Paria drownings enquiry without pens, paper, printer, internet

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Jerome Lynch, QC –

THE commission of enquiry (CoE) into how four divers lost their lives at state-owned Paria got off to an embarrassing start on Wednesday when the chairman expressed frustration at its lack of resources. He appealed for the basic tools for the commission to do its job.

Jamaican jurist Jerome Lynch QC, complained bitterly that the commission had no pens, paper, scanners, internet, desks, chairs, office furniture or staff to process over 4,000 pieces of documents, beyond reading and collating.

While the commission is ready to do its job, he lamented, “We cannot, without the basic tools to carry it out.”

He apologised to the families of the divers for the delay, some 194 days after they were sucked into a 30-inch underwater pipeline while doing maintenance work for Paria Fuel Trading Co at Pointe-a-Pierre on February 25.

He said he was loath to complain, “But you’ll understand the sense of frustration we have felt over here. You would appreciate, as chairman of this enquiry, the responsibility is mine.”

When he was appointed by the President on July 6, he gave a commitment on behalf of the commission to do all it could to expedite the matter, while ensuring the process was thorough, as several months had already elapsed since the February tragedy.

“Sadly, apart from the stalwart secretary, Sarah Sinanan, we had no administrative support until Monday, September 5.”

He said a new manager, Russell Seebaran, together with some IT and technical support, was added to the team.

“The office structure at SAPA, which was determined to be the place where we would have had our offices, was completed on August 26.”

Had it not been for Udecott chairman Noel Garcia and his staff, Lynch said, “We would have still had an empty shell.”

He credited Energy Minister Stuart Young was credited for his help.

“I know the Honourable Minister Stuart Young has been doing all he can to push this along. Happily, as a consequence, I understand he plundered the offices of the Prime Minister in order to provide us with some chairs, desks and the basic office furniture over the last weekend.

“I understand he has gone abroad with the PM. I do not know if the Honourable Keith Rowley is now sitting on the floor as a result of having his office plundered, but the fact is that we got somewhere to sit.”

But he said the commission was still awaiting “pens to write with, paper to write on, printers to print on, scanners to scan with, the internet to connect.”

The downside, Lynch said, “We are falling behind. I wish to emphasise it is not the responsibility of any one of us sitting on this side (commission) that we have had this slip.”

He assured, however, “We would do everything we can to make up that time.”

To date, he said, the commision has received “something in the order of 40 separate statements from witnesses, over 30 separate documents resulting in over 4,000 pages of material – videos, photographs and a plethora of correspondence.”

But, he said, “We have no one to process it. There is a limit to what one lady can do.”

He said he was hopeful there would have been early legal submissions which might have affected witnesses fixing time, directions, “and all of the other things you would have expected of us that might have been achieved today.

“But that cannot be. And so, while we stand ready to do that which we are charged to do, we cannot do so without the basic tools to carry it out.

“So those whose responsibility it is to equip us, I ask publicly, please help us to do our job. Go the extra mile to provide us with the necessary tools to carry out this enquiry without further delay. With your help, we can get to the bottom of this tragedy in a timely order.

“To those who have complied with our request to provide evidence and documents in support, in a timely fashion, you have our thanks.

“I regret we have been unable to progress the matter beyond reading and collating.

“To those who await answers as to how, why, their loved ones died, and to the general public, you have our unreserved apology.

“This CoE has been delayed yet again. It is not fair. It is not right.”

Hearings will resume on November 21.

Lynch said he would like to do a site visit on November 22, the second day of hearings, to see the hyperbaric chamber the five divers were in when four of them died.

Attorney for Paria and Heritage Gilbert Peterson, SC, said he would make the arrangements, but then told Lynch the hyperbaric chamber was some 60 feet underwater on the seabed.

What Lynch said:

“In response to that terrible event on February 25, the President of TT at the behest of the Government and with no small contribution from members of the public called for a commission of inquiry.

“Initially, the chairman was to be the very experienced retired judge Dennis Morrison, QC. He had to withdraw creating something of a hiatus and consequent delay in getting the inquiry up and running.

“We’ve lost four months. I regret to say, that delay has been compounded. I was appointed by the President to take over on July 6 of this year.

“Let me say something please about the timing of this inquiry.

“This commission, as with all such commissions, requires staff and facilities to carry out its work. I made clear at a short press conference on July 7 that I, nay, we would do all we could to expedite the matter whilst at the same time ensuring thoroughness.

“Sadly, apart from the stalwart secretary Ms Sarah Sinanan who sits in front of us, you’ve had no administrative support until Monday of this week, the 5th of Sept when we were joined by our new manager Mr Russel Seebaran, together with some IT and tech support

“The office structure at SAPA which was determined to be the place where we would have our offices, were only completed on Friday the 26th of August – but for the considerable efforts of Mr Noel Garcia and his staff at Udecott, we would still have an empty shell.

“It’s no part of my responsibility or any of us here to blame anyone for this rather slow provision of the basics to carry out our work and I know that Minister Stuart Young, MP, has been doing all he can to push this along.

“Happily, as a consequence, he plundered the offices of the offices of the Prime Minister in order to provide us with some chairs and desks and the basics of office furniture over the last weekend.

“I do not know if the honourable Keith Rowley is now sitting on the floor as a result of having his offices plundered, but the fact is we got somewhere to sit which makes up for it in some way.

“I await with some considerable concern for pens to write with, paper to write on, printers to print on, scanners to scan with, the internet to connect to, the upshot is is that we are falling behind and I wish to emphasise that it is not the responsibility of any of those who are sitting here on this side, that we have this slip in timing.

“I want to assure everyone that we will do everything we can to make up that time.

“And so it falls to me to tell you that whilst we are ready to do that which we are charged to do, we cannot do so without the basic tools to carry it out.

“To those whose responsibility it is to equip, I ask publicly, please help us do our job! Go the extra mile to provide us with the necessary tools to carry out this inquiry without further delay.

“To those who await answers as to how and why their loved ones died, and to the general public, you have our unreserved apology that this inquiry has been delayed yet again. It’s not fair, it’s not right.”