Energy Chamber’s Eugene Tiah steps down from Paria probe

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Eugene Tiah – File photo

In the face of mounting criticism from the Opposition, former energy chamber chairman Eugene Tiah has withdrawn from being part of an investigative committee appointed to probe the February 25 diving disaster where four divers were killed.

In a statement on Tuesday, Tiah, an engineer, said, “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 Saturday, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar raised objections to Tiah being a member of the investigative committee – chaired by attorney Shiv Sharma and includes subsea specialist Gregory Wilson and yet to be named experts from BP and Shell – on the basis that Energy Minister Stuart Young was once his attorney. On Sunday, the Opposition in a statement doubled down on its stance.

Tiah, in his first response to the Opposition’s objections on Tuesday, stated, that he was asked by the Energy Chamber to be its representative to the committee which has 45 days to investigate the diving disaster and intended to “bring to bear my 40 years of technical and managerial experience in the energy industry with particular interest in safety and process safety leadership, which I agreed to do.”

“I believe that no time should be lost in ascertaining the facts that led to this tragedy. Recommendations arising from the incident investigation need to be swiftly implemented and lessons learned shared throughout the industry.”

“I wish the committee members Godspeed with this onerous and supremely important task.”

He said he joined the nation in extending condolences to the family members of the divers who died – Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar. The men were doing routine maintenance on a 30-inch pipeline at Berth 6, of Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd when they were sucked into the pipeline. Only one crew member, Christopher Boodram, survived.

In response to Tiah stepping down, the Energy Chamber said in a statement on Tuesday it “will now consult with relevant stakeholders, including the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, on how we should proceed in supporting this critical investigation.”

The chamber maintained its position that Tiah is “an experienced professional who is widely respected within the energy industry and known for his commitment to safety leadership and his integrity.”

“As the representative association for the industry, the Energy Chamber’s priority, and responsibility, is to support a thorough and detailed investigation into the incident and to subsequently share the findings of this investigation so that lessons learned are incorporated into industry safety policies, procedures and practices to avoid any similar incident in the future,” the statement said.

On Saturday, both the Energy Chamber and Young defended Tiah’s nomination. The chamber in a statement on Saturday said it had full confidence in Tiah being the “most suitable” person to serve on the committee.

“We had absolutely no discussion with the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries on this nomination and simply informed the Minister of our selected representative.”

Young in a statement on Sunday described the Opposition’s objections as an “unwarranted and unjustifiable attack” on Tiah saying that he had no input in the Energy Chamber’s nominee.

“It is also ridiculous for the Leader of the Opposition to attack me and to slander the Honourable Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, and the chairman of Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Limited, Mr Michael Quamina, in her far-fetched rant about Mr Quamina and myself having represented Mr Tiah, as attorneys-at-law over eight years ago.”

Young and Quamina represented Tiah and other former members of the ETeck board in the Appeal Court challenging a lawsuit over a failed US$5 million investment with a Chinese-based company.