Senior Multimedia Reporter
As the country awaits the findings of the final report of the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the Paria Diving Tragedy and what action may come from them, more than $626 million taxpayers’ dollars have already been spent on the last six CoEs.
Not a single person has been held accountable, arrested or charged in connection with the last five CoEs to date.
On Wednesday, CoE Chairman Jerome Lynch, KC said the final cost of the Paria enquiry was approximately $15.5 million.
Chairman Lynch expressed confidence that the report ‘would see the light of day’, but the ultimate decision rests with the Cabinet which received a copy from President Christine Kangaloo on Friday.
The families of the four deceased divers: Rishi Nagassar, Kazim Ali Jr, Yusuf Henry and Fyzal Kurban have asked for copies of the report, while the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union called for the report to be made public.
Attorney Prakash Ramadhar told Guardian Media on Friday that he plans to correspond with the Prime Minister this week, formally requesting access to the report.
Stressing the urgency of public disclosure, Ramadhar said, “We appreciate that the Government will need to reflect deeply and release it publicly. We are asking for an expeditious release.”
Five CoEs commissioned before the Paria enquiry cost the State $611 million.
The Failure of CL Financial Limited, Colonial Life Insurance Company (Trinidad) Limited, CLICO Investment Bank Limited, British American Insurance Company (Trinidad) Limited, Caribbean Money Market Brokers Limited and the Hindu Credit Union Co-operative Society Limited CoE ended in 2013 and cost more than $500 million, according to former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi in 2019.
The final report was published on July 16, 2014, and made available to the public. The main prospective witness of the enquiry former CL Financial chairman Lawrence Duprey did not appear. According to its chairman Sir Anthony Colman, more than five million pages of documents were processed, while 77 lawyers appeared.
Counsel to the Paria CoE Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC described the Clico CoE as ‘a big waste of money’ in 2013, saying it did more harm than good, as it had the potential to prejudice a criminal probe into Clico’s collapse.
Maharaj said the enquiry should not have occurred in the first place and the millions of dollars spent to facilitate it should have instead been spent on resources for both the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the police “to retain the services of a forensic team to deal with the matter”.
In January 2009, insurance company Clico and some of its subsidiaries collapsed, resulting in a $17 billion bailout–the largest in the country’s history. The collapse caused a major financial shock not just in Trinidad but throughout the Caribbean, seriously impacting governments, organisations and individuals.
CoE into the Construction Sector
The CoE into the Construction Sector of T&T ended in 2009 and cost $46.2 million, according to former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal in 2011. The CoE, chaired by Prof Jon Uff, began in 2008 and ended in 2010.
Among its findings, the final report stated that “It is accepted that corruption is a problem of serious proportions in T&T ... to which the construction industry is particularly prone.
“... Udecott’s application of its own rules discloses a worrying lack of transparency, as well as inconsistency.”
The final 512-page report, which contained 91 recommendations, was made public.
CoE into the 1990 attempted coup
The CoE into the 1990 attempted coup cost $31.8 million, according to former attorney general Anand Ramlogan in 2013.
The CoE, chaired by Sir David Simmons, QC, began in 2010 and ended in 2013. The main prospective witness–the leader of the Jamaat al Muslimeen Yasin Abu Bakr failed to appear.
The report was made available to the public and among its findings, it stated that there were problems with the state’s intelligence-gathering system, as well as intelligence sharing between relevant intelligence agencies. It also stated that victims of the coup ought to be compensated, which has not happened to date.
“The Acting President, Mr Carter, signed the original and initialled a copy of the document. It is noteworthy that the amnesty did not cover any acts by the insurrectionists prior to 5.30 pm on 27 July and did not take account of the hostages at TTT. As the Commission explained in paragraphs 9.3 to 9.6 supra, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council held that the amnesty was invalid, principally because, at the time when the JAM received the amnesty, they did not treat the insurrection as at an end. They sought to continue negotiations in an effort to achieve further objectives. In so doing, they did not comply with the condition to which the amnesty was subject, namely, prompt compliance or, at least, compliance as soon as was practicable.
“Soon after the JAM invaded the Parliamentary Chamber, they battered Messrs. Robinson, Richardson and Selby Wilson and tied up all the MPs. The Chamber was reduced from its pristine state to a room of trembling, fearful bodies lying on the floor surrounded by congeries of armed, intimidatory villains. Chaos reigned,” other excerpts from the report stated.
CoE into the Las Alturas Towers
The CoE into the Las Alturas Towers project cost $24.5 million, according to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in 2016.
The CoE, chaired by retired Justice of Appeal Mustapha Ibrahim, was set up to investigate the construction of the Las Alturas Towers at Lady Young Gardens, Morvant. Former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar appointed the commission after two multi-storey units of the housing project began falling apart after construction and were designated for demolition.
The final report, presented in September 2016, stated that while there were no grounds for criminal proceedings, civil action could be taken against former Udecott chairman Calder Hart, former HDC managing director Noel Garcia, Udecott and the HDC for negligence in how the project was handled. Both Garcia and Hart filed lawsuits against the commissioners.
Prime Minister Rowley described the CoE as an absolute and colossal waste of time and money, as well as a witch-hunt.
CoE into the Solomon Hochoy Highway
Meanwhile, in October, it was revealed by Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Stuart Young that $11.6 million has been spent on the Commission of Enquiry into the Solomon Hochoy Highway expansion project.
He was then asked by Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal to say how much has been spent on that enquiry to date.
“So far, the taxpayers expected $3,196,000 in fees and then other expenses, approximately eight million dollars, so a total so far of fees and other expenses of 11.6 million dollars,” Young said.
In a media statement a short while after the information was released, Dr Moonilal referred to it as the “Stillborn CoE”.
He said the stunning revelation by Minister Young that the enquiry cost taxpayers $11 million without holding a single meeting “is another example of gross wastage” by the failed Rowley regime.
“Is this a case of ‘ghost meetings?’ Eleven million dollars is a lot for tea and sandwiches! This is madness, unacceptable and intolerable when hospitals go without critical medications and equipment,” Moonilal said.
The Oropouche East MP said the Government must provide a complete breakdown of spending on goods and services for this commission that has seen one scandal after another.
The CoE, chaired by retired Justice Sebastian Ventour, was announced in 2019. Minister Young, then national security minister, said the CoE was responsible for investigating apparent ‘unjustifiable’ expenses incurred by the state for lands–some of which are no longer needed for the project.
More than half a billion dollars was allegedly spent on land acquisition for the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway Extension under the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration.
On February 25, 2022, Christopher Boodram and four other divers were sucked into an underwater pipeline at number 36 Sealine Riser on Berth number six, Point-a-Pierre belonging to Paria Fuel Trading while doing maintenance. Boodram was the only survivor.
After massive public outcry about the emergency response, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley ordered a commission of enquiry in March 2022. This cost $15.5 million.
Other CoEs in T&T
(1) Report of the CoE Into the Oil Industry of Trinidad and Tobago in 1963-1964
(2) Report of the CoE Into All Aspects of Tenure of Building, Land in Trinidad and Tobago, Including the Complaints, Hardships, Problems and Other Incidents Arising From the Letting of “Building Land” in Trinidad and Tobago in 1977
(3) Report of the CoE into the Functioning of the Elections and Boundaries Commission of T&T in 2002
(4) Report of the CoE into the operation and delivery of public health care services in Trinidad and Tobago (The Commission was gazetted on August 12, 2004).