Paria CoE chairman on report delay: It’s my fault

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chairman of the Commission of Enquiry Jerome Lynch KC. – File photo/ROGER JACOB

THE chairman of the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the Paria diving tragedy, Jamaican KC Jerome Lynch, has accepted full responsibility for the latest delay in submitting the final report.

On February 25, 2022, Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Christopher Boodram were doing maintenance work on a 30-inch pipeline at Berth 6, belonging to Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd, Pointe-a-Pierre but were suddenly sucked into the pipeline. Only Boodram survived.

A CoE into the event was set up. Subsea specialist Gregory Wilson and legal counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj are its other members.

The commission’s report was set to be submitted to the President by the end of May, but last week, the commission said it wrote to President Christine Kangaloo seeking an extension to August 31 – Independence Day.

In a release, the commission said the delay was necessary as those who were issued with Salmon letters have been given until June 9 to respond in writing, and until June 21 and 22 to respond orally.

Salmon letters are sent to individuals or companies that will be subject to criticism in a report.

But speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Lynch said August 31 is merely a “backstop” date, “should any unforeseeable tragedy befall me. Maybe (if) I get run over by a bus or something,” he said.

He said the report is likely to be submitted in early July.

“The reason is entirely my fault.

“The burden of writing this report falls largely to me in the first instance and it has been rather more burdensome than I had anticipated – the sheer volume of material that I have had to work through in order to do justice to the very many contributions we had.”

He said TT’s laws mandate that the Salmon letters must be as detailed as possible, unlike those in other countries, in which they can be “very general.

“People need to be able to properly respond to criticism often. In order to do that, I’m anxious that they should have the most comprehensive critique that we have drafted. They need time to consider it and respond.”

Asked for the names of the companies or individuals to whom these Salmon letters will be sent, Lynch said he is not allowed to say.

He said it would be unfair to put the names in the public domain, only for them then not to be featured in the final report if they “persuaded (the CoE) not to critique them following their representations.”

He said he also cannot say how many letters will be issued.

“They don’t know yet either, and it’s right that it should be that way.”

Asked who will have access to the final report other than the President, Lynch said, “Let me make my position clear: I am appointed by the President and my responsibility is to report to the President, and that is what I am doing.

“Whether that is then imminently disseminated to the government and to the independent ministers responsible, whether it goes to the legal agencies, the AG’s department, the DPP’s department, will be dependent not on what I think but on what your government thinks.”

But, he added, if prosecutions are recommended in the report, “Then clearly that’s something that the persons responsible for prosecuting those sort of offences would need to have.”

He also said he believes it would be a “gross injustice” to the families of the victims if they are not provided with copies of the report “at the earliest opportunity” that the President and the government see fit.

Lynch told the public and the President he is “working diligently” and has cleared his desk of all other matters.

He said while the public only saw part of the commission’s process, there is a lot more content to deal with.

“This whole process has just taken longer than I imagined. Please forgive me, bear with me. I promise you I will do this as quickly as I possibly can to do justice to all the parties.”

Lynch said the President has not yet responded to the commission’s request.