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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Last week the scrutiny challenges facing this country were fully exposed.

On the positive side was the appearance of Prime Minister Rowley before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament to answer questions related to the scandal of the ferry service between Trinidad and Tobago.

This was a first for parliamentary scrutiny and represented a step in the right direction for the growth of such scrutiny in this country.

On the negative side was the decision by another Joint Select Committee (with responsibility for State Enterprises) not to pursue hearings on the “fake oil” scandal between Petrotrin and one of its contractors in the field, A&V Drilling and Workover. According to the Parliament website, the members of that committee are (i) Senator David Small (chairman), Dr Lester Henry, Brigadier General Ancil Antoine, Mr Adrian Leonce, Mrs Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn, Senator Allyson Baksh, Mr Fazal Karim, and Mr Wade Mark.

The T&T Guardian reported last Wednesday (page A14) that a majority of the committee voted against having these hearings and that “well-placed sources” had told the Guardian that Senator Allyson Baksh recused herself from the sitting of the committee.

Committee chairman David Small told the Guardian that “at this time there will be no inquiry by the JSC, but this does not preclude the committee looking at the matter in the future.”

On the media front last week, there were dangerous trends that reared their heads in the form of physical and integrity attacks.

Guardian photographer Kristian De Silva was physically attacked by thugs who attempted to prevent him from taking photographs of A&V Drilling and Workover in Penal.

Bottles were pelted at a TV6 television crew who also went on assignment to the same location and violence was vented upon Newsday staff covering the same venue.

This thuggery caused alarm bells in the media which led to condemnation from the Opposition and the Media Association of T&T (Matt) with a delayed condemnation from the Government.

Such violence was later ameliorated by an apology from A&V Drilling with an offer to the media to tour their facilities followed by a press conference. This sudden volte face led to a rejection of the offer by Matt.

Media scrutiny was attacked last week when TV6 reporter Mark Bassant revealed to the Joint Select Committee investigating the Tobago ferry scandal that he had been offered a cheque for six figures by someone close to a Government official if he would just make his coverage of the story go away.

All of this is disturbing because it portrays a clear and present danger to press freedom. One often reads about journalists being attacked in other parts of the world, but never here. That can only mean that the stakes are high.

The “fake oil” scandal has also seen a new twist in the way that Petrotrin wants to deal with its internal audit of a shortfall of actual oil supplied and an overpayment for that oil based on incorrect or concocted figures.

The approach that the company wants to adopt is to seek restitution, rather than both restitution as well as prosecution.

Hopefully, the Government will want to adopt a sterner position on this situation.


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