the President of the country to appoint a regulator who is the linchpin in the legislation. This was not done until January 12, 2018, he said.
He said the regulator had to prepare the regulations, and it was in October 2020 that the draft regulations were finalised and made available to the Attorney General.
He said up to that point, the Government could not bring the legislation to Parliament.
“Yet the Opposition Leader is out in front, waving a flag, town crier as usual, seeking to give the impression that we have some interest in not procuring this law,” he said.