PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad CMC – Trinidad and Tobago has accused a senior opposition legislator of creating a “diplomatic mess with far-reaching negative repercussions for our country” as the fallout continues from the decision to terminate all contracts with a Canadian engineering and construction company.
Communications Minister, Gerald Hadeed, said statements made by opposition legislator, Colm Imbert, during the debate in Parliament, last week, regarding allegations of corruption involving senior officials of the Canadian company SNC-Lavalin (SL), which had been contracted to build a multi-million dollar hospital here, were causing a “diplomatic mess”.
During his contribution, Imbert said, that the present Canadian High Commissioner Gerard Latulippe had resigned in 1987 from the post of Solicitor General of Quebec over improper practices.
“The present Canadian High Commissioner, who came here this year, replacing Karen McDonald, this gentleman is a very, very experienced man. He has been a politician in Canada. He has been all over the world in various postings and involved in all sorts of agencies in Canada,” he told legislators.
Imbert read from a number of newspaper articles relating to Latuilippe, saying “when I read this man’s (Latulippe) history and I realised that he had a controversial history, I understood why I was being sent all these documents telling me how wonderful SNC-Lavalin is”.
The Canadian diplomat told the local media that he was “deeply offended” by Imbert’s remarks insisting that he had not a parliamentarian since 1989.
“Mr. Imbert’s Google-based speech in an irresponsible manner tarnished me personally, and my reputation as representative to Canada,” Latulippe told the Trinidad Express newspaper.
In a statement, Hadeed said that “by attacking and wrongfully accusing the official representative of the Canadian Government of improper practices, PNM MP Imbert has created a diplomatic mess with far-reaching negative repercussions for our country”.
The newly appointed Communication Minister said that “the Canadian High Commissioner said he had invited Mr. Imbert to a meeting to discuss the SNC-Lavalin situation and Mr. Imbert refused. Mr. Imbert had the opportunity to ask for the truth and get Mr. Latulippe’s side of the story instead of relying on Google.”
“I agree with the High Commissioner that freedom of expression, even under parliamentary immunity, bears responsibility and respect for human rights. What is worse, is many of our people living in Canada have been calling to say Mr. Imbert’s irresponsibility could cost T&T the support of the Canadian Government and other governments who, seeing what has happened to the Canadian representative, may feel that the same or worse could happen to them”.
Hadeed said this kind of irresponsibility has always caused problems for Trinidad and Tobago and made reference to the ongoing controversy surrounding the oil deal between Venezuela and Port of Spain.
“It’s the same kind of wanton disregard for the truth as part of a strategy based on making this Government look bad and keeping us from delivering. What Mr. Imbert and his colleagues don’t seem to realise is that in trying to discredit us they are doing immeasurable damage to T&T, its allies and our international reputation.”
But Imbert has rubbished Hadeed’s remarks, saying he had no intention of getting into any war with a representative of a foreign government.
He said he had decided not to attend the meeting with the Canadian diplomat because the invitation came ahead of the motion he was about to move in the Parliament regarding the Canadian company.
“It was the day before my motion in Parliament and it was public knowledge that I was going to ask Government to terminate the contractual relationship with SNC-Lavalin and I found it very strange he would want me to meet him and an SNC-Lavalin representative,” Imbert told the Trinidad Guardian newspaper.
Last week, Housing Minister, Dr. Roodal Moonilal, said the government had taken a decision to terminate all contracts with the Canadian firm.
“At the meeting of the Cabinet yesterday, a decision was taken to terminate all contractual arrangements with SNC-Lavalin. As of today, we can say to SNC-Lavalin, au revoir!”