Israel Khan

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Despite the possible costs or even the length of time the process may take, stakeholders believe that a Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the incident surrounding the death of four divers is important.

Last week, the Government appointed a three-member team to the CoE after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley quashed the previous five-member committee appointed to probe the February 25 incident, which led to the deaths of divers Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry, Kazim Ali Jr and Rishi Nagassar, in favour of a commission. He cited the fact that the investigative team had become tainted by politics and in particular, one member Eugune Tiah, had come under attack by the United National Congress.

Tiah eventually resigned from the committee, prompting the PM’s decision to go the route of the CoE.

The divers, who were employed by LMCS Limited, died after being sucked into a 30-inch pipeline they were doing repair works on at Paria Fuel’s Pointe-a-Pierre site. LMCS was contracted by Paria to conduct the maintenance work.

Several stakeholders in society gave the Guardian their positions on the matter.

Political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath told Guardian Media that a CoE in this instance is important, as lives were lost and it is important that the country gets to know what really happened.

“This requires an intense investigation at various levels. The five-member investigative team that was set up was simply saying that was the Ministry of Energy’s approach to trying to determine what really transpired. The whole idea here was there was an industrial incident and it needs to be properly investigated and recommendations going in there that prevent any such incident from occurring again. While the CoE is not necessarily the best and most efficient tool that is available, it is one that we have long recognised as the medium by which we will undertake these sorts of investigations,” Ragoonath said.

However, he did point out that CoE can be “lengthy” as it depends on the terms of reference but he advised that once established, the Commission of Enquiry should move quickly so as not to be engaged in going about its job for any long period.

He warned too that this CoE could run into “tens of millions of dollars” given the field and expertise that is needed.

“The Prime Minister has said that the members of this CoE need a certain calibre of people from BP or Shell, so technical experts will be brought and they are not cheap. That alone will cost the country significantly just to recruit them.”

He concluded that the CoE is important, as the recommendations that are generated should be used for the relevant sectors, but noted there must be an oversight that ensures that their recommendations are implemented.

Attorney Israel Khan, SC, who was part of the Commission on Enquiry into the construction sector and the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (Udecott), is in “full support” of this latest CoE.

“It is absolutely necessary. I must commend the Government for scrapping the former committee. The committee did not have the power to summons witnesses. Most important is the independence of the commissioner. He is a jurist from Jamaica and has no interest in the internal politics of T&T.”

For critics who argue that CoEs are very expensive to carry out, Khan said if the families of the divers are to be compensated, it would cost millions of dollars and the state would have to spend a lot of money anyway, so there should be no complaints about the cost to set up a CoE.

“What they have to investigate is to see whether there is a criminal liability or civil liability and also how to put things in place to avoid this reoccurring,” he said.

President of the San Fernando Business Chamber Daphne Bartlett meanwhile believes that the Government made the correct move in setting up a CoE to look into the incident surrounding the deaths of the divers.

No matter how much money it will cost, she said lives were lost and it is important that the energy industry, which the country’s economy relies on, should never experience such a fatal incident like that again. “There are so many conflicting reports about what transpired, the family and the public would like to get to know the truth about what happened. It is not only about these four who passed but it is about saving future lives in this important industry,” Bartlett said.

She said the facts are straightforward in this case and she does not expect this CoE to take years. In fact, she expects that it should be no longer than a few months.