The Independent bench in the Senate proved decisive in the contentious Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment) Bill, 2020, despite almost the entire bench abstaining from voting on the bill.
Independent Senator Dr Maria Dillon-Remy was the only one among her group to vote yes, as the bill passed last night.
All other Independent senators, many of whom expressed concern about being placed in a bind with regard to the bill, abstained as the final vote tallied 16 votes for, 6 votes against and 8 abstentions.
Independent Senators Dr Varma Deyalsingh and Paul Richards both expressed that they had been put between a rock and a hard place with the bill, as there appeared to be significant pressure both for and against the bill’s passing.
“This piece of legislation was given some teeth by the last administration, and I see here now that if we intend to water it down we might be sending a wrong message out there,” said Dr Deyalsingh during his contribution as he expressed reservations about the removal of a clause which would have allowed for government-to-government arrangement.
Deyalsingh said there had been a history of governments not always acting in the best interest of the people, and the bill, as it stood did not provide enough safeguards for such possibilities.
He also questioned if the bill could finally end the tit for tat which appeared to be in place for selection, referencing legal briefs favouring politically partisan attorneys.
“The procurement legislator could do the background checks and do the cost factor. Just like how they choose judges to hear cases, put their name in and pull out a name and say, ‘hey government this is our best bet’,” he said, adding that similar occurrences had been done in other fields in medicine.
“We have to stop that, give it to the procurement legislator or officer,” he said.
Richards, in his contribution, said, “I have never been so lobbied from both sides.”
Richards, however, put forward several suggestions which were taken up for amendment during the Committee stage of the bill.
Despite making progress with those changes, the government, however, stood firm on the clauses which allowed for government-to-government agreements, the clause which worried Richards significantly.
“We are making law not for who is in power but who necessarily is in power but who may come to power and who may have quite maleficent intentions where our public purse is concerned. And very often if we leave these loopholes without some sort of caveat or overlying protections we may find ourselves at unscrupulous persons in the future,” he said.
He added, “Medium or long term future that will continue or will initiate the continued rape of our treasury. And the people of Trinidad and Tobago quite frankly have been through enough of that.”