Former chairman of defunct airline BWIA Arthur Lok Jack and his board of directors are fighting back over allegations contained in a report that they undersold the prized landing slots at Heathrow International Airport in London, England for 5 million pounds sterling.
In a strongly worded letter dispatched to the Port of Spain office of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan last Friday, Lok Jack, on behalf of his former board members and himself, asked Ramlogan to investigate the publication of a forensic management audit concerning the sale of BWIA's London Heathrow slots to British Airways in 2007.
Contents of the report which was sent to the Express, were carried in an exclusive lead story by the newspaper last Monday.
Former BWIA directors Gervase Warner, William Lucie-Smith and Robert Riley were carbon copied in the Lok Jack correspondence to Ramlogan last Friday, as well as Finance Minister Larry Howai, former BWIA chief executive Peter Davies and former corporate secretary Rachel Laquis.
The letter was also forwarded to the Trinidad Express Newspapers.
Lok Jack and the former board members want Ramlogan to "immediately provide us with a copy of the committee's report so that we may comprehensively address these misleading and unfounded allegations and statements", about the sale of the Heathrow slots.
They also want Ramlogan to investigate how the report was provided to the media before the former directors were afforded an opportunity to respond.
In a related story published next to the Express lead on page three about the report on the sale of the slots last Monday, Lok Jack, when contacted by the Express to questions about the audit, responded by saying there was no negligence in the sale of the slots.
"It is a matter of judgment... that's ridiculous to say there was negligence, there were only two people who were interested in the slots at that time—Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. We gave it to the one who was going to continue to fly to Trinidad," said Lok Jack.
He said Virgin Atlantic had offered half a million more, but did not want to maintain the London-to-Trinidad route, so it was decided to conduct the transaction with British Airways instead, which had agreed to maintain the routes.
In his letter to Ramlogan last Friday, Lok Jack recalled his detailed responses to 16 questions related to a forensic management audit requested by Cabinet, concerning the sale of the Heathrow slots.
Lok Jack said: "The former members of the board of BWIA were astonished to read the article headlined "Pound Foolish", published on Monday October 22, 2012 in the Trinidad Express. You may recall your letter dated July 6, 2011 seeking answers to specific questions relating to a forensic management audit, requested by Cabinet, concerning the sale of BWIA's London Heathrow slots as well as my responses of July 26, 2011 and August 12, 2011. Copies of that correspondence are attached for your ease of reference. You may also recall that your letter advised that, "the Team will require your assistance and full co-operation to successfully undertake this Forensic/Management audit." We were therefore extremely surprised to see the publication of this report when at no time did any member of the committee appointed to undertake that audit contact any member of the former Board of BWIA. Further, if the newspaper article in the Express accurately quotes the report from the audit committee, it would appear that the committee either did not receive, or failed to take into account, the information and facts which the former Board provided to you regarding the sale of the BWIA slots," the letter stated.
None of the former directors were provided with a copy of the report to address the allegations published in the Express story.
"Additionally, it seems to us most unprofessional and contrary to the basic rules of natural justice that conclusions have been made and findings published without any opportunity being given to those affected to address them," Lok Jack said.
"The members of my board have therefore asked me to request that you immediately provide us with a copy of the committee's report so that we may comprehensively address these misleading and unfounded allegations and statements. I further request that you immediately undertake an investigation as to how this report was published, and provided to the media before we were afforded an opportunity to respond. Meanwhile in order to set the records straight copies of this letter and the relevant data are being forwarded to the Editor of the Trinidad Express," he added.With respect to the purported economic model constructed to estimate the impact of the sale of BWIA's London Heathrow slots on the wider economy of Trinidad and Tobago, Lok Jack said: "...We find the concept of multiplying the estimated impact per year by ten years against one year's GDP incomprehensible. It is also amazing that this sophisticated economic model which even estimates catalytic economic impacts, fails to take into account the route losses that would have been incurred over the same ten-year period had the board not taken the decision to close the London route. Contacted for comment yesterday, AG Ramlogan said he had not yet seen Lok Jack's letter because he been in Parliament all of last Friday and only left the Parliament building at 5 a.m. yesterday after the defeat of the on confidence motion against him.
On the issue of the BWIA sale of the Heathrow slots, Ramlogan told the Sunday Express: "The BWIA report on the sale of the Heathrow slots is not yet ready for public consumption because it is a matter before Cabinet and contains recommendation that it be laid in Parliament and a Joint Select Committee be appointed to summon persons to enquire further into this fiasco. There is no doubt that those who are responsible for the sale of the precious slots at Heathrow will have an opportunity to answer allegations made against them. It is therefore a matter for the Cabinet to make a decision. I am, however, of the view that this matter requires full and frank disclosure and ventilation in the public interest." He said anyone who had to travel to London and use Gatwick Airport would testify to the anger and frustration they experienced because of the distance and inconvenience of travelling from Gatwick to central London, compared to Heathrow Airport.
Ramlogan said the economic fallout over the decrease in travel because there were fewer connecting flights out of Gatwick, was also an area of concern. He said there was also an impact on Tobago.
"Tobago's economy would have been dramatically affected by the switch in (London airports) and special consideration should have been given to Tobago at a time when the industry worldwide was experiencing a slump," before the Heathrow slots were sold, Ramlogan said.