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Tuesday 25 September 2018
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‘ONLY CoP AND GOD KNOWS WHY’

WITH AN estimated $5 million in materials and equipment now removed from the site of the controversial church project at the Heights of Guanapo, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday said he was “mad, upset and vex” in the wake of what he described as the “wanton looting” of the building which led to its collapse on Wednesday.

A fuming Ramlogan hit out at Acting Commissioner of Police (CoP) James Philbert and the Integrity Commission, both state entities which are constitutionally independent of the Executive, for their apparent failure to secure the site of the Lighthouse of Our Lord Jesus Christ church in the wake of reports of looting which dated back since early June.

The church, up until that month, was being constructed by Chinese contractor Shanghai Construction Group (SCG) in the name of the spiritual adviser to former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, Rev Juliana Pena.

“I do not know why the Integrity Commission and the Commissioner of Police did not intervene in this matter, either jointly, or on their own volition or in contact and coordination with each other,” Ramlogan said at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair.

“As to why the CoP did not see it fit to intervene in that matter, that is a question that only the CoP himself and God can answer. Personally, I share the public sense of frustration, outrage and the growing sense of distress and anxiety over what was allowed to happen; a shameless bold- faced, brazen looting attack on the church was allowed to take place,” said Ramlogan.

However, last evening Philbert lashed back at Ramlogan accusing him of “contempt, disdain, bias and animosity to the office of the Commissioner of Police”.

In a three page statement, Philbert defended the police’s decision to not secure the church site, saying the property had been abandoned by SCG.

On Wednesday, the dome which was supposed to cover the 500-seat sanctuary of the church collapsed after repeated pilfering of steel and materials ate away at the structure’s integrity. On Sunday, the media had reported looting at the site and Newsday had reported, on June 17, that pilfering of materials was happening “almost on a daily basis”.

By the end of yesterday it was clear that a series of endemic problems resulted in millions being looted from the project virtually in front of the public’s eye over the last month while no state agency intervened to protect the property. These problems included: the lack of oversight of the functioning of the Commissioner of Police; the absence of a functional Police Service Commission (PSC) to discipline the CoP; the failure of state agencies to coordinate and share information on land ownership; the lack of what some say is a proper legal framework to deal with apparent cases of looting; and the failure of state bodies to protect the subjects of their investigations.

Based on a review of the project’s plans and photographs taken at the site last month and this week, construction experts yesterday told Newsday that approximately 20 percent of the project, which was estimated to cost $30 million once completed, had in fact been completed right up to when work on the project halted in late May. Of $6 million in work done, approximately $4 million in damage had been done to the project and scaffolding and equipment worth approximately $1 million was also stolen.

SCG managing director Michael Zhang yesterday said all issues of looting of materials were for the owners of the project.

“The owner should take any necessary steps. The owner should deal with that not SCG,” Zhang said. Questioned over whether or not SCG should safeguard its own equipment and its client’s property, Zhang said, “Andrew (sic) I am driving now,” and hung up the phone.

Ramlogan yesterday lamented that the project, which could have been used not only as a church but also as a rehab centre or a safehouse for domestic abuse victims, was now virtually destroyed.

He said Philbert had been contacted about looting at the church by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard but had still failed to act. “It is a major failure on the part of the CoP of this country that he would have presided over and witnessed the wanton looting of that structure and done absolutely nothing about it even though he was contracted by the DPP of this country.”

“More than that, there is no requirement for anyone to approach the CoP — even though we did — on a matter like this. If you have an act of lawlessness, and illegal conduct occurring in the face and eye and full glare of the public then really, does anyone need to tell you what to do? Isn’t it your job to intervene?”

In an earlier interview with Newsday, Philbert had argued that the police could not intervene to protect the site because they did not know who the owner was . Without this, a criminal offence could not be made out to justify police intervention, he said. This was a view, more or less, shared by Ramlogan’s Cabinet colleague National Security Minister Brigadier John Sandy at yesterday’s press-briefing. Sandy said the owner of the property was not known to the police.

However, Ramlogan said the land was leased to the Lighthouse of Our Lord Jesus Christ and mentioned the name of Rev Pena. He was not able to explain why his office was unable to assist the police with identifying the owner of the property. But he rejected outright the police’s (and his Cabinet colleague’s) argument that the availability of information on the ownership of the land was relevant.

“It is a fallacy to suggest that the lack of ownership prevented the police from doing its job,” Ramlogan said when questioned. He gave an analogy of masked men on a neighbour’s roof ripping off galvanise when the neighbours were unknown, arguing that police should still intervene in such a case.

“That is not a good excuse for the police to be giving. The fact of the matter remains that wanton looting and lawlessness is taking place and it is abundantly clear and known to all. It is well known that the land was leased by the State or transferred by the State by the previous administration to an entity that remains somewhat obscure and mysterious. The police themselves have not been able to get in touch with Madam Julia Pena. Perhaps the correct person to be addressing this would be the person who gave them the land and that would be the former Prime Minister.”

As to why his office did not play a greater role, Ramlogan noted that given the Constitution the only body that is empowered to exercise oversight of the CoP was the PSC, which yesterday was not in place as new members are currently in the process of being selected. Failing that, he noted, the Office of the AG could not intervene.

“It is improper for me as an Attorney General to seek to communicate directly with the CoP. That is not meant to be, given the requirements of the constitutional principles of separation of powers and the system that has been drawn up to separate executive power from law enforcement power. The correct diplomatic channel available to me as AG is the Office of the DPP which was utilised in this case. The DPP had already pro-actively initiated contact with the CoP. This administration does not intend to transgress and trespass on the jurisdiction of the CoP.”

But at the same time, Ramlogan was so apparently incensed by Philbert’s failure to act, that he issued a veiled threat to him. Alluding to the end of Philbert’s term as Acting CoP in September, Ramlogan said, “It may very well be that it (Philbert’s term) will come to an accelerated, premature end.”

Ramlogan and Sandy were due to meet yesterday afternoon. Ramlogan said he would “advise” Sandy to advise Philbert to take action.

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