Trinidad: Why Did It Take 2 Years To Meet Families Of Divers? – PM Responds

(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley revealed on Wednesday that the delay in an offer of settlement being made to the family members of the four divers who lost their lives in the February 2022 tragedy at Paria Fuel Trading Company is due to a lack of information on the employment history of the divers.

On February 25, 2022, Fyzal Kurban, Rishi Nagassar, Kazim Ali Junior, Yusuff Henry and Christopher Boodram got sucked into a 36-inch pipeline while performing maintenance work at Paria. Boodram was the lone survivor.

Told there’s a perception in the public domain that Paria is dragging its feet on the issue of a settlement, Rowley said: “Well, I don’t agree with that, I explained to them (family members) the advice that I have. What is holding up an offer of settlement from Paria’s insurance to them is pertinent information about the employment history of the people who are the claimants, which is a normal requirement if you’re going to make an insurance claim of this nature. It cannot be said to be Paria.

Rowley, who was addressing the media at a post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, said during his meeting with the family members on Wednesday, they indicated to him that they would work with their lawyers in having that information made available.

Informed that the family members expressed disappointment with the outcome of their meeting with him, the PM said the disappointment is really based on an expectation, and it then begs the question, what exactly did they expect?

“I try to make it very clear that we’re dealing with an event and there’s a process to follow. Paria is a State company but the board doesn’t own it, the board acts on behalf of the taxpayers. Asking for intervention by the prime minister to circumvent the insurance and legitimate liability processes is not going to happen, I said so from this podium,” Rowley said.

He added: “So, if they came expecting me to use the Office of the Prime Minister to decree that A, B, C, D should happen, it’s not going to happen because that is not how it’s supposed to happen. I was at pains to explain to them the expressions of empathy and sympathy but I must tell you, it is a difficult meeting to have with people who are going through what they’re going through. But what we’re dealing with is not new.”

He noted that when the incident happened, the government’s first response was to get some technical people in there, see what happens and take control of it in that way but there was a big howl against that and there was a demand for a commission of enquiry.

“Once you trigger that process of a commission of enquiry, all the interested parties now have the potential for liability. And even as I speak to you now, those liabilities have not been settled. Paria is a participant but Paria has insurance to cover any such incidents. And therefore, if what they’re asking me to do is to deviate from that, disregard the processes of Paria’s insurance and Paria’s determined liabilities or accepted liabilities, I can’t do that.

“So, I’m sorry to hear that they thought it was a disappointment but I did benefit from the conversation because certain things were raised with us which require some kind of examination, and we will examine that because we don’t have all the information, and I did indicate to them that the government’s position to Paria, the minister’s (Energy Minister Stuart Young) position to Paria is to try and be as empathetic and as swift as possible. But if everybody has lawyered up and leave the issue to lawyers to apportion liabilities then you just have to be careful of what you do.”

Calling the incident, a horrible situation where there was loss of life and a demand for punitive action, the PM said he did indicate to the family members that the processes are still underway.

“We’re still having to determine the conclusion of this matter. It’s not concluded. There’s going to be accountability and that is what the commission of enquiry was about. And the recommendations, they spoke about how things could have been better, hindsight of course but we’re going to be guided by the recommendations as we’re guided by the insurance guidelines.”

He said it is not easy to tell that to people who have been through what the family members have been through but there’s no alternative that could be reasonably had. “And encouraging me to do something that I don’t think I have the authority to do and be acting properly, it’s not going to happen,” he added.

Asked why he choose to meet with the divers’ family some two years following the event, Rowley said: “Precisely because of what I just said. Because as prime minister, the Office of the Prime Minister has to be carefully used so that it is not ‘used’. I could not insert myself into that because as people sought to protect themselves and their interest, one of the best things that they could do is to hold other people.”

He said from day one when the incident became such a contentious issue, he was careful not to insert himself in the matter.

“They asked to see me and I saw them relatively promptly.”

Asked if he still has confidence in Paria’s board, he said the board was not directly involved in the incident and it wasn’t a board action. “I am more concerned about the failure of management and the culture that may have existed there. And as I said, we’re all in a treatment process and the process continues, it is not over.”

Probed again about his confidence in Paria’s board, the PM said, for the time being, yes. “Remember, Paria’s board is a board of volunteers. They’re volunteers doing public service and you have to be reasonable and I’m being reasonable. The demand for vengeance and punitive action, I’m not from that direction. If that is where they’re at, I am not there. If there’s action to be taken at the level of the board and management, those things will flow but it wouldn’t be done from me. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not the adjudicator for punitive actions at this time or what should happen to the management. These are decisions that will be made as things are settled,” Rowley said.

Asked if the issue of corporate manslaughter, as indicated in the commission report, will be acted on, Rowley said that brings into play serious legal interpretations. “Everybody is going to want to defend themselves and that is not for me to adjudicate upon. If anybody feels like there’s corporate manslaughter at play, there’s a place and time to deal with that.”