PM: Government cannot direct Paria to pay divers’ families

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley –

THE Prime Minister said Government cannot direct state-owned Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd at this time to make any financial payments to the families of divers involved in an accident at Paria’s Pointe-a-Pierre facility on February 25, 2022.

Dr Rowley made this statement while responding to questions from Opposition MPs Dr Roodal Moonilal and David Lee in the House of Representatives on Friday.

Divers Christopher Boodram, Kazim Ali Jnr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Rishi Nagassar were repairing a 30-inch pipeline at Paria’s Pointe-a-Pierre facility when they were sucked into it.

Only Boodram escaped.

The divers worked for LMCS (Land and Marine Construction Services Ltd), which had a contract with Paria.

On Thursday, the divers relatives, members of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) and the UNC protested outside Paria’s Pointe-a-Pierre facility to demand a meeting with the company in one week to discuss compensation for the families.

At a news conference in San Fernando on Monday attorney Prakash Ramadhar suggested that ex-gratia payments of $5 million to each of the divers’ families would be fair. Ramadhar represents the Henry and Kurban families.

In response to Moonilal and Lee’s calls for the families to be compensated, Rowley said, “This is not a matter for the Government of TT to jump in.

“This is a matter where a state company had an accident in a situation where a contract was being executed by a private company. These are the facts.”

He added,” So the Government cannot just jump in and decide to pay compensation willy-nilly all over the place. We have to follow processes.”

Rowley told MPs that Paria is currently reviewing the contents of the Paria Commission of Enquiry (CoE) report, which Energy Minister Stuart Young laid in the House on January 19.

“This matter remains mainly a legal matter of liabilities and responsibilities.”

He reiterated, “It would be quite unusual at this stage for the Government to override the responsibilities or role of the board (of Paria) and other entities involved.”

Moonilal asked whether the families would have to await the outcome of a lengthy legal process before they receive any compensation.

Rowley replied, “I said no such thing.

“I said there is significant legal exposure to the taxpayers at all levels with respect to responsibilities and I said that the situation is being properly reviewed by the board of Paria, a state entity and others.”

Moonilal claimed it was possible that members of the families could die without receiving any compensation from Paria.

Rowley replied, “They will not die because some of the people involved in there have already earned about $50-odd million from Paria, and they did not die.”

As he repeated his call for compensation for the families, Moonilal claimed the people Rowley referred to could be companies or subcontractors that did work for Paria.

Rowley again rejected Moonilal’s invitation for him to override Paria’s review of the report.

“What I’m being invited to do is take governmental action that is out of step with the processes.”

He reiterated that Paria is reviewing the CoE’s report.

“That is underway, and that is as far as the Government is prepared to go at this time rather than override what is going on.”

Rowley asked, “What is he (Moonilal) inviting us to do? Jump into a state company and make compensation from the government? How is that going to be done?”

Lee and Moonilal said the current Paria board of directors was unfit to adjudicate upon the findings of the CoE report.

Moonilal asked Rowley, “Don’t you believe it is untenable for the current board that has been found wanting in the report to take legal advice now to help themselves?”

Rowley replied, “The status of the board of Paria is a matter for the Cabinet of TT, and I will not be taking any advice from the Member for Oropouche East (Moonilal).”

Moonilal insisted that the incumbent Paria board was compromised and a new board should review the CoE report instead.

Rowley countered, “If the present board does not do it (review the CoE report), which board does he (Moonilal) want to do it?”

Government MPs thumped their desks when Rowley said, “Regardless of whoever is in office at Paria, Paria will take the appropriate legal advice in treating with any and all aspects of this matter.”

While Rowley was answering the opposition’s questions about Paria, Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George excused herself from the parliament chamber, and Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde temporarily presided over the sitting.

Annisette-George’s husband Newman George is Paria chairman.

PM: $8.5m in legal fees to Paria

THE Prime Minister said approximately $8,548,000.18 in legal fees was spent by Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd with respect to the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the tragedy at its Pointe-a-Pierre facility on February 25, 2022.

Dr Rowley made this statement in response to a question from Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal in the House of Representatives on Friday.

Moonilal asked for the total legal fees spent by Paria during the enquiry. He also asked for the fees paid to the company’s lead counsel Gilbert Peterson, SC, and his supporting counsel Jason Mootoo, SC.

Out of the $8,548,000.18, Rowley said $899,515.17 has been processed for payment.

He was unable to give a breakdown of the fees.

Rowley asked Moonilal to file another question seeking this answer and it would be responded to in due course.

The cost of the CoE was approximately $15,689,000.

This was contained in the commission’s final report, which was laid in Parliament on January 19.

The report said the commissioners – chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, and Gregory Wilson – and the legal team were paid $10,790,000.

Administrative costs for the commission up to June 2023 were $3,565,000. By November 2023, that cost had increased by $27,000.

Salaries for staff up to June 2023 were $502,000, and the estimate up to November was $305,000.

The commission also had a $500,000 contingency fee.

The report notes that the costs were subject to determination by the Auditor General.