Updated: August 26, 2017

By Jamber Press Contributor

‘The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions’ - Dwight D Eisenhower.

Over the past 10 years or so, community leaders, members of the public and opposition parliamentarians have been calling on the Labor Administration to be accountable and transparent with respect to procurement and contracting of government projects. However, their concerns have fallen on deaf ears especially as it relates to awarding of government contracts. They have been handing out contracts and government funds without regards for established administrative protocols. Career public officers are typically bypassed when it is politically expedient, especially around times of election.

Under the ‘Public Procurement and Contract Administration Act’, there are specific procedures whereby government contracts are awarded. However, it is not always convenient for the Labor Party Administration who has grown accustomed to being in power and sees the Government as an extension of their daily lives. Accordingly, the Ministers of Government have managed government funds as if dealing with their own finances. This behavior has been extended to village councils, community groups and all local authorities. The Labor Party Administration has progressively infiltrated and manipulated many of these local governing entities to suit their selfish political objectives.

Hence, it is interesting that within the past week, there has been a new chorus emanating out of Roseau. First to the wicket was the Minister of Social Services, Catherine Daniel, with a complaint of “lack of Accountability with funds provided to village councils by government”. This is indeed a legitimate concern in any use of government funds. However, as many have noted, the problem was created by the Labor Party Administration who have been handing out funds ‘willy-nilly’ to all and sundry over the past several years. This was blatantly executed during the Soufriere By-elections in 2016. No complaints from Minister Daniel. In community after community (Wesley, La Plaine, Laudat, Castle Bruce, Grand Fond) government funds and material (including fertilizer) have been managed by unelected labor party operatives and elected labor party parliamentarians, instead of public servants. So, why complain now. One point of note, it effectively deflected from other pressing issues for the first half of the week.

Next at bat, was Prime Minister Skerrit who continued to display the unprofessional habit of inserting himself into every aspect of governance. This week, he is Housing Minister as well as Finance Minister (his portfolio) complaining of poor building, fraud (accusing contractors of stealing from abandoned properties) and contractors not living up to the commitment of their contracts. This from an individual who has been notorious for directing No-bid contracts, a classic approach to manipulating government funds for political advantage. Indeed, No-bid contracts may increase the cost of a project by up to 50%, but that has never bothered him nor other members of his administration. With regards to the ‘housing revolution’ in Dominica, this is one area where contracts have been handed out to individuals and companies who may not necessarily possess the skills to see projects to completion. So why complain now?

From an operational perspective, what we have been seeing from Ms. Daniel and Mr. Skerrit is projection (blame shifting). The accuser (in this case, a government minister), who has established a flawed system that has led to abuse of public funds, is now accusing others (contractors and Village Councilors) of misappropriation and breach of contract. In order words, they are shifting the entire responsibility for their distasteful actions, consequences and behavior onto others. This is a very powerful tool for improving ones image, gaining respectability and avoiding responsibility. In this specific circumstance, this strategy permits the Labor Party administration to unleash their manipulative behavior on unsuspecting locals to gain political advantage.

So far, in some circles, this stratagem appears to be working. Interestingly, the Labor Administration targeted homes carded for senior citizens so they appear as Benevolent Leaders trying to help their people. Some in the public and the Press have commended the Ministers for their stance. Do the Ministers deserve this credit?  Assigning credit to these individuals ignores the history and context of the conditions that led to the problems. More importantly, if the ministers know of criminal behavior against the state, they should notify the appropriate personnel within the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).  Instead, Mr Skerrit and Ms Daniels are feigning outrage and anger, because they have no intention of changing behavior that has been politically beneficial to them.

So, one has to ask, what is going on in Grand Fond? Both comments were made in that constituency by two different ministers. Mr. Skerrit also announced a $3 million grant for housing assistance to Grand Fond during his comments.  In particular, Mr. Skerrit wanted a housing officer to oversee such works. What about a housing officer to oversee housing assistance in the other constituencies?  If there is a problem in Grand Fond with contractors then spell it out.  Or else, one can only conclude that this particular grant is nothing more than a barefaced gesture to buy votes in a possible by-election. We have seen this underhandedness before; in the run-up to Soufriere By-elections in 2016, millions of dollars of Government funds were squandered with no accountability and no complaint from those very ministers.

The bottom line is the Labor Administration has been violating the ‘Public Procurement and Contract Administration Act’. They have not adhered to the spirit of the Act where, it is stated that ‘Every procuring entity shall ensure that it receives the best value for money spent on procurement and contracts…’ Dominicans and, in particular, the Press need to be aware that in their quest to maintain their grip on power, the current Labor Administration will exhaust all means necessary to achieve this goal. This week’s display of fake outrage and blame shifting is another slat in this strategy. The Press is responsible for accurately reporting news but should be acutely aware when they are being manipulated by political figures to achieve selfish objectives.