Guardian Media spoke to citizens for their views on a CoE into the tragic death of four divers who worked for LMCS, a private contractor doing maintenance work on an underwater pipeline at Berth Six off Pointe-a-Pierre, on February 25 for Paria Fuel Trading Company Limited. They also commented on past CoEs.
Former public administration minister Dr Rudrawatee Nan Gosine-Ramgoolam
Former public administration minister Dr Rudrawatee Nan Gosine-Ramgoolam said that there are pros and cons involved in the setting up of a CoE.
“I think a CoE has more legal teeth because with a committee there is no recourse as a report may not be laid in Parliament, but with a Commission of Enquiry, it is a two-way sword. They can cross-examine people, they can call witnesses, so they can get to the bottom of it.”
She also spoke about the legal costs associated with the CoE; although usually an expensive undertaking, to the tune of millions of dollars, she felt that the cost would be justified.
Gosine-Ramgoolam added that the energy sector is a technical and high-risk sector and the proposed CoE could be a long process.
She called on both the Government and the Opposition to work together in a bipartisan way to ensure that when the commission is set up, the entire nation will benefit.
“This is a wake-up call for the country, for all politicians and those who don’t belong to any political party to look at this tragedy as a serious lesson to be learned. We can’t take a political view on everything. We have to let professionals do their work.”
Project Management consultant Derek Outridge
Project Management consultant Derek Outridge believes that a CoE has far greater investigative powers and accountability to the public than a normal investigative committee.
“The commission is important for all of the reasons of transparency, accountability, getting the rights experts and being able to subpoena.”
Responding to critics who say that CoEs are costly and take too long, Outridge said they provide valuable information on the way forward as the recommendations have the power to change laws.
“We cannot look at money and costs when it comes to lives.”
Referring to the Uff Commission which was presented in 2010 and examined the construction industry, he said although many of their recommendations are still to be implemented, it was not a waste of time or money.
He admitted that the Uff commission was “extremely costly” but at the same time, it was the first investigation into the construction industry since 1977.
“What came out from the Uff Commission was the procurement legislation which is based on recommendations from that report. There are other things that should have come out like delayed payments or anti-monopoly legislation but we haven’t seen that as yet.”
Prof Ramesh Deosaran
Former independent senator Prof Ramesh Deosaran, who has all served on past CoEs including the CoE into the 1990 coup attempt, said that the Government had no other choice but to launch a full-scale CoE as the Prime Minister felt he had to move from the five-member committee because of the mounting scepticism over such cabinet committees and the questions publicly raised over the impartiality of some of the committee members.
“The tragic deaths and related circumstances have raised serious political and management issues, and with the pressing role of the Opposition and civic groups, the most strategic option facing Dr Rowley and his Government was the CoE. “
He said the Prime Minister now has a good opportunity, through the President, to appoint this CoE and quickly utilise its recommendations to help restore some public confidence in such enquiries.
“Note, Muslimeen leader late Imam Abu Bakr refused to appear before the CoE into the Muslimeen insurrection, and the charge against him remains unresolved. What has come out of that report?”
Deosaran added that the commission will have to work very hard to find the truth, especially with the barrage of lawyers in action.
Referring to timelines, he said that the new CoE should not take more than a few months to do its work.
“We hope this matter doesn’t run so long and stale, as another ten-day wonder, that the public loses interest in whatever recommendations emerge. The country, as a work-in-progress democracy, must still keep faith in such committees and commissions. The alternatives are worse. If the Government, whichever one is in power, seeks to fool, pacify or abuse such tools of governance, the population has its obligation to act politically. That is what democracy and representative government are all about, or at least should be.”