Ralph Maraj

political analysts Ralph Maraj 

THE Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) must be congratulated on winning the bid for the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery.

I wish them well as they approach this monumental task, including generating or attracting an estimated US$1.4 billion necessary to bring the refinery up to standard.

But there are concerns. Is there any upfront cash involved? What does the three-year moratorium really mean? Will taxpayers be funding the operations during this time? Also, the Government said there were originally 77 expressions of interest. But at the close of bids, only three bidders submitted compliant binding offers. What happened to the others? Were they real? Did they fizz out? Did they lose interest when they recognised the reality of the refinery? Indeed of the three final bidders, only one, OWTU, seemed worthy of consideration as it was the only bidder that proposed “upfront cash of US$700 million for the refinery assets plus US$300 million for the non-core assets of legacy Petrotrin.” It seems the evaluation committee had little choice in making their determination.

Will we ever know the facts? This administration is being increasingly characterised by mendaciousness. Two matters pertaining to the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) prove the point.

Among the allegations of misconduct against Chief Justice Ivor Archie, is that he made recommendations to the HDC for certain applicants and towards this end, lobbied senior HDC officers and the Prime Minister himself. This caused “major concern” for the Law Association (LATT) because, if true, the CJ could end up obligated to the political directorate, compromising the independence of the judiciary.

But when it came to uncovering the facts, neither the Prime Minister nor Archie co-operated with LATT’s investigation. Why? Clear contradictions needed to be resolved. One newspaper recalls that “in a public statement on December 2018, the Chief Justice did not deny he had recommended to the Prime Minister the names of three people to obtain HDC housing.” But much later, there came Rowley’s “belated denial” of any communication between himself and Archie on the issue. LATT’s president, Douglas Mendes SC, thinks it would have been the easiest thing for Rowley “to deny the allegation if it were untrue”. He made the damning observation that “failure to make a prompt denial could naturally lead to the conclusion that there was some truth to it,” particularly since Archie has not denied he had lobbied Rowley in this matter. What is going on?

Also, it is very instructive that when LATT recommended the Prime Minister invoke Section 137 of the Constitution for an independent tribunal to investigate allegations of misconduct against Archie, Rowley was angry and adamant. He thundered to party faithful: “I work for the people of T&T. I don’t work for the Law Association! We will ignore them totally.”

It is also noteworthy that before making its recommendation, LATT had sought advice from “two senior and well-respected regional lawyers with no local political connections.” Three Appeal Court judges also pointed to the need for a tribunal. Even British QC Howard Stevens, Rowley’s legal adviser, made it clear that if it had turned out there was communication between the PM and CJ on HDC housing for Archie’s friends, his advice against invoking section 137 would have been different. Mendes says this factor, “ought to have tipped the balance in favour of a tribunal to put any lingering doubts to rest.” But obviously someone does not want the doubts cleared up.

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Now comes that aborted $471 million HDC contract with China Gezhouba Group (CGGC). Rowley has been trying to absolve himself of any responsibility even though he was Housing Minister in 2018 and would have brought the framework agreement to Cabinet for approval. He says, “I did not even bother to check it, because this is of no consequence. Because, if I happen to be holding a portfolio temporarily, it has nothing to do with me being the Prime Minister. That is an administrative thing and I have no personal involvement.” This is utter rubbish coming from someone who has been in and out of government! How can anyone believe it? And it is disingenuous for him to say he was merely holding the portfolio because some minister was out of the country. Dr Keith Christopher Rowley was the substantive Housing Minister for four months in 2018! And the framework agreement he brought to cabinet contained the details and exemptions the Chinese company would have received! As former finance minister Mariano Browne reminds us, under Section 21 of Act No24 establishing the HDC and in accordance with standard practice, “both the framework agreement and the contract would have required cabinet approval on each occasion.” The Prime Minister has been irresponsible. Or worse.

For Rowley went on to unbelievable absurdity. He defended slackness by a chairman and a board appointed by his administration. Hear this Prime Minister: “We didn’t put Newman George to run the HDC. This is not a Newman George thing. There are many, many people who were involved in preparing this. And George was one, as HDC chairman. The Board of the HDC is not Newman George. The management of the HDC is not Newman George...We are not personalising this.” Honestly, I find it extremely difficult to stomach such convoluted, unadulterated balderdash.

Will we survive the morass of mendacity growing in the governance of this country?