Senator Wade Mark at the UNC press conference at Opposition Leader Office , Charles Street in Port of Spain. – SUREASH CHOLAI
OPPOSITION Senator Wade Mark said that a future UNC government in 2025 would reverse the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2023 under debate in the Senate on Thursday and return to the original Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act of 2015.
“We will reverse the misdeeds by this gang,” he vowed, before toning down his language at the chair’s request.
Mark alleged that the Senate sitting constituted “the final funeral rights of our procurement law in TT.”
He hit Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s earlier contribution to bring the bill was unconvincing, but rather “very weak and feeble.”
He saw danger in the fact that the Government was now amending TT’s procurement legislation for the fourth time in its eight-year tenure.
“The amendments constitute brazen banditry on the people (by) the Government and they are taking place in broad daylight.”
Mark hit Imbert for taking the Senate on a global tour of other jurisdictions’ procurement laws, as possible precedents for the bill.
“I’d like the Minister of Finance to provide a precedent from any part of the world where a minister can break the law and then pass a law to validate that,” he said, in an apparent reference to Imbert’s two ministerial orders to retroactively approve spending for the judiciary and foreign dignitaries (including the recent Caricom summit in TT), which the bill now sought to validate.
Mark hit, “Lawbreakers are trying to get law makers to validate an unlawful, illegal action.
“He is using the Senate to validate the illegal actions of the Government.”
He said he was demanding Imbert leave the Senate chamber to fetch evidence of the funds spent to host the Caricom Summit.
“We are being asked to validate the spending on Caricom. We don’t have any evidence of what was spent.
“We are not prepared to give the minister a free hand.”
Mark said Imbert had known he was acting unlawfully, but Imbert rose to complain that Mark was imputing improper motives in breach of the Senate standing orders.
Mark stormed, “We are going to court on this matter. If it can’t be solved here, the High Court will do.”
He cited a joint statement issued against the procurement bill by several business groups, namely the JCC, Amcham (TT), TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce, TTCSI, and the TT Transparency Institute.
Mark said the groups did not support the bill’s proposal to change parliamentary oversight of ministerial orders from affirmative resolution to negative resolution.
“Affirmative” means an order is only valid if MPs give approval, but “negative” means the order is okay unless Parliament steps in to negate it.
Mark said, in a past sitting, Imbert had agreed with a top independent senator on a need to change the procurement law from a negative to affirmative resolution.
“What has changed?” Mark asked. He alleged that in 2015, PNM senators had abstained on the vote on the Procurement Act. “They never supported procurement.”
Mark said the UNC had once proposed the procurement regulator be paid the same salary as the Caribbean Arilines (CAL) CEO, but the PNM had then reduced that to allegedly result in “a weak, feeble procurement regulator.”
Mark alleged that the Government wanted to have “complete control” of the procurement process.
He claimed the Government had infiltrated and subverted all of TT’s independent institutions, alleging all members of the Procurement Board were PNM appointed.
Mark questioned the independence of new Procurement Regulator Beverley Khan by saying the Dr Keith Rowley Cabinet had once appointed her as a director of the WASA board, and she had been once been acting deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Planning.
Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales later told Newsday that Khan had a “very distinguished and impeccable track record.”
He said, at that time, a Cabinet sub-committee had examined the composition of the WASA board and had decided that Khan as a very senior official could greatly help the planned transformation of WASA.
“While she was a deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Utilities, because of the transformation WASA was going through the Government thought that it was necessary to have someone at the senior level of the Public Service to sit on the board of WASA to assist it in the transformation exercise.
“She was the deputy permanent secretary – a very, very senior public officer – who has a very distinguished and impeccable track record of public service, given the undertaking that we were about in the transformation of the Water and Sewerage Authority.
“In changing the composition of the board we thought it was necessary and it would assist the transformation exercise to have someone who operated at a very senior level in the Public Service in the Ministry of Public Utilities especially around WASA to assist in the transformation of that organisation.”
Gonzales criticised Mark’s remarks. “It is very unfortunate that individual (Khan), that public official, who would have given her entire life to public service in TT can now be ridiculed by Senator Mark in this way.”