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Public pressure mounts over firetruck
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday called the issue of Cabinet’s multi-million-dollar approval for the retrieval of the firetruck that ran off a cliff in Blanchisseuse last year as a “fiasco.” Speaking at the opening of the Caribbean Investment Forum (CIF) at the Hilton Trinidad, St Ann’s, she said: “That is a fiasco. “I believe the present minister of national security is seeking a report. Therefore I will hold any comments on that until the report is done.” However, even as the PM was making the comment, the T&T Guardian was uncovering information which revealed there would be no report.
This is because current acting Chief Fire Officer Nayar Rampersad is unable to produce one, since former acting chief fire officer Carl Williams had already dealt with the matter in his report to the Security Ministry. A citizens’ lobby group said yesterday it was considering filing a lawsuit against the Government so the money could be recovered. Persad-Bissessar made her comment while answering questions over how Cabinet agreed to the reduced price of $6.8 million for retrieving the firetruck. The water tender, from the Arima Fire Station, was responding to a call from Blanchisseuse about a fatal car accident when it ran off the road.
Last week, former national security minister Jack Warner said it was a collective Cabinet decision to approve payment last November to the company to retrieve the truck. But two senior ministers told the T&T Guardian over the weekend they had been misled as they were led to believe the fire tender was valued at $50-60 million. When asked about the confidentiality of the Cabinet meetings on the firetruck issue yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said that would be discussed by Cabinet. “I am sure they will raise it in the Cabinet and it will be discussed there. I cannot take a unilateral decision on that matter.”
Questioned further on the issue, the Prime Minister replied: “Have a good day and I will speak to you all another time.” Yesterday, however, Cabinet sources told the T&T Guardian no report was being compiled in spite of claims by Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed that a statement would be released after Rampersad submitted the report. Mohammed on Sunday told the T&T Guardian: “As far as I am concerned, Minister of National Security Emmanuel George is awaiting a report from the Chief Fire Officer and when he receives that report a statement would be released on behalf of the Government.” But when T&T Guardian contacted Rampersad yesterday to ask the status of the report, he said: “After I did my enquiries I realised that the report was submitted by former chief fire officer Carl Williams. I cannot do anything more.” George and Mohammed could not be contacted yesterday as telephone calls went unanswered.
When contacted, Williams said: “How do I know who I am speaking to?” Williams then asked to be given the telephone number of Guardian Media Ltd, promising to return the call when he is available Fact file The Rosenbauer water tender was bought in 2006 for $2,236,275.35. Sammy’s Multilift originally submitted a quotation of $10,189,115 to retrieve it but Cabinet twice refused to sign off on the payment after some ministers objected. Cabinet eventually agreed to the revised $6.8 million price.
There were conflicting claims as to how far the firetruck plummeted from the road: over 300 feet, 15 metres and 60 feet, with the latter being justified through an amateur citizen’s video from the scene of the accident posted at online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gdr_daVrCc&sns=fb. A report from acting deputy chief fire officer Dana Roach initially recommended that the $2 million fire tender should be scrapped and the parts used for similar water tenders in the service. Roach’s suggestion came after a team, comprising acting brigades engineer Earl Browne, acting divisional fire officer Arnold Bristo and the service manager of Indocom Ltd, local agent for Rosenbauer International, evaluated the firetruck’s serviceability. This apparently was never taken into consideration.
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