Wed, May

Although his motives may have been less than noble, Housing Minister Keith Rowley was absolutely correct to have raised the issue of the sharp increase in the expenditure for the construction of four stadiums for the 2001 Fifa Under-17 World Cup.

Dr Rowley’s revelations, at a news conference at his ministry on Tuesday, came less than 48 hours after the man at the centre of these new allegations, local football supremo Jack Warner, blasted the minister in a speech at Sunday’s Opposition rally.

Whether or not the minister made his allegations of influence-peddling out of pique, the fact remains that it is legitimate to question why five projects (the construction of four stadiums and the renovation of the Hasely Crawford Stadium) that were budgeted at $165 million in 1999 ended up costing $365 million in 2001.

Given the fact that Mr Warner is being investigated by Fifa for possible violation of its code of ethics, Dr Rowley was also correct to call on the governing body of world football to clear the air on its involvement in the stadiums scandal.

But Dr Rowley needs to go further if he is to retain credibility in this matter.

If he is convinced that it was “improper” for the Government to award a contract without tender to Fifa or Concacaf, Minister Rowley must lobby for full disclosure of all matters touching on the contracts—even if it means a commission of enquiry or a special forensic investigator.

Dr Rowley said the procurement procedure in this case was not only “improper,” it was “illegal.” If the minister is convinced of the illegality of the tendering process—and was not just trying to score cheap political points—he has an obligation to refer his suspicions to the Fraud Squad and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

At the news conference, the minister also made the valid point that if the former administration of the United National Congress (UNC) had awarded the contract under the auspices of the Central Tenders Board (CTB) ordinance, transparency in the tendering procedure would have been assured.

The irony of this statement, coming from a senior member of a Cabinet which has completely emasculated the CTB, would not have been lost on Dr Rowley even as he spoke the words.

Having questioned the procurement procedure for the $365 million UNC stadiums project, the country is entitled to expect Dr Rowley to make similar inquiries about the $800 million that the current administration intends to spend on a sports complex in Tarouba.

Having insisted that transparency would have been better served under the CTB, Dr Rowley must now respond to whether he personally approved of his Government’s policy of bypassing the board and establishing para-statal bodies with tendering procedures that can best be described as loose.

If the minister is indeed convinced that the need to fast-track public sector projects does not lessen the imperative of transparency, he would raise at today’s Cabinet meeting, as a matter of urgency, the delay in implementing the new procurement law.

He could make the point to his Cabinet colleagues that it would be publicly perceived as hypocrisy for him to question the lack of transparency in projects of the UNC—in which he has no influence—and not do the same in his own party where, because of his seniority, he has a great deal of influence.

Having called a news conference to address a six-year-old issue of state procurement, Dr Rowley needs to go further and make a public statement on whether he considers the current case of the Tarouba sports complex to be an example of superior procurement.