Trinidad Express / IN a scathing attack, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday accused Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar of “jamettry”.
Rowley slammed Persad-Bissessar for her treatment of the “fake oil” issue, coining the new term in the political lexicon to describe her behaviour.
But in response to questions, the Prime Minister also admitted he knew “Mr Baksh very well”.
Nazim Baksh is the owner of A&V Oil and Gas Ltd, the company at the centre of the Petrotrin fake oil fraud allegations.
Rowley, who was overseas when the allegations that the company had inflated its oil production figures became public, said he called Baksh when he heard about the claims. Asked whether he thought his action was appropriate, given the fact that the company was being investigated, the Prime Minister was unapologetic.
“Of course it is appropriate! I couldn’t wait to call him to find out what this is all about. And he said (to me) he doesn’t know (about it).”
Insisting his actions were natural, Rowley said: “If I have a friend and I am accused in that way, and the friend doesn’t reach out to me to find out what is going on, I would look to him kind of funny.
“If a person is my friend, I don’t deny or disown a friend because an allegation is made against them…Being a friend means something. I am not of that mettle.”
Addressing the post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, the Prime Minister maintained his cutting characterisation of Persad-Bissessar’s handling of the issue. He said according to Persad-Bissessar, the owner of A&V Oil and Gas is “so much my friend that I am tiefing oil with him for the PNM”.
Furthermore, Rowley said the fact that he was photographed with a Petrotrin employee (who is alleged to have been involved in the fake oil fraud, according to the audit) and who was a former PNM candidate, was also being used to suggest he (Rowley) was culpable in this matter. “Now as PNM leader, I would be in great difficulty if I tell any PNM candidate that I don’t want to be seen with you. (But) that has nothing to do with me and Petrotrin oil,” he said.
I choose my words carefully
“To jump off on a preliminary enquiry and start accusing everybody you know, of being part of some grand conspiracy, resulting in Petrotrin oil being stolen, was a bit of an overreach. You could behave as an effective Opposition Leader…But jamettry is not really the way to deal with these things…Sometimes that type of behaviour may be an impediment to getting to the root of the problem,” he said.
Asked if he was accusing the Opposition Leader of “jamettry”, the Prime Minister replied: “I choose my words very carefully. I choose my words very carefully because if an employee of Petrotrin is found to have done something wrong, with or without the collusion of a contractor of Petrotrin, I don’t know what possible involvement I could have in this matter… But of course, the Opposition Leader has to make sure that it comes to me, at the personal level, and I take that for what it is.”
If true, straight to Fraud Squad
Rowley said the Opposition Leader who had a pretty “lean” season under this Government because “marks were very hard to buss”, got this “interesting information”, and played “it for all it was worth”.
On Persad-Bissessar’s claim that the principal of A&V Oil and Gas was his friend, Rowley said Persad-Bissessar spent “a lifetime” accusing him of racism and therefore he was “very glad” to know she was admitting he had a friend who was not of his race.
Rowley said none of the selections in the Senate had anything to do with the involvement of A&V and its principal in oil.
Rowley, who said he knew from his own experience that very serious allegations can be made by someone, indicated he would be uncompromising in his opposition against corruption.
He was emphatic that it mattered not who a person was, “whether a PNM member, NPM or the alphabet, you are not to expect any protection from the Government.
“If you engage in corruption, you on your own”.
The Prime Minister, in response to questions, said he couldn’t just refer a preliminary report to the Fraud Squad or the Director of Public Prosecutions because someone “buss a mark”.
He said if the allegations are confirmed, the Government expected the matter would be referred to the Fraud Squad “and wherever you want to send it”.
He said after a proper, clear and conclusive investigation, and the facts are confirmed, the chips would fall where they may.
He said he was hoping the board of Petrotrin, which had some very experienced people, would take the approach of having as quickly as possible an independent investigation, the outcome of which would be to identify very conclusively who is responsible, what happened, and to hold those specific people or entities accountable.
Asked if Baksh and his company contributed financially to the PNM’s campaign, the Prime Minster said he would be “surprised” if he didn’t.
He said the business sector had always made contributions to political activity, “and I don’t know that any person should be demonised for doing that”.
He said, however, the PNM makes “no deals with anybody”.
He said the appointment of Allyson Baksh (Baksh’s daughter) to the Senate was made on merit and “she should not be pilloried for anything that does not concern her”.
Rowley said the problem of under-reporting may be more widespread than this incident.
“If this particular matter pans out, it raises greater and more serious concerns about what goes on Petrotrin,” he said, adding he would want to know what was taking place in other areas of Petrotrin where “millions of barrels of oil are being brought from ships and sold to ships”. He also criticised the “honour” system in collecting revenues from State-owned quarries, whereby the revenues are being given on the information provided by the very operators.
“The Government is concerned to the point of frustration,” he said.
Hinting at additional areas of revenue loss, the Prime Minister also referred to yesterday’s Cabinet discussion on significant kinds of arrangements in the export of gas, which the Government was in the process of reviewing.
Rowley also said the Government was working on whistle-blowing legislation and campaign finance reform.