The Ocean Pelican docked at Chaguaramas. – SUREASH CHOLAI
The issue of how a party boat was given licence to operate as a floating restaurant by Customs and Excise, despite objections and queries from Finance Minister Colm Imbert, seems to be setting course for a courthouse.
In the latest disclosure of letters, attorney Kiel Tacklalsingh, acting on behalf of Adrian Scoon, rubbished the minister’s claim that Imbert gave no instruction to issue a special licence for the Ocean Pelican, on which 100 people were detained for allegedly breaching covid19 regulations on Boxing Day. Scoon is the son of Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon.
Tacklalsingh said the minister’s instruction to not issue the licence was not as clear as the minister indicated, noting that a memo circulated in the public domain questioning the effect of the issuance of the licence, did not give concrete evidence that the request for the licence was denied.
Tacklalsingh, in his letter also noted that he copied the Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to the correspondence and gave Imbert seven days to respond or they will take the matter to court.
Imbert said in a release to the media that he gave clear instructions not to issue the licence, given questions raised on its effect on the covid19 regulations and in his release attached a memo pointing out that the licence should be deferred. Tacklalsingh said the memo attached to the letter only suggested that the licence be deferred and not rejected. He added he found it strange that the licence was issued, paid for and collected although the minister didn’t approve it.
“To suggest that the memorandum attached to your press release does more than seek clarification on December 3 or that it constitutes “clear written instructions to the contrary” is, quite respectfully, a leap of logic with which we simply cannot agree.”
Tacklalsingh’s letter also denied Imbert’s claims that Scoon withdrew his application for the special licence and challenged the minister to present evidence that it was withdrawn noting that the acting comptroller of Customs and Excise made no mention of such withdrawal.
Tacklalsingh said the decision not to grant the licence, if one was indeed made, constituted a clear misdirection of the law, noting that there is nothing in the regulations that prohibits the operation of a safe zone on a boat.
“The Minister of Health has clarified his position and/or his intentions with respect to safe zones by articulating clearly that such zones can exist on vessels such as the MV Ocean Pelican,” the letter said.
On December 26, between 5.30 pm and 9.30 pm, Western Division officers got a report that several people were on a 72-foot catamaran, later identified as Scoon’s Ocean Pelican, docked near the Anchorage.
Police detained and processed the guests, staff and owner on the boat then allowed them to go home pending inquiries.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert. – Parliament
On Tuesday last, the office of the Attorney General denied suggestions made in a daily newspaper that Scoon sought legal advice from Al-Rawi. In a release, the AG’s office said Al-Rawi was contacted with general questions on the regulations and he advised him to seek advice from the ministers of Health or Tourism, Culture and the Arts.
The release said Al-Rawi cautioned Scoon to ensure whatever he does he must “observe the law.”
On December 28, in response to a letter sent to the Ministry of Health on December 26 concerning the use of the Ocean Pelican as a floating restaurant, the ministry indicated that regulation 8 of the public health regulations provided for the conduct of several businesses including restaurants and bars, provided that it met requirements that indicated that the restaurant or bar was a safe zone.
These requirements included visible displays of vaccination cards for staff and the owner, signage indicating that the bar was a safe zone, and ensuring that the guests were vaccinated by checking vaccination cards and identification cards.
The ministry’s letter added, “Please note that the Minister of Health has no jurisdiction in this matter and enforcement of the regulations lies within the jurisdiction of the TT Police Service.”
Tacklalsingh in a letter to the Ag CoP McDonald Jacob on December 29 suggested that police acted unlawfully in detaining the guests and the owner, saying that the police did not consider Scoon’s “special restaurant licence” or the fact that the operations were being conducted in accordance with safe zone protocols.
The licence, issued on December 23, said Scoon, trading as Ocean Sweetness Ltd of 25 Queen’s Park West, Port of Spain was issued a special licence as approved by the minister of finance on December 3.
On December 31, Imbert denied claims that he approved a special liquor licence to Scoon and as such the licence he has is invalid. In a release, Imbert said the issuance of the licence is currently under investigation.
Also attached was a letter to Scoon from the Customs and Excise Division dated December 30, which said since the licence was not issued with the approval of the Finance Minister in accordance with section 45 of the Liquor Licences Act, it was therefore null and void.
Tacklalsingh, in response, said the only way the licence could be made null and void, would be if the High Court decided so, and that the Customs and Excise Division had no power to void the licence.
Tacklalsigh demanded the acting comptroller of Customs and Excise Bernard Nicholas explain what happened, especially since Scoon was issued the same licence in 2019 and 2020.