Thursday, March 25, 2010


The Trinidad Guardian in screaming headlines has reported wealthy contractor Emile Elias, the owner of NH International Company Limited (NHIC), as saying that any probe into Landate would be/is a waste of time and money. According to Mr. Elias, there have been lots of probes into that project and they have all come up with nothing except a huge cost to the taxpayer.

I can understand that Mr. Elias would like all questions on Landate to simply go away if not disappear altogether. The problem is that it just isn't that simple, nor is Mr. Elias all that correct. Indeed, Mr. Elias in the Guardian story (assuming always that he was quoted accurately) has indulged in telling only half the story ... and everybody knows that half-truths are often more dangerous than lies.

The whole truth is this: way back in 2004 there was a Commission of Enquiry (COE) into the construction of the Scarborough General Hospital headed by retired Justice Annestine Sealey. The "players" were NIPDEC which was the owner of the project, and NHIC which was the contractor. (Incidentally, NIPDEC was then headed by Calder Hart!) There were several complaints surrounding the project including the question of rather serious cost overruns. Another serious question was whether or not materials were being transported from the Scarborough General Hospital site to another site where NIPDEC was also the defacto contractor. This site was owned by Dr. Rowley's wife and was known as Landate

The allegation was that valuable construction materials were being transferred from a public works project to the private Landate project illegally.

NHIC at first participated in the COE but withdrew before one of its senior managers could be cross-examined on this question of illegally transferring materials. The evidence that came out of the COE (amongst other things) was:

(a) that the terms of the contract were that the materials became the property of the owner (NIPDEC) as soon as they arrived on site (my emphasis);
(b) that the engineer had no idea that the materials were being moved;
(c) that, in the words of the Quantity Surveyor for the project Mr. Cleveland Leonard (partner to local Transparency Jefe Victor Hart), this moving of materials was "a recipe for chaos"; and
(d) that there had been no real or proper accounting concerning what materials had been moved.

NHIC at first tried to say that the materials belonged to their corporate entity and that they could do with them whatever they liked. They argued that in any case, moving materials from site to site without the knowledge or consent of the engineer was standard practise in Trinidad & Tobago. Unfortunately for NHIC, the only witnesses who supported this thesis were from NHIC. In addition, the contract clearly disproved the allegation that the materials belonged to NHIC.
Well, the COE recommended that the police investigate the matter with a view to seeing whether or not NHIC had breached the provisions of the Larceny Act. In other words, had NHIC stolen the materials?
NHIC would be guilty of theft if it could be shown that the materials that were removed from the Scarborough General Hospital site to Landate had not been accounted for and if in fact NIPDEC had paid for them. Remember, the engineer had no idea that NHIC was removing the materials!

The matter has lain fallow now for 6 years. The DPP reported about a year ago that the police said that they couldn't investigate the matter because they did not have the file and they didn't have a copy of the COE's report! Good grief! Only in a Mickey Mouse country could such an excuse be made. But, it has held water up to now!

Mr. Elias also says that the matter should not be investigated because the Integrity Commission (IC) already did so and the High Court has ruled on the matter. Well, again, that is only half true. What happened was that the IC decided that Dr. Rowley had breached the provisions of the Integrity Act in regard to his declarations on Landate and had decided to prosecute him. Dr. Rowley applied to the High Court for judicial review of the decision to prosecute him saying that he had not been given a chance to explain himself. The High Court agreed and said the IC was wrong not first to give him a chance to be heard. And that was all! The substantive question on the issue has never been determined.

So, let's see what happens next. Will the new Director of Public Prosecutions deal with the matter or will he just let it slide ... again?! Or put another way, is the Landate probe really a waste of time? Stay tuned, my friends.

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