Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar at her press conference at her office on Charles Street Port ofSpain. – SUREASH CHOLAI
OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said the Government hoped to bury the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act 2015 on Wednesday by way of a bill brought to the House of Representatives, addressing a UNC rally at Princes Town on Monday night.
MPs are being summoned from their July/August break for an extraordinary sitting to debate the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill 2023, after the Government recently had to issue an order to retroactively approve $9 million spent on the recent Caricom summit in Port of Spain.
Persad-Bissessar told the audience that the police and Office of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should investigate the expenditure.
“We had filed pre-action protocol letters against two orders that the Minister of Finance (Colm Imbert) signed to exempt the Caricom meeting’s expenditures and some supplies to the judiciary.”
The Government had been due to reply by last Monday but had “taken front,” she said.
“They sent us a reply on Friday. In essence it was a confession of guilt that they had acted wrongfully in Imbert issuing the orders to exempt the two expenses.”
She said the Government said rather than go to court, on Wednesday they would bring to Parliament a bill to validate the two orders and amend the 2015 act.
Persad-Bissessar urged the Government on Wednesday to say how much it had spent on Caricom and which contractors/suppliers of goods and services were paid.
She was troubled by the Government’s proposed amendments to the 2015 act (passed by her People’s Partnership government).
“They took eight years to proclaim and already are pulling it back.
“They want to come on Wednesday to further water down – and I would not say ‘water down’…
“What they are coming to do on Wednesday is put the last nail in the coffin of the public procurement law and to do the last rites and bury the law.”
Ripping up several sheets of paper representing the act, she said the act would “not be worth the paper it was written on.”
Persad-Bissessar said the Government’s proposed changes would result in procurement with no integrity and no transparency, but with the Government getting “a blank cheque.”
She hit the Prime Minister for recently saying the current law curtailed the purchase of even a bale of toilet paper.
“Are you saying you are running the Government like some poor man’s house, that only when you run out of something you run down by the parlour and you buy it?
“Don’t we plan, don’t we budget, don’t we know how much we need in any given financial year?”
Persad-Bissessar complained of the bill’s proposal that contracts below $1 million need not go through the procurement process.
“Every contract now will be just under $1 million.”
She said the 2015 act had sought to curb the practice under the previous law – the Central Tenders Board legislation – of big contracts being broken up into smaller parts each below $1 million to avoid legal scrutiny.
“But I will tell you that your UNC members in Parliament will not support this killing, butchering, massacring of the procurement law. We will not support it!”
Persad-Bissessar asked aloud whether a criminal act was committed by the Government approving the two orders to retroactively approve expenditure.
She said the 2015 act lays down a penalty of ten years jail and a $5 million fine for undue influence of a procurement proceeding.
“I call upon the Commissioner of Police (Erla Christopher-Haywood) – well, wish me luck, ha ha – to launch an immediate criminal investigation into this offence, just as expeditiously as you would have done had it been a political opponent of the PNM.
“I call on the DPP to act on this matter, so the rule of law and constitution can be protected from the diabolical actions on the part of the PNM Government.”
Persad-Bissessar rejected Rowley’s criticism that the UNC was talking too much on national issues.
“Crime is the number one fear terrorising all of the people of TT. You are so out of touch saying we much not speak about crime.
“If you will not speak about crime, we will.”
She alleged the police hierarchy was taking instructions from the Government.
“We want to give you a fighting chance, so let us give legal firearms that you could protect your families with.”
Persad-Bissessar said widespread insecurity in TT was reflected in the music lyrics of the Trinibad genre being sung by TT’s youngsters.
“The only things these young men are singing about are death, suffering, hatred, political victimisation.”
Urging voters to back UNC councillors, she rallied, “Yellow is the code, the code is yellow! Don’t tote, just vote!”