By Sue-Ann Wayow
STATE-owned Paria Fuel Trading Company (Paria), responsible for the offshore facility where four underwater divers died in February, has not yet allowed their staff to be interviewed by the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) with the mandate to investigate the divers’ death.
At the CoE’s hearing on Monday, the Commission’s chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, in his opening statements said a result, the work of the CoE will be delayed.
In thanking Minister of Energy Stuart Young and chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT) Noel Garcia for ensuring the CoE had all the resources it needed unlike the last time the CoE met in September, Lynch said, “We are ready.”
Lynch said, “Many have engaged in that process, some have not. I cannot compel them to do so. And consequently, they will need to be asked questions here from that witness box perhaps taking rather more time than we had hoped.”
He said, “Regrettably Paria/Heritage have chosen not to assist in that way and there are a considerable number of witnesses that we need to ask questions of.”
Lynch was also expecting a report in draft form to be ready by Easter, 2023, nine months from when he was commissioned as chair of the CoE.
He said, “At the close of business today, there is an application to be made by counsel for Paria to discharge a witness summons that I have issued.”
However, later on, in the proceedings that took place at Tower D of the International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, Gilbert Peterson, SC, attorney representing Paria and state-owned Heritage Petroleum Company Ltd, argued that the impression given was that his clients were not compliant.
But, Lynch contended that was not the case based on correspondence received from Paria.
Peterson interrupted senior counsel to the CoE Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj’s opening remarks which was at the time, a summary of evidence to dispute them and also used the opportunity to state Paria’s case on what Lynch had said earlier.
“It had been put out earlier this morning that my clients Paria and Heritage refused to be interviewed. That was the end position but that is not the whole story. There was a lot of exchanges and rationale and offers to give supplemental statements in areas that the Commission requires clarification, but what was put out there this morning Sir, was that there was a blanket near refusal by Paria and Heritage which with the greatest of respect is not accurate.”
Lynch responded, “I don’t necessarily accept that. I have seen the correspondence and the net result was that there was a blanket refusal by all of the staff not to be permitted to be interviewed by my team.”
Peterson further said that one of the positions of his clients was that they were not willing to share interviews publicly but it was not “a blanket refusal” by his clients.
Lynch said Peterson would be given his chance to speak on the issue more when he gave his opening statements.
Lynch explained the process in collecting witness statements.
He said, “Those interviews were put into statement and into writing. Each witness was then invited to sign that as being an accurate representation of what was said during those interviews and they are online. Everyone can see what they said. The fact that your witnesses… choose not to engage in that process is a matter entirely for them. I can’t force them as I said earlier to come and do that.”
“My complaint is not that they choose not to do it. My complaint is that what it will do is to take more time than we wanted to spend in our hearings,” Lynch said.
Peterson said, “The point is taken sir, once the impression is not created that they are not co-operating or don’t wish to give further evidence.”
Lynch also asked that another date for a site visit to No. 36 sealine riser on the Berth 6 offshore platform at Pointe-a-Pierre be set.
He suggested January 2, 2023, but Peterson suggested this Friday to which Lynch said he will confirm.
The CoE was to pay the site a visit on Tuesday but was told because of maintenance works, that was not possible.