13 October, 2009
Transparency and accountability have never been a prominent feature of
Anguilla’s Ministry of Infrastructure. If we have managed up to now to avoid wholesale corruption in the public service construction sector, this has been a result of the personal ethics of individual managers. It is not a built-in characteristic of the service, buttressed by procedures that guarantee transparency and accountability. On the contrary, public procurement of goods and services goes on in secret. Major contracts are awarded on what basis nobody knows. Outcomes of the implementation of public works, whether of success or failure, are studiously concealed. Everyone in Anguilla takes this state of affairs for granted. It has been the norm for decades. In this environment suspicion and rumour abound.
So, I was interested recently to read a speech given by Chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, architect Victor Hart, to the Association of Commonwealth Societies of Architects in the Caribbean. They were meeting in
Trinidad to consider the problem of transparency and accountability in construction procurement. Mr Hart dealt at length with the problem, mainly from an architect’s point of view. Of particular relevance to us was his description of some of the transparency tools that have been developed for this area. This is part of what he said:
The introduction of greater transparency in the construction sector requires the use of tested and proven tools and strategies by trained persons. Over the years, TI and others, such as the Global Infrastructure Anti-Corruption Centre, have researched the problem and developed tools and strategies that can be applied locally. TTTI recommended the adoption of three such tools/strategies to the Commission of Enquiry, which hopefully will be included among the Commission’s recommendations in its report to government:
a) TI’s Integrity Pact the details of which are on website: www.transparency.org/tools/contracting.
b) The Global Infrastructure Anti-Corruption Centre’s Project Anti- Corruption System (PACS) the details of which are on website www.giaccentre.org.
c) The UK Anti-Corruption Forum (ACF) model the details of which are on website: www.anticorruptionforum.org/acf/news/publications/. Of particular interest on that website is the paper recommending greater transparency on construction projects ‘Transparency in Public Sector Construction Projects’. Also of interest is the paper entitled ‘Preventing Corruption – Guidance for Professional Bodies’.
When that happens, it is highly unlikely that we will be in any better position than we are now. Government still refuses to reveal the details of expenditure on the last airport expansion project of 2004, despite promises from the Minister of Finance in the House of Assembly.
There are no plans to improve accountability and transparency. No one in
Anguilla is even looking at any of the three tools described on the websites above. No one either knows or cares about the problem. Instead, everyone is jockeying for position.
The Anguilla public sector construction arena will continue to be one in which there is no level playing field, with contracts being routinely awarded to party favourites. Contractors will be forced to spend time and energy on worrying about bias and nepotism instead of concentrating on delivering projects on time and within budget. We will continue to wonder what deals are being struck behind closed doors. While some contractors will struggle to collect payment for services rendered, others will appear to be receiving favoured treatment. Foreign consultants and contractors bearing generous gifts will mysteriously be preferred above local equally qualified ones.
Fair play, transparency, and accountability will continue to be unknown in the Anguillian public sector construction sector.
That is my gloomy prophesy for when the new airport expansion, the new government headquarters, and The Valley road repair contracts are awarded.