The UNC notes with grave concern and welcomes the strong finding by the Lynch Commission of Enquiry, that Paria is guilty of gross negligence and should be prosecuted for Corporate Manslaughter. This finding is not surprising given the overwhelming evidence that was already in the public domain, when the lone survivor from the pipeline tragedy publicly shared his story about the nightmare, which he and his family endured because of Paria’s cruel and inhumane conduct.
We call upon PM Keith Rowley to fire the Board of Directors immediately, namely:
Newman K. George (Chairman)
Taxpayers funded this Commission of Enquiry and genuine and meaningful action must be taken or else the Prime Minister would be guilty of the worst form of political hypocrisy and deceit.
PM Rowley must put the country and the bereaved families first and his personal friendship with PNM friends and financiers second, for once. Paria’s Chairman, Newman George is the husband of House Speaker Bridgette Annisette George and Rowley’s golfing partner. It is time to put the public interest before the golf club, due to the serious nature of the findings and the tragic loss of life.
Further, Dr. Rowley’s personal lawyer, Mr Michael Quamina S.C. is also the Chairman of Paria’s parent company, Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Limited. His role in this fiasco should not be underestimated and also justifies his immediate removal given his failure to intervene and take decisive action to save the lives of these men.
Minister of Energy Stuart Young must also be fired because he does not have the decency to tender his resignation. The Westminster System of parliamentary democracy is such that the buck stops with the line Minister with overall responsibility for Paria. We cannot forget Minister Young’s presence at the scene of the crime when, instead of instructing Paria to mount a rescue effort, he joined with them in public relations stunts and gimmicks that were designed to do political damage control and save face for the PNM.
PM Keith Rowley must make a public statement to explain the steps his Government intends to take to ensure that this multimillion-dollar expensive Commission of Enquiry would not go to waste. Merely passing the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions is not enough. It amounts to passing the buck.
The Occupational Safety and Health (“OSH”) Act contemplates two different forms of legal action. Whilst the DPP can bring criminal charges, OSHA is also empowered by law to take legal action:
Section 66 (1) (d):
The Functions of the Authority shall be –
(d) to perform such acts and functions in accordance with law to enforce the provisions of this Act. (Emphasis added)
An inspector may prosecute or conduct before the Court any complaint or other proceedings arising under this Act or in the discharge of his duties as an inspector. (Emphasis added)
The Government cannot divorce itself from OSHA because it is PM Rowley who is responsible for appointing the members of the OSH Authority.
65. (1) The Authority shall consist of—
(a) a Chairman appointed by the Minister;
(b) a Deputy Chairman appointed by the Minister;
(c) the Executive Director of the Agency created under Part XIII of this Act;
(d) a representative of the Ministry responsible for occupational safety and health;
(e) a representative of the Ministry responsible for health;
(f) a representative of the Ministry responsible for energy industries;
(g) a representative of the body responsible for standards in Trinidad and Tobago;
(h) a representative of the Tobago House of Assembly; and
(i) nine other members appointed by the Minister in accordance with subsection (2).
The Minister of Labour would obviously have consulted and sought the Prime Minister’s approval on the persons the Government appointed to serve on this Authority. The Authority currently comprises:
Curt Cadet – Chairman;
Christopher Hagley – Deputy Chairman;
Dr. Wayne Ramgoolam
Marisa Ann Bhawanie
The Prime Minister must therefore come clean and tell the nation what the Government’s policy position is given the fact that the Commission has red flagged the limitation period for legal action by OSHA which expires on 24th February 2024. Dr. Rowley must also explain why, in the knowledge that this deadline was fast approaching, he suppressed this report and took two months to lay the report in Parliament. Was Dr. Rowley trying to run down the clock to save the skin of his friends Newman George, Michael Quamina, and Stuart Young when it was clear that prompt action was required, and the walls were closing in?
This Commission of Enquiry has cost taxpayers approximately 16 million dollars in fees. The multimillion-dollar legal fees that were paid out are as follows:
Paria’s Legal Team:
Gilbert Peterson SC
Date of Invoice
Legal Fees Billed (TTD)
2nd August 2022
11th August 2022
28th October 2022
10th November 2022
10th February 2023
22nd February 2023
20th March 2023
24th April 2023
Fees paid to the Commissioners and its legal team:
Senior Legal Counsel
Outstanding fees to the Commissioner and its legal team:
Senior Legal Counsel
Total Fees: $16,932,229.30
This Commission was nothing more than a feeding frenzy for PNM lawyers, friends, and financiers. Whilst the lawyers have fattened their pockets, the poor victims and their children have not received one red cent from the Government. The UNC maintains that we did not need a Commission of Enquiry to tell us what anyone with a modicum of common sense already knew: that Paria was guilty of gross negligence due to its mismanagement of this incident when they prevented rescue attempts that could have saved lives. We therefore call upon the Government to allocate a similar sum that they have paid the lawyers for the Commission of Enquiry and distribute it to the families.
Dr. Rowley must instruct Paria to accept liability for negligence and commence negotiations so that these families, who endured pain, suffering, and trauma in the aftermath of their loss, could get their just due. Whilst no amount of money can ever compensate them for their loss and the pain, suffering, trauma, and humiliation they have been made to endure at the hands of Paria, it will at least bring some measure of relief.
The Government has a habit of fattening the pockets of the rich and the one percent while ignoring the plight of the poor. Dr. Rowley may not run into them on the golf course, but their children deserve justice and respect from the State.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP
Leader of the Opposition
22nd January 2024