Re: The Lighthouse of our Lord Jesus Christ – The Construction of a Church on State lands at Guanapo
The captioned matter has justifiably exercised the minds of all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago over the last few years and I gather that many of you have anxiously awaited the outcome of the police investigations into this matter.
Given the national debates and the public interest that this matter has attracted and the fact that my Office is a public office, I feel duty-bound to apprise you of my findings – the police investigation having been completed and my having sought and obtained advice locally and abroad from Queen’s Counsel, as recently as February 4, 2013.
It would have been irresponsible and premature for me to have categorically pronounced on this or any other matter before the police complete their investigations. My involvement in this matter arose as a result of a letter dated May 15, 2010, together with annexures, being sent to me by then Leader of the Opposition Ms Kamla Persad-Bissessar, now Prime Minister and Senior Counsel.
Quite rightly the Honourable Prime Minister considered this matter to be of critical importance. Accordingly, in her missive to me she brought several concerns to my attention and she requested that I initiate a probe or investigation of these concerns.
Having appraised the aforesaid documents, I was of the unflinching view that such an investigation was strongly warranted and I promptly instructed the police to undertake same.
I feel compelled to point out, that contrary to the views expressed in certain quarters, it is not within the constitutional mandate or remit of my office to investigate allegations of criminal wrongdoing.
In fact, my office has no investigative capability. Primarily, this falls within the domain of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.The Prime Minister’s concerns revolved around primarily four (4) issues:
(i) whether the then Prime Minister Patrick Manning corruptly or unlawfully interfered in the granting of State Lands and other related approvals to the church or for its construction;
(ii) whether State funds were used for/or in the construction of the church;
(iii) whether Mr Calder Hart corruptly procured the Shanghai Construction Group and others to design and construct the church; and
(iv) whether the building constructed at the Heights of Guanapo was initially designed as the Outdoor Stage Project of the Prime Minister’s house as part of the Prime Minister’s residence and relatedly, whether the cost of the church was factored into the cost of the Prime Minister’s residence.
Concomitantly, the Prime Minister was also concerned about whether there had been any violations of the Prevention of Corruption Act, Chap 11:11 of the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago.
My duty in all cases is to consider whether I am satisfied that there is sufficient admissible evidence to afford a reasonable prospect of conviction against any party or entity, for a criminal offence and of course, provided that there is, whether such a prosecution is in the public interest.
This test has been outlined in the Code for Prosecutions published by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in March 2012 and it is quite similar to the test employed in the United Kingdom.
In looking at this matter, I did not limit myself solely to a consideration of the possible commission of any offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act (supra). Rather, I considered whether any criminal offences had been committed under our laws.
It is a commonly held view that the then Prime Minister and Ms Pena had a spiritual link from at least 2003. However, there is no evidence that she was employed by him in any official capacity.
Equally it is clear that the evidence establishes that the then Prime Minister had an interest in the construction of the Church and that he had nourished his interest by visiting the proposed site and by making suggestions as to the proposed design of the Church. Further, he had chaired the Cabinet meetings which had approved the granting of State lands for the building of the Church. It should be noted that Cabinet has to approve the grant of all such lands.
There is no admissible evidence that the former Prime Minister played any further role in the matter. Even if he did try to ensure that an application such as this one was not delayed, that is not an offence.
Further, there is no evidence that he did anything in return for any advantage such as would be caught by the Prevention of Corruption Act or any other law.
Ms Pena had registered her Church in 2004. She had held prayers in a private house in Guanapo and had identified a parcel of State lands in the vicinity, to be the site where she wanted to build her Church. She persuaded the people who were using that land to relinquish their interest in it to the Church. This was a critical part of her plan for a Church and no complaint is made about that.
In July 2005, Ms Pena began her application for authority to build the church there. Central Government approvals were not finally granted until April 2010. This was after the Town and Country Planning Division had indicated to the Director of the Land Administration Department that the land site was for agricultural purposes only and was unsuitable for a church.
It should be noted that there was a Cabinet Minute which mandated that a lease of the land be granted, subject to the approval of the Town and Country Planning Division.
The Town and Country Planning Division only relented after Ms Pena had revised her application and had indicated that the land would not only be for the church but also for agricultural purposes.
In light of the time this application took; the unfavourable initial opinion of the Town and Country Planning Division for the use of the land for a Church only; the fact that Ms Pena had to revise her application to meet the dictates of the Planning Division; and the fact that there is no evidence of any complaint by any of the civil servants involved in the transaction, incline me to the view that there was no illegal link between the Prime Minister and the granting of State lands for the construction of the Church.
En passant, I note that in a letter to the Attorney General, a consultant town planner said that there was “no evidence of Ministerial interference” in the matter although he was critical of the conduct of the Planning Division’s personnel.
Further, the evidence indicates that after Mr Calder Hart, then Chairman of UDECOTT, had introduced Ms Pena to the architect who initially designed the Church, that architect agreed to his designing of that Church by way of a charitable act. There is no evidence to gainsay this; neither I daresay, is there any evidence that the architect had received any collateral benefit, as consideration or reward.
Neither Mr Hart nor Ms Pena has been interviewed on this score, owing to their unavailability. Further, the Judges Rules legally prohibit the police from treating them or the former Prime Minister as suspects, since the police appear not to have any evidence which would afford reasonable grounds for suspecting that they may have committed any offence arising out of this matter.
May I hasten to add that nothing legally prevents the police from questioning any individual or entity, if available and if such questioning could advance the investigation of a criminal offence.
The evidence is that the Shanghai Construction Group completed the design and started to build the Church. Its Director, Mr Zhang had met Ms Pena when she came to pray at the Prime Minister’s project site at which Shanghai Construction Group was engaged. Mr Calder Hart had asked him to help Ms Pena. He agreed to build the Church at cost price by way of an act of goodwill to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. He firmly denied that this was in any way a corrupt contract and gave other examples of community projects that the Shanghai Construction Group had funded here.
Mr Zhang said that he caused work to stop when Ms Pena failed to pay, as agreed. Instructively, at the time of Mr Zhang’s police interviews, UDECOTT still owed money to the Shanghai Construction Group.
Thus, Mr Zhang’s evidence all but strangles any allegation that State funds were used for or in the construction of the Church.
Additionally, the allegations that the Church had initially been designed as the Outdoor Stage Project of the “Prime Minister’s House” and that consequently the cost of the Church had been factored into the cost of the Prime Minister’s residence, have also proved to be without evidentiary foundation.
The evidence from Mr Zhang, is that in their partial construction of the Church, his company had inadvertently used design sheets which had been stamped and earmarked for the then Prime Minister’s residence and Diplomatic Centre. There is no evidence to the contrary.
Further, there is no evidence that the design plans for the Church were in any way similar to those for any part of the Prime Minister’s residence project.
The evidence also indicated, also by way of charitable donation, that the architect who initially designed the Church had indicated that the Church and the Stage Project designs were different.
Lastly, I have noted that construction of the Church had begun without the requisite permission being granted. Work had in fact started on the 21st January, 2010. However, the Shanghai Construction Group stopped work before effective enforcement action had been taken. In any event, the blame for this undoubted breach of the law, without more, cannot be attributed to any then Minister or civil servant.
To encapsulate, I am of the considered opinion that the police investigation has not revealed any actionable criminal offences arising out of the Prime Minister’s concerns, or otherwise.
In fact, the police have indicated to me that their investigations had revealed “no indication of criminal misconduct”. I categorically agree.
My instructions from the police suggest that a forensic audit is being undertaken into this matter, on behalf of the Integrity Commission. If any new and cogent evidence were to be brought to my attention, I undertake to re-visit this matter.
I apologise for my not being able to revert to you more timeously.
Roger K Gaspard, SC
Director of Public Prosecutions
March 1, 2013