OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has asked whether any senior officials at Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd had their employment contracts renewed before the Paria Commission of Enquiry (CoE) report was laid in the House of Representatives on January 19.
She asked this at the end of the UNC’s second anti-crime town hall meeting at Naparima College, San Fernando, on Monday.
The CoE report dealt with an accident at Paria’s Pointe-a-Pierre facility on February 25, 2022, when divers Christopher Boodram, Kazim Ali Jnr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar were repairing a 30-inch pipeline and were sucked into it. Only Boodram survived.
Persad-Bissessar said she heard claims that the employment contracts of two Paria officials named in the report were extended before it was laid in the House.
“So how can you do that? Who’ll guard the guards?
“If they were the ones the report found was culpable in their behaviour, then why did you renew their contracts secretly during the period before the report was made public?”
She said this was a question for the Government to answer.
Persad-Bissessar also asked whether the alleged renewal of the contracts of the officials was done by Paria’s board or the Cabinet.
“If people are culpable in doing their jobs…One of our speakers said tonight, if you hire somebody to do a job and they can’t do it, you fire them. You don’t go and renew their contract for two more years.”
During the meeting, Vanessa Kussie (Nagassar’s widow) and Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) Pointe-a-Pierre branch president Christopher Jackman reiterated their call for compensation for the divers’ families. They said they intended to continue to protest outside Paria’s Pointe-a-Pierre facility until the company meets with the families.
The families, members of the OWTU and UNC protested there on January 25.
Kussie and Jackman said then that Paria would have a week to meet with the families, or there would be further protests.
Paria officials were unavailable on Tuesday to respond to Persad-Bissessar’s claims and on calls for a meeting with the divers’ families.
Responding to questions from UNC MPs Dr Roodal Moonilal and David Lee in the House on January 26, the Prime Minister said Government cannot direct state-owned Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd to make any financial payments to the families.
“This is not a matter for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to jump in.
“This is a matter where a state company had an accident in a situation where a contract was being executed by a private company…
“So the Government cannot just jump in and decide to pay compensation willy-nilly all over the place. We have to follow processes.”
Moonilal asked whether the families would have to await the outcome of a lengthy legal process before they receive any compensation.
Rowley replied, “I said no such thing. I said there is significant legal exposure to the taxpayers at all levels with respect to responsibilities, and I said that the situation is being properly reviewed by the board of Paria, a state entity, and others.”