Category: Exclusives

June 2012- $10 Million Golden Hand Shake

On June 27th, 2012 Larry Howai got a $10m parting gift from First Citizens.

The board of state-owned bank First Citizens approved the payment of $10 million to its departing chief executive officer, Larry Howai, two days before Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced that Howai would be the country’s new Minister of Finance—a job that gives him as Corporation Sole oversight of all state-owned companies, including First Citizens.

The payment to Howai, who took early retirement from the bank effective June 24 that year, is over and above the pension and gratuity that he is entitled to receive as an employee who worked for 32 years at the bank and its predecessors, National Commercial Bank and Workers’ Bank (1989) Ltd, said the chair of First Citizens, attorney Nyree Alfonso.

She said: “The pay­ment is in recog­ni­tion of his ex­cep­tion­al ser­vice to the or­gan­i­sa­tion as well as for the ben­e­fit of the bank in terms of at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing the best per­son­nel who would be as­sured that they too would be re­ward­ed if they give long and mer­i­to­ri­ous ser­vice to First Cit­i­zens.” Asked if the $10 mil­lion was an ex-gra­tia pay­ment, Al­fon­so re­sist­ed the use of the term, which refers to a sum of mon­ey paid when there is no oblig­a­tion or li­a­bil­i­ty to pay.

But she ad­mit­ted: “We were not un­der an oblig­a­tion to pay, but de­cid­ed to pay the sum based on prece­dent and our abil­i­ty un­der the Com­pa­nies Act to make such a pay­ment.” Al­fon­so said all of the $10 mil­lion was based on in­ter­nal prece­dent, from cal­cu­la­tions go­ing back to 2005, of what three se­nior man­agers who left the com­pa­ny re­ceived.

Based on his salary at the time of his de­par­ture and his 32 years of ser­vice, the for­mu­la used to cal­cu­late the con­sid­er­a­tion to Howai was not in any way dif­fer­ent or pref­er­en­tial than that re­ceived by se­nior man­agers de­part­ing from the bank in cir­cum­stances which were not dis­sim­i­lar to his, she said. The de­ci­sion was tak­en by non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors of the bank on­ly, with two di­rec­tors re­cus­ing them­selves.

The mat­ter was first dis­cussed at a board meet­ing on June 11 2012 but that meet­ing was ad­journed pend­ing the re­ceipt of le­gal ad­vice, which was sought and re­ceived from Rus­sel Mar­tineau, SC. “The fi­nal de­ci­sion, which was tak­en on June 20 2012, was based on both the prece­dent and the ad­vice re­ceived from Mar­tineau,” said Al­fon­so.

The Prime Min­is­ter at the time Kamla Persad-Bissessar reshuf­fled her Cab­i­net on June 22.

Al­fon­so con­ced­ed that the pub­lic per­cep­tion of the $10 mil­lion pay­ment “might be awk­ward,” but she main­tained that she “would have made the pay­ment had he re­ceived an­oth­er port­fo­lio. I will take the jabs for say­ing that I was try­ing to pla­cate the new boss. It does look a lit­tle awk­ward but on­ly be­cause of the port­fo­lio he as­sumed.”

Asked whether the de­ci­sion had the ap­proval of Cor­po­ra­tion Sole, which owns 97 per cent of the shares in First Cit­i­zens, Al­fon­so said the role of a board of a state-owned com­pa­ny is over­sight and gov­er­nance. “As a mat­ter of gov­er­nance, I don’t need the line min­is­ter to di­rect me on an is­sue like this, nor would I have tried to seek such ap­proval in these cir­cum­stances,” she said, adding that as the chair of a state-owned com­pa­ny, she does not take day-to-day in­struc­tions from the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, but that that re­la­tion­ship is gov­erned by checks and bal­ances.

Soon after, there was a call for the board of directors at First Citizens bank to explain on what basis a decision was taken to give a 10 million dollar payment, to Larry Howai, the newly appointed Minister of Finance and the Economy at the time.

The call came from the Banking Insurance and General Workers Union, BIGWU.

The union also questioned the haste in which the payment was taken, since the recipient of the 10 million dollars, was also the Finance Minister, who was supposed to authorize such a payment taking place in any state enterprise in the first place.

BIGWU says the statement made by Chairman of the Board of Directors of First Citizens, was inherently contradictory.

The union was taking issue with the 10 million payment, as it said, it was the same person (the chairman) who had refused to begin negotiation with the union, in spite of the union submitting proposals for over a year.

The question of ethics still remains.

Larry Howai assumed responsibility for the Financial Services portfolio of the ANSA McAL Group on August 1, 2017.

SEPT 2010- Smelter Project Cancelled

On September 8th, 2010, the People’s Partnership announced that it was cancelling a $600 million project to build a 125,000 tonnes-per-year aluminum smelter. This never happened.

“In addition to the health and environmental risk, there is also serious concern as to Alutrint’s viability and the optimal use of our gas. This project shall cease,” the then Finance Minister Winston Dookeran said during a presentation of the 2010-2011 national budget.

Brazilian conglomerate Votorantim Group has a 40 percent stake in the proposed 125,000 metric-tonnes-per-year aluminum smelter complex while the Trinidad and Tobago government held the remaining 60 percent.

ChinaExim Bank was providing a credit facility of $400 million for construction of the project.

The cancellation of the Alutrint smelter complex effectively ended a court battle over the project.

The Environmental Management Authority had issued a Certificate of Environmental Clearance to Alutrint for the project. But a court quashed the certificate after anti-smelter groups and individuals filed for judicial review, claiming the EMA’s decision was based on inadequate and flawed information.

EMA’s appeal of that ruling was rendered moot by the decision taken on September 8th, 2010.

An ex­am­i­na­tion a Cab­i­net note of Ju­ly 16, 2010, on the eco­nom­ics of Alutrint, re­vealed the plant would have been prof­itable if it was com­plet­ed. But the Cab­i­net note re­vealed that the cost of en­er­gy to the smelter was out­weighed by the ben­e­fits the coun­try would reap.

In terms of gas util­i­sa­tion:

Alutrint would have paid US$0.85 per mmb­tu.

“The Alutrint smelter will con­sume 46.5 mil­lion cu­bic feet a day which rep­re­sent 1.1 per cent of to­tal dai­ly nat­ur­al gas con­sump­tion. This 1.1 per cent in­cludes nat­ur­al gas con­sumed by the pow­er plant for Alutrint’s pow­er re­quire­ments. “When com­pared to oth­er gas based in­dus­tries, the Alu­minum in­dus­try presents a fa­vor­able in­vest­ment (in terms of Capex) per unit quan­ti­ty of gas utilised, as well as a high di­rect em­ploy­ment and in­dus­try-com­pet­i­tive re­turn on in­vest­ment. The alu­mini­um in­dus­try is unique in terms of its po­ten­tial for ex­pan­sive down­stream in­dus­tries. Re­turns on in­vest­ment nor­mal­ly in­crease no­tably with the in­cor­po­ra­tion of down­stream in­dus­tries,” the note stat­ed.

In terms of the en­vi­ron­men­tal and health im­pact:

“Alutrint has re­duced and/or mit­i­gat­ed the en­vi­ron­men­tal risk lev­els from these ef­flu­ents and waste prod­ucts by the pro­vi­sion of the buffer zone, the de­sign of the smelter, use of im­port­ed pre­baked an­odes and ex­port of the spent pot lin­ers. The com­pa­ny at­tained the en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards set by the EMA, in­clud­ing the HF stan­dard on one mi­cro­gram, for the ini­tial pro­pos­al for the one pot line. How­ev­er, with two pot­lines the com­pa­ny will be un­able meet the HF stan­dard of one mi­cro­gram. This will jeop­ar­dise the project and the pro­posed joint ven­ture with Vo­toran­tim.”

How would it have benefitted Trinidad and To­ba­go?

a) The cre­ation of 700 di­rect jobs with the po­ten­tial of 2100 in­di­rect jobs (Com­mu­ni­ty) and 7000 jobs (down­stream),

b) Down­stream de­vel­op­ment,

c) Gas util­i­sa­tion: en­er­gy mon­eti­sa­tion for lo­cal busi­ness de­vel­op­ment,

d) Trans­fer of tech­nol­o­gy: the Chi­nese tech­nol­o­gy is one of the most ad­vanced in the alu­mini­um in­dus­try. T&T would have ben­e­fitted from us­ing the most ef­fi­cient and clean­est tech­nolo­gies in alu­mini­um smelt­ing.

e) In­fra­struc­tur­al de­vel­op­ment: port, road net­works, ed­u­ca­tion and health fa­cil­i­ties

f) Po­ten­tial Cari­com link­ages: sup­ply of in­put ma­te­r­i­al (alu­mi­na from baux­ite); al­so mar­kets for alu­mini­um val­ue added prod­ucts and

g) In­ter­na­tion­al Ex­port Mar­ket: lever­ag­ing ac­cess to ex­ter­nal mar­kets through in­ter­na­tion­al part­ners (share­hold­ers) eg Latin Amer­i­ca and Chi­na.

The costs for project ter­mi­na­tion fell in­to two cat­e­gories:

One-time Costs

1. Sep­a­ra­tion costs for cur­rent em­ploy­ees of Alutrint: US$0.5 mil­lion

2. To en­gi­neer­ing, pro­cure­ment and con­struc­tion con­trac­tor, Chi­na Na­tion­al Ma­chin­ery and Equip­ment Im­port and Ex­port Cor­po­ra­tion (CMEC), for ter­mi­na­tion:

a. Amounts payable for any work car­ried out: US $7 mil­lion

b. Cost of plant and ma­te­ri­als or­dered for the works de­liv­ered to CMEC: con­tin­gent li­a­bil­i­ty

c. Any oth­er cost or li­a­bil­i­ty which in the cir­cum­stances was rea­son­ably in­curred in the ex­pec­ta­tion of com­plet­ing the work-con­tin­gent li­a­bil­i­ty

d. Cost of re­moval of tem­po­rary works and con­trac­tor’s equip­ment from the site and re­turn of items to Chi­na: US$1 mil­lion

e. Cost of repa­tri­a­tion of CMEC’s work­ers em­ployed in con­nec­tion with the works at the date of ter­mi­na­tion: US$1 mil­lion

3. Project agree­ment with Vo­toran­tim: US$5.7 mil­lion

4. Joint Ven­ture with Sur­al: no cost but sub­ject to lit­i­ga­tion

5. Loan agree­ment with EX­IM Bank of Chi­na: es­ti­mat­ed cost was to be pro­vid­ed by Min­istry of Fi­nance

Re­cur­rent Costs

1. Land lease to Na­tion­al En­er­gy Cor­po­ra­tion: US$1.9 mil­lion

2. Elec­tric­i­ty pur­chase oblig­a­tion to the Trinidad Gen­er­a­tion Un­lim­it­ed: US$33 mil­lion ($209 mil­lion)

3. Rental of pier and stor­age fa­cil­i­ties: US$9.6 mil­lion

To­tal cost of oblig­a­tions: US$44.5 mil­lion

Na­tion­al En­er­gy Cor­po­ra­tion

Tasked with the pro­vid­ing the in­fra­struc­tur­al re­quire­ment for the Alutrint project, the NEC has fi­nan­cial ex­po­sure in the sum of $922 mil­lion as fol­lows:

1. Loan from Na­tion­al Gas Com­pa­ny for de­vel­op­ment of Union Es­tate: US$58mil­lion

2. Loan from NGC for es­tab­lish­ment of port, stor­age and han­dling fa­cil­i­ties at La Brea: US$82 mil­lion

3. Debt to Hous­ing De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion for con­struc­tion of hous­es for Square Deal house­holds: US$5.6 mil­lion

Con­tracts Af­fect­ed

Of 18 con­tracts signed, two have been com­plet­ed and 16 are af­fect­ed:

1. Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing GORTT/ Peo­ple Re­pub­lic of Chi­na: no di­rect cost im­pact

2. Share­hold­er’s Agree­ment GORTT/Sur­al: The Gov­ern­ment is seek­ing to ter­mi­nate agree­ment with Sur­al, price is un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion

3. Buy­er’s Cred­it Loan Agree­ment: GORTT/Chi­na EX­IM Bank

4. Gov­ern­ment Con­ces­sion­al Loan Agree­ment: GORTT/Chi­na EX­IM Bank: This agree­ment ex­pired at the end of May 2010 and an ap­pli­ca­tion was made to ex­tend the term of the con­ces­sion for a fur­ther six months. A re­sponse was be­ing await­ed.

5. Project Agree­ment: GORTT/Vo­toran­tim Met­als: ex­pired in Sep­tem­ber 2010. No di­rect fi­nan­cial ex­po­sure oth­er than costs in­curred dur­ing the pe­ri­od of the project agree­ment.

6. En­gi­neer­ing, Pro­cure­ment and Con­struc­tion Agree­ment: Alutrint/CMEC. This con­tract was signed on De­cem­ber 2005.

7. Tech­ni­cal Spec­i­fi­ca­tion to EPC Con­tract (re­vised): Alutrint/CMEC–no cost im­pact

8. Ba­sic En­gi­neer­ing and Equip­ment Pro­cure­ment Re­view Agree­ment: Alutrint/Chi­na Met­al­lur­gy In­dus­try Ser­vices Co: may have a cost im­pact but can’t be quan­ti­fied at this time.

9. Cer­ti­fied Ver­i­fi­ca­tion Agent: Alutrint/ABS Con­sult­ing: no cost im­pact

10. Ch­agua­nas Of­fice Build­ing Lease: Alutrint/On­line Tech­nol­o­gy: Con­tract ter­mi­nated in Feb­ru­ary 2011

11.Im­port Du­ty Con­ces­sion: GORTT/Alutrint: no cost im­pact

12. Gas Sales Agree­ment: Alutrint/Na­tion­al Gas Com­pa­ny of T&T

13. Land Lease Agree­ment: Alutrint/Na­tion­al En­er­gy Cor­po­ra­tion: an­nu­al lease rent US$ 1.9 mil­lion

14. Dock & Ma­rine User Agree­ment: Alutrint/Na­tion­al En­er­gy Cor­po­ra­tion–these two com­bined re­sult in an an­nu­al cost of $11 mil­lion by Alutrint to NEC.

15. Wa­ter Sup­ply Agree­ment: Alutrint/Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Au­thor­i­ty: no cost im­pact

16. Pow­er Pur­chase Agree­ment: Alutrint/T&TEC /Trinidad Gen­er­a­tion Un­lim­it­ed: take or pay oblig­a­tion of US$33 mil­lion a year.

As of January 2014, the Government was facing a US$100 million claim in the United States from the minority shareholder of the US$400 million Alutrint smelter plant—Venezuelan company Sural—as a consequence of the previous administration’s decision to cancel the smelter plant.

“This office has been advised that the minority shareholder in the Alutrint plant … is currently exercising its right under the contract to arbitration wherein it is making substantial claims against the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for its arbitrary cancellation of that contract. My information is that this arbitration is taking place in the United States and that the claims being made are well upwards of US$100 million, being prosecuted by high-quality lawyers of the minority shareholder,” said PM Keith Rowley.

As of October 2017, the Government had entered into a multimillion-dollar joint private-public sector initiative as it moves to revive the aluminium smelter project that had been shelved in September 2010.

The Government said that it is injecting TT$35 million (one TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) into the project with Alutech Limited, with Energy Minister Franklin Khan indicating that it would be a 60/40 arrangement.

Khan said that previous People’s National Movement (PNM) administrations had intended to get involved in the aluminium industry, adding that this was the rationale behind the aluminium smelter plant which was cancelled by the previous Government.

“However, we still feel we can salvage a downstream aluminium industry based on imported elements,” he said, noting that the aluminium industry was lucrative.

“Strange enough, over this time of depressed commodity prices, one of the few prices in the world that have not been depressed is aluminium and that is largely because of the motor car industry and aluminium wheels which have now become ubiquitous throughout the motor car industry,” he said, telling legislators that the scheme is a small investment.

PM Dr Keith Rowley told the Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee then that the State had been dealing with various claims made against it following the decision by the last Government to end the smelter plant project.

“There is some settlement with respect to the closure of the project where the minority partner would have had claims against the State.

“Those matters are still in negotiations; however, both parties have agreed to go forward and some of the settlement considerations would be taken into account.”

But Rowley told legislators, “This is not the end of it. We are in discussions with the Chinese Government with respect to settlement of another claim with respect to the closure and abandonment of the smelter project that is a much larger sum.”

He added that “the failures and the arbitrations and the liabilities we are dealing with… are as a direct result of the UNC shutting down the aluminium project which started with a smelter and down streaming”.

He said the smelter project was being financed by the Chinese Import/Export bank, noting “we have liabilities there”. He also said that equipment worth US$40 million “had been in a warehouse ever since”.

“What we are trying to do now is to restart the project so as to save the down streaming side based on imported inputs since we have killed the smelting side of it.”

What came out of T&Ts SOE in 2011?

On August 22nd, 2011, Kamla Persad Bissessar announced a Limited State of Emergency.

At the time, then PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar told the country that the SOE had been called as a response to combat an increase of violent crimes.

At the beginning of the state of emergency, there were a variety of mis-steps and mis-communications. The PM declared the emergency before it was authorized by the President’s signature, and people felt that proper procedure was not followed. The two top cops, the Commissioner of Police and Deputy Police Commissioner, were out of the country, and only after beginning to direct police procedure was the Acting Commissioner of Police retroactively given power. People wondered if his initial orders had legal authority. Though it may not have seemed like major issues, this created a sense that things were not really thought through.

Two weeks into the state of emergency, rich and poor alike were terrified and horrified by the escalation of violent crime and gun related deaths over the last decade. There had been more than 250 murders for the year and citizens were already feeling trapped and powerless when reports of eleven killed, virtually overnight, hit the headlines. The state of emergency and a curfew were set between 9pm and 5am in selected ‘hot spot’ areas. Citizens hoped that the government could use this period to bring down gang and drug related activities, and return the nation to the days when ordinary living wasn’t defined by self-imposed curfews.

There were also conflicting reports from Cabinet. One Minister commented that the state of emergency was being planned for a long time. Yet, just days before the declaration, another had denied that there was any need for one. Passes were to be given to persons needing to be on the streets past 9pm, but it was unclear where or how these would be issued, and on what grounds, and naturally people eventually began to circulate their own photocopied versions. Even Kamla’s initial announcement of a ‘limited’ state of emergency led to days-long radio discussions about what ‘limited’ meant and whether it referred to geography, scope or duration.  There was mass public confusion, though the government seemed to be clueless why.

Afro-Trinidadian representatives had spoken about the tragedy of seeing young, black men handcuffed by police, an image reminiscent of slave shackles and injustice by a racist, colonial regime. Indo-Trinidadians, represented by conservative male Hindu voices, had praised the government for finally acknowledging the fear that middle-classes and business people were living with.

Syrian-Trinidadian merchants in Port of Spain, who had long been calling for this measure, warned of the need to capture both the ‘little’ and ‘big’ fish in order for justice to be seen to be done. Poor and working class people, in areas that were targeted by police, used the media to cite security forces’ ethnic and class profiling and injustice. Their doors had been kicked in, their beds trampled upon and their houses searched by men with dogs and no legal responsibility to be polite, fair or reasonable. These groups wanted to see wealthy Syrian-, White- or Indo-Trinidadian businessmen, rumoured to be the wholesale drug traders, also arrested and paraded across the TV. Tobagonians had been worrying about the long-term impact on tourism and the effects of reduced travel on their own livelihoods, food supply and mobility.

The unions claimed that the SOE was put in place to surpress them and to curtail their activities in support of their wage increase demands. Public servants and police were in the middle of antagonistic negotiations with the government. Winston Dookeran, Minister of Finance, had been arguing that the government could not afford to increase wages by more than 5%. The unions disagreed and were planning a national strike. The state of emergency conveniently did what the unions were threatening to do and what the criminals had not quite accomplished. It shut down the country. The economic costs of the curfew now had to be added to those of crime and the unions’ collective bargaining, which would have resumed full force in weeks to come.

Despite the gun-slinging Attorney General’s gladiatorial approach, there had been daytime armed robberies and attempted kidnappings during that period. Many wondered if the criminals really were ‘on the run’ or if the majority were just resting until the curfew was lifted. Incomes in the legal, illegal and informal labour markets had been lost and some were looking to make ends meet however necessary. Knowing this, citizens were concerned and kept asking about the plan for after the period ended.

During this period, dozens of persons were arrested and held for an extended period under the Anti-Gang Act.

Most of these persons, however, were eventually released after their cases were reviewed by officials from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was noted that in most of these cases, persons were arrested by the police and military and charged under theAnti-Gang Act, without sufficient evidence to support the use of the bill, a blatant violation of human rights. In some cases, the SOE was used by some law enforcement agents to settle love vendettas.

In March 2018, David Williams, Ronald Cobham, Richard Weekes, Derek Miller, Jules Eligon, Kadeem Weekes, Kerwin Issac and Akiel Kareem Sherwood, became the latest persons to receive payments from the State.

A settlement was reached between the claimants (the eight men) and the State that if they withdrew their claims for malicious prosecution, the State would pay a total of $429,697.91 for the time they served.

In July 2018, PM Rowley said government had no plans for a State of Emergency although he acknowledged that the country is experiencing a ‘chronic crime wave’.

“We are not considering that at this time, we do not see it as an effective way of changing what is happening. A state of emergency will not necessarily give us the security that we are looking for. There’ll be negative developments on the economy and that would in itself create the environment for further growth of criminal conduct,” he said.

We believe that…information on wrongdoing can be pursued without a state of emergency. A previous government held out to us in 2015 that a state of emergency was the panacea to crime.  We know now that it did not in any way result in a reduction of the guns on the street or the gunmen who would use them,” he said.

He said government is focusing on a national security response including removing firearms from the street and preventing them from entering the country, as well as identifying persons engaging in criminal conduct.

Dr Rowley also slammed the ‘heinous’ acts on parts of criminals who have ‘added to the trauma that the nation is feeling’.

“...very heinous actions by citizens who have cold-bloodedly slaughtered others, endangered very many more and have added to the trauma that the nation is feeling, particularly those communities, those streets, those families who are experiencing this chronic crime wave, which has been affecting our country for the longest while,” he said.

“I want to give the country assurance that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago would be resolute in pursuing safety and security as a number one priority in Trinidad and Tobago.”

“It is difficult for the population to accept that, I know, because results have not been good, but we will not abdicate that responsibility and we will not settle,” he said.

Dr Rowley said government will continue to direct resources where they are needed and to press security officials to continue improvement in crime-solving.

“But I also know that if we do things differently, if we make better use of our resources and if we have more buy-in from the national population, that we as a country could get on top of this crime problem and solve it like other communities have done,” he said. 

 

September 2010- RAPID RAIL PROJECT CANCELLED (Part One)

The decision was taken by the People’s Partnership Government not to proceed with the rapid rail project on September 8th, 2010. This resulted in the continued overcrowding of the nation’s roads and loss of productivity in the work place and the classrooms.

In 2018, countless, thousands of workers and schoolchildren continue to arrive at work and school under needless stress occasioned by traffic jams and requiring time to unwind thus, effectively, reducing their output.

The multi-passenger rapid rail trains would have been positioned to lift, say, 800 to 1,000 each as opposed to the four or five-seater conventional taxi or private car; the 12-24 passenger maxi taxi and the larger 50-passenger bus. In turn, the utilisation of the rapid rail would have meant that far less gasolene and compressed natural gas would have been needed on an annual or five to ten-year basis, thus releasing the volume of energy saved to earn additional valuable foreign exchange.

The discarding of the rapid rail programme should not have been based on the initial cost of laying down the tracks, acquiring the trains and operating the system.

Hundreds of millions of dollars would have been saved annually through workers reaching their places of employment well in time and stress free.

Additionally, the man hours saved would have made the country’s products, whether energy based or non-energy based, that much more competitive, not only in regional and international markets but in the domestic market as well. It would have been a plus as the nation moved toward diversification of its economy. The introduction of rapid rail would have, tacitly, subsidised manufacturing costs of many a product and this would have been reflected in increased demand for our goods and services.

It would have been myopic for the People’s Partnership Administration to have viewed what clearly should have been a smooth running and efficient service in terms of profit and loss.

Guido Moss, the celebrated United States transport expert, who had been sent to Trinidad and Tobago by the US Operation Mission to the West Indies to advise on the establishment of a transport system, stated: “Public ownership of transport is very generally operated at a financial loss.”

Admittedly, Moss, who submitted his Report and recommendations on February 20, 1961, had been commissioned to investigate bus transport.

Nevertheless, his arguments with respect to the multi-passenger bus as opposed to the conventional taxi could be employed today for rapid rail in relation to even the buses and, certainly, the maxis and taxis.

Moss stated: “With its five passengers per taxicab compared to 50 passengers for a bus, ten taxicabs are required to carry the load of one bus.” Similarly, for one train lifting, say, 1,000 passengers, 200 five-passenger taxis would be needed and 20 50-passenger buses!

What would have been important as well would have been the effective marketing of the rapid rail system. This would have included marketing the spin off benefits of promoting stress free travel, on time arrival at offices and job sites and classrooms, greater productivity in the work place leading to T&T goods being more competitive.

Meanwhile, if the People’s Partnership Government had reservations about the cost of the rapid rail cars and models which the previous People’s National Movement government had accepted, other models and designs could have been considered.

The journeys would have been hassle free in air conditioned comfort. Residents offering their patronage would have been guided by time tables.

The former railway service which was phased out on December 28, 1968, had been around for almost a century.

Jan 2012- US $15M BLIMP SOLD FOR US $50,000

An assault on every facet of national security apparatus-  The “blimp”, which made its debut in T&T in 2005 as an airship with sophisticated monitoring capabilities, was disposed of in January 2012.

The Government at the time made a decision to sell the blimp (Skyship 600) to the highest bidder, an undisclosed American company for the sum of US$50,000.

Keeping the blimp at Camp Cumuto helium-charged was costing too much money, and it was advised that it was better to sell the skyship to the highest bidder.

Worldwide Aeros, the US company, which is based in California, was the company from which the PNM had purchased the blimp at the cost of US$15 million.

People’s Partnership sources expressed that although the blimp was being sold at a loss, it would save the country a considerable amount of money to dispose of it.

According to well placed sources, it was said that the Skyship was showing signs of wear and tear, and was rusting in some places.

In 2007, the third blimp was purchased from Worldwide Aeros and since September 2011 had been left in a hangar at SAUTT’s Camp Cumuto headquarters. The blimp was grounded to facilitate maintenance work, but that work was never carried out because of a decision taken by the PP Government to cease use of the blimp. The last time the blimp was used was in July 2011, when the Priority Bus Route was opened up to members of the public during peak traffic hours. Then Minister of Works and Transport at the time, Jack Warner had requested SAUTT carry out patrols from Arima to Port-of-Spain on a daily basis to ensure all went well at the PBR.

Government sources revealed that in August 2011, a company hired by SAUTT to carry out maintenance work on the blimp was fired because they felt it was too costly to maintain the blimp.

In Jan 2012, a well placed source said that the then Government was aware that minus the surveillance equipment and lack of maintenance, it would not have been able to fetch the hefty US$15 million for the blimp. The first blimp was purchased by the PNM administration at a cost of US$12 million. Months after the purchase was made, the Skyship began experiencing difficulties. The PP then took a decision to lease a foreign used blimp at a cost of US$100,000 per month, while the third blimp was purchased for US$15 million. An additional cost was added to that US$15 million to outfit the third blimp with surveillance equipment.

In September 2011, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar set up a steering committee to review the resources and restructuring of SAUTT. Another decision was taken to wind up the operations of SAUTT and a committee led by Deputy Police Commissioner Stephen Williams was assigned to oversee the operations of SAUTT and facilitate the sale of the blimp. The PP announced that it was not interested in using the blimp for further surveillance patrols and revealed that the decision was taken by the implementation committee to downsize SAUTT and make better use of its training academy.

In September 2011, five foreigners and one local had expressed interest in purchasing the Airship-Skyship 600.

With respect to the Skyship 600, the total cost of maintenance from the date of acquisition was $19,714,314.

March 2015- Feeding Frenzy at AG’s Office

$343 Million- The cost incurred by taxpayers as former Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan employed the services of private lawyers to do the work of his office.

Two former Attorneys General describe this phenomenon as gross overspending.

Among the revelations are:

  • Increased spending on legal fees for private attorneys since 2010, from 25% to almost 50% of the total budget allocated to the Attorney General’s office.
  • An increase in the budget assigned to the Attorney General’s office, from $36 million in 2010, to $130 million in 2015- an increase of almost 400%
  • An increase in the allocation for legal fees in 2011 to $78 million or over 100%
  • An increase in the allocation for legal fees in 2012 to $104 million
  • An increase in the allocation for legal fees in 2015 to $130 million
  • The retention of a private lawyer for $408,000 to reply to a pre-action protocol letter that the individual had paid another lawyer $2,000 to file.
  • Charging and payment of legal fees for an investigation into the Scarborough General Hospital construction project, which is yet to be released.
  • Charging of $400,000 for advice on exemption from taxes on the purchase of motor vehicles.
  • Mysterious payment of TT$1,750,000 to Tiger Capital Ltd, a local company with no legal expertise, part owned by a former client of the Ex Attorney General, for “Request for Mutual Assistance by the USA”. The US Department of Justice denies knowing about, or ever having anything to do with the company. The million-dollar-plus payment was made to the company 6 days after it was restarted, following a period of 5 years of inactivity. The official address of the company- 16B McInroy Street, Curepe, in an empty plot of land. 

Commenting on the issue, PM at the time Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she could not comment on the expenditure by her former Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan, as she had not studied the figures and stated that as far as she had been aware, no investigation had been launched into the allegations.

The Attorney General’s office at that time not only engaged in what seems evident as blatant fraud and squander-mania, but more so, proved his unfitness for Public Office.

2015 NGC – Collusion to Obscure Corruption

A previous exclusive published gave insight into the shocking revelations of a leaked National Gas Company Auditors’ report in February 2015. What was revealed were concerns by the company’s internal audit team, about fraud and misappropriation of public funds in the company that generated profits to the sum of $6.5 BILLION.

In case you missed it, read story here: NGC Blatant Fraud

Following the NGC’s statement denying that there even existed an audit, and questioning the competence of its own internal auditors, its former Senior Audit Executive, Claire Gomez-Miller who initiated the audits into NGC’s Corporate Communications Management, and NGC’s Procurement recommended that members of the audit team “stand prepared to take any and every action in the interest of their professional safety and professional reputation, including seeking legal advice and taking legal action”.

In a widely circulated 13-point email message, she points out that:

  • The NGC’s advertisement, “seeks to disclaim that an official audit report was issued to management and that the quality, process and issuance was not in accordance with auditing standards, leaving the reader to interpret that the Audit Team was unprofessional at best”.
  • “It is a fact that the Final Draft Audit Report on Corporate Communications Management was issued last year to the Manager, Corporate Communications (Charmaine Mohammed) for her review and comments, and this was done under the directive and approval of the Internal Audit Manager, in accordance with the Internal Audit Charter and the approved Terms of Reference (TOR).”
  • “A Final Draft Audit Report that has been issued to the responsible Manager for action (be it for their review and comments or for implementation) is an OFFICIAL DOCUMENT BE IT A FINAL DRAFT AUDIT REPORT”.
  • “The Final Draft Audit Report will only be revised when the responsible Manager responds to the request for comments, providing any outstanding information, documents, and clarification for the audit team’s consideration.”
  • Up to four months after the Final Draft Audit Report had been passed to the responsible Manager, no response had been received from her.
  • During the audits, her authority as Chief Audit Executive “was wrongfully removed from me and transferred to another Manager who used this authority to promptly stop the completion of these two audits.”
  • The audits resumed nearly two months later, only after she sent a registered letter to the Board Chairman and the Company Secretary about the matter.

Thereafter, the National Gas Company, through its lawyers wrote Former Senior Audit Executive, Claire Gomez-Miller who initiated the audits into NGC’s Corporate Communications Management, and NGC’s Procurement, threatening potential liability “for civil or criminal proceedings”. It was demanded that she hand over to the company any notes, memos and documents she may have retained when she exited the company in September 2014. It also demanded that she gave a written undertaking within 48 hours that she will “not make use of” and also “prevent publication or disclosure or (sic) any confidential information which would have been received or made by “her in the course of her work by the NGC”.

Subsequently, it was also revealed that at the time People’s Partnership-appointed Chairman of the National Gas Company, Roop Chan Chadeesingh violated the rules of the State Enterprise Performance Manual, by serving as a member of the Board’s audit committee while sitting as the Board’s Chairman.

This was in direct contravention of a specific recommendation of the Uff Enquiry.

2015- NGC BLATANT FRAUD

In February 2015, a leaked Auditors’ report into the affairs of the National Gas Company revealed concerns by the company’s internal audit team, about fraud and misappropriation of public funds in the company that generated profits to the sum of $6.5 BILLION.

Among the shocking revelations are:

  • Escalation of the budget of the Corporate Communications Department from $67 million to $200 million
  • Expenditure of $1,073,497.80 on Carnival fete tickets
  • Blatant disregard for Company rules governing expenditure
  • Failure to follow established procedures
  • Failure to obtain approvals for increased expenditure
  • 50% – 114% increases in expenditure for various categories of the Department’s operations
  • Absence of records to support the Department’s risk management of community-related projects that are impacted by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, which can be viewed as breaches of the legislations, especially as NGC’s published Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) statement indicated that the company maintains these records.

Not to mention, in March 2015, revelations emerged that the NGC inflated the cost of a community project by 100%, from $4.5 million to $9,045,285.

Kanhai Road Environmental Sports and Cultural Organisation (KRES-CO) had written to NGC Corporate Communications Manager, Charmaine Mohammed in Febraury 2014, requesting the sum of $4.5 million to construct a pavilion/activity centre for its recreational facility. The NGC Board of Directors approved the amount upon the endorsement of NGC’s President, Indar Maharaj.

Subsequently, the Board was presented with a note saying that the revised cost of the project was $9,045,285 – an increase of %100. Furthermore, the note specified that the money for the project would come from – the NGC Community Economic Development Budget.

The NGC told KRESCO that it would obtain a contractor through the tendering process, but never indicated that the cost would be double.

Separate and apart from the NGC’s abuse of office, at that time, they presented themselves as corrupt thieves, engaging in collusion to steal and defraud.

The NGC responded to these initial revelations of financial mismanagement through a full page advertisement that denied that there had even been an audit, and further attempts to question the competence of its internal auditors.

While the Opposition at the time and Independent members of the Committee were in favour of immediate discussions surrounding the NGC crisis, the People’s Partnership members of the Committee refused to allow the crisis to be brought forward for discussion.

Questions soon arose into the safety of the audit team surrounding this issue…

Follow up story to be published soon.

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

January 2015- AG accused of WITNESS TAMPERING

Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan became the first Attorney General in the history of Trinidad and Tobago to be accused of witness tampering. He was accused of offering David West Directorship of the Police Complaint Authority, if he (West) withdrew a witness statement filed in a defamation lawsuit involving the Attorney General and Opposition Leader at the time, Dr. Keith Rowley.

In January 2017, Police contacted several former Peoples’ Partnership ministers for interviews and met with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in their probe of witness -tampering allegations made against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan by Police Complaints Authority (PCA) director David West.

The “witness-tampering” investigation, was instituted by Acting Police Commissioner at the time, Stephen Williams in January 2015. This, after West’s allegation, made at the time, against Ramlogan of an “attempt to pervert the course of justice”.

West alleged that Ramlogan “asked” him to withdraw as a witness in a matter involving then opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley. Ramlogan strongly denied this. Less than a week after the issue broke in 2015, former PP prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar revoked the appointments of Ramlogan as well as then National Security Minister Gary Griffith. Griffith gave a statement supporting West’s claim. It was alleged that Griffith, on Ramlogan’s advice, telephoned West to query whether West had withdrawn his statement.

Since the 2015 probe started, at least six former PP ministers were contacted by police. Some former ministers and other people have been interviewed more than once.

At the start of the probe, Griffith gave several statements to police and was interviewed.

Griffith had also alleged he was “pressured” by Cabinet colleagues, including Vasant Bharath, not to support West’s complaint.

Bharath and others categorically denied this.

Since the start of 2017, several other ex-PP ministers were contacted.

This included Bharath, ex-minister Ramadhar, former Minister Suruj Rambachan and UNC MP Roodal Moonilal .

These were the series of events…

•Ramlogan denied allegations that he asked West to withdraw his (West’s) witness statement in a defamation lawsuit Ramlogan had against then opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley.

• The lawsuit concerned comments about the controversial Section 34 issue and extradition proceedings involving businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson.

• It was alleged Ramlogan “promised” West he would be appointed PCA director if he withdrew from the defamation matter.

• Ramlogan reportedly said he’d only become aware of West filing a witness statement in the matter when it was given to his attorneys in December 2014.

•West said his recollection of what transpired was “diametrically opposed to” Ramlogan’s denial that he ever approached him.

•West said he reported the matter to the Police Commissioner.

•Then legal affairs minister Prakash Ramadhar attempted to speak with West on the allegations.

•West said the PCA was an independent body, didn’t report to a minister, and it would have been inappropriate to meet Ramadhar.

• Within a week of the issue, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar sought the resignations of both Ramlogan and Gary Griffith.

• She said it was alleged Griffith, on Ramlogan’s advice, telephoned West to query whether West had withdrawn a statement, the alleged incident forms part of the police enquiry and Griffith confirmed he made the call.

• Persad-Bissessar said she’d read the statements from both as well as West’s reported statements and found facts conflicted.

• She expressed concern about West (for a “compromised” PCA post resulting from the situation) and then opposition leader Rowley (for not reporting the claims when consultation on West’s nomination for PCA head arose).

On August 29th 2017, Anand Ramlogan was arrested at his home in Palmiste on the grounds of misbehavior in public office and perverting the course of justice.

Ramlogan was granted bail in the sum of $750,000 covering both charges.