Day: July 27, 2018

PM announces Coast Guard to get two new vessels

Today, PM Keith Rowley visited the Coast Guard Headquarters at Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas.

The PM received a brief from senior officers of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard regarding their ongoing activities as well as toured the facility and vessels.

After his tour, the PM announced during a press conference that Cabinet has decided to place an order with ship maker Austal for two vessels for the coast guard through a financing arrangement courtesy the Australian Government.

This, he said, as a part of the Government’s efforts to secure T&T’s borders and provide the coast guard with capabilities that it currently does not possess.

The vessels are expected to be ready before the end of 2020.

Remember when- Trinidad’s 1990 failed Coup attempt

Twenty-eight years ago on Friday July 27, 1990, the country experienced what to this day many described as its darkest hour, when armed insurrectionists stormed the country’s seat of democracy, the Parliament at the Red House, shot the then prime minister and held several people including a number of parliamentarians hostage.

Simultaneously, 72 other rebels attacked the lone television station TTT. Leader of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, then appeared on TV and announced that the Government had been overthrown and he was negotiating with the army. Bakr urged calm and said there should be no looting.

The armed insurgents ordered then Prime Minister ANR Robinson to call off the security forces. However, he instead instructed the military to attack with full force. Robinson was then beaten and shot in his right leg.

Despite calls by the leader of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen for calm and no looting, violence and looting erupted in Port of Spain. Looters wreaked havoc in the capital city, with businesses being raided of appliances and food.

After six days of negotiation, the insurrection ended on August 1, 1990, with an amnesty granting the insurrectionists their freedom. By then, 24 people including Member of Parliament Leo Des Vignes was killed during the insurgency and Port-of-Spain was reduced to rubble and destruction. Apart from businesses being looted, buildings were also set fire.

An eternal flame which was set up in remembrance of those killed, burns no more and is now according to Parliament sources, in storage as the renovations at the Red House are yet to be completed.

Whenever those repairs are completed the eternal flame which once stood on the Abercromby Street side of the Parliament will be moved to the Knox Street side of the Parliament, where the remains of the first people will also be interred.

Joseph Toney, who was minister of National Security at the time said he was “shocked when the men walked in with guns, it was the last thing on the mind of anyone that individuals would arm themselves and storm the Parliament and claim the government.”

The Jamaat al Muslimeen, which led the insurrection, claimed they did it because of social conditions after IMF conditionalities were imposed by the then NAR government led by Prime Minister ANR Robinson.

Toney said, “When we came into government the treasury was virtually empty after 30 years of continuous PNM rule and after we had an oil boom in the 1970’s. We had no other alternative but to go to the IMF to get sustenance and programmes to take the country forward.”

He admitted that the IMF programmes were “harsh, there is no doubt about that.” But he said the then government shared in the burden. “People did make sacrifices and lost part of their salaries and cost of living allowances (COLA) but government ministers also took cuts in their salaries and gave up COLA,” he said.

Toney said while many saw the programmes as “tough and caused much pain,” they had the required effect “they stabilised the country and led us to a path of growth.”

Toney described the insurrection as “senseless, unwarranted, it solved no problems but created many, many more problems for the country. Many people needlessly lost their lives and many people lost their property.”

Twenty-eight years later Toney said he believes that the country is “reaping what was sown in the events of 1990.”

He said, “The use of guns became more prevalent after those events and certain individuals because they wore the Muslim garb, the headpiece, the gown and army boots, they felt emboldened and they felt they were untouchable.”

Toney defended the amnesty which led to the freedom of the insurgents and which led to the end of the insurrection four days later on August 1 saying, “I don’t know what would have happened had they not had the amnesty because that of course brought all the happenings at both the Red House and TTT to a halt. Now I don’t know if it was a turn of events that also saved the Muslimeen but I daresay I welcome it. It saved my life.”

After receiving the promise of amnesty from the government. The group was arrested and taken into custody. They were tried for treason, however, they were released as the Court of Appeal upheld that they were promised an amnesty.

In 2010, then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced a Commission of Inquiry into the events surrounding the 1990 attempted coup.

The findings of the Inquiry can be read here: 1990 Coup

CEPEP’s Vanished Expenditure Records

Yesterday, Chairman Ashton Ford revealed that the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme’s (CEPEP) expenditure records for the period 2013 to 2015, amounting to more than $1.5 billion in funds, cannot be found.

He said there is no trace of the accounting information on the computer system and he had received information that documents had been deliberately destroyed.

“I was told that there was a shredding spree prior to the September 7, 2015, General Election”.

Ford said, as it stands now, the audit for that period cannot be completed because the records cannot be found. He said the records relate to the company’s expenses, including payments to contractors and staff for that period. Ford said the management encountered this situation when they were appointed in 2016.

Speaking earlier at yesterday’s press conference, CEPEP general manager Keith Eddy said from what he understands the accounts for the three years involved annual expenses of between $500 and $600 million.

“We have been unable to recover any of the information, hence it is very difficult for the current management team to check the 2015 external audit which was done on the company, given that we have no information that we could double check. So we keep trying to work with the auditor in order to get the audit closed off,” Eddy said.

Eddy said they are trying to source the information through bank records and now trying “to build the whole accounting profile all over again.” Asked how the information went missing in the first place, Eddy said the management team was “just told when we got here that there was no information available through the computer system that they were using.” He said they also could find no paperwork.

“But the information was also kept on the server, which I guess would have crashed or whatever and we just don’t have the information,” he said. Noting that several attempts have been made to recover the data, he said they even enquired from Price Waterhouse Coopers whether they had “any kind of software or anything” to help them recover the information, but to no avail.

Addressing recent claims of possible collusion and favouritism in the award of CEPEP contracts raised this week by former People’s Partnership minister Devant Maharaj, Ford said there was absolutely no truth to claims that People’s National Movement party supporters were being favoured for contracts.

However, he asked, “But what is wrong with PNM people getting contracts and the UNC kept it for eight years and the media remain quiet. Why?” Asked if Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Kazim Hosein has anything to do with the award of contracts, he said, “The Minister is like everybody else. People call the minister for help, they call the MP for help, they call the mayor for help, they call the councillor, the chairman, the opposition call us and we work with them.

“Because let me tell you when you have this company, this company cannot say they cleaning A because A is PNM and leaving out B. You have to clean the country and that is the point I am making and that is why Dr Moonilal can say it is nothing strange for people to call and ask for help. He said it and they were there for eight years. And now people getting contract they want to know if it is PNM. Is that fair?”

Asked if it was normal practice for a minister to ask that a contract is given to a specific person, he said, “We cannot guarantee that. You have to go through a process.

“When the Tender Committee meet they have to make sure that the people fulfil the requirements and no minister can help you there and no MP can help you there, you know. If you do not fulfil that requirement that is it.”

He noted that some contractors have been with CEPEP for eight years. An informant who leaked a voice recording of an alleged conversation between Hosein and La Brea MP Nicole Olivierre over the award of CEPEP contracts has reportedly gone into hiding after receiving threats on the issue, but Ford said that was the joke of the century.

“Work with whoever is appointed” – Young

Acting Attorney General, Stuart Young expressed that former national security minister Gary Griffith’s status as a witness in a case against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan does not debar him from being appointed the next Commissioner of Police (CoP).

Leader of Government Business Camille Robinson-Regis yesterday said she received a notification from President Paula-Mae Weekes of the Police Service Commission (PSC)’s nomination of Griffith as CoP. She said the House will sit on Monday at 1.30 pm to debate the nomination.

Young said: “We are following the process of law, the Constitution and the particular order for the appointment of CoP.”

While Robinson-Regis previously said the selection process used by the PSC was flawed, Young said one needed to carefully examine what happened from the first meeting of the Special Select Committee (SSC), appointed to examine the process, to debate on the nominations of Deodat Dulalchan, Harold Phillip and Stephen Williams to clearly identify “what the issues and what the difficulties were with the process and procedure.”

The SSC’s report had stated that having regard to its observations/findings, the SSC considered “that in many respects the manner in which the entire process was conducted by the PSC was defective and unreliable and may expose the PSC to allegations of arbitrariness and lack of transparency.”

However, another SSC member, UNC MP Ganga Singh, said the SSC didn’t find anything illegal.

Another SSC member, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, agreed members had signed off on the report and “….on Monday any questions will be answered.”

Young said, “It did not rule out the order of merit list.”

Saying the law is “very, very clear” about the legitimacy of the list, he said, “The procedure set out is that a name comes forward. It is up to the majority of Parliament to say yea or nay and to go through the list as has happened in the past.”

Young made it clear that any person who is still on the list can be chosen as CoP.

On Griffith being involved in the witness-tampering case which Police Complaints Authority director David West brought against Ramlogan, Young said, “I don’t see that as precluding him at all.”

He added, “In fact, if it’s anything, it might be an endorsement on his character that he was fearless and ready to stand up for the truth at a particularly difficult time.”

Griffith and Ramlogan were fired in February 2015 by then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar after West made his complaint to the police against Ramlogan.

Griffith claimed he was pressured by his former Cabinet colleagues not to support West’s complaint. Persad-Bissessar also called for West to resign.

On the Police Social and Welfare Association saying it will not work with Griffith if he is appointed, Young said, “ I think it is wrong to take an attitude up front that they are not going to work with any particular person unless there is a very, very good reason.

“I think they are anticipating a lot if Mr Griffith is selected as the CoP.”

Young hoped as a citizen that the members of the Police Service “would do what is right for the country and work with who is decided as the next CoP.”

UNC’s Rushton Paray said, “I don’t know him personally but I’ve experienced his National Security work over 2013-14 when I saw the most amount of police in my area. Whether he’s confirmed or not, it’ll be an exciting time. I look forward to whoever’s chosen dealing with the crime situation.”

UNC’s Rudy Indarsingh said, “Gary is a competent person having served in the Defence Force.”

Young urged reporters to “wait on Monday to see what Parliament decides.”