The Opposition UNC is awaiting word on when public hearings will begin by the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the Point Fortin Highway land acquisition issue, following yesterday's swearing-in of the two commissioners.
The commissioners, justice Sebastien Ventour and attorney Gregory Delzin were sworn in by President Paula-Mae Weekes just before midday at President's House.
Ventour, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, will chair the CoE. Delzin, in practice for over 20 years, is a former acting High Court Judge, a member of the Statutory Authorities Appeals Tribunal and associate tutor at Hugh Wooding Law School. He's appeared in courts throughout the Caribbean.
Senior Counsel Reginald Amour will also serve on the commission, assisted by attorneys Vanessa Gopaul and Rishi Dass.
Last week, Government announced the two-member commission to conduct the enquiry into all aspects of the management of the land acquisition process by the National Infrastructure Development Company Limited for the construction of the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension from San Fernando to Point Fortin.
Government cited concern regarding payment of over $500 Million to acquire lands for the highway. Appointment of the CoE followed a preliminary report by the Works Ministry on the situation including claims and allegations that a valuator in the issue, was said to have valued properties privately and also functioned in the Valuations Division. The person subsequently left.
Ventour didn't answer calls. Sources said commission members had received the Works Ministry's preliminary report and other documents last week immediately after the CoE announcement but hadn't so far organised their schedule.
Past PP Government Works Minister Suruj Rambachan (who was preceded by Jack Warner in 2010/12 and Emmanuel George 2012/13 ) said yesterday, "We're awaiting the start of hearings. "
"But we observe the CoE starts with controversy concerning the commission's composition - especially one member. However it's been pointed out that valuations in the way it was done (for the land acquisition) started since the Manning administration, especially the method of private treaty negotiation and Nidco had oversight,"
Rambachan will be speaking about the issue at tonight's Pavement Report meeting in Barrackpore.
At UNC's Monday Night Forum, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad reiterated the CoE was a political distraction and million dollars "fishing expedition,"
She added, "I've said it before and I'll say it again- if anyone has committed wrongdoing, let them face the courts. If the Government feels there's wrongdoing, why not pass that information to the police? " she added.
She called on the Prime Minister to have CoEs into the alleged "fake oil" issue, rental of the St Clair property, the Petrotrin closure, sea bridge collapse and other issues, "|Where's the report of the Clico CoE? He needs to have a CoE into what happened to the more than $229 billion spent over the last four years - where the money gone?" she added.
- by Gail Alexander