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Updated: 1 hour 43 min ago

Cheaper fuel has airlines soaring to record profits

12 hours 58 min ago

DALLAS—For airlines, the record profits keep coming, thanks to cheaper jet fuel. Like motorists, airlines have been saving money at the pump since oil prices began plunging last summer. Even with a recent increase, the spot price of jet fuel is down 40 per cent since September. Airlines are getting such a price break that profits are surging even though their revenue is flat or declining.

At American Airlines, passengers flew fewer miles and revenue declined two per cent in the first quarter. But thanks to a US$1.36 billion cut in its fuel bill, American reported Friday that it earned a first-quarter record US$932 million. The other three US airline giants reported similar results in recent days:

• United Airlines posted record first-quarter earnings of US$508 million, even though revenue dipped one per cent; it saved more than US$1 billion on fuel.
• Delta more than tripled its net income to US$746 million after spending US$600 million less on fuel.
• Southwest tripled its profit to a record US$453 million; fuel savings were US$437 million.

Those are stunning results when you consider that the first quarter is usually the weakest of the year for airlines. From 2000 through 2013, the nation’s airlines lost money in the first quarter every year but one, according to government figures. (AP)

Rowley pledges major reform

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 23:58

Trinidad and Tobago will see sweeping reforms in the way the country is governed should the People’s National Movement become the next government following the 2015 general election, its political leader Dr Keith Rowley says. 

In a sit-down interview with the T&T Guardian on Friday, Rowley shared his vision for T&T, which included making the role of MP a full-time job, creating a new post whose office holder would monitor and report on MPs’ behaviour and strengthening oversight of government spending. He said “insufficient time” was being spent on the major assignment of the Parliament, namely examining the work of the executive. 

“That is the problem and the main reason is that most of the people who are ministers busy with ministerial duties are not available to the Parliament, or there are opposition members who are operating on a part-time understanding,” he said. This, Rowley said, had to change and he had put on record his commitment to bringing about that change, putting all MPs on notice that more would be expected of them. He said even the opposition MPs had to be full time.

“Members of Parliament, for example, those who are not ministers, must be deemed full time. If that is the case, opposition members, whoever they are, PNM, whoever it is, opposition MPs must be available to the Parliament as operatives to spend more time on these issues. It is making a bigger demand on members’ time,” he said.

He said he expected that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar or prime ministers in general would not accept his plan because they “do not like systems of oversight over their government.” “When I had to say the reason I was fired (in 2008) was over Udecott, all hell broke loose,” he recalled as he referred to his tumultuous relationship with former prime minister Patrick Manning, who dismissed him as housing minister.

He said he was removed because he demanded accountability from Udecott, which at the time was “out of control.” Proper oversight of Udecott, he added, would have prevented the situation where it was facing a commission of enquiry and the then PNM government “would never have ended up in that situation reported in the Uff Commission.”

The commission uncovered poor procurement practices and gross administrative deficiencies. He lamented that a new government (the People's Partnership) came in after that problem and worsened the problem.

“The Government did absolutely nothing following our experience of 2009 and 2010, but this Government became a Government of the largest Cabinet ever, so instead of fixing the problem the Government worsened the problem,” he said. The PNM, he said, paid the penalty in the 2010 general election for poor oversight by losing office.

“We did not cry, we set about to fix it. I am here now standing on that solid ground with the full party support” to undertake the needed reform, he said.

Salary hike necessary
Rowley said logically, if MPs were moved from a part-time arrangement to a full-time one and emoluments were computed on that basis, then their salaries should reflect the increased commitment. “We are saying we need our parliamentarians full time...It does not affect ministers because ministers are in fact functioning full time, and are compensated as full time,” he said.

The PNM leader, who acknowledged there would be some resistance to his plans, said he was committed to bringing accountability and transparency back into government to fulfil the mandate of Section 75 (1) of the Constitution. That section states as follows: “There shall be a Cabinet for Trinidad and Tobago which shall have the general direction and control of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and shall be collectively responsible therefore to Parliament.”

He contended that the Parliament had authority to hold people publicly accountable. “I am raising this not in the context of this Opposition and this Government. 

“I could go one step back to the last government, where I was a member of that last government and I got fired from that government for making these very points, that there is need for better oversight of the Cabinet by the Parliament,” he said. Cabinet was responsible for the executive management of the country and was accountable to the Parliament, he said. He noted, however, oversight of Cabinet by the Parliament had proved ineffective during successive administrations.

Rowley said in carrying out the public administrative reform he envisaged, one of the first tasks would be streamlining Cabinet, reducing it from the present 30 ministries to 20. “That is a commitment the PNM is making. There will be a smaller Cabinet. 

“In other words, fewer MPs will be in the Cabinet to form the executive, so there are fewer MPs and that makes for a more efficient Cabinet dealing with policy and other serious matters. In terms of oversight, it means that there will be more members in the Parliament to do what the Constitution says, which is to have the Cabinet account to the Parliament,” he said.

He declined to say which ministries would be axed. However, he said the Ministries of Tobago Affairs and Local Government were not necessary. The Tobago House of Assembly, he said, was the statutory creature with overriding power for Tobago and the Tobago Affairs Ministry was a political tool created by this Government.

The numerous parliamentary standing committees, many of which were now ineffective due to the unavailability of MPs, would ensure accountability, he said. 

Rowley said the current two hours for a committee meeting to review the reports of state agencies and enterprises was insufficient. Further, he said the infrequency of committee meetings, including those of the Public Accounts Committee, Joint Select Committee and Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, enabled corruption. “The best thing you can do for this country is improve our monitoring systems. As you monitor you report and you hold people accountable.

“I am not saying persecute or prosecute people, I am simply saying hold them accountable and come before the parliamentary committee,” he said. Rowley said he had the support of his election candidates and his party for his reforms.

“I am not giving the cabinet details. But a PM who wants to run a good government should not be afraid of his ministry being subjected to parliamentary oversight. It would assist the government to perform better and that is not something to be afraid of, it is something to be embraced,” the PNM leader concluded.

He is also proposing the creation of a new position of Head Of Standards and Ethics, with powers to monitor and report to Parliament on matters relating to the behaviour of Members of Parliament. 

“This office, independent in its actions but part of the parliamentary oversight structure, could expose wrongdoing to the Parliament where there are breaches and do so in a transparent and timely manner for Parliament to deal with members without the delays and other procrastinations of the extra parliamentary processes.”

Busy weekend for NEDTF

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 23:53

North Eastern Division Task Force (NEDTF) officers have arrested two suspects in connection with the latest murder in their division. The victim has been identified as Gerald Nelson, 43, of Second Caledonia, Morvant. 

According to police reports, Nelson and  Jelani Coa were liming at a house on Sugar Hill, Cipriani Avenue, just after 4 pm on Saturday when two gunmen approached and started shooting at them. Nelson was hit several times while Coa was hit in the leg. Nelson died on the spot while Coa was taken to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital where he remained in a stable condition up to yesterday. The gunmen escaped on foot.

Sgt Augustine and Cpls Jones and Constantine visited the scene and held two suspects within hours of the shooting. Investigations are continuing. The murder toll now stands at 121.

Meanwhile, the weapon believed to have been used in the murder of Barataria resident Nigel “Kumo” George was also found during a routine exercise by NEDTF officers on Saturday.

On Monday last around 10 pm, George, 44, of Sawmill Avenue, was found with gunshots about the body by officers attached to the Morvant CID and Hotspot Patrol who had responded to a report of gunshots in the area. He was taken to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.  

On Saturday between 2 pm and 6 pm, the NEDTF, led by Sgt Liston Taylor and including Cpls Small, Quashie and Constables Williams, Antoine, Voisin, Samuel, Edwards and WPC Moore, conducted an exercise in the division.

Acting on information received, the officers went to Small Street, Sawmill Avenue, Morvant, where they searched an abandoned bushy lot. In a shallow hole the officers found an AR-15 5.56 machine with a magazine and 17 rounds of 5.56 ammunition all wrapped in clear plastic wrap. 
NEDTF officers also seized a machine gun, shotgun and two 9mm pistols during an exercise on Friday.

Investigations are being conducted by Cpl Small and PC Samuel. The officers also seized a machine gun, shotgun and two handguns on Friday.

Life’s a Beach—with Bob

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 23:49

My name is Stuart Saldenah and I am a cashier in a gourmet grocery store.

I’m from Diamond Vale. I went to St Anthony’s College. I was happy there, I wouldn’t lie. I did well but, honestly, I’m not a lover of school. I’d rather work: start off small and, hopefully, one day be successful to opening my own clothing business.

I come from a small family: mother; father; one brother, older than me. He’s 28. I’m 21. You could say my life has now begun.

I have no children yet and don’t want anytime soon. I’m looking to find a steady job first. I’m more focussed on working, so I can get some money. Build nest before you get bird.

I play hockey with Fatima Hockey Club. I’m a goalkeeper. If we win, I don’t get noticed, if we lose, I get blamed. But I have faith in my team in front of me. I started hockey with Fatima’s Future Sticks, so I grew up into the club.

When people look in from outside the shop, they think it’s going to be really expensive. But when they come in, “They’re like, ‘Wow! I thought this was going to cost plenty more!’” Some people say our meats are a little high, but it’s the quality of cut you’re getting. I shop there myself. I love our rib-eye.

I can’t cook, but I could barbecue, how men barbecue: the women cut up the meat, season it, make the sauce, put in a bowl. Then the man comes along and drinks two beers and puts it on the fire. My mother does the preparation.

I like Black Label rum and Johnny Walker Black Label. So maybe it’s the label I really like.

My mum and dad have been together for 25 years. A lot of couples nowadays wouldn’t stay married that long. The thing is, my family is very, very close. Every day, we meet in the kitchen and talk about how each other’s day was.

If I get married, I want to stay married. It’s too much stress: having a child and getting divorced. Puts stress on the child, too. It’s not good.

I’m not much of a reader and I don’t like movies much. I’m more of a nature guy. I like the outdoors. I’d rather go to the beach than MovieTowne. I’ve hiked all over Trinidad. But I never went up El Tucuche.

Sunday, my one day off, I wake up early. And spend the whole entire day on the beach.

It is getting dangerous and dangerous every day, but I’m not really scared of crime. You hardly hear of an innocent person dying. Yeah, you get your odd innocent being killed, wrong place at the wrong time, that’s unfortunate – but crime seems more gang- or drug-related. I could be wrong. But, still, you have to watch your back.

People come from places like Barbados and, when they hear five people got killed in a day, they find it shocking. But, by me living in it, I get so accustomed hearing it all the time – okay, six people died today —it’s like no big news to you.

I love Tobago. It’s beautiful.

I love reggae music. My favourite artist – obviously—is Bob Marley, even if he was dead before I was born. That’s the power of his music right there. My favourite song from him is “Redemption Song” because it has so much power into it. If you listen to his exact words, he sends a very powerful message. I love, love, love, love, love, love Bob Marley. I have all his music. Downloaded.

My grandfather, Harold Saldenah, was a mas’ maker. My father is a DJ – Junior Saldenah. That’s my family. So I was brought up into music and all of that. That was kinda in me from the start.

Tobago last year, they had a party in No Man’s, and everybody left their plastic rubbish all over. My friends and I stayed back after the party and helped clean up.

Trini people are happy and inviting. To prove Trinis are inviting: a lot of foreigners come to Trinidad for Carnival. I would say Trinis help one another sometimes. My friends, the people I lime with, are always willing to help a stranger.

Without Trinidad and Tobago, I wouldn’t be myself. Trinidad & Tobago made me who I am. And I’m grateful.

• Read a longer version of this feature at www.BCRaw.com

HDC lottery winners admit Pros and cons to method used

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 23:40

Some applicants for Housing Development Corporation (HDC) units believe that the recent lottery draw used to generate names for houses may not be fair to those who have been on a waiting list for decades. Speaking in an interview after going to the HDC’s South Quay, Port-of-Spain headquarters for their interview packages yesterday, some applicants admitted that while they had been fortunate to benefit from the lottery draw, they were feeling it for those who have been waiting for several years without success.

Katrina Lewis, who is a document processor at the Office of the Attorney General and lives in Laventille, said the lottery system has its pros and cons. “It has its ups and downs. I thought that they would have chosen from a group that was waiting 30 years, another waiting about 15 years and those who have been waiting more recently. There are some people who have been waiting for many years,” she said.

The applicants began collecting interview packages on Saturday, continued doing so yesterday and will continue next weekend during the hours of 9 am to 4 pm at the HDC. The packages contain dates for the applicants to return for their interviews,  expected to begin next weekend, as well as the requirements for gaining a unit. Some 500 applicants were selected to receive housing units during a lottery draw on April 15.

Speaking at the lottery draw two weeks ago, Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal said more than 160,000 applications exist in the HDC’s database and while not everyone could be accommodated, he assured that the random lottery afforded everyone an equal chance at being selected. He said under the current system, 60 per cent of applicants would be randomly selected, 25 per cent would be selected based on ministerial discretion, ten per cent allocated for the protective services and five per cent to senior citizens and physically challenged people.

Yesterday, Lewis said she had been waiting for 17 years to be called for an interview and was “pretty excited” about the prospect of owning her own home. “I was totally speechless when I got the news. I applied for an HDC house when I was 18 years old. “I am 35 years now and the day has finally arrived for me. For two years they had been telling me that my name is pending on the list,” she said.

Clint Gomez, from San Fernando, echoed the sentiment that the lottery system has its ups and downs. “In a way it is fair and also it is unfair. Some people recently applied for a house and others applied many years ago, yet through the lottery system everyone has the same equal chance. But it is the right of the HDC to use a system that is best for them.” He said the price of housing in T&T was out of reach for most ordinary citizens and that anyone who gets an HDC house should consider himself or herself lucky.

Susan Mahadeo has been waiting for an HDC house for 13 years. “I really did not expect this. I have a family and waited for many years,” she said. Christal Chan-Ramsaran, an accounts assistant from Oropune Gardens, Piarco, said this was her second time being called for an interview and she hopes she will hit gold this time.

“I have been waiting for a house for ten years. I was interviewed two years ago and I was not successful. I hoping that this time I meet all the requirements to obtain a house.” She said she believes the present housing market keeps ordinary working people from accessing a house and called house prices “ridiculous.”

“Getting a house these days is a far-fetched dream for any ordinary person and is not something that people feel that they could achieve, so getting an HDC house is really good,” Chan-Ramsaran said. Her husband is a taxidriver and she said the HDC has a long list of criteria one must meet in order to get a house. “They want to see what your salary is, where you work, if you already own property and a lot of other things. Two years ago I did not get through, this time I am hoping for the best,” she said.

Public should call CCJ’s fate

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 23:37

There should be a nationwide referendum to determine T&T’s final court of appeal. This was the unanimous view of the panellists at a public education programme on whether the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) should replace the Privy Council as the final court of appeal at Gaston Court, Chaguanas, yesterday. 

The forum, hosted by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC, was held to help inform the public of the need for a referendum on the issue and panellists included former prime minister Basdeo Panday, former MP Mickela Panday, Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner and leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) David Abdulah.

All the panellists stressed that before the Government can abolish the Privy Council and use the CCJ as the final court of appeal, it must first get a nationwide referendum. Mickela Panday said before there could be a verdict on the issue there should be a decision on who gets to make that choice: the government of the day or the people.

“The answer is simple, it is the people. The Caribbean Court of Justice should not replace the Privy Council without a general vote by the electorate on that single issue,” she said. Noting that there is mistrust locally in the legal and judicial agencies, Panday (M) questioned if it was wise to make such a drastic change to the judicial system without public approval.

“Can it safely be said that public confidence in our institutions, the Government itself, the regulatory agencies, the police service, the health service to name a few, is so high that Parliament ought to take a bold step without the public approval of the people themselves?” she said. While a referendum is important, Basdeo Panday emphasised that there should be a total education programme around the issues with the two courts of appeal. This way, he said the citizens would be well informed while voting on the matter.

“In order to ensure that the decision truly reflects the wishes of the people, they must know and they must understand the issues that are involved. We must educate the people in all aspects of this matter,” Panday (B) said. Describing a referendum as a direct vote of the people, Panday said the referendum question must also be simple and straight froward.

“There is nothing more powerful nor more just in a democracy. In a referendum, you submit it in its simplest form for the people to answer,” he said. “The ballot paper, I suggest humbly, if we are going for a referendum, the question on a referendum must be short, simple, precise and exact. “The ballot paper in this case must ask the simple question, ‘Do you agree that the Privy Council should be abolished as the final court of appeal in Trinidad and Tobago?’ That and that alone must be asked.” 

Arguing that the public had lost confidence in the country’s justice system, Panday said by involving the people in the decision there would be a stronger sense of ownership and faith in the CCJ. Panday said the people must have faith in the justice system or people would seek their own form of justice. He noted that people have been harming and murdering their neighbours over legal issues like property boundary lines.

“If people do not have confidence in the law then they will take it into their own hands...Confidence in the courts is a must for every civilised society,” Panday said.

No respect for law

Warner also stated that there should be an education drive in order for there to be a fair referendum. “People should not just be asked to vote for or against the Privy Council, but you have to educate them. Let them know the good the bad and the ugly. Far too often people vote on issues and they do not know what they are voting for,” Warner said.

Warner noted that there is a lot of opportunity for there to be bias and political interference by the judges. He said a perception currently exists that all of our institutions had been compromised. “You have to go to the Privy Council, which is detached from the Caribbean society, to get justice,” he said.

Abdulah, who was the only speaker for the CCJ becoming the final court of appeal, said there needs be constitutional reform first, to make referendums legal, before the government removes the Privy Council. He said if there was greater participation from the citizens in government issues, the political systems and the country would regain their faith in the justice system.

​Cop held in bribe sting

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 23:33

A Siparia police constable has been arrested for allegedly accepting a $500 bribe from a man whom he arrested with two cocaine rocks in March and subsequently released without charge. Today, the Director of Public Prosecutions is expected to give officers instructions on what charges to lay against the 42-year-old officer, who has 20 years service. He faces soliciting a bribe and misbehaviour in public office charges.

The officer remains in police custody after he was arrested on Saturday in a sting operation led by Inspector Anderson Pariman of the South Western Division. Police reports state that on March 24, the officer detained a man, searched him and found two cocaine rocks on him. The officer allegedly told the man he would not charge him if he gave him $2000. 

The man agreed to pay him and they made arrangements to met. The man then reported the officer to the police and a sting operation was organised. On Saturday evening the officer went to China City Restaurant, Siparia, where he met the man and collected a $500 downpayment. The officer was immediately arrested and taken to the Siparia Police Station.

Investigations are continuing.

​Woman in court after $28m drug bust in Tobago

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 23:32

A 39-year-old woman employed as a cleaner at the THA’s Division of Infrastructure and Public Utilities’ Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) is expected to appear in the Scarborough Magistrates’ Court today charged with possession of more than $28 million in drugs. The woman was held on Friday by officers of the Criminal Gang and Intelligence Unit and the Tobago Divisional Task Force who, acting on a tip-off, went to a house at Adventure Trace, Plymouth, and conducted a search.

The officers reportedly found two crocus bags and one duffle bag containing 16 packets of cocaine weighing 18 kilograms and 50 packets of marijuana weighing 31 kilograms in one of the bedrooms. The woman was arrested in connection with the find, which has been described as the largest seizure on the island to date.

Officers said yesterday that contrary to reports that the drugs were worth $7.2 million, the street value of the cocaine was $25 million while the marijuana was $3 million. A source close to the investigation said in an interview that the cocaine was the “high grade, pure Columbian cocaine” while the marijuana is also of a high grade rarely seen in this country.

Tobago police are continuing investigations.

Witness’ call to cops saves kidnap victims

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 23:29

Four men and one teenager are now in police custody following a robbery and kidnapping in Chaguaramas early yesterday. According to police reports, at about 12.30 am two couples were robbed by five men who were in a Mitsubishi Lancer at Tucker Valley, Chaguaramas. The men held the couples, tied them up and placed them in the back of their Nissan Tiida station wagon. Two men then jumped into the station wagon and drove off while the other three tailed behind in the Lancer. 

However, a passerby saw the robbery and kidnapping and notified the police. Acting on the information, the police found the Tiida with the couples inside near the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo. An all-points bulletin was then placed on the Lancer and the police intercepted the vehicle with all five suspects inside at the Interchange near Grand Bazaar, Valsayn.

One firearm was recovered along with all the stolen items, including cellphones, wallets and jewelry. The suspects were between the ages of 17-27 and were positively identified by the couples yesterday afternoon at the St James Police Station. The men are expected to appear in court either today or tomorrow.

Ex-MP walks at Beetham: Hinds wants 16,000 votes

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 23:28

Opposition People’s National Movement Laventille West candidate Fitzgerald Hinds is seeking to get 16,000 votes from the constituency in upcoming general elections. Hinds confirmed the figure yesterday as he embarked on a walkabout in the Beetham area, where residents gave him a cordial welcome, though more than a few expressed concerns about jobs. 

Beetham is among the first areas Hinds started his walkabouts in after being selected to contest the seat recently, gaining the nod over incumbent Nileung Hypolite and several others. Hypolite received 10,000 votes in 2007 and just over that figure in 2010. Hinds was accompanied on the walkabout by Port-of-Spain councillors, members of the constituency and area activists.

“We’re red and we ready,” Hinds declared to the red-clad group at the start of the walk, which began from the Beetham Senior Citizens’ Quarters, where he walked around the complex introducing himself and chatting to the elderly residents. Hinds bumped fists with youths and male residents, greeted others and listened to issues when some expressed concerns. He received a number of assurances of support. 

On First Street, however, a middle-aged man in a jersey and shorts told Hinds he (the man) was United National Congress (UNC). Hinds remarked with a smile, “Well, at least they’ll (UNC) get one vote...” One Beetham man complaining about lack of jobs, said the People’s Partnership Government had “moved projects to Central” and he and others couldn’t get trade jobs in projects

In response to T&T Guardian questions about claims by some members of the Laventille West executive that they were not supporting him and that some walked out of a meeting the party leadership held with the constituency executive unit last week, Hinds said PNMites followed processes and also questioned who were making those calls.

“I’m a democrat and while all will have their say, the majority will have their way and I abide by the majority,” he said, adding that the majority of people who attended last Tuesday’s meeting had stayed. “Last Tuesday the majority said they were abiding by the process also,” he said. He said while there may be a few individual concerns, the PNM as an organisation was bigger and he followed party process and principles.

Holding out for Hypolite

Aaron Jack, of PNM’s Laventille West constituency Youth League, is still hopeful the party’s leadership will reconsider and place incumbent Hypolite in the candidacy. Hypolite had received the majority of nominations from the 26 units—15 party group nominations and the unit’s Youth League.

Yesterday, Jack said, “We believed Mr Hypolite was the best candidate to become MP and the majority was behind him. Subsequent to the screening process, however, the party chose Mr Hinds, but the problem we had is that it had been said very long before the screening that he would indeed have become the candidate. 

“That therefore places doubt in our minds that the selection process was pre-determined since that talk had started a long time ago and it then appears not to be democratic and fair. “It also placed doubt in our mind about possible victimisation of Mr Hypolite. It is my personal belief that they chose who they wanted to choose, but not who the majority of people wished to have represent them.”

Jack said he and others were trying to get the PNM leadership to see that the “people want Nileung and are confident in his ability to represent them.

PM taking her time on election date: Last man to do that lost

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 23:23

Supporters who were eager to hear an election date at the United National Congress’ 26th Anniversary Celebration in Couva yesterday left disappointed last night, after Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar revealed she had no intention  of calling an early election. Addressing thousands of flag waving supporters at Rienzi Complex, Persad-Bissessar said she will not follow her predecessor, Patrick Manning, by calling elections before time.

“Today, speculation is all over that I am going to announce the election date today. But listen carefully, the last time a man tried that he lost the election when he called it before time. “I say my track record speaks for itself. We have held every single election within time, according to the laws of T&T,” she shouted while trumpets blasted and horns blared. 

She added, “Today, I say I will continue to comply with the law. I give you the assurance that I will call the elections when the elections are constitutionally due under the law.” Sending a message to Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley, who has repeatedly demanded the election date, Persad Bissessar said nobody will force her to call elections early.

“No one will jumbie me to call an election before it is due. They could jump high, they could jump low, no election date will be announced before it is due. They could bark and shout, we will call it when it is due,” she said. 

Persad Bissessar also took Rowley to task, saying he was using Parliamentary privilege to bring members of Government into disrepute. But saying that Government planned to move a motion of censure against Rowley in Parliament, Persad-Bissessar said this will be one of the ways of ensuring that people’s characters are protected.

“I have instructed the leader of the House, Dr Roodal Moonilal, to file his motion of censure and we will call on the House for Rowley to be suspended from the services of the House,” Persad-Bissessar said. Saying that Rowley should not be allowed to use Parliament to impugn office holders, the PM vowed to deal with Rowley within the confines of the Parliament.

Referring to the E-mailgate scandal, Persad-Bissessar also called on the police to clear the air and announce publicly whether the series of e-mails read in Parliament by Rowley in May 2013 were true. 

The e-mails implicated Persad-Bissessar, former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and Local Government Minister Suruj Rambachan in conspiracies against the Director of Public Prosecutions and a reporter, as well as allegations of the payment of monies in exchange for freedom of former financiers.

However, Persad-Bissessar said there is proof the e-mails were fabricated and she called on the police to take action against Rowley for misleading the country. “I have legally all the Google records pursuant to a court order in the case filed by the Integrity Commission and all the e-mails for the month of September which Rowley sent out were fake. 

“Not a single e-mail remotely resembled anything that he read. Three sources have said there is no substance, no truth and no basis for the fake e-mails that Rowley read. We gave full authority to disclose those records and tonight I call on the police to state whether there was any e-mail as Rowley said,” Persad-Bissessar said.

Predicting that Rowley will pay the price for his mischief, she said as T&T goes into elections the truth should be made known. “Should the conclusion of the report indicate that the contents of the e-mail were fake and criminal proceedings undertaken, the Opposition leader must immediately resign from his seat,” she said. 

During the celebrations, several UNC founders, including Basdeo Panday, John Humphrey, Dr Allan Mc Kenzie, Trevor Sudama, Lloyd Williams and Rampersad Parasram, were lauded. Panday failed to show up as he indicated before, but his proteges said his contribution to the UNC will always be remembered. Supporters were also treated to music from Raymond Ramnarine & Dil-E-Nadan.

Rowley dangerous says Moonilal

United National Congress deputy political leader Dr Roodal Moonilal has sent out a message to fenceline voters, warning them that Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley is a dangerous man who cannot be trusted with power. Moonilal was speaking as the party celebrated its 26th anniversary at its Rienzi Complex, Couva headquarters yesterday. 

Party founder Basdeo Panday was a no show, but other stalwarts, including founder John Humfrey, first chairman Rampersad Parasram, former Arima candidate Carol Merrick and Lloyd Williams and Dr Allan Mc Kenzie, attended the festivities. Moonilal, who joined the party as a youth officer, said although the PNM has always made promises, it is Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar who has always delivered on her promises.  

“This party has been founded on the principle of equality, national unity and social justice. That is the reason that the UNC is the only party that can build coalition governments and  occupy office.”

Saying the People’s National Movement (PNM) had destroyed the health, education and agricultural sectors, Moonilal said the PP would need another five years to continue its work. He said for those who were uncertain about who to support, it is clear that Rowley did not have the best interest of the country at heart. “I warned T&T that Keith Rowley is a clear danger to this country,” he said.

Moonilal said Friday was a horrific day as Rowley filed a motion of no confidence in Finance Minister Larry Howai and quoted from a document of a legal opinion by a prominent queen’s counsel from Barbados, Sr Henry Forde, QC. He said Howai rose afterward and told Rowley that he and the party had gone out of his way and contacted the lawyer in Barbados to verify the information. But Moonilal said Forde told them he did not know Howai and had never written the document. 

Slamming Rowley for not checking his facts, Moonilal said Rowley was irresponsible and reckless. He also slammed Independent Liberal Party (ILP) leader Jack Warner, saying he was portraying himself as a corruption buster while facing international scrutiny for corruption.

TTUTA threatens action ...if ECCE teachers don’t get pay hike

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 01:54

The T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) plans to take action if 263 Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) teachers who work with Servol do not get salary increases.

Representatives of TTUTA met with teachers yesterday at the Chaguanas North Secondary School. Lynsley Doodhai, second VP of TTUTA, said Cabinet recently increased the subvention it gives to Servol from $19 million to $26 million. 

However Doodhai said ECCE teachers are still baffled as to why they are still unable to get an increase. Doodhai said the union wants to make sure that the monies were sent to Servol before further action can take place.

Doodhai said teachers working at Servol and who run ECCE centres are getting a paltry $2,600 monthly salary from which NIS and health surcharge are deducted. 

Doodhai said there were also concerns coming from teachers who work at the government-run ECCE centres over the terms and conditions of their contracts as related to responsibilities and duties. 

Doodhai said the union would be sending a letter to Servol and if Servol is unable to respond teachers would start pounding the pavement demanding answers and money. 

Hormone-free chicken farm in T&T by year-end

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 01:51

By the end of this year, the first antibiotic-free and hormone-free chicken farm is expected to be established in T&T. 

The idea is being hatched by founder of Blooms Imports, businessman Jason Francis. 

For the past three years, Francis has been selling hormone-free chicken parts and whole chickens imported from the United States to restaurants, gourmet shops and selected supermarkets. The demand for this product by chicken lovers in T&T has been growing since they consider it safer and healthier to consume, and kinder to the environment. 

Francis, who operates his business in Diego Martin, now wants to spread his wings and establish the country’s first all-natural chicken farm.

According to Francis, the majority of locally grown chickens are injected with hormones and antibiotics. The antibiotics are injected into the eggs and added to the feed in low dosages in order to prevent diseases in the chickens. Hormones make chickens grow faster. A chicken grown on antibiotics and hormones sells for far less than an all-natural chicken. Hormone-free chicken breasts cost between 50 and 60 per cent more than local chicken breasts at supermarkets in T&T.

Francis said he sells whole antibiotic-free and hormone-free chicken at $20 per pound.

“This price includes a 61 per cent import duty which is passed on to the consumer. It is really expensive for me to bring in the chickens,” Francis explained. He said, however, that once the farm comes on stream, he would sell whole chicken at $17 per pound. Francis thinks more people would be able to afford the chicken if it were grown locally. 

On February 25, Francis in a Facebook video appealed to large and small poultry farmers to partner with him to start a hormone-free farm. The three-minute video generated a favourable response from several farmers, Francis said. Francis, a national of the US who married a Trinidadian, said one farmer expressed an interest in getting involved in the business.

“We are willing to put in the time and money to raise the all-natural chickens here. We are not going to sacrifice quality for quantity. I am almost there. I am almost to the point where I can say we are going to do it soon. The foremost thing is we want more customers to be able to buy the product. I think it is possible. It is not going to be easy. But we are going to give it our best shot.”

So far, Francis said, one site in Debe had been identified, and a farmer in Tobago had also expressed interest.

Francis said the farm should be up and running within the next eight months, which could help reduce the food import bill, generate revenue for the country, supply a superior product to chicken lovers, and give the people of T&T a healthy alternative.

“The demand for the organic chicken is growing. In some cases, customers do not mind paying a little extra for the chicken that is not fed hormones and antibiotics,” Francis said.

Once the farm becomes operational, Francis plans to sell whole chickens then parts.

He is yet to work out if the farm will operate on a small or large scale.

“Customers do their own research on chickens that are grown on hormones and antibiotics; that is why they come to us,” Francis said.

He said many local farmers gave their chickens commercialised feed, which has a longer shelf life.

“If you are giving your chickens regular feed it is not organic. It’s got medicines in that feed that they just do not know.”

The farmer who partners with Imports Bloom must be able to mill his own feed, which Francis promises will be free from hormones.

“If they are unable to do this, we will import an all-natural feed from the US. We are not getting any response from the local mills or anybody from the feed companies that want to change their ingredients a little bit for us. There is one guy who is willing to set up a mill for us so they can put whatever ingredients we want in the feed,” Francis said.

The farm would also pay attention to the way it processes its chickens.

Whereas birds are typically dipped in a vat of water after plucking, Francis plans to air dry the birds.

Information obtained from Wikipedia stated that every year, more than 40 billion chickens are slaughtered worldwide for meat, the vast majority of them intensively factory farmed.

Two years without uniforms, prisons officers call for probe

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 01:48

Prisons officers have not received uniforms to carry out their official duties at the nation’s prions for the past two years. In the absence of uniforms, prisons officers have no recourse but to wear civilian clothing. 

The Prison Officers Association (POA) is now calling for an investigation into the procurement practices for these uniforms, said POA general secretary Gerard Gordon on Friday. 

Speaking to the Sunday Guardian, Gordon said their main concern was that even with the addition of a procurement department, they found themselves dealing with “an undisclosed supplier or suppliers, who from our information their core business is not uniform production.”

He said this was “highly suspect and inexcusable.” 

“What is very disturbing is that money has been spent for uniforms and we’re going on two years without uniforms. The association would like a proper investigation how a fiasco like this was allowed to happen.” 

He said an investigation must be conducted to determine who awarded the contracts, their financial status, what was their core business, how the contracts were awarded, the amount of money paid out so far, and why the prisons officers hadn’t received their uniforms. 

Gordon said part of the problem was that the uniforms were stranded in China, and this also called into question the quality of the uniforms the T&T Prisons Service will receive. 

He said years ago, skilled inmates made prison uniforms for officers and they were also manufactured locally. 

Gordon said the new Prisons Commissioner, Sterling Stewart, was trying to deal with the situation by having some uniforms made, but cloth still needed to be ordered. 

He emphasised that the association had no beef with Stewart as he came in and met the situation.

Gordon said new uniforms should be made with modern materials that can repel bacteria and diseases that the officers sometimes brought home with them.

He said although they were forced to wear civilian clothing to perform their official duties, they still adhered to a standard of dress—no printed or round-necked jerseys, shirts must look neat and clean and no “loud” sneakers.

He said “soft” pants, short-sleeved shirts and polos without prints were permissible. 

Gordon said items such as the prisons officer’s cap or beret were called “condemn and replace,” and had to be returned before issuing replacements.

When asked if prisons officers wearing civilian clothes made it easier for prisoners to blend in during a jail break, he said that it was impossible and would not happen.

Gordon explained that there was only a small corps of officers, each batch might contain 20 to 30 officers.

He said they knew one another and were still a close-knit organisation and every officer must have his prison identification on him at all times.

Ramadhar: We will work to find a solution to the problem 

When Justice Minister Prakash Ramadhar was contacted yesterday for his comment on the uniform shortage, he said: “The welfare of the prisons and prisons officers are extremely important to me, and I will make inquiries as to what is really happening in relation to that issue. 

“They have my commitment that whatever action needs to be taken to rectifying specifically what is affecting them will be taken.

“This will be done working absolutely in accord with the Commissioner of Prisons and his team to find a solution to any difficulty that may exist.”

MORE INFO

New police uniforms 

in limbo—Ramesar

When the President of the Police Social and Welfare Association (PSWA) Inspector Anand Ramesar was contacted about the status of the proposed 21st century police uniforms, he said that they were in limbo.

Ramesar said it seemed that there was no intention for their adoption as there was a silent rejection by the Government, the Commissioner of Police, and the Police Service Commission.

Guardian Poll: Rowley ‘the best candidate’

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 01:40

A new poll in the marginal constituency of Tunapuna has found that while Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley are running neck-and-neck in personal favourability ratings, Dr Rowley has a six-point lead over Mrs Persad-Bissessar as the best candidate for prime minister.

The poll was conducted in Tunapuna on Thursday and Friday of last week by HHB & Associates on behalf of Guardian Media Ltd. Full findings of the poll will be released exclusively on CNC3’s new programme On the Margin on Tuesday at 8 pm when Tunapuna will be in focus.

Other issues covered by the poll are the favourability ratings of the incumbent MP for Tunapuna, Winston Dookeran, as well as constituents’ attitudes to the upcoming elections, politics in general and perceptions about developments within the constituency as well as nationally. 

Details of this will also be carried in the Guardian this Wednesday.

Rowley: I’m no dictator

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 01:37

People’s National Movement (PNM) leader Dr Keith Rowley is flatly denying that the nonselection of four longstanding MPs is part of his agenda to create a yes-man squad within the PNM. In a sit-down interview with the Sunday Guardian on Friday at his Charles Street, Port-of-Spain, office, the party leader also rejected any talk that he was an incipient dictator.

​“I am not that. That is the view of people who do not understand what they are talking about. I mean, would a dictator give up office? Have you ever heard of a person who is a dictator or a person who is in love with office give up?” he asked

​Rowley recalled that back in 2008, he challenged then prime minister— and his boss— Patrick Manning over his policies and was fired from office.

​“If that was the end of my political career I would have said I had a good time serving that public and this is my record and this is my period of service. It has been extended as a result of other reasons and, of course, I was sitting in the position of leader of the PNM until 2017 and I voluntarily gave it up and put my office up for election by one man, one vote. Is that the action of a dictator?

​“You tell me one dictator who gave up office and come back in a democratic election. Tell me one, just one. So those who use the term probably do not know the meaning of the term and are not familiar with the PNM exercises,” Rowley said.

​Although Rowley heads up the party’s screening committee, he denied any suggestion that he controlled the selection process.

​“That is easy for some people to say, but if you ask them to demonstrate that they cannot.

​“We stand by our process and the vast majority of party members subscribe and understand that process and accept it. 

“Usually a lot of what you are hearing along those lines come from people outside the party,” he said. 

Four well-known names, including two-term incumbent for Diego Martin Central Dr Amery Browne, have already been rejected by the screening committee. 

Despite a massive show of support for Browne by his constituents, Rowley is confident that there has been no major fallout from the choices made by the screening committee.

“That is normal...this is all part of the landscape,” he said.

“Remember screening is a selection process, like the West Indies team. 

Not everyone could get on the team, but at the end of the day we are backing the West Indies

Rowley said corruption, crime, and accountability and transparency were the essential pillars of the PNM’s 2015 general election campaign. He said health care and education would also form part of the PNM’s campaign battle.

“We cannot continue having exchange and exchange and you do not fix the systems. This is sufficiently important.

“We believe that this is fundamental to the other problems. When you do not have proper oversight then everything below will go haywire. We believe you have to fix it at the top. 

“This is rooted in the Constitution ‘there shall be a Cabinet and the Cabinet shall be accountable to Parliament,” he said.

However, Rowley maintained that national security remained a major issue even as it was in the Manning era of 2007/2008.

“We have chronic violent crime in our communities which has not improved under this Government. Of course after four, five years they are not seeing improvement they launch a campaign telling you a lot has improved but we are not seeing that,” he said.

The screening process

Of the screening process Rowley said: “It is a selection process. You are only allowed to select one candidate. Sometimes you get five or six and each person may have their preference, and sometimes if you have one candidate and that candidate for one reason or the other may not be, may not find favour with the screening committee. 

“One of the things we did do, we broadened the screening committee. It used to be a political leader assisted by people, now it is an 11-man committee where each person is on the committee as of right. The PNM candidates are chosen by a body of people of the party who get on the screening committee by virtue of the offices they hold in the party. 

So it is not like some of the other parties where the leader says ‘Ok, you will be on the committee, you will be on the committee and appoint a committee.’ 

“No, no, no, from the time we have our national elections the screening committee is selected by virtue of the office that you hold. 

“If you are elected lady vice-chairman, you have a place on the committee, if you are voted deputy political leader, automatically you have a place on the committee.

“If you are the general secretary, the PRO, you are automatically on the committee, so those positions make up the committee no matter who are in those positions. 

“That is the screening committee and they are the ones who examine nominees and choose who the PNM should be represented by.”

With the Diego Martin Central seat still up for grabs, Rowley said the party would continue to “examine everybody.”

“Once you get one nomination you are entitled to come for examination and once you are examined you are in the mix and of course, the screening committee can make decisions along the way. 

“So this is all part of the screening landscape and, of course, there are usually some disappointments and even anger, but at the end of the day the process has worked well for us and we are 60 years old. Some parties do not even last 60 days,” he said.

PNM’s new manifesto

Rowley said the PNM manifesto would be introduced only when Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar calls the election date.

“The manifesto comes with the election. That is how it comes, but the work in getting us into a position where we can deliver a total manifesto, that work has been done...in the meantime in the Opposition, the parliamentary arm has been monitoring the Government, while the party arm has been running the party,” he said.

He said he wanted the screening process to be completed earlier rather than later to give constituents a chance to know who was their representative.

“We will choose our candidates early to allow them to campaign more effectively. Before that [there was this] whole idea of a surprise candidate and you create a ‘who is the candidate?’ with a big surprise. 

“We have a different approach now in that we let the candidates be known and we select them more slowly and more carefully and I hope, I dare say more thoroughly and if things do not go well in one or two instances you have chance to, you have time to fix it, to readjust it and so on and we have been doing that. 

“Right now we are down to three more, we have three more to do and that is the end of it. 

“I think we have done remarkably well at this stage, having our candidates ready, so whenever the election is called the PNM is ready,” he said. —reporting by Reshma Ragoonath

Look out for part 2 of Dr Rowley’s interview in tomorrow’s Guardian as he discusses the PNM’s plans to make government cleaner and leaner should the party win the 2015 general election.

IC questions 3 former employees about McDonald

Sat, 04/25/2015 - 23:03

Fresh evidence presented to the Integrity Commission has prompted it to reopen an investigation into People’s National Movement Chief Whip Marlene McDonald.

The Integrity Commission has not responded to e-mailed questions seeking confirmation, but the Sunday Guardian received information from three former employees who have already been summoned and interviewed by the commission over the past week. The three worked with McDonald during her tenure as minister of Community Development from 2007 to 2010. 

The investigation, based on the questions posed to the three former employees, seemed to be centered on the money donated to the Calabar Foundation, the Waterwheel Foundation, McEachrane Rental and Transport, and allegations that a relative was listed and paid as a ministerial driver, though he was living out of the country at the time of that contract.

Calabar Foundation, a non-profit organisation, lists McDonald’s common-law husband Michael Carew, his brother Lennox Carew and Victor McEachrane among its directors. 

McEachrane is also the owner of McEachrane Transport and Rentals, which received million-dollar contracts for the construction of community centres under McDonald’s tenure.

The Sunday Guardian also received copies of some of the new documents submitted to the commission, including one letter which the former employees said caught the Integrity Commission’s eye.

Back in December, when the Sunday Guardian first broke news of the McDonald investigation, she had denied knowing that her common-law husband was involved in Calabar and, in subsequent media reports, went further in denying knowledge of the Calabar Foundation. 

However, one document has been presented to the Integrity Commission which contradicts that public statement.

In 2009, McDonald granted same day approval of a $65,000 payment to Calabar Foundation for the hosting of a Christmas/End-of-Year function for senior citizens in the La Brea/Point Fortin area. Calabar Foundation did not have a registered office then, but carried a PO Box located in Arima and a mobile phone contact. That letter requested $75,000.

One year later, when the Government changed, a company under the same name but a different address applied to the new minister for a similar event requesting $40,000. Only $3,000 was granted.

Package details

Part of the package of documents sent to the Integrity Commission includes copies of the cheque collection form which is signed by everyone collecting cheques from the ministry. The highlighted pages include the signatures of Michael Carew and Victor McEachrane and messenger Brent Low.

Low collected two cheques on the same day, one for $200,000 and the other for $375,000. Both were issued in the name of Calabar Foundation. While the $375,000 cheque has already been ventilated in the media, further investigation by the Sunday Guardian has uncovered little information on the $200,000 payment to Calabar Foundation.

Marlene: I have no idea

McDonald has maintained her innocence in this matter. In an interview during the parliamentary tea break on Friday, McDonald said she was not aware that the investigation had been reopened. McDonald has already faced allegations of breaches to the Integrity in Public Life Act (ILPA) but was cleared by the commission by letter dated December 23, 2013.

“I am not aware of any investigation,” McDonald said.

When asked about the $62,000 difference in approved payments to Calabar Foundation, McDonald said every minister has his own way of running a ministry. McDonald, who defended her payments to Calabar Foundation last December, reiterated that a minister is guided by a permanent secretary. At the time McDonald was minister, Angela Jack was the PS and Hermia Tyson-Cuffie worked as deputy PS.

Jack, who was interviewed back in December, had said then that she could not recall granting any approval for Calabar but noted that signatures were often affixed to cheques electronically. 

During a short interview last week Saturday at the PNM candidates retreat, McDonald said she did not know why she was being “targeted” but had a very good idea of who was leading the charge against her. She also said during her tenure, she granted approvals for community events for MPs who were not government ministers.

“It does not matter who it is making the request, I have granted money to others. Why would I check to see who is everyone I am giving money to? That does not make sense,” she said.

“I would advise you to treat that very carefully,” McDonald said.

Background

Back in December, a secret group named TnT Whistleblower, claiming to be supportive of the PNM, e-mailed party leader Dr Keith Rowley threatening to go public with a series of allegations against McDonald. 

It was also revealed then that the matter had been submitted to the Integrity Commission. 

Shortly after that information became public, the PNM produced a letter from the commission clearing McDonald. 

McDonald also denied any knowledge of Calabar or that her common-law husband was associated with the organisation.

Moonilal: No one will be evicted ...But beware of fraudsters!

Sat, 04/25/2015 - 22:42

Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal says no legitimate tenant of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) will be evicted under his watch.

Speaking at the keys distribution function at Oasis Greens Housing settlement in Chaguanas yesterday, Moonilal said certain groups were trying to evoke fear in the hearts of HDC clients who possessed Rent-to-Own and Licence-to-Occupy arrangements.

He also alleged that certain groups were charging renters fees for taking up HDC matters. “Under Roodal Moonilal no one will be evicted. We will evict nobody and we will work with you from being a renter to getting a mortgage, so don’t be conned by anybody into paying any money,” Moonilal said.

Warning HDC tenants not to be fooled, Moonilal said the police would deal with this.

“We are hearing that certain organisations are exploiting renters. Do not collect money from poor struggling renters. It is against the law and we will expose you for exploiting the poor, low-income renters by taking money from them in exchange for seeking to represent them, ” Moonilal said.

He said Government had gone to Cabinet to get lands vested in the HDC so proper deeds could be distributed.

“This means freedom because no longer will people be imprisoned in a rental arrangement. They can use their property to get a loan. Our detractors are speaking out against us because they don’t want us to free you,” Moonilal added.

He said HDC was owed $291 million in rent. 

“We could have built another 800 low-income homes if people pay their bills so I urge you to pay your mortgage and work with us so we can give you a title deed,” Moonilal added. He said those people who could not afford a mortgage could go to the HDC and speak to a representative.

He said a random draw would be held in the next few months and people who had been waiting 15 years and more would receive houses.

Officers fighting for basic rights ‘bad for democracy’—Ramesh

Sat, 04/25/2015 - 22:38

Human rights activist Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj says a healthy democracy will not force national security officers to face the courts in their quest for basic rights.

He was speaking at a press conference hosted by the By Pass Posse, a group of 38 Second Division fire officers who took legal action after being passed over for promotion. 

The officers, through Maharaj, filed a judicial review application against the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) and the Public Service Commission which was heard before Madame Justice Joan Charles.

“The Judge ordered that both the CFO and the PSC have unreasonably delayed the decision to promote the claimants to the office of fire sub officer and then other claimants to fire sub station officer. Then she found the continuing failure of the defendants to promote the claimants as set out in her judgement was unlawful,” Maharaj explained.

He said considerations for promotions were ordered to be remitted.

The judge also ordered that the fire officers were entitled to acting allowances for the period in which they acted in more senior posts than their substantive office.

However, instead of granting the benefits, the PSC decided to appeal the matter on the basis that the judge was wrong.

Saying there was “no legal basis or factual basis for the Court of Appeal to overturn the judgement,” Maharaj said it was disheartening and demotivating for officers to have to fight for their just dues.

He said litigation was traumatising and expensive, adding that governments should utilise mediation in matters involving important sectors of national security.

Spokesman for the group, Dave Sennon, said eight out of the 38 officers had since retired without major benefits.

Probe Soldado deal

Sat, 04/25/2015 - 22:31

Petrotrin has handed over to police all records of payment connected to the Southwest Soldado developmental deal, saying it is yet to recover monies from Mexican shipping firm Maritima de Ecologia SA de CV (Maritima). 

A senior Petrotrin official is alleged to have pushed through the deal, breaching Petrotrin’s own rules and contract requirements by paying the upfront commissioning fee of US$1.25 million (TT$7.94 million) to Maritima. 

In a letter dated April 17, sent to acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, Petrotrin chairman Khalid Hassanali said Petrotrin was prepared to give police all the records and make available all personnel pertinent to the investigation. Hassanali also confirmed that US$750,000 (TT$4.794 million) in public funds which was paid to Maritima was never recovered, even though evidence surfaced that it was returned to two private bank accounts.

“Recent newspaper reports suggest that US$750,000 of the advance payment made to Maritima was returned to two local private accounts at the Ellerslie Plaza Branch of Scotia Bank, located at Maraval, Port-of-Spain. 

The articles suggest that the monies were returned to these accounts allegedly on Petrotrin’s instructions but to date Petrotrin has not received such funds,” Hassanali said. “In the circumstances, we will be grateful if you can address this matter at your earliest convenience. We stand ready to provide you with any and all information concerning this issue.” Hassanali said on March 8, 2012, Petrotrin awarded a contract for the provision of a temporary offshore production and compression facility for west and Southwest Soldado to Maritima. However, Maritima failed to perform its contractual obligations and Petrotrin terminated the contract.

Contacted on his cellphone yesterday, Williams said he was out of the country and could not give any details on the investigation.

“I have to be updated on that matter. Later in the week I will meet with the Head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau and get an update on the status of this matter,” Williams said.

Three documents, including the findings of the auditor’s report, information on some contractors and correspondence leading up to the auditor’s report have already been handed to the police by the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU). OWTU’s president general Ancel Roget has accused Petrotrin of destroying pertinent information about the deal.

Meanwhile, a letter obtained by the Guardian dated April 19, 2012, named Jeffrey Clark as the local contact for the project. He was placed in charge of Tender 11.10321477 by Maritima’s director Gabriel Delgado Saldivar. 

On its Web site yesterday, Petrotrin said, “Clark, who is alleged to have registered Sterling Marine Ltd. (SML), the reported beneficiary of US$100,000, is not and never was an agent or representative of Petrotrin.”

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