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Of taxation and representation

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi was clearly unimpressed by certain flack he received from Opposition and Independent benches in the Senate on Tuesday, after piloting proposals to abolish preliminary enquiries.

“I’ve heard a lot of complaints...everybody wants solutions, but nobody wants to participate!” Al-Rawi sounded, as close to exasperation as the seams of his usual courtly delivery would allow.

But he would again be tested. “The last Government left us bankrupt—there are some months we can’t do more than pay salaries,” Al-Rawi protested.

UNC Senator Wade Mark had ready advice.

“Why all yuh doh leave office?” Mark deadpanned.

“There are some who don’t see that as amusing—and I don’t mean Senator Mark,”Al-Rawi retorted.

The Senate, however, never concluded the 45 clause bill.

With concerns all around, Government called a halt, five minutes before the AG concluded wind-up of the bill, shelving it for the upcoming Third Session of Parliament, which starts next Friday.

With the Second Session now history—after being prorogued yesterday—the Third, taking Government into mid term, looms as bigger challenge for Government and Opposition each seeking to reinforce internally and recoup, externally.

For the next Session, reinforced Government outreach is expected. Its first sign may be in upcoming curtain raiser matters for the Third Session whose first business is 2018 Budget delivery on October 2.

Next Wednesday’s televised all-day event by the Prime Minister’s office on T&T’s financial circumstances—finalised in recent weeks—will not give the public, context and backdrop of Budget contents, but also calls out professionals and critics of Government’s economic policies.

The initiative could assist in cushioning at least a quarter of Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s subsequent Budget speech where economic reporting is concerned.

But it remains to unfold what response to the challenge will arise from Government’s invitation to leaders of assorted sectors to present solutions.

How much independent contributions might echo Government’s Budgeting—and prepare the population for the 2018 package—also remains ahead.

While Parliament’s Joint Select Committee scrutiny of ferry service management and procurement adjourned its first leg last Thursday, the interest generated will last into its next hearing, likely post-Budget.

The JSC moved in timely fashion to examine the very national issue of Tobago’s ferry link, bringing out parties whom the public wanted to be questioned—Prime Minister to Port jefes—and could have probed via submission of their own queries.

Even uncomfortable moments were enlightening.

JSC member Wade Mark being herded by chairman Stephen Creese back to query mode after briefly seguing into reply.

Government members’ reluctance to probe ferry aspects under their administration’s tenure.

Their detour from objectivity into overly supportive stance of some of the PM’s statements though he’d appeared as a witness and not as Prime Minister.

Regardless of divided opinions—and blame hovering in the air—evidence has narrowed down (some) questions. Answers lie ahead alongside the forensic probe being done by the Port and the Anti-corruption Bureau using seized computer and phone records.

In this and similar controversies, the advice of Winston Riley (Private Sector/Civil society group on Public Procurement) at Wednesday’s JSC enquiry should be—at least one of—the last words on the matter.

He’d opined the ferry furore wouldn’t have occurred if Government’s procurement regulator and systems were in place.

On Monday, a T&T Guardian 2018 Budget piece noted the promised procurement regulator/regime is among issues lagging from the 2017 Budget well beyond its promised March 2017 startup.

As such—and with an expected developmental thrust in 2018—whatever participation arises in Government’s Wednesday conversation with sector leaders on the economy, their solutions may bring little to bear on the economic equation unless systems like the procurement regime, are implemented to bring processes to an even keel.


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