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As the world remembers the lives of road traffic accident victims, the Sunday Guardian has reached out to families of people who died. These people share the burden of lives lost and the memories that provide both comfort and sorrow.
Vashti Sooklal's son Anderson was 23 years old when he was killed in a road traffic accident 13 years ago.
For years I couldn't move past my son's death.
I kept his bedroom exactly as it was and I couldn't talk about him without having a total breakdown.
He was a qualified mechanical engineer and it happened on the Priority Bus Route in Macoya. It was around 9 pm and he was going out with some friends on a Saturday night. I had gone to New York to visit my brother with my husband and daughter the week before and that was the last time we would have seen him.
I remember everything. Every detail. It was Borough Day in Arima. He had just started to work and was just going to lime. My brother-in-law called us in New York that Saturday night and told us he had died. He told us a maxi-taxi driver was speeding on the bus route and had hit our son. He was crossing the bus route and it wasn't very well lit at that time.
My son was so ambitious. I think about the life he could have. He was a really good child. He was loved by everybody in the family. He was a brilliant child.
He was always so careful. He never had a broken arm or even a cut from playing. I kept thinking of how careful he was as a person and how this happened to him.
It took me years to even call his name.
I must have went to court for the inquest about 70 times. I would go but it would keep being deferred because the driver wouldn't come. Nothing ever came of it.
The driver of the maxi would not show up, sometimes the sergeant wouldn't come. They would always say they couldn't find him. I remember the driver's name. I remember the sergeant's name. I remember seeing the driver for the first time and I broke down in tears. I couldn't look at him. It took me years to even go places where I would see children my son's age. It took me years.
We have his picture up all around the house and his certificates. It was hard to see them but I look at those pictures all the time now.
I left his room alone for years. Every year I keep a memorial for him. I would think, it just took a few seconds to cross that bus route. If he had gone a few seconds earlier. I always think about if he had two seconds again to get out of the driver's way.
It is very difficult to cope. The driving on the road has become worse, reckless. They really don't care about people lives, about who they could hurt, who hurts after. They don't care.
Jennifer Teague lost two sons as a result of road accidents, most recently her son Travis, a father of two.
When we got the call that Travis had died I didn't know what to do.
It was so hard. It was like that first call years ago when Tito had died. It was more than ten years ago.
Travis was in that accident too. Travis walked away without any injuries but Tito, my first son, died.
We were told that Travis was heading east along the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway and when he reached the O'Meara intersection his car, a Mitsubishi Lancer, collided with a pick-up heading south along O'Meara Road.
Teague and his friends died. They were all friends. The people in the other vehicle died too. All of them.
I think about it all of the time. Tito was my firstborn, Travis was the third of my six children.
I get anxious when my other children say they are going anyway. I feel afraid and I freeze because of what happened to my two boys.
Travis was outspoken. He never took stupidness from anybody. He had a fast brain and he had two children.
He lived next to me and those children never liked to leave by me. He was always by me too. We were very close. He never wanted to see me go anywhere.
Whenever I left to go away Travis would quarrel and ask 'where you going?' He used to say don't go now and would say all kinds of things to get me to stay.
The last time I said I was going away, he told me he was getting married and told me I couldn't be gone on his wedding day. I know he really wanted to get married but that was his way of tricking me to stay.
I wanted to see my sons live their lives, get married and settle down. We talk about it a lot in the family. We dream about them and sometimes I can talk about it and other times I break down, but I pray about it and ask for strength.
I believe that with God everything will be okay. I beg the Lord to give me strength.
Despite the high number of people still dying on our roads, the trend is towards fewer fatalities on our roads. The positive trend is welcome on World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic victims, marked every third Sunday of November.
Since 2008, road deaths in T&T have dropped by more than 50 per cent. In 2014, the country recorded 165 road deaths, with 147 in 2015 and 135 in 2016. To date, 100 fatalities have been registered this year.
According to statistics from the Highway Patrol and Traffic Branch, 49 per cent of the accidents involve one driver or one vehicle, and the victims are usually men, aged between 25 and 34.
The reduction of road deaths and serious injuries by half is one of the targets set as part of the United Nation’s 17 Global Sustainable Development goals to be achieved by the year 2020.
According to the president of road safety campaign group Arrive Alive, Sharon Inglefield, the target can be achieved if the necessary measures are implemented.
Inglefield acknowledged the progress so far, attributed to better education, an improved road network and higher levels of enforcement. However, she feels driver training is inadequate for high-speed driving which, together with alcohol and distractions, are the main causes of road accidents.
Speaking to the Guardian, Inglefield said that measures such as the penalty point system, speed and red light cameras, a more transparent licensing system and proper maintenance of the roads can contribute to further reductions in road fatalities. Many of these changes are planned as part of the Government’s amendments to the country’s road legislation, which it promises to implement soon.
On Friday, the Ministry of Works and Transport announced that nine additional speed guns have been acquired, bringing the total number of operational speed guns to 15.
Together WI joins United Way Trinidad and Tobago to present to the people of T&T, No Greater Time—The Concert on November 26.
This will be an evening of musical performances by some of the artistes featured on the #NoGreaterTime song, including, Kes, Chris ‘Tambu’ Herbert’, Freetown Collective, Isasha and Collis Duranty, and punctuated by spoken word acts by the talented members of 2Cents Movement, Derron Sandy and Deneka Thomas. The concert will mark the first ever live performance of #NoGreaterTime the song that was released earlier this year on Independence Day and will feature several of the artistes who were featured on the song. Hosted at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at the cost of $200, the concert will be the place for Trinbagonians to come together in a spirit of love and positivity. Doors will open at 5 pm to a series of interactive mini-features, with the concert starting at 6 pm. The proceeds from this event will go towards a Sustainable Development Goals Catalyst Fund overseen by United Way T&T.
About the song
No Greater Time is a collaborative music project created by a group of Trinidad and Tobago’s musicians. The song features over 35 artistes ranging from calypso legends David Rudder and Tambu, to the inimitable Ella Andall, to contemporary soca stars Kees and Destra, and the youngest soca and calypso monarchs, Voice and Aaron Duncan. Inspired by the 1986 calypso classic, “Now Is The Time”, the Trinbagonian response to “We Are the World”, #NoGreaterTime will use music to both deliver a necessary message and to unite people across the country. The aim of this project, according to the organisers, is "to rally citizens to collectively create a more peaceful, prosperous and unified Trinbagonian society".
About Together WI
The Together WI Foundation is a creative solutions agency, comprising creative professionals, research and strategy experts and international relations practitioners. Together WI develops social awareness campaigns that address issues affecting Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora communities. Such campaigns include, the Leave Me Alone/Leave She Alone campaign that focuses on raising awareness about sexual harassment and gender-based violence; Voices TT that addresses criminal justice, and in collaboration with Bocas Lit Festival hosted the first ever live feed from the Port-of-Spain Prison that featured creative works of both incarcerated men and women; and the #NoGreaterTime campaign dedicated to raising social consciousness and rallying Trinidad and Tobago towards more civic engagement.
About United Way
United Way T&T is a local non-profit organisation, affiliated with United Way International. With their rallying call “LIVE UNITED”, the organisation is dedicated to the advancement and uplifting of society and to changing the conversation towards hope. What drives the organisation is its commitment to mobilising resources to serve Non-Governmental Organisations and Community Based Organisations that deliver social services. Working with NGOs, the Government, businesses, labour, community leaders and socially conscious individuals and organisations locally and internationally, United Way T&T strives to help build sound communities and improve the quality of life in Trinidad and Tobago.
For more information contact:
Email [email protected]
United Way T&T:
Email [email protected]
Ayana Ife stood as a runner up on Thursday night's finals of the American reality fashion design series Project Runway, where the winner was announced at New York Fashion Week. If the show had a second place winner she would be it.
The 28-year-old designer of Trinidadian parentage was a faddish contestant on the show's 16th season being adored by the media, not only because of her Caribbean roots but specifically because of her Islamic identity that shone through her design work which underscored fashion with modesty.
Ife's success has once again placed T&T on the world map noting the twin island republic as a gold mine for creatives, at least when it comes to fashion and design sector.
Her forerunner Anya Ayoung-Chee would have set the pace and made clear definition of this when she took the winning title in season nine, keeping it all Caribbean.
But not only is Ife's success in reaching the finals a proud moment for T&T. It is so much more a milestone for the Islamic community as she has officially pioneered being the first Islamic woman to make it to the finals and stand as a runner up on the famous reality television brand. In the past, the show saw one other Islamic hopeful who did not make it to the finals.
In a previous interview, she noted she did not go into the competition expecting the headlines to focus on the fact that she was a Muslim. Subsequently, in the same interview she is quoted as saying “I do know the importance of representation and thinking back to when I was younger, I would have been happy to see someone like me doing positive things so I decided I would step into this light and own it. I think it is very positive.”
Today members of the Congress of the People (COP) will go to the polls to elect the party's third substantive political leader.
In 2006, the COP was formed by Winston Dookeran. By 2007, when a general election was called, the party had gained some momentum on the political landscape but was unsuccessful in winning a seat. It did, however, amass 148,041 votes. The party's last internal election in 2014 saw approximately 2,600 members vote.
In 2010, the party won six seats under the People’s Partnership and in 2011, Dookeran stepped down as political leader. Prakash Ramadhar led the party from then until February this year. Dr Anirudh Mahabir has since been acting.
The party has a list of over 40,000 members eligible to vote for two candidates—former party chairman Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and Dr Sharon-ann Gopaul-McNicol.
The party's campaign looks at Reclaiming and Transforming T&T, with a theme of 'Country First'.
The election takes place from 9 am to 6 pm. COP members can vote at any polling station convenient to them once their name is on the membership list.
Dr Sharon-ann Gopaul-McNicol
McNicol's campaign has been focused on strengthening the COP from the ground up, in terms of its structure and processes, as well as presenting a blueprint for transformation to effective governance, which looks at models for various sectors in the country.
Gopaul-McNicol said she felt her campaign had gone well and was confident she had presented herself as not just the best leader for the COP but also the best leader for the country.
She said it was time citizens chose leaders who were competent in the areas under their responsibility, and said she had spent 15 years of her life studying and creating models for national development.
"I plan to make sure the arms of our party are back and up and functioning to get our candidates ready for local government and general elections."
Seepersad-Bachan, whose focus is on rebuilding the COP, said the party cannot expect to enter into any future election arrangements without having first proven to the people of T&T that it had returned to its founding values and principles.
"That is what I have been structuring for the party's organs, a Solution Series, where our young and experienced nation builders can sit together and forge a new path for sustainable development,."
Seepersad-Bachan said she felt she had the right combination of skills, experience and people to turn the COP around and present it as a viable alternative to the population.
She believes the country needs politicians who can dispassionately deal with the issues of the day and who can find unity in diversity ."I have practised the principles and values of the party throughout my five years as a government minister and MP," she added.
When everyone felt that the case was closed on the kidnap and murder of United States citizen Balram "Balo" Maharaj, comes news that new motions have been filed in the Federal Court in Washington DC, which could see a new trial for the seven convicted Trinidadians.
Even more interesting is that if the seven men get a new trial, who would testify against them next time? Three of the four co-conspirators, who testified for the US Government in 2009, have been deported to Trinidad.
The seven were convicted in 2009 and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. But new information has surfaced and the defence has until December 15 to file their submissions which would allow Judge John Bates to fix a date for the hearing sometime in mid 2018.
In the interim, a private investigator from the United States is now in Trinidad interviewing potential witnesses and visiting certain places as he prepares his case for his client, Anderson Straker.
Trevor Hewick, a retired police officer, is hoping to gather enough evidence so that the seven Trinidadians serving life imprisonment in the United States could have a final shot at a re-trial. Hewick is in T&T for nine days.
Well-placed sources said Hewick, who was born in Guyana, "is in Trinidad to coordinate some of the inconsistent statements made by the co-conspirators (Russell Joseph, Leon Nurse, Jason Percival and Winston Gittens), and the lack of investigations conducted by the Trinidadians' US attorneys and investigators to argue certain aspects of the case for the defendants.
The co-defendants believe that their respective attorneys and investigators were ineffective in presenting their case to the United States Government.
One of the main issues Hewick is pursuing is the relationship between former US prosecutor Bruce Hegyi and Gittens, a co-conspirator, who turned witness for the US Government against the seven Trinidadians.
Hewick has been interviewing several people as he hopes this could assist the defence in their final shot at a new trial. Hewick went to Mayaro where he interviewed witnesses on behalf of his client, Anderson, who lived in that community. He has been to the area where Maharaj was kept hostage at Grand Curacaye, Lower Santa Cruz. He has also been to the Samaan Bar, Aranguez, where Maharaj was snatched, and he has been to the Mellow Moods Bar, where meetings took place over the negotiations.
The defence has until December 15 to file any amendments to their new submissions, following which a date will be set for the arguments.
Seven Trinidadians were convicted in 2009 and sentenced to life imprisonment by Judge John Bates in Washington DC.
The convicted men were Kevin “Shaka” Nixon; Anderson “Gypsy’s Son” Straker; Christopher “Boyie” Sealey, also known as Christopher Bourne; Wayne “Ninja” Pierre; Army Cpl Richardo De Four; Zion Clarke; and Kevon “Ketchit” Demerieux.
They were among 13 people extradited to the US to answer charges relating to Maharaj’s killing. Former member of the Defence Force Special Forces Unit, Sgt Leon Nurse, and ex-soldier Jason Errol Percival, also known as “Soldier,” both of Santa Cruz, had initially pleaded guilty after securing a deal with US prosecutors in exchange for their testimony.
Together with Russell Joseph and Gittens, they gave evidence for the US Government. Nurse, Joseph, and Percival are back in Trinidad after short prison terms, while Gittens remains in the US.
They were convicted of:
* Conspiracy to engage in hostage taking contrary to Section 3 of the Taking Hostages Act.
* Hostage taking contrary to Section 3 of the Taking of Hostages Act.
* Aiding and abetting the taking of a hostage under Section 3 of the Taking of Hostages Act.
* Conspiracy to engage in hostage taking.
One man, David Suchit, was acquitted, while Maharaj’s former common-law wife, Doreen Alexander-Durity, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Maharaj, 62, a US war veteran was kidnapped outside the Samaan Tree bar, Aranguez, on April 6, 2005. The prosecution’s case was that Maharaj was held hostage under very harsh conditions, including depriving him of essential medications, while his abductors demanded a $3 million ransom from his family for his safe return.
The money was never paid. The dismembered and badly decomposed body of Maharaj was located by FBI agents and local law enforcement officers on January 8, 2006, in a forest at Grand Curacaye, Santa Cruz, buried in two plastic barrels.
There are over one million cars on the nations roads and over 650,000 drivers' permits on the Licensing Authority's system.
These were figures presented by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi in Parliament Friday during his wind-up of the debate on the act to amend the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act, Chap. 48:50.
The bill, which provides for the enforcement of new maximum speed limits on specified classes of motor vehicles outside and within built-up areas, and would raise the speed limit from 80 km/h to 100 km/h, was passed on Friday night with the Opposition's support.
Responding to earlier comments about the reasons which influenced the decision to change the speed limit, Al-Rawi praised the engineering division of the Ministry of Works, saying the team took a scientific and data-driven approach to making recommendations.
He said while the country's roads were designed for vehicles going at speeds of 125 km per hour, the actual prescribed velocity was 100.
"What was missing in T&T was the actual data and so the priority for the ministry was to collect the data, test the data and then put the data into utilization. By April 2018 we anticipate that we will have gone live."
Earlier in the debate, Mayaro MP Rushton Paray, while supporting the bill, said he was concerned it was being treated like most things.
"We like to treat the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem. The vehicle amendment bill talks about fines for speeding, reckless driving, road rage. It tries to treat the issue of road carnage with a hope that policing of roadway is the cure. But we need to treat the root cause. Why are people busy? Why are we speeding? Why are we angry on the nations highway?" He said the root cause may be due to traffic and congestion on the road.
Paray said the decentralisation of government services could lead to more efficient use of time, better family life and happier employees.
Jearlean John, who has filed nomination papers for the post of deputy political leader of the United National Congress (UNC) in the November 26 internal elections, is hoping to make a difference for women and young girls aspiring to make their lives better.
John, asked if she will be playing a specific role on the crucial East-West corridor for the party, said, "I don't want to be pigeonholed into some East-West corridor narrative because I am of African descent. Along the East-West corridor there are many little girls named Jearlean. There was a time people respected me before people tried to smear my name."
John is hoping that her life and what she has accomplished "through hard work and long hours" will inspire those with whom she comes into contact.
She said, "The fact that I came from Charlotteville to Trinidad with one O'Level subject and now I have an MBA and I am a certified accountant says something. The fact that I am a single mother who raised a child and now she is an attorney-at-law because I was a very dedicated mother and ensured that she got an education, I hope that means something."
John said wherever she has worked "I treat people with respect and dignity and I hope that will mean something not only along the East-West corridor, but that it will resonate in every corridor in Trinidad and Tobago, quite frankly."
She recalled the relationship which former works minister in the Basdeo Panday administration Sadiq Baksh had with the people along the corridor. "Sadiq was successful because he took the same approach I have taken. That is we will not be limited by our race. We reach out to everybody and treat people with decency.
"I am just saying as part of the political narrative I really want to mean something to the young mother and father in Debe, in Sans Souci and in places I have never been and to people who did not have the same up bringing that I had in Charlotteville, but at least we connect at some level because of our hopes and aspirations."
John has been well received at cottage meetings which she has attended with UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar in the lead-up to next weekend's elections.
Franco Siu Chong, managing director of Excellent Stores Ltd, has expressed confidence in the economy of the country well enough to expand his business.
Yesterday, Excellent Stores opened its newest branch and eighth location at The Shops of Arima.
"Why expand at these trying times, with the drop in oil prices and scarcity of foreign exchange? Well, these plans were set in motion three years ago, and we at Excellent Stores believe in the cycle of business, we understand that there are times when business is good, and other times, like now, when it is low. In the past, Excellent Stores have ridden challenging times and have survived."
Siu Chong said they believed in the resilience of the economy of T&T, cared about their citizens’ shopping experience and were committed to maintaining employment for its just under 300 members of staff.
Tobago has recorded a second murder this week, bringing the island's murder toll to 11 for 2017. Dead is Richard Ramos Carmona, a barber, of San Juan, who lived at Mason Hall, Tobago.
Carmona's body was found by officers led by Senior Supt Joanne Archie while on their way to conduct a police exercise in Tobago east.COfficers observed a white Mitsubishi Lancer registration number PCZ 5880 at Blenheim, Mt St George, in the street leading to the Prime Minister's residence around 1:30 am on Saturday and decided to check on it.
He was found in the driver's seat and the ignition was running.
The Sunday Guardian understands that Carmona, 28, was shot multiple times about his body. He died at the scene.
Police are yet to ascertain the motive for the killing, however sources said Carmona and Rondell Campbell aka Barry, who was shot and killed in Mason Hall, last Monday, were acquainted and their murders may be linked.
Carmona also had drug-related matters before the court.
District Medical Officer Dr Maxwell Adeyemi ordered the body removed to the Scarborough General Hospital mortuary where an autopsy is expected to be conducted soon.
Out of the 11 murder committed in Tobago this year, nine of them were gun related.
Investigations are continuing.
A and V Oil and Gas limited, through its attorneys, says any discrepancies between reported oil production in its Exploration and Production Operations and the actual production receipts at Pointe-a-Pierre is the fault of state-owned Petrotrin.
The company's attorney Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC said A and V's legal team had retained a Canadian Forensic Oil and Gas Expert with the equivalent skill and experience of Kroll Consulting Canada Company, the company used by Petrotrin for their forensic audit, to give an opinion on the Internal Audit Report which Petrotrin had relied on.
"That opinion shows there is no evidence that A and V committed any fraud or breach of contract or that A and V supplied any fake oil to Petrotrin," Maharaj said. He, however, did not name the company hired by A and V's Legal team.
In a media release yesterday, Maharaj said if such discrepancies existed, it was the fault of Petrotrin and the systems and procedures it used to record the supply of crude oil from contractors to the Barrackpore Tank Farm.
The release further stated that discrepancies, if they existed, did not constitute fraudulent conduct or a breach of contract by A and V.
Maharaj's release was a direct response to a statement released on Friday by Petrotrin, which said a forensic report by Kroll Consulting Canada Company had confirmed the report of an internal audit done by the company, which first highlighted discrepancies.
That internal audit was made public during a political party meeting by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and dubbed the "fake oil" fiasco.
In his release, Maharaj said the legal team looked forward to receiving copies of the Kroll report and the Gaffney Cline Report from Petrotrin tomorrow, so that "Petrotrin could point out specific findings of fraudulent conduct or breach of contract against A and V".
He said if any findings had been made against A and V, the law required that A and V should be informed of the allegations and evidence prior to the publication of the report so A and V would have been given a meaningful opportunity to respond to the allegations and if necessary to adduce evidence to negative the allegations.
"If there are any such findings in the Kroll report and the Gaffney Cline Report it follows that such findings would be unlawful, null and void and of no effect as being contrary to the rules of natural justice."
He said A and V had not been asked by Petrotrin to answer any allegations made by Petrotrin against it in its supply of crude oil to Petrotrin.
"Petrotrin has not provided to A and V any forensic or other report which shows that A and V committed any fraudulent or unlawful act in the supply of crude oil to Petrotrin nor has Petrotrin informed A and V of any breaches of contract committed by A and V."
He further said Petrotrin had over the last few months withheld $ 70 million payment for crude oil supplied by A and V to Petrotrin even though A and V has demonstrated that it followed all the relevant procedures in the contract for the supply of crude oil to Petrotrin with the relevant Petrotrin officials signing appropriate custody transfer documents.
Espinet: The focus is to ensure Petrotrin is not disadvantaged
When contacted yesterday, to respond to A and V's assertion that Petrotrin was to blame for any discrepancies, the company's chairman Wilfred Espinet said he could not respond to any legal issues raised by A and V's attorney.
He said, however, that the board's main focus was to ensure Petrotrin was not disadvantaged in anyway and that the company would proceed as outlined in its press statement.
In Friday's release, Petrotrin reported that it was committed to taking decisive action following independent confirmation of the discrepancy between reported oil production in its Exploration and Production Operations and the actual production receipted at Pointe-a-Pierre.
Petrotrin said the board intended to take the appropriate actions internally and to bring the matter to the attention of the relevant authorities.
When Prime Minister Keith Rowley said that Sandals principals were wary of the "kind of welcome" they might get in T&T, he was referring to people in the country who had objected to the Sandals plan.
So said Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis yesterday after Rowley announced in Parliament last Friday that there was a "slight setback in terms of time" with Government's signature project.
He said Sandals was dealing with hurricane damage at other resorts. They also feel other Caribbean territories are more welcoming than T&T and have replaced their interest in Tobago with Barbados. Rowley said T&T was lower down their list of priorities and initially thought to have been second, is now fifth.
He also thought Sandals was very wary of the kinds of "welcome" they might get in T&T. Rowley said Government and the private sector are still interested in the plan and Massy and Guardian Life responded to participate as equity investors.
Sandals CEO Adams Stewart did not reply yesterday on why Sandals may have found other areas more "welcoming".
Robinson-Regis said at a September meeting, where agreement on the initiative was signed, Sandals indicated they had other ongoing projects in Barbados and was rectifying hurricane damage elsewhere.
"There's been no contentions with them and we still have the agreement," she added.
But she said signals Sandals received from other quarters may have been unwelcoming. "There were Opposition objections and people, including in Tobago, were against the location and Sandals coming. But in other islands Sandals received big welcomes.
"In Grenada and Jamaica, there was a tempering of strident opposition attitude in favour of working for those countries' interest. The lesson in this is we're not the only country investors are examining. If we're not welcoming and have things in place, other states are willing and able."
She said there was no timeline for Sandals to begin work in Tobago. "We expect as soon as their schedule clears, Tobago would be next in line as they say they're still very interested in the location."
If the two-and-a-half-year project does not break ground this year, it was projected it would not be ready by 2020.
Details of the investment Sandals could have brought to T&T were given at a May meeting which Sandals owners held with a Government team to showcase the Tobago plan.
Sources said Sandals made no demands but projected what might be needed and done.
• 1,900 jobs plus training of 95 per cent of staff from Tobago.
• Annual supply of 172,00 pounds of paw paws, 222,000 pounds of yams, 179,000 pounds of limes, 46,000 pounds of onions, 73,000 pounds of plantains, 200,000 pounds of cucumbers, two million eggs.
• A Greg Norman championship class golf course. Legendary US pro-golfer Greg Norman partnered with Sandals to provide a championship golf course for Sandals' Bahamas resort in 2014.
The May meeting was the only one of that kind, they said.
It is now official. Two external audits have confirmed that there was a discrepancy between reported oil production in the Exploration and Production Operations in the Catshill Field operated by A&V Oil and Gas and the actual production receipts at Pointe-a-Pierre discovered by Petrotrin’s Internal Audit Department in the period January to June 2017.
Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet is now assuring that the board will be taking “decisive action” in the so-called ‘fake oil’ matter.
The allegation, first contained in an internal audit report dated August 17, was confirmed in a forensic audit report submitted by external consultants Kroll Consulting, of Canada, and also in a report commissioned from global gas consultants Gaffney Cline, which found that the Catshill reservoir was “not capable of producing the volumes in question.”
No other details of the findings of the reports from the two external agencies or recommendations made were immediately forthcoming in a release issued by Petrotrin on the matter yesterday.
But figures provided in the internal audit report for the period July 1-12, signed by Petrotrin’s Chief Audit Executive Rajkumar Bissessar, showed a daily average of 3,589 barrels per day had dropped significantly in the period July 13-31 and August 1-10, when production declined to 1,369 barrels and 1,396 barrels of oil. The shortage reported for July, according to the report, was 36,302 barrels, down from 111, 006 barrels in June. The internal audit team estimated production for the month of June would have been “over-stated by about 90,000 barrels, which works out to an overpayment of US$2.97 million.” For the six-month period January to June, it was estimated that “Catshill over stated its production by at least 350,000 barrels and Petrotrin would have overpaid US$11.5 million (TT$80 million).” As a result, Petrotrin was said to have paid royalties of approximately US$1.86 million to the Government for crude oil “not received during the period 2017 January to June.”
While the initial audit was for the period January to July 2017, the Petrotrin board has now commissioned the Internal Audit Department to widen the scope of its investigation into matters dating back to 2016.
Commenting on the way forward yesterday, Espinet said the company will now be moving to take “the appropriate actions internally and to bring the matter to the attention of the relevant authorities.” He cautioned, however, that while the reports from the two external agencies confirmed the discrepancy found by the internal audit, “it was critical for the board to continue to exercise due care and deliberation in how it proceeded.”
He added, “While we plan to take decisive action, we need to ensure that any claim or action we take is not impeded by a misstep. In this case, doing it right is more important than doing it quickly, and so it would be premature to articulate any specific actions at this time.”
However, he gave the assurance Petrotrin’s board remains committed to maintaining a focused approach in addressing all issues.
The allegations against A&V were first made on a political platform by United National Congress leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar at a meeting where she raised questions about the relationship between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and A&V owner Haniff Nazim Baksh.
On September 14, Rowley admitted Baksh was his friend and he had called him when the allegations became public. But Rowley also made it clear on the political platform that the party would not protect individuals who engage in corruption.
In a text message response to the result of the audit last evening, Rowley said: “As is expected the board of Petrotrin, without hindrance, has involved the expertise of professionals to carry out an independent review of the operations at Petrotrin, within which serious allegations have been made. Now that this exercise has confirmed the discrepancies reported, it is now to be further expected that the board will continue to treat with any and all matters as the circumstances require to ensure that the company’s interest is protected and all aspect of law are observed.”
He added: “Petrotrin reports to the Ministry of Energy and it is to be expected that the ministry will be kept advised as all matters of operational accountability are reviewed.”
The issue of the so-called ‘fake oil’ allegations resulted in Baksh sending pre-action protocol letters to Persad-Bissessar and the Petrotrin chairman.
The National Insurance Board (NIB) fund could go broke in the next 12 years because it is out of alignment with no long term sustained initiatives to generate rates of higher return.
The fund now stands at some $25 billion, but to be sustainable it needs to be topped up to some $75 billion so as to ensure efficient payments could be made in the coming years.
This was one of several issues brought to the fore during yesterday’s Joint Select Committee on Finance and Legal Affairs meeting, where officials from the NIB, Ministry of Finance and Bacon, Woodrow and De Souza Ltd appeared.
NIB executive director Niala Persad-Poliah said fund depletion was a reality, adding reform was needed to ensure there was enough money to pay future generations.
“The combined measures of freezing the minimum pension, increasing the contribution rate to 15.6 per cent and gradually increasing the retirement age is expected to gradually delay the liquidation of the fund to 2029. It was proposed that the retirement age be increased to 65. Any changes to the retirement age is one that requires policy changes at the very national level,” Persad-Poliah said.
She said consultation had already begun with stakeholders from the business and labour sectors, adding that discussions had also begun with the Finance Minister since 2015.
Persad-Poliah also provided comments on behalf of NIB chairman Michael Toney, who was absent.
She said in his comments Toney raised come critical issues, including that proper fund management alone would not save the entity.
“The fundamentals of the pay as you earn system is not properly aligned...that is the right level of contributions to meet the right level of benefits.
“Our national insurance system is out of alignment and we have limited time to fix or adjust it before the fund is exhausted,” the NIB chairman warned in his comments.
Toney said with such misalignment the system relied on the fund and income derived there from to reconcile any shortfall that would arise until the system is brought back into alignment.
“The fund will eventually be exhausted if the system is not put back into alignment. Even with the best fund investment strategy and performance, if proper alignment between contributions and benefits is not achieved in the fastest possible time the balance on the fund will be depleted and the NIS would have failed to do what it is designed to do,” Toney said.
Tim Kimpton, of Bacon Woodrow and De Souza Ltd, said the additional $50 billion must come from somewhere, which could include either contributions or from foreign investment.
But the committee heard from the NIB that to have external investments the law must first be amended.
However, saying the NIB’s status quo was not sustainable in the long term, Kimpton added: “There isn’t a proper clearly articulated long term strategy for what national insurance is meant to do.”
He said the question that must be addressed should be what could the country afford long term.
“Can we afford as a country to pay something approaching 25 per cent of the pay for national insurance or is that just too expensive? Does that leave people with insufficient money to meet their grocery bills?” Kimpton asked.
The committee’s chairman, Sophia Chote, expressed concern regarding the general governance of the NIB and its relationship with the Finance Ministry.
But the ministry’s deputy permanent secretary, Jennifer Lutchman, said the entity was a statutory body which was governed by its own acts. However, Lutchman said if an issue was red-flagged it was immediately brought to the attention of the Finance Minister.
Former works and transport minister Jack Warner yesterday admitted he started the process to purchase the $27 million building in Arima which is now under investigation by the Government.
During Thursday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Minister of Legal Affairs and the Attorney General Stuart Young said Government was probing the People’s Partnership administration’s 2012 purchase of the building despite advice from Government’s Property and Real Estate Services Division (PRESD) that it wasn’t “the soundest structure.” Young also said just last month an independent valuator placed the value of the property at $18 million, also claiming the the owner was allowed to continue operating in the building rent free after it was purchased.
Yesterday, however, Warner said he selected the property because he thought it was “an ideal location” for the Motor Vehicle Authority centre in Arima because the licensing office in Arima was “absurd, an insult and embarrassment” to the public and its workers. But he said after he began the purchase process he was transferred to the national security ministry, but said he was unaware the property had not been structurally sound.
Asked if there was a lack of oversight on his part, Warner said he had the best permanent secretary at the ministry, Cheryl Blackman, who ensured everything was done above board.
“If you are saying that there was a lack of oversight…I do not accept that at all. So all the details and so on, I didn’t have it. Yes, I began the process, sure,” Warner said, adding Devant Maharaj took over the ministry and the process thereafter.
Maharaj has confirmed he continued the process after Warner.
Asked if taxpayers got value for money with the $27 million purchase, Warner said, “I was in Cabinet when it came. At the time I thought so. The building was bought in 2012 and never used…as with many other government properties.”
He said he was instrumental in selecting the location for the Motor Vehicle Authority in Caroni along with several other properties and his name was never called in anything. He added, however, that the blame game between People’s National Movement and the United National Congress was a useless exercise.
“It’s foolish... Monday morning all we hearing is this one corrupt and that one corrupt. That does not make sense. The PNM saying UNC corrupt and vice versa. Okay, the PP was corrupt and that is why they were removed and the PNM was put in place. If they corrupt, charge who corrupt.”
Warner said right now the country was faced with a situation with who was more corrupt than who.
“People are getting tired of that. Everybody corrupt and nobody getting charged. What foolishness is this? This is another probe…so what is the difference? What will one more probe do?
Warner said for years the PNM has paid rent for One Alexandra Place in Woodbrook, which remained under-utilised.
“They paid $1 million a month…so that too doesn’t call for a probe?”
Efforts to reach Commissioner of Valuation Rick Ali at the Ministry of Finance and the property’s former owner Bindra Maharaj were unsuccessful yesterday.
Stop embarrassing the Chinese government and people!
That was Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s rebuke to the Opposition in Parliament yesterday, after being pressed on the change of plans for his China trip.
After plans for a trip between November 30-December 9 were announced last week, Government revealed this week that the high level meeting Rowley was initially scheduled to attend was downgraded.
China’s government instead invited him on a high level official visit next year.
Pressed by United National Congress (UNC) MP Rodney Charles on a “withdrawal” of China’s invitation yesterday, Rowley, accusing the UNC of “mischief,” said there was no “withdrawal.”
He said reiterated how China’s invitation to the initial multi-leader conference, arose, adding: “Apparently, the conference has since been rethought and reviewed and isn’t occurring any longer.
“Since that meeting has been removed from the programme, there can be no ‘withdrawal’ of invitation. However, China’s government has invited me on a official visit, now being planned, (for) spring time. And the mischief about ‘withdrawal’ should end here and stop embarrassing the Chinese.”
When Charles asked him to reveal China’s invitation, Rowley told the Opposition to “...leave the Chinese government out of this!”
Saying Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young had detailed the situation, Rowley added: “I cannot for the life of me see why any official, especially Parliamentarian, should want to be misrepresenting his matter and embarrassing a major partner of T&T. I will answer no more questions on this matter.”
A San Juan father of one was ambushed at his home at Hill View Avenue, Petit Curacaye yesterday morning and killed after struggling with his attacker who robbed him of his gold chain.
According to police, Shadeek Sam, 30, was killed for his jewelry.
Police said the killer must have been from the area as the escape route was known only to people who live atop Hill View Avenue where the killing took place.
Sam was found a few feet away from where he lived. After running, he collapsed on the front steps of a neighbour’s home.
Residents said Sam was not involved in any criminal activity, a claim also made by police. He was described as a hard worker, trying to renovate his home. They said they heard the gunshots but did not immediately venture outside. It was around 7 am that Sam’s body was found.
As neighbours gathered, they played Jamaican artist Pop Caan’s “Only Jah Know” where the lyrics state: “I doh know what they kill yuh for”.
Sam’s sister was inconsolable when she arrived some three hours later. She screamed that only Thursday night she and her brother spoke and the next she heard, he was dead. Sam’s wife was overheard crying as well as she stood in her porch overlooking his body, behind the police caution tape.
Former chief justice Michael De La Bastide believes that Chief Justice Ivor Archie needs to “clear the air” on allegations made against him and while he said he will not “presume” to give the sitting CJ advice, he believes that in the face of “allegations made either expressly or by implication against him he should respond.”
De La Bastide said the situation “is all very unfortunate.” But he declined comment on the allegations saying “any comment will be premature before the CJ is given the opportunity to respond to what has been published.”
The retired chief justice said suggestions of “impeachment and resignation at this time are premature.”
He said the CJ “has been out of the country and he has not had a chance to respond.” It was “unfortunate,” he said that the CJ has been the subject of “trial by the media,” but he said “I suppose that is one of the burdens the holder of high office has to carry.”
Former chief justice Sat Sharma declined comment on the matter.
Archie is expected to return to the country today amidst growing calls for him to explain and respond to allegations relating to association with someone with a criminal record in Guyana and allegations relating to solicitation to obtain alternative security arrangements for judges of the High Court from a private security company.
Senior Counsel Israel Khan said he agreed that Archie, like anyone else, “has the right to be heard first.” He said the country had only heard “one side of the story and every person has the right to be heard.”
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar says she feels “heartened” by the findings of the Kroll Consulting investigation which confirmed yesterday that Petrotrin paid for oil it did not receive. However, she said this was not the end of unearthing corruption at the state-owned company.
“We have been told that allegations have been made of other fraudulent activity at Petrotrin,” Persad-Bissessar said hours before she took to a platform at a political meeting in San Juan.
She said a lot of things at Petrotrin had placed them in a “deep, dark hole” which taxpayers now have to suffer and pay for.
In light of the external forensic report findings, Persad-Bissessar is now calling for an immediate criminal investigation by the Fraud Squad into A&V Oil & Gas, the termination of its contract with Petrotrin and the suspension of the Petrotrin employee who is alleged to have colluded in the matter.
Persad-Bissessar, who was sued after revealing details of the initial Petrotrin report into the ‘fake oil’ matter, said she was more concerned with what happens next.
“A lot of work still has to be done to make sure that the perpetrators of what may well be injustice and fraud on the taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago do not escape.”
Persad-Bissessar also said she wants Attorney General Faris-Al-Rawi, who speaks glowingly of following the money of those involved in corruption, “to follow the $80 million on the fake oil issue.”
She added:“I would really like to hear what the Prime Minister has to say now.”
In following the money, she said the AG may have to freeze the assets of the oil company.
“That should also be done in event that those monies are lost in some way or hidden in some way.”
She said it was imperative that cash-strapped Petrotrin’s do more “than go into this issue. They must tell us what steps are going to be taken prevent something like this happening down the road. When you have matters like these it is not surprising at all. Petrotrin has to get its act together.”
Admitting she took a lot of abuse from Rowley and those around him for bringing wrongdoing to the fore, Persad-Bissessar said it was not the first and it certainly would not be the last.
“This is not the end of the matter. I am not afraid. Wherever we find corruption we will expose them.”
A senior High Court judge has called on her colleagues to requisition a meeting with Chief Justice Ivor Archie to discuss recent allegations levelled against him.
In a written request sent to all judges of the High Court and the Court of Appeal including Archie yesterday, a copy of which was obtained by the T&T Guardian, Justice Carol Gobin said the meeting was necessary to ensure public trust in the Judiciary.
“May I please humbly request and I do so for the sake of the Institution and the preservation of what is left of public confidence in it, that we request an urgent meeting with the Honourable Chief Justice upon his return to discuss the allegations, and to urge him to provide such answers as might explain them for the benefit of the public whom we serve, and for us members of the Judiciary,” Gobin said in the request.
While Gobin said that getting Archie’s responses to the allegations was important, she noted that they were still unproven.
“If it turns out that these sordid allegations are without any foundation or truth, then I believe we are duty bound to forcefully defend the office of Chief Justice and the Judiciary,” Gobin said as she referred to the Code of Ethics for Judicial Officers.
Archie is currently on an official overseas trip to the Netherlands and is expected to return today.
Contacted yesterday another judge, who asked to remain anonymous, said he saw Gobin’s request and supported it.
“The legitimacy of the legal authority exercised by the Judiciary is contingent upon the public’s ability to depose trust and confidence in judges. If the public has no respect or regard for the judge how can they be expected to abide by the judge’s decision,” the judge said.
The allegation that Archie attempted to persuade the judges to change their State-provided security in favour of a private company in which his friend works, were made in a report in last week’s Sunday Express newspaper.
While the Council of the Law Association has called on Archie to respond to the allegation that he discussed the judges’ meeting with his friend afterwards, it stated that the other allegations were unsubstantiated.
In a press release issued earlier this week, the association’s secretary Elena Araujo said: “The article reports a meeting between the Chief Justice and his fellow Supreme Court judges at which he suggested the retention of a private security firm, but that he did not identify any particular firm.”
She added: “It also reports that he raised an issue concerning security arrangements with National Security personnel which was forwarded to the Special Branch and the acting Commissioner of Police, but that he did not suggest the retention of private security.”
Speaking at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing on Thursday, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young said the Government was observing the situation but would and could not intervene.
The fresh allegations against Archie comes months after the association’s membership passed a no confidence motion in him and the members of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) over their handling of the fiasco caused by the short-lived judicial appointment of former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar.
Ayers-Caesar resigned two weeks after she was appointed a judge, amid public furore over 53 cases that she left unfinished when she took up the post. She has since sued Archie and the JLSC claiming that they were aware of the unfinished cases and pressured her to resign.
Archie has also been criticised in the past over his frequent overseas trips.