The Attorney General has exhibited contempt, disdain, bias and animosity to the office of the Commissioner of Police (Ag),” Philbert said in a press release faxed last evening, hours after Ramlogan attacked him for not securing the sight at a post-Cabinet press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister. “He has come to a hasty conclusion without consulting the CoP.” He responded to Ramlogan’s threat to shorten his tenure by saying “the CoP is not aware that the Attorney General can appoint, shorten, discontinue or influence the tenure of service of a police officer or the Commissioner of Police.”
As for the Guanapo church, Philbert explained that the contractor for the project Shanghai Construction Group (SCG) had abandoned the site after issues of lack of payment arose.
“Recently, the investigative team informed the CoP that Shanghai Construction informed them that...they decided to discontinue construction and remove all equipment and material from the property....Once they completed their task, they abandoned the entire project and removed their security from the premises,” said Philbert.
“A senior representative of SCG has said that they have no interest in what they have left behind on the property. So the whole question of looting or any form of larceny cannot arise as the property has been abandoned.”
Philbert made no comment on the issue of ownership of the land. In an earlier interview with Newsday, which differed from his faxed release, he revealed that he spoke with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard over the issue and it was concluded that a crime could not be made out on the facts due to the paucity of information.
“I have spoken to the DPP on the issue,” he said. “These crimes, as you refer to them, relate to property and ownership, that is larceny.” However, “the nearest we will get is unlawful possession. We would have to show that the properties were not abandoned. I want to assure you that there are genuine concerns on the side of law enforcement about this and other issues.”
Philbert’s assurances came even as the removal of materials at the site by persons said to be from all over Trinidad continued at an aggressive pace yesterday, one day after the dome of the building collapsed injuring several men. It was confirmed yesterday that a San Juan man suffered a broken leg at the site on Wednesday and is hospitalised at Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope, while five others received minor injuries and were discharged.
No police were seen at the site except for the blimp which flew overhead and the national security helicopter which made several rounds above the church site, causing pilferers to scramble for safety running in the direction towards the forest area.
This did not stop the pilfering. Once the helicopter flew away, the intruders returned in their numbers and continued removing materials and loading it onto waiting trucks. Villagers said they spent a sleepless night on Wednesday, kept up by noise coming from the site, such as the sound of a welding torch, the movement of vehicles and the loading of materials by pilferers who appeared to be making every efforts to remove as much materials as possible.
One man dressed in construction wear arrived on the site at about 2.30 pm. Saying his name was Ian Baird, he told Newsday that a bus load of police officers was expected at the site along with the Minister of Works and Transport Jack Warner. But by late yesterday afternoon, they never turned up with Baird saying traffic problems may have affected the visit. Baird never said which agency he represented.
Nkeda Washington, a resident and community activist, told Newsday that she was expecting the police, Fire Service and an excavator from the Arima Borough Corporation to clear material from the site in an effort to make it safer. None turned up yesterday afternoon.
Ramlogan yesterday placed the blame for Wednesday’s collapse of the dome of the project in Philbert’s hands and the hands of the Integrity Commission which, he said, could have exercised statutory powers to get police to patrol the site, which is currently the centre of an Integrity Commission and Fraud Squad investigations. Questions despatched to the Integrity Commission chairman Dr Eric St Cyr, via Commission Registrar Martin Farrell, did not receive any response by yesterday evening. The Indo-Trinbago Equality Council (ITEC) yesterday also criticised the Integrity Commission for its apparent failure to act.
“ITEC is extremely disturbed about the status of our complaint following numerous media reports indicating that the site of Guanapo church has been virtually looted and plundered by criminal elements. The integrity of any investigation into our complaint is at risk of being severely compromised as evidence is being allowed to be carted off and / or destroyed,” ITEC chairman said in a letter to the Commission.
“ITEC is of the view that the state of apparent inaction on this issue as well as others by your Commission constitutes an attempt to abdicate its statutory responsibility and duty to investigate this complaint...ITEC fears that this failure can serve to discourage citizens from making complaints because tardiness of the Commission.”