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UNC, MSJ question claims of bias against Paria CoE

Newsday Reporter Rudranath Indarsingh -
Rudranath Indarsingh -

COUVA South MP Rudranath Indarsingh and Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah on Thursday questioned statements made by Paria Commission of Enquiry (CoE) chairman Jerome Lynch, KC, about three companies complaining that the commission was allegedly treating them unfairly.

During a virtual news conference on Wednesday, Lynch said the commission received letters from attorneys representing Kenson, Paria Fuel Trading Co Ltd and Heritage Petroleum.

In those letters, he continued, the companies claimed they were unfairly treated, that commissioners displayed a bias against them, and those commissioners should recuse themselves from the CoE.

Lynch said, "I do not deal with the merits of those complaints now, as they have yet to be fully articulated."

He added, "While I wholeheartedly reject those allegations, I would have thought that if there was to be an application for recusal on the grounds of apparent bias, it is normal in the first instance for that to be made before the tribunal engaged in the process."

Lynch said there had been no request for the CoE to resume sitting to hear such an application, and no such application had been put before the commission to date.

In a statement, Indarsingh challenged the boards and management of Paria and Heritage to publicly state the basis they believed the commission was biased against them.

"It is of great concern that the supposed bias claimed by Paria and Heritage are emerging two months before the much-anticipated deadline for delivery of the report of the CoE."

The purpose of Wednesday's virtual conference by the commission was for Lynch to deal with the reasons why the commission asked President Christine Kangaloo to extend its deadline for the submission of its report into the fatal accident at Paria last February, to November 30.

Lynch disclosed that Kangaloo granted the extension in a letter to the commission on August 30.

Indarsingh said Paria, Heritage and the Paria CoE are all being funded by taxpayer dollars.

He added, "If it is the concern by any party that a public agency is overtly or covertly practising any form of bias, such possibility of bias affects the public good."

Given the sensitivities around the incident, Indarsingh said there was no room for real or perceived bias by the commission.

He questioned whether the claims being made by Paria and Heritage were designed to protect certain people.

Indarsingh said Paria chairman Newman George was a close friend of the Prime Minister.

George is also the husband of Speaker of the House of Representatives Bridgid Annisette-George.

In a separate statement, Abdulah praised Lynch for his continued transparency and how he had conducted the CoE.

He said the claims of bias by Kenson, Paria and Heritage appeared to be an attempt to frustrate the work of the commission.

Abdulah claimed Paria and Heritage were chaired by people who were close to Dr Rowley. He added that Kenson was chaired by a former PNM mayor.

He urged the commission to complete its work within its latest deadline and ignore the machinations of those who he claimed attempted to "frustrate justice."

"They (CoE) know full well that justice delayed is justice denied."

Abdulah also called on Heritage and Paria to withdraw their claims of bias against the commission.

He urged both companies to spend their efforts to offer appropriate financial support to Christopher Boodram, the lone survivor of the accident, and the familes of the four deceased divers.

On February 25, 2022, divers Rishi Nagassar, Kazim Ali Jr, Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry and Boodram were doing maintenance work on a 30-inch underwater pipeline belonging to Paria when they were sucked into it.