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T&T Chamber of Industry & Commerce CEO Gabriel Faria

Renuka Singh

T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce CEO Gabriel Faria yesterday apologised to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley over comments he (Faria) made against the Government on a private chat which was eventually shared with Rowley.

On Wednesday, Rowley took to his Facebook page where he blasted Faria, saying he was using his position to influence voters with his “shallow dismissiveness.” At the time, it was unclear what prompted Rowley’s attack on Faria, as there was no information in the public domain about any harsh comment which Faria which may have prompted such scathing attack by the PM.

One senior PNM member had, however, suggested to Guardian Media that an interview Faria did on state-owned TTT, in which he criticised aspects of Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s Mid-year Review, may have been the offending issue.

Late yesterday, however, Faria issued a statement as a “private citizen” apologising to the PM and confirming that a private WhatsApp chat in which he shared his views in “my private capacity as a citizen of our Republic” was the offending incident.

Faria also shared the private message that offended the Prime Minister:

“I think you are making assumptions about the responsible and ethical behaviour of politicians. I think that train has left the station. Their (sic) is no interest in being responsible or ethical or treating either the citizens or businesses with respect or fairly. Their (sic) is one interest: win the elections at all costs so the party in power can continue to life (sic) high off the backs of honest tax paying (sic) citizens. I am disgusted with the behaviour/disdain/apathy displaced by both parties.”

Faria also offered an “unreserved apology” for his statements but did not direct the apology to anyone in particular.

“I wish to unreservedly apologise for the tone and for the intemperate comments about the state of play of our politics. It is clear that the language is inappropriate and this I very much regret. Even though these comments were made in private, I accept that I should still have been mindful of my public and professional roles, and in particular, my position as CEO of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce,” he said.

Faria, however, said he believed business concerns were not being properly addressed by the Government.

“The sentiments I expressed were underpinned by a growing frustration I felt as a key advocate on behalf of business,” he said.

“This does not excuse the tone or content of what I said, but it is intended to provide the context for my actions.

“It was not my intention to disrespect those who hold high office nor to bring disrepute to the TT Chamber. It fell short of the professional conduct that would be expected by the TTCIC and the board.”

He also said the chamber’s board has asked to meet to decide the way forward.

Guardian Media learned that the chamber executive were locked in lengthy meetings yesterday after Faria tendered his resignation.

However, Faria’s resignation was not immediately accepted by the chamber and Guardian Media was told the executives asked that he “hold his hand” and commit to an executive meeting and board meeting before making a final decision.

Two other chatroom participants yesterday spoke to Guardian Media under the condition of anonymity and said they did not know who shared the private conversation with the Prime Minister.

“The chatroom is governed by Chatham House rules, it is a safe space and what is said there remains there. We do not know who violated that but it is upsetting,” one of the chat group members said.

Business chambers back under fire CEO

Freedom of speech and expression are both under serious threat once a sitting Prime Minister can publicly attack a business leader championing the cause of his members.

This was the view of head of the Tobago chapter of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Diane Hadad, to a social media attack by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on the chamber’s CEO Gabriel Faria.

“The role of the head of any NGO (non-governmental organisation) is to represent its members. And to take a personal attack on anybody carrying such a role or speaking on behalf of their membership is starting to step into the boundaries of taking away our freedom of speech and freedom of opinions and therefore that could never be safe for any country and the people of the country,” Hadad told Guardian Media in a telephone interview.

Hadad said in a democracy, people’s voices need to be heard and she wondered why Rowley was trying publicly to shut Faria down.

“I think that in itself is the message. That message would be the message of keep quiet, the message of silence,” she said

San Juan Business Chamber head Vivek Charran also defended Faria.

“Gabriel (Faria) is not a political figure, he has never been and has never really come out as a political figure,” Charran said.

He said Faria was standing up and stating what the businesses are going through.

“I do not know what Gabriel actually said but on the face of it, I could say that Gabriel has never lied. He has not misrepresented the situation to be something other than what it is,” Charran said.

Charran said all Faria “strived to do” was represent the business community because it has been placed in a precarious position due to the COVID-19 shutdown measures.

“If it is that he has done something wrong, then what should have been done was talk on the matter of what he said, what was misleading, what was wrong,” Charran said.

“When you attack his personality and his character, I do not understand that. I am struggling to understand why the Prime Minister, at this time, would get into that sort of public statement, when he came out of this COVID-19 thing looking so good.”

Confederation of Regional Business Chambers coordinator Jai Leladharsingh also said while he did not know what prompted the Prime Minister’s statement, he agreed with Faria’s stance on VAT deferral and helping small and medium businesses.

“We need liquidity support, we need some support from the State and we need the chambers to come together with ideas and we also need to meet with the Roadmap Committee to discuss recovery,” he said.

He said that in Canada, the government gave grants to businesses.

“Grants is money you don’t have to pay back. The Government is trying to put together the loan guarantee programme but it’s not online yet and businesses are shutting down,” Leladharsingh said.

Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce president Keiran Singh said he supported Faria’s lobbying for deferral of taxes.

“Disposable incomes of all T&T has been negatively affected by coronavirus,” Singh said.

He said despite the shutdowns, overheads like electricity were still due.

‘The other utilities are minor but T&TEC and the commercial industrial rates, we would have hope to get some deferral in those rates too,” he said.