Sunday, February 18, 2018

Make Piarco report public too

This is an open letter to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar

Dear Prime Minister, history will record that, within 24 hours of your receipt of the report of the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt, it was laid in Parliament. That is a record deserving of congratulations and a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

In laying the report in Parliament on March 14, you said proudly: “the Government agreed that we would waive confidentiality and place the entire report in the public domain. We did not want the report to be shadowed. There is nothing to hide.” The decision to publish the full report was taken “after due deliberation” notwithstanding a recommendation by the commissioners that Chapter 12 contained sensitive national security issues that should be treated as confidential.

I am first in line to offer you my congratulations on the action taken but must also register my disappointment that, in this instance, your Government is guilty of inconsistency.

How do you explain or justify the commendable haste in laying this 1990 Report in Parliament and the public domain when the report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Piarco Airport Development Project continues to gather dust on a shelf in your and your Attorney General’s Office? The Piarco Commissioners, of whom I was one, delivered three copies of the report to then President George Maxwell Richards on August 30, 2003, one for His Excellency, one for Prime Minister Manning and the other for Attorney General Jeremie. Mr Manning announced in Parliament that he had received the report and that “after it was sanitised” it would be laid in the House and made public. He demitted office seven years later without fulfilling that promise.

Your party, the United National Congress then in Opposition, condemned the failure of Mr Manning to table that report in Parliament. One month before you assumed office, on 18 April 2010, a newspaper published leaked sections from the Piarco Report. I felt confident that, given that leak, your People’s Partnership Government, elected on May 24, 2010, would lose no time in tabling the report in Parliament. My confidence was misplaced and today, almost four years later, your government has said and done nothing about the Piarco Report.

The irony is that we, the commissioners of the Piarco Enquiry, saw no need for confidentiality in any aspect of our report, yet you have kept it from the public’s eyes. On the other hand, you have ignored the confidentiality recommendation of the commissioners of the 1990 coup attempt enquiry. It begs the question: Why different strokes for different folks? Why the secrecy over the Piarco Enquiry but not over the 1990 coup attempt enquiry?

I have been campaigning unsuccessfully for over ten years for the publication of the Piarco Report for two reasons. Firstly, because of the people’s right to know the outcome of an enquiry held in their name and at their cost. Secondly, because the recommendations made in the report, if implemented, would have saved the country many millions of dollars and probably avoided the expensive Uff Commission Enquiry into UDeCOTT and the construction sector.

Prime Minister, it is not too late to correct this omission and I urge you to take immediate steps to lay the Piarco Report in Parliament since “there is nothing to hide”. When doing so, please take similar action on the other unpublished reports you inherited e.g. The enquiry into the 2008 Caroni Bridge collapse that resulted in injuries and loss of life.

Victor Hart

Lowlands. Tobago.