UNC activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj, who was successful at the Privy Council in his request for witness statements used by Petrotrin to discontinue legal proceedings against its former executive chairman Malcolm Jones, says the Prime Minister’s attempt to blame state enterprises and agencies for government losses in freedom of information cases is “laughable.”
On Thursday, the Prime Minister told the post-Cabinet media briefing that it was a common occurrence that someone, after requesting information from a government entity under the Freedom of Information Act may, under some provisions, would not be granted the information.
He said the person may then take the matter to court and win the case, resulting in the government agency making million-dollar payments to the person’s lawyer. Rowley said ultimately the taxpayers lose out, since taxes help fund these agencies.
The Prime Minister also said he was instructing Energy Minister Franklin Khan to provide the witness statements of former Petrotrin executive Charmaine Baptiste and Anthony Chan Tack. These statements were relied on by British Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson in his advice to Petrotrin which led to the $97 million lawsuit against Jones being withdrawn.
In a statement, Balgobin Maharaj said as head of Cabinet, the prime minister was not only responsible for the appointments of directors of state boards but also line ministers to whom they report.
He said Rowley’s statements at the post-Cabinet media briefing was nothing more than a “diversionary tactic designed to do political damage control.”
“It is no surprise that it conveniently ignores the numerous FOIA cases against the Cabinet and government ministers that have succeeded at the hands of civic-minded citizens like Afra Raymond, Devant Maharaj, Jwala Rambarran and myself,” he said.
“He must also indicate whether he would disclose the documents concerning the secret Sandals Project in Tobago, the obscure Dragon gas deal with Venezuela and the decision to re-name Charlotte Street ‘Chinatown’ without any form of consultation,” the UNC activist said.
He added that the only reason the Prime Minister has ordered Petrotrin to disclose the witness statements was because “he fully well knows that they will now lose the trial and be ordered to disclose the documents in light of the strong judgment delivered by the Privy Council.”
“He is trying his best to protect the PNM’s latest political ally Vincent Nelson, whose credibility has been shattered by the ruling from the highest court,” Balgobin-Maharaj contended.
“His sudden ignorance about these FOIA matters cannot withstand scrutiny because they are high-profile cases that were reported in the media when the local courts gave their ruling.
“Why didn’t he stop the State from appealing? It is clear that but for the Privy Council’s landmark ruling, Dr Rowley would have been content to bask in the glory of the local courts ruling in his favour and keep the documents hidden.”
LINK ORIGINAL: News day