UNC activist wants info on Caricom 50th anniversary spend

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Marsha Walker –

FORMER UNC candidate Marsha Walker has made a freedom of information request for full disclosure on the amount spent for Caricom’s 50th anniversary celebration and its 45th general meeting held in Port of Spain earlier this month.

Through the Freedom Law Chambers, Walker has written to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance under the Freedom of Information Act with a request for a breakdown of the money spent.

Walker, of Diego Martin, is seeking full details of amounts paid and still owed to individual contractors, consultants and goods and services provided for the event held between July 1 and 5.

Government has issued, under the hand of Minister of Finance Colm Imbert, an exemption from the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act to cover the costs of the event.

Government convened special sittings of the House of Representatives on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday to validate the exemptions and amend the Procurement Act accordingly.

The changes were passed in both chambers of Parliament respectively.

On Thursday, Attorney Robert Abdool-Mitchell, acting for Walker, gave the Finance Ministry 30 days to respond to the request for information, failing which a claim for judicial review will be filed to seek an order from the High Court to compel disclosure.

The request noted that Walker was concerned about the exemption coming into force only two days before to the Caricom events but extending “for a period of three months from the 29th day of June, 2023.”

Walker also questioned the timing of the implementation of the Order and the holding of a local government election on August 14, saying that it raised significant suspicions of an abuse of power.

“The government has a duty to act in accordance with the procurement law and, its action and conduct demonstrates an intention to denude this law of its protective mechanisms.

“The exemption orders seek to bypass the strictures of the legislation that contains a carefully calibrated check and balance on government spending.

“This is critical to our democracy. In the absence of legislation on campaign financing it is imperative that expenditure of public funds must be subject to public scrutiny.

“The ruling party is, at present in the process of constructing new headquarters and such exemptions provide fertile soil for corruption and mismanagement.”

The request referred to a Newsday May 6 article about the $3.4 million cost for a two-day Caricom crime symposium held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain, in May, saying the cost of the symposium left a bitter taste in the mouths of people, “who are forced to dodge potholes, get no medicine at the hospitals and live in mortal fear of bandits.

“The exemptions simply add to the public perception that the government is disconnected from the harsh realities of everyday existence and living in fool’s paradise.

“The expenditure priorities of the government are skewed, biased and not in the public interest. In the circumstances, our client is of the firm view that the sums expended towards the event must be disclosed.”