AMCHAM urges restraint in talk of Paria tragedy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Eugene Tiah – File photo

The American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM TT) is urging restraint when expressing diverging views on the tragedy at Paria Fuel Trading Ltd which resulted in the deaths of four divers.

In particular, it appealed to those “who have an impact on national development and have a specific and official responsibility to consider the impact of their actions.”

In a statement on Wednesday, AMCHAM commented on the announcement of a commission of enquiry into the circumstances that led to the February 25 incident at Paria’s berth in Pointe-a-Pierre.

Five men – Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Christopher Boodram – were doing routine maintenance on a 30-inch pipeline when they were sucked into it. Only Boodram survived.

On March 3, Energy Minister Stuart Young announced an independent investigative committee, comprising attorney Shiv Sharma, engineer Eugene Tiah and subsea specialist Gregory Wilson, with energy companies BP and Shell expected to nominate two more members, to probe the incident.

Almost immediately, the Opposition accused Tiah of having too-close ties with the government and said he could not be independent.

On Tuesday, Tiah, the Energy Chamber’s nominee, opted to step down, saying “It appears that the good of the country is subservient to the shenanigans of a few. I have thus taken the decision to withdraw from the investigating committee.”

On Tuesday night, the Prime Minister announced a commission of enquiry would be established instead.

Dr Rowley said Young had been instructed to abandon the formation of the Sharma committee, since he had concluded the situation had been politicised to such an extent that the public would not now accept its recommendations.

On Wednesday, AMCHAM said if the willingness of capable professionals to serve “continues to be compromised, we will all be the poorer for it.

“We look forward to the identification of the commissioners to establish the commission of inquiry and to the execution of the inquiry expeditiously.

“We trust that the full and final report will immediately be made public and that the recommendations made therein will be accepted and acted on by the relevant arms of the State.”

AMCHAM said from the time the Paria tragedy was reported until now, it had stayed silent because there was already a “plethora of comments and did not think that another voice would be constructive.”

As a champion of the position that people came before profits, it said, it could not imagine the pain and distress of the divers’ families and friends are experiencing.

AMCHAM sent condolences to them and said it joined the national community in mourning, adding, “While we understand the outrage being expressed, particularly on social media, we must also acknowledge that this is a moment to demonstrate greater leadership and reinstall public trust in our institutions.”

This, it said, can be achieved through identifying the lessons to be learned to prevent further tragedies through a “thorough and transparent investigation into the series of events that led to the deaths of the divers and the eventual recovery of their bodies.

“Making this a priority for the country will not only help our nation to heal but will help us to understand how this accident occurred and more importantly, how we can learn from it.”

It added that such a thorough and transparent investigation into the February 25 incident was “critical to repairing public trust.”

“Learnings from this tragedy can be applied by other companies to make the workplace a safer space for all employees and stakeholders here and around the world.

“Such an investigation will, by necessity, have to be conducted by people.”

It added that it was concerned about the public discourse and attacks on those who were willing to lend their expertise. This, it said, was ultimately counter-productive.

“In a country with a relatively small population such as ours, it is almost impossible to find persons to undertake major responsibilities who have not interacted significantly with decision-makers, past and present.”

It also thanked Tiah for his willingness to offer his expertise in an attempt to determine what caused the tragedy with a view to preventing similar events in the future.

Tiah is a former AMCHAM president.

“Eugene has demonstrated tremendous safety leadership during his career and is widely regarded as a safety pioneer in Trinidad and Tobago. His safety record, as the former president of Phoenix Park Gas Processors, was enviable by global standards.

“His safety leadership continued in his various roles thereafter including as executive chairman, Energy and Industrial Gases Business Unit, Massy Energy.

“Eugene has always acted with utmost integrity and in a most statesmanlike manner.”

AMCHAM said as Tiah chose to step away from the now-aborted Sharma committee, he did so to ensure its work was not impeded or clouded by commentary about him.

“We understand that this is an emotionally charged matter and many, often-competing interests are involved. However, we appeal to all who can have an impact on national development – especially those who have specific and official responsibility in this regard – to consider the impact of their actions.”