May 11, 2015 – trinidadexpress.com
It is not enough for Finance Minister Larry Howai to say that he expects all of the $60 million stolen from the National Energy Corporation’s account at First Citizens to be recovered. What is needed is prosecution of those who stole the money and full accountability from officials of the two State enterprises who were entrusted with managing the $60 million in public funds.
As Minister of Finance, and as the official who, at the time of the theft, straddled both National Energy and First Citizens, as chairman and CEO respectively, Mr Howai remains uniquely placed to inform the public on this matter and to press the case for prosecution. And yet, almost four years after the theft, there is still no arrest and no clear public statement about precisely what occurred in this matter. There have been reports of employees suspended at both companies, but all returned to work, presumably cleared of complicity in the illegal wire transfers.
National Energy’s confirmation that it has recovered $35 million of the stolen $60 million, raises new questions. If the parties knew where to find the money, why has the investigation not yielded information about the conspirators as well? This is a criminal matter that requires the involvement of Interpol and the various criminal authorities in the jurisdictions involved, including the US, the United Arab Emirates, Antigua and Guyana.
The response of acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams is curious, to say the least. Speaking to the media, he claimed to be unaware of the investigation being conducted by the Fraud Squad into this matter. His response raises questions about police diligence in this case and the extent of its role. Are the police leading the probe with a view to prosecution or is it merely facilitating the recovery of the money under instruction from company executives?
Mr Howai should recognise the intense public interest in the illegal diverting of National Energy’s funds, especially following questionable expenditure at the National Gas Company, a fellow member of the NGC Group of Companies. In the absence of an independent criminal investigation into the stolen millions, the increasingly sceptical public is also entitled to wonder about the possibility of other agendas at work.
One of T&T’s outstanding failures is the investigation of white collar crime involving public funds. The inability of the police to act decisively in such cases raises concern about whether police investigators are equipped for the job or even know how to approach a probe when it involves Government bodies and agencies of the State. Too often, these investigations are under the authority of public officials who should not be allowed into the investigation process. National Energy’s stolen $60 million is not a private company issue. It is grand theft that needs a full and independent investigation that leads to the culprits being hauled before the courts and jailed.