Devant Maharaj, political activist and former UNC Senator.

Derek Achong

Former government minister and political activist Devant Maharaj has scored a legal victory in his bid to obtain information related to this country’s Dragon Field gas deal with Venezuela.

Delivering judgment in a lawsuit brought by Maharaj yesterday, High Court Judge Ricky Rahim ruled that the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) failed to properly consider Maharaj’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) application before it declined it last year.

While Rahim invalidated the decision, he did not make a ruling on whether Maharaj should be given the documents as he remitted the issue back to OPM to reconsider.

Rahim said: “The finding of the court is that relevant matters were not considered by the defendant which makes the decision to deem the document as an exempt one an invalid decision so that the court ought not to usurp the function of the decision maker in the facts of the case.”

Based on Rahim’s decision, Maharaj’s request may still be blanked provided that the OPM follows the proper procedure under the FOIA, which was highlighted by Rahim.

In the judgment, Rahim ruled that while the OPM could claim that the information was exempt from disclosure as it would comprise the deal with Venezuela, which contains a non-disclosure clause, it still had to consider whether disclosure was justifiable in the public’ interest and communicate its reasons to Maharaj.

“Of course had a full and proper answer been supplied and similarly articulated at the time the decision was made, the position would have been different,” he said.

He also rejected an attempt by the OPM to introduce additional reasons for non-disclosure when the case went to trial.

“To introduce new reasons or evidence ex post facto is fundamentally unfair to the citizen who challenges a public authorities’ decision,” Rahim said.

As part of his judgment, Rahim ordered the State to cover Maharaj’s legal costs for the case.

Maharaj was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Jared Jagroo, and Che Dindial.

Fyard Hosein, SC, Amirah Rahaman and Sean Julien represented the OPM.

About the Dragon Gas deal

The deal was signed between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and embattled Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro in August, 2018.

The agreement relates to the construction of a 14-kilometre pipeline between Venezuela’s Dragon Gas Field and the Hibiscus platform, located off Trinidad’s north-west coast. The platform is jointly owned by the NGC and Shell, who will also share the cost of the pipeline.

Once operational, the pipeline is expected to deliver 150 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, with the figure expected to double within some years.

At the time when the deal was struck, Finance Minister Colm Imbert estimated the cost at approximately US$1 billion.

Rowley refused to divulge details of the “confidential” deal including the agreed-upon rate for the gas, which he merely described as “competitive”.

The deal is expected to boost the gas supply to the local Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and petrochemical sectors, once the pipeline completed on schedule.