Month: April 2018

NEWS UPDATE: PM returned from London late Tuesday night

Dr. Rowley was set to return to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday afternoon and was expected to hold a media conference at the VIP Lounge at the Piarco International Airport at 4pm.

However, updates via the Office of the Prime Minister’s Twitter page indicated that their flight had been cancelled. He was then expected to land very late Tuesday night.

The Prime Minister will now address the media at tomorrow’s post Cabinet conference instead.

Rowley was accompanied by Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Stuart Young and Energy Minister Franklin Khan to the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in London, where during his time he met with the country’s Ambassador to London, Former Tobago House of Assembly Head, Orville London and hosted a meet and greet with the diaspora.

MEDIA RELEASE

Minister of Finance signs Policy-Based Loan Agreement to

Support Medium-Term Fiscal Consolidation

The Honourable Colm Imbert, Minister of Finance on Monday, April 23rd 2018 signed the first tranche of a Policy-Based Loan Agreement in the sum of US$180 million with the Corporación Andina De Fomento (CAF) Development Bank. The total loan of US$300 million will be used for the implementation of the Programme to support Government’s “Medium-term Fiscal Consolidation Strategy – Phase II”, to boost potential growth and reduce the economy’s vulnerability to external fluctuations and volatility of external terms of trade.

This programme aims to increase fiscal revenues; improve public expenditure efficiency and accountability; strengthen public debt management and promote fiscal policy sustainability. Policy actions which will be supported under the loan agreement include:

· Tax policy reform for the energy sector

· Corporation tax reform

· Implementation of an environmental tax

· Improve public procurement mechanisms

· Strengthening of the Central Audit Committee of the Ministry of Finance

· Review of the Public Debt Legislation

· Improvement of the Bond Market

· Establishment and operationalization of the National Investment Fund

· Monitoring fiscal consolidation progress

The loan is being pursued under the International Financial Organizations (Corporación Andina De Fomento) Act No. 5 of 2017.

‘CAF is a development bank created in 1970, owned by 19 countries – 17 of which are Latin American and Caribbean countries, Spain and Portugal- in addition to 13 private banks in the region.

CAF promotes a sustainable development model through credit operations, non-reimbursable resources, and support in the technical and financial structuring of projects in the public and private sectors of Latin America’.

-End-

MEDIA RELEASE

MINISTRY OF NATIONAL SECURITY
Corporate Communications Unit

MEDIA RELEASE

GOVERNMENT CLARIFIES INFORMATION ON ASYLUM SEEKERS

23 April, 2018

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago respects the rights of any person to seek asylum in Trinidad and Tobago and the decision of any foreign national to voluntarily return to their country of nationality.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago also has a right to repatriate any foreign national who is found to be in breach of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and will take the necessary steps to ensure repatriation. To this end the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the Government of Venezuela have been engaged in discussions to reduce the length of detention for those Venezuelan nationals in breach of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and to repatriate them to their homeland as soon as practicable.

Following revelations by the Chief Immigration Officer at a Joint Select Committee of Parliament on April 6th 2018, that 89 Venezuelan nationals were detained for various offences at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), officials from the Venezuelan Embassy visited the nationals detained at the IDC on Friday April 13th 2018 to ascertain their well-being and identify their needs for repatriation. Subsequently, at the request of the Venezuelan Ambassador, a meeting was held between the Ministry of National Security and the Venezuelan Embassy on Tuesday April 17th, 2018 to discuss the situation.

The Venezuelan Ambassador stated that her fellow citizens expressed a desire to return to Venezuela and she had assured them that the Government of Venezuela would do everything possible to assist them in returning home. The Minister of National Security also gave the assurance that his Ministry would work with the Embassy to facilitate the repatriation.

On Friday April 20th 2018, at the request of the Venezuelan Embassy, the Immigration Division facilitated all Venezuelan nationals in detention who agreed to go to their Embassy to obtain travel documents to return to Venezuela; 102 persons were transported to the Embassy. None of the nationals expressed fear or objection to be taken to the Embassy. The detainees were informed by the Venezuelan officials that a plane would be sent from Venezuela to take them home on Saturday April 21st 2018. At the same time, a diplomatic note was sent to the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs seeking permission to land a Venezuelan aircraft to specifically repatriate Venezuelan citizens detained at the Immigration Detention Centre.

On Saturday April 21st 2018, through the collaborative effort of the Ministry of National Security and the Venezuelan Embassy, a Venezuelan military aircraft landed at Piarco International Airport to effect the repatriation. Eighty-two (82) Venezuelan nationals comprising 53 men and 29 women voluntarily left the Immigration Detention Centre with Detention and Immigration Officers to be repatriated to their homeland. Nineteen (19) of the one hundred and two (102) could not be repatriated as warrants have been issued for them to serve varying terms of imprisonment in Trinidad and Tobago, having been convicted for various offences.

At the Airport, each person was asked if they had any fear or objection to returning to their homeland – all stated that they wanted to leave. Each signed the necessary documents for their departure before being handed their travel document by Immigration Officers and having their personal property checked by Customs officials. Prior to boarding the aircraft, each individual was again asked by a different set of officials if they had any fear of returning to their homeland; each again responded in the negative and willingly boarded a bus with their belongings to be taken to the aircraft. No one was forced or coerced to leave the IDC, board the bus or the aircraft. The entire exercise was recorded by the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has been collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to ensure the protection of persons fleeing persecution and will continue to support the work of the UNHCR while maintaining law and order and national security interests of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Immigration Division has received reports that foreign nationals have been entering the country and are being required to pay a fee to facilitate a claim for asylum, even though they are not entering the country as refugees. Further reports to the Immigration Division allege that these foreigners are being advised that that they cannot be ‘touched by Immigration’ once they receive an Asylum Seeker Certificate and that they can live and work freely in Trinidad and Tobago even though they do not have the requisite legal documents. These allegations are being investigated by the appropriate agencies.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago is concerned that many foreigners have entered the country illegally or have overstayed the landing permission granted to them by the Immigration Division and, as a result, may become susceptible to exploitation because of their irregular immigration status. These breaches of national security will not be tolerated by this Government and every effort will be taken to prevent exploitation of foreign nationals, while at the same time, we continue to protect this country’s borders.

Ferry Ferry, Quite Contrary

On January 7, 2018, Prime Minister Keith Rowley advised that a new passenger ferry vessel, had been purchased by the Government and was en route to Trinidad and Tobago from a port in Asia. Following that, on February 23rd, Finance Minister, Colm Imbert announced that the Government now officially owns the US $17.4 million dollar fast ferry that was due for arrival in April 2018.

Galleon’s passage, historically the name of the route between Trinidad and Tobago, can hold 700 passengers and 100 vehicles with an average one-way sailing time of four hours.

Concerns have been raised about the vessel’s ability to fulfil the requirements of the crossing on an ongoing basis and if the necessary approvals would have commenced.

As for the now departed Super Fast Galicia, state legal action against the broker has commenced for recovery of damages for breach of contract and its early departure.

But how did it get to this?

The details can be found in a report prepared by Christian Mouttet at the behest of the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs into the failed procurement of the Cabo Star and Ocean Flower 2.

Mouttet-Report

The report attached outlines a chronology of events from 2014 to 2017-

-The Charter Hire Agreement of the M.V. Superfast Galicia in May 2014 to its departure in April 2017

-The issuance of tender for the Charter Hire of a Cargo Vessel for three years

-The M.V. Atlantic Provider and Trinity Barge where Charter was entered into with owners of the vessels

-The M.V. Cabo Star and the approval and cancellation of its Charter Party Agreement

-The role of Bay Ferries Management Services and the termination of their services

-The Magellan Maritime Services engagement and their role in transitioning Fast Ferries from Bay Ferries

-The Management of the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago

-The M.V. Ocean Flower 2 and the approval and cancellation of its Charter Party Agreement

The report gives insight into the many factors and hindrances that led to the inefficiency of the sea bridge in the past year, and hopefully serves as a model for avoiding past oversights.

 

ICON’s Illegal Act

How could Anthony Deyal, the former Chief Executive of Government Information Services Limited (GISL), offer himself a contract at the same company he worked?

That’s what happened with Project ICON.

A thread of emails between Anthony Deyal and Mr. Doodnath Bhola, then chairman of GISL, in March 2015 suggests that Deyal had been acting illegally regarding Project ICON to the extent that the board at the time was concerned about his integrity.

Under the People’s Partnership, Project ICON (Integrated Communications Outreach Network) was launched as a one minute television serial meant to feature the views of ordinary people and for the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago to receive information on the ongoing work of the Government. The project sold itself as one so that all citizens regardless of region, religion or race would know how to access a vast variety of benefits and opportunities available.

Former Communication Minister, Maxie Cuffie in his contributions to the 2015-2016 budget debate claimed that GISL’s Project ICON, comprising video clips of PP Ministers speaking, cable ads and electronic billboards, was a “con job” done by a man who “had a way with words” and was the beneficiary of payments equalling $15 million. He claimed the project was called a strategic plan but was really a costly means to “enrich a few” and to aid the UNC in re-election via its message —“Your Government Working For You.” The Icon programme was meant to include the use of 500 screens and the service providers were paid in full, although only 50 screens were installed, Cuffie claimed. “The Project Icon was a web of mismanagement, vanity and waste.”

 

Talk Fuh So

Mr. Barry Padarath, Opposition MP for Princes Town is just one of the many members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the past regime that invoiced for exorbitant monthly phone calls that have presented itself as a blatant disregard for tax payers dollars, as well as an abuse of power and the treasury between 2010 and 2015, with his invoice for phone calls being the highest.

The graph below shows a total number of 18 invoices from the last quarter of 2010 to the first quarter of 2015 with the highest invoices being $90,459.06 in February 2015 and $35,832.08 in January 2015.

Why was there not a reasonable base cellphone allowance offered to Senators and MPs where any breach of cost beyond this allowance would be incurred by such Senator/MP in order to effectively monitor these privileges?

 

Faris Faux Pas

52 Cases Hanging and Legislation rejected- July 2015

  • In July 2015, AG Faris Al Rawi proposed legislation to address the 52 part-heard matters which hung in abeyance since the resignation of Marcia Ayers-Caesar in an effort to prevent similar scenarios from reoccurring, however abandoned this course of action soon after as the opposition rejected it. The opposition leader instead suggested a solution could be found under section 137 of the Constitution which speaks to the setting up of a Tribunal to investigate the conduct of the Chief Justice.
  • Ayers-Caesar then sought to have the interpretation summons filed by the AG struck out against her, with her attorney, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj claiming that the summons was an abuse of process against his client and that Al Rawi and the court had no jurisdiction.
  • The AG said that the interpretation summons was filed in the public’s interest as the rights of the accused under the unfinished cases were being violated.
  • Since then, it is uncertain how many of the 52 part-heard cases have been resolved.

AG’s Children Improperly Handle Guns- October 2015

  • In October 2015, AG Faris Al Rawi’s children were photographed improperly handling high powered military guns at the Cumuto facility. The TTDF remarked that they were in fact the AG’s children but were disallowed from handling the guns belonging to it. Contrary to this, Major Al Alexander commented that the children were not allowed to partake in the exercise but their curiousity allowed them to interact with the weapons.
  • The Prime Minister also clarified that they were in fact his children and that the photos were a serious breach of security on the part of the Defence Force, but the AG never admitted to the photographed children being his own.

The Ganja Statement- May 2016

“As attorney general, I strongly believed that we as a country needed to look towards the decriminalization of marijuana.”- Faris Al Rawi

  • In May 2016, the Prime Minister commented on the decriminalization of marijuana saying that the matter wasn’t discussed with Cabinet and as such the Government was not examining it at that time. The AG took matters into his own hand, without consensus at Cabinet level for the proposal, and without making a pronouncement on it.
  • He consulted with the CJ, DPP, acting CoP, religious heads, psychiatrists, foreign partners and legal colleagues on the issue, acknowledging that he received a substantial amount of data to support the decriminalization. But when asked about his position, he asserted that his ministry was reviewing several laws, including the Dangerous Drugs Act and that any studies, statistic-gathering and consultations would not be an overnight process with snap decision making.

Mark my words carefully- July 2016

  • In July 2016, Faris Al Rawi expressed that his statement about $12 billion in uncollected VAT was portrayed out of context by the media and the context needed to be understood. He clarified that he was highlighting outstanding liabilities on VAT, speaking about the issue over several years and that the figure was a combination of events, “actual amounts due, interest, penalties on those amounts over a span of a number of years, including the estimation of what should have been in the system, but what was not in the system.”
  • The question about the collection of $12 billion that year was posed to Finance Minister, Colm Imbert, who was absent when the discussion took place, but expressed he had no idea how Al Rawi arrived at that figure. He explained that the State planned to regain a targeted $500 million in outstanding taxes via a tax amnesty.

Galicia reports still pending…-April 2017

  • Upon Al Rawi’s perusal of documents received by Works Minister Rohan Sinanan, that alluded to corruption in the Super Fast Galicia’s six month contract resulting in a two year assignment, the AG agreed to produce a comprehensive report and particulars about the corrupt practices of high office holders involved and as instructed by the Prime Minister, “to identify the culprits”.
  • He called for further documents as it related to the vessel’s procurement and transaction to assist in his investigation and make the relevant recommendations according to law. Reports are yet to be received.
  • Claims made against Nyree Alfonso that she was the broker used to acquire the Galicia were denied, saying that she assisted in the procurement of the vessel but has never been a broker in her life. She said that she used her expertise to source the vessels but did not participate in tender or evaluation and the Port Authority deemed the Galicia acceptable.

Opposition Mischief- October 2017

  • In October 2017, Al Rawi was accused by Dr. Roodal Moonilal who produced a series of text messages between Al Rawi and Mark Adams that alluded to the planting of recording devices in the office of opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen. Adams confessed to being contacted by Al Rawi several times in 2016 and agreed to break into the Senator’s office, as well as being bribed with $100,000 for the cellphone that contained the messages.
  • Al Rawi denied all claims. The Prime Minister called it “Opposition Obfuscation”.

ISIS Terror Cell- Yes, No, Uncertain, Hiding?- February 2018

  • In Parliament on February 16th 2018, the Prime Minister was asked of the existence of an ISIS Terror Cell operating in T&T, to which he responded with a simple “yes”.

  • He said, “Many of them have been intercepted in Turkey, in Britain, some have been returned to Trinidad and Tobago, some are in custody in foreign countries; persons who seek to join ISIS and in fact as ISIS has been dispersed in Iraq and Syria that doctrine now is spread to homeland activities and therefore we have to be particularly concerned about such persons and the monitoring of such persons is an integral part of our national security and the answer to the question is yes.”
  • Contrary to this, Al Rawi criticized media reports saying that there was no such acknowledgement by the PM. UNC MPs Suruj Rambachan, Rodney Charles and Barry Padarath all expressed that the PM’s statement of its admission was very clear and could be found live to review at any time on the internet and criticized the AG for his “game-playing”, contradictory statements as well as accused him of ulterior motives.

Sabbatical-Vacation Leave- March 2018

  • Al Rawi commented that “the papers are nearly finished in terms of settling” after he took the relevant steps to clarify whether such a leave existed for members of the Judiciary after CJ Ivor Archie applied for Sabbatical leave, before changing it to vacation leave when controversy ensued.
  • The AG said that they were expected to file in a couple of days at the High Court, asking for an interpretation, and then to proceed with the matter.
  • He makes mention of treating with the matter carefully as the Judiciary is independent in the arrangement of our democracy and if parties consent to treating with the matter on an expedited basis, it will certainly be expedited, making clear that “What is required is clarity in relation to the law and certainty to our constitutional arrangements so that we get this right moving forward.”

Land and Company Registries- March 2018

The AG rejected any claims that the Land and Company Registry is not operational on March 21st, 2018. He confessed to restrictions on the system the following month but assured that a manual system of checking at the registry had been undertaken. The system is operational and the online version will be getting a turbo boost, with over 5.8 million records being scanned and made accessible to the public online.