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Property Matters – The EFCL Query Part 2

Published Thursday July 14th, 2011

Despite the first column in this series, I have had no direct reply or even acknowledgement from any of the EFCL officials to whom my initial queries were directed.

It seems that the people concerned would rather not write, on this matter at least. A meeting has been indirectly suggested, which of course would have to be properly recorded and minuted – no word on that meeting as I write again.

What could be the delay or difficulty in answering the five simple questions posed last week –

  • Is there a new EFCL Confidentiality policy?
  • When did that come into effect?
  • Would you please provide a copy of that policy?
  • Was that policy approved by the Board of Directors?
  • Is the Ministry of Education aware of this new policy?

Four of those questions require basic yes/no responses, while only one requires a date.

I closed Sunday’s article by reminding readers of the equation

Expenditure of Public money – Accountability – Transparency = CORRUPTION

The elementary accountability of a public company having its policies available for the public to consider seems to be either lacking or of low priority in the case of EFCL. As we move along, it will be interesting to see how the Transparency part of the equation works out.

In researching this article, it emerged that our country is a signatory to two relevant international conventions. As I understand it, the effect of our State having become signatory to those agreements is that the country has adopted those standards.

The first one is the Inter-American Convention against corruption, which was signed by our country in April 1998. At that time, UNC was in power, under PM Basdeo Panday. At Article III, clause 8, we are obliged to

“…consider the applicability of measures to…create, maintain and strengthen…Systems for protecting public servants and private citizens who, in good faith, report acts of corruption, including protection of their identities, in accordance with their Constitutions and the basic principles of their domestic legal systems…”

The second convention is the United Nations’ Convention against Corruption, which was signed by our country in December 2003. At that time, PNM was in power, under PM Patrick Manning. At Article 8 – Codes of Conduct for Public Officials, clause 4 obliges us to

“…4. Each State Party shall also consider, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, establishing measures and systems to facilitate the reporting by public officials of acts of corruption to appropriate authorities, when such acts come to their notice in the performance of their functions…”

So, what is the big secret?

I do understand that staff at companies like this can jeopardize the integrity and effective operations of the organisation by leaking certain confidential information. That would be a proper concern of management and a confidentiality policy is one of the ways that could be dealt with, just one.

During the Uff Enquiry, UDeCoTT claimed several times that this or that document was confidential and used its lawyers to protest strongly, sometimes even seeking the protection of the High Court. That was outrageous conduct by a state-owned company, which appeared to be trying to frustrate the Uff Commission, appointed by the State, by seeking to conceal documents. A case of ‘the tail wagging the dog’.

This situation is one in which it seems that the dangers of leaks in relation to tendering estimates, for example, has been conflated to cover all information in the company. It appears to be part of a new policy which does not conform to either good labour relations or our country’s international obligations with respect to Whistle-Blowers.

Given the electoral promises made by this government and the importance of the struggle to reduce the menace of corruption in our society, it is very important for us to be attentive to these matters.

UDeCoTT wanted to conceal certain documents and one had to wonder why, given that they are not involved in secret work. If it was not so serious it would be comical, they are not a spying, military or health institution. UDeCoTT is just a facilitator for erecting buildings, yet their chiefs were able to pretend to the public that a large part of what they did was confidential. That kind of secrecy could never be in the public interest. Not ever.

Similarly with EFCL, one has to ask – What is the secret? That organisation is responsible for the repair and maintenance of schools, using Public Money to do so.

I wonder if that document, which a number of EFCL staff have now been required to sign, is legal and binding? Could it withstand a challenge in the Courts? Did EFCL take proper legal advice in this matter? Was that advice followed?

The legitimate interests of taxpayers require that the management of State Enterprises take proper steps to handle these integrity challenges – Does the EFCL Confidentiality Agreement achieve this?

There is a certain kind of way in which this episode with EFCL is starting to remind me of the early UDeCoTT grappling, before Uff and so on, with tremendous difficulty in getting basic dialogue going, shadow-boxing and bizarre positions being taken.

I really hope that I am wrong, because the correct, encouraging attitude to Whistle-Blowers is essential for the success of the larger Public Procurement agenda.

 

Afra Raymond is President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC) and Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited. www.raymondandpierre.com.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

What is a Super Injunction?

It is possible for a prominent person to obtain a Court Order called an injunction to prevent the publication of material which is likely to be damaging to their reputation. That is a long-standing legal right and there has been a recent series of decisions in the UK in which super-sensitive, high profile people have been able to obtain ‘Super-Injunctions’ from the High Court, which have the effect of prohibiting the publication and further prohibiting revealing the very existence of the injunction itself. Of course the media have been fighting that in Court and there are two investigations underway into whether the ‘Super-Injunction’ is itself an abusive instrument.

The emerging thinking seems to be that these ‘Super-Injunctions’ are destroying the information balance I outlined on Sunday.

This EFCL Confidentiality Policy, if it is so, would seem to be a similar device, doing great violence to the information balance.