If all had gone as Government planned in Parliament yesterday, UNC MP Ganga Singh’s quip to Finance Minister Colm Imbert might have been the only spotlight moment.
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Race talk at HCU probe
Tempers flared as ethnicity became an emotive topic at the Hindu Credit Union (HCU) Commission of Enquiry yesterday. Farid Scoon, lawyer for former HCU president Harry Harnarine, while cross- examining former HCU contractor Gordon James brought up the issue of James being an Afro-Trinidadian who worked for a credit union with a base that was predominantly Indo-Trinidadian.
Scoon said: “A case of a black man eating a food. According to your witness statement, you said you were born in the ghetto and all the people you employed were from the ghetto. And you got heat from the HCU for that.” James replied: “They said I was bringing Africans and douglarising the credit union.”
Scoon then read from James’ witness statement: “The focus policy of the HCU was to make money on stupid n....., referring to you Gordon and the people you brought in.” Deborah Peake, legal representative of HCU liquidator Ramdath Rampersad, told chairman of the enquiry Sir Anthony Coleman: “Can I object to this line of cross-examination which I find irrelevant and offensive?
“It is very unfortunate as my friend Scoon who is supposed to be cross- examining to be leading on race and people’s perception of certain races because it is of no business of this commission. Why are we going there?” Scoon defended his position, however, saying: “Those issues are related to the fall of the credit union.”
The exchange came as James gave evidence yesterday at the Winsure Building, Port-of-Spain. James denied that any director or consultant of the HCU attempted to bribe him with a trip to China to prevent him from testifying at the commission of enquiry. He was listed to testify on Tuesday but said there was a breakdown in communication with his lawyer Peter Taylor which resulted in him not showing up.
James apologised to Coleman for his absence. Junior counsel to the enquiry, Gerald Ramdeen, asked: “So no one offered you a trip to China to prevent you from giving evidence at this commission?” James said he had been in contact with former HCU consultant Jameel Ali about his testimony.
“I talk with Mr Ali from time to time and when I saw his name appearing in the media, I kept telling him, ‘Why don’t you go,” and I said any time they call me I will go and that is what I have done,” he said. Ramdeen further queried if he had been discussing giving evidence at the enquiry with Ali.
“Yes, I talk to him and encourage him to go...He told me he would have come and I am surprised he is not here,” he said. Ramdeen then asked him: “Did you tell Ali that anyone was preparing a ticket for you to go to China for you not to give evidence at this commission? James said: “No. I have not spoken to him for the last week.”
Peake raised the issue of the sub-standard work that was carried out on the seven projects that James was part of between 2002 and 2005. She asked: “For approvals you need to get Town and Country approvals, you need to get T&TEC, you need to get the Fire Service...were you responsible for those approvals?” James said every project he worked on was approved by the relevant authority.
She then asked him: “With respect to the HCU Convention Centre you worked on, the building cannot be rented out now. So when you built this building whether the cost was $6 million or $10 million or whatever the cost, did it ever occur to you that you would need to have electricity?”
He said it was not his responsibility but that of HCU to ensure that the right approvals were obtained. James’ company was also part of a consortium which included other contractors who did work for the HCU. According to Peake, the consortium received more than $70 million for the seven contracts they secured over the period 2002 to 2005. She said this information is contained in the account books of the HCU.
James claimed the figures were incorrect and argued that HCU still has $11 million owed to the consortium for work done. He was also asked by Scoon about a now infamous trip to Florida, USA, and Disney World. James said it was merely to gather information and ideas for Jovi’s Water Park, which they were building. He also said the HCU officials also visited similar parks in California and Atlantic City. “It had no recreation for children when school closed and Jovi’s was a place suitable for recreation for them,” he said.
“I was designing a plan for Jovi’s to be a mini Disney Land.”