In spite of widespread public outcry and condemnation, the Government appears intent on moving forward with changes to the Freedom of Information Act which will weaken the legislation.
In a hastily arranged press conference on Tuesday, a visibly agitated Attorney General said the Government circulated another amendment to change the period for a public authority to respond to an FOIA request from 30 days to 45 days, instead of the 90 days proposed in the Bill laid in Parliament last Friday.
This move, he claimed, was in response to the ‘surprising’ negative response to the draft legislation. The Law Association and more than 30 groups, including non-Governmental organizations, have called for the bill to be put out for public consultation.
It is clear that once again this Attorney General has presented flawed legislation to the Parliament, and the Government hoped to rush this through without proper scrutiny.
Opposition Leader and UNC Political Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said, “The Attorney General does not seem to know what he is doing, and this is the latest example of this.”
“Further, the Attorney General’s attempt to portray citizens’ FOIA applications seeking information as ‘milking’ the system is distasteful,” she said. “If Mr Al-Rawi is so concerned with saving money, he should give consideration to cancelling the million-dollar Government contracts for the rental of properties owned by his family.”
The Opposition Leader noted that the AG spoke at length on the costs involved in the lawsuit filed by Mr Ravi Maharaj seeking the witness statements in the Petrotrin/World GTL matter, but neglected to mention the contents of those statements.
The witness statements do not provide any justification whatsoever to support Vincent Nelson QC’s tenuous and politically suspicious advice that the court could view this as a bad investment decision without any form of negligence.
On the contrary, the witness statements reveal that the Board led by Executive Chairman Malcolm Jones was a mere spectator to the mismanagement and eventual implosion that occurred. It failed to intervene in a timely manner or at all and ignored the distress signals that should have triggered emergency sirens and led to immediate surgery.
Instead, the Board’s negligence was compounded when, instead of pulling the plug on the project in light of WGTL’s default of its financial contributions to the project, it incredibly assumed responsibility for its share of the liability.
Malcolm Jones was sued because he was the Executive Chairman with ultimate responsibility for the project. He was sued for negligence because:
a) He was wrong to ignore the warnings from Petrotrin’s management and guarantee WGTL’s debt.
b) He failed to ensure that a proper feasibility study was done on the construction of the GTL plant.
c) Caused Petrotrin to provide unsecured loans to WGTL when there was no evidence or hope of repayment.
d) He failed to conduct proper due diligence on WGTL to ensure that it owned the technology and had the financial capability it claimed.
These witness statements justify and reinforce the need to sue for negligence because they highlight the lack of leadership and critical intervention by the Malcolm Jones led Board which fiddled while Rome continued to burn.
The Government must be held accountable to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. This PNM Government is not serious about transparency and accountability, and the move to amend the FOIA has all the makings of despotic behaviour, of a dictatorship Government and of a desperate Government because they want to hide all information in an election year.
The Opposition Leader reiterated her position that the UNC would not support this blatant attempt by the Government to stifle the public’s freedom to information, and if the legislation is passed, it will be met with court action.