Gonzales rejects Padarath’s blackout allegations

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales – Angelo Marcelle

PUBLIC Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales has rejected Princes Town MP Barry Padarath’s allegations that the Trinidad-wide blackout on February 16 was caused by the Government’s incompetence and by sabotage.

Gonzales described the allegations, made by Padarath at a news conference at the Opposition Leader’s Office, Port of Spain on Sunday, as “absolute hogwash.”

He also said they were “bereft of any iota of truth and typical of UNC slanderous behaviour.”

Gonzales said the Cabinet-appointed committee to investigate the blackout, whose report he laid in Parliament on April 29, “debunked all the lies and spin that the UNC was attempting to play on the citizens.”

The report attributed the blackout to a large fungus-infected palmiste tree falling on a 12,000-volt line which subsequently fell on a 220,000-volt line. Quoting from the report while speaking in Parliament on April 29, Gonzales said the committee did not find any evidence of sabotage as reason for the blackout.

Gonzales said the committee identified several weaknesses in the management of the response. These included: “ineffective communication with the public, with heavy reliance on the internet and social media, which was negatively impacted by the blackout; the absence of the involvement of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM); the lack of a systematic approach in the restoration process which led to many unforced errors in the re-energisation process.”

One of the committee’s key recommendations to improve security, reliability and efficiency of the transmission grid is the construction of another 220,000 -olt circuit from the Union sub-station to the Gandhi sub-station.

Gonzales said, “The construction of this second line is already at an advanced stage with completion scheduled for the first quarter of fiscal 2023.”

Padarath alleged, however, the blackout was not an act of God.

“This is an act of incompetence.” Padarath claimed, “The report confirms there was massive sabotage. It exposes the real saboteurs.”

“The report, when we look at it, appears to be incomplete or a cover-up.”

He said the ODPM was not responsible for what happened after the blackout. Padarath wondered why no ad-hoc Cabinet committee was formed on February 16 to co-ordinate efforts to restore power. He said such a committee was formed in 2013 when there was a similar nationwide blackout.

The report said the ODPM last did a disaster vulnerability assessment in 2014. That assessment did not deal with power outages.

In a statement, the National Transformation Alliance (NTA), led by former police commissioner Gary Griffith, said the report underscored the need for a national operations centre. While not satisfied with the entire report, the NTA hoped it “will serve to be the infrastructure on which improvements, in the delivery of service, (are)  built upon, in preparation for the next natural disaster or major incident.”