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Tuesday 17 October 2017
Local

PATT’s GM Lewis vows to defend her name

Port Authority CEO Charmaine Lewis, who was fired last night, during a tour of the Tobago cargo vessel Cabo star docked at the Port of Spain port. PHOTO BY AZLAN MOHAMMED

UPDATED 11:00 pm:

General Manager of the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago and Acting Chief Executive Officer of Port of Spain Infrastructure Company (POSINCO) Charmaine Lewis will explore all her options to defend her name after her services were terminated, via email, by the PATT board on Monday night.

“I am going to explore all my options to defend and safeguard my name, reputation and professionalism,” Lewis told Newsday yesterday.

“I guard all of them jealously,” Lewis, who has spent over 30 years at the PATT starting as a junior clerical officer to the substantive position of deputy general manager in 2015 said.

Lewis, who only returned to her job on Monday following a one-week vacation, told Newsday she received an email on Monday night stating her services from both positions were terminated with immediate effect because the board “has lost all trust and confidence in you and your ability to perform the duties of General Manager of the Authority/CEO POSINCO (ag).”

The email, signed by chairman of the PATT board of directors Alison Lewis, listed three reasons for the removal: refusal to proceed on leave as “properly directed” by the board; “various issues/incidents” the board has had “with you” over the last six months and all other relevant factors (including those discussed with you this morning); and recent information from PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ forensic audit.

In the first instance, the chairman’s email to Lewis referred to her letter of “even date” dealing with accumulated vacation leave and hand delivered to her on Monday evening advising of the board’s directive for her to immediately proceed on accumulated leave “over and above the permitted maximum accumulated amount of 114 days, in accordance with the Authority’s HR policy” and her refusal to follow the board’s directive.

The board also received, on Monday, information from PWC, “pursuant to their ongoing forensic searches of the authority’s email server”; the chairman said all emails sent and received on her personal computer during January to July 2017 were deleted.

“As you are well aware,” the chairman said, “this is a material period with respect to on-going reviews, investigations of the operations of the Authority and your role as General Manager/CEO is critical.”

The chairman in her email to Lewis asked that she surrender all of PATT’s and POSINCO’s property in her possession “inclusive but not limited to your office keys, credit card(s), cell phone, access cards and documents.”

On October 3, the day after Lewis proceeded on vacation, her office was broken into and her computer seized by Port Authority Police.

Lewis had told Newsday subsequently that what was contained in her computer, was the same information on a server, that was seized six weeks ago.

The computer of Leon Grant, another Port Authority manager had been seized and Grant was suspended from his job.

This Newsday understands was to facilitate investigations into the procurement process of the cargo vessel Cabo Star and Ocean Flower 2 from the Canadian company Bridgeman’s Services Group. There were several investigations into the procurement including one commissioned by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and another requested by the Minister of Works and Transport.
On the seizure of the computer, Lewis told Newsday she contacted her lawyer for advice on the way forward as she believes she is being targeted.

“I am expecting nothing and everything. I am not predicting what will happen but I imagine I will find out when I reach there,” she had said while on vacation.

She said she was hurt by the treatment she had received having worked there for over three decades.

She felt she was being punished for her recent statements about Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan’s involvement in the procurement of the Trinity Transporter barge, made at a Joint Select Committee on Land and Physical Infrastructure inquiring into the procurement process of the Cabo Star and Ocean Flower 2 and the operations at the port.

Sinanan had subsequently accused Lewis of “telling blatant lies.”

Meanwhile, former transport minister in the People’s Partnership government Devant Maharaj has written to the chairman of the JSC Stephen Creese about the “abrupt and unlawful firing” of Lewis which he said was “nothing short of a blatant attack on our parliamentary system and it demands a response from those in the JSC and Parliament.”

He said Lewis was not allowed due process to defend herself.

A public officer giving “honest and truthful testimony” before a JSC, he said yesterday, was not only subsequently attacked in the media by a government minister for giving evidence but now has been fired.

He said that should this issue not be treated with a sense of immediate urgency the entire process of the JSC of the Parliament will be undermined as no public official will be prepared to tell the truth, or even appear before a JSC, in fear of losing their job.

Lewis being fired by email, he said, implies that the politically appointed board was involved and it will be difficult if not impossible to claim that the line minister was not also aware of this action.

Lewis’ firing, he said, undermines the legitimacy by the political directorate of any whistle-blower legislation that it may subsequently bring before the Parliament.

Lewis via her evidence, he said, may be considered a whistle-blower and was made to suffer the consequences.

The firing also questions Government’s procurement policies as Lewis’ evidence highlighted a degree of political interference and political incompetence, he said.

PATT chairman Alison Lewis told Newsday the board’s decision had nothing to do with the minister. “There was no instruction from the minister or any minister,” she said.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Acting General Manager of the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago Charmaine Lewis has confirmed that she was fired via email by the Board of the PATT on the night of October 9, 2017.

Lewis, who only returned to her job yesterday following a one week vacation, received an email last night stating her immediate removal.

The email added that the Board had lost all trust and confidence in her.

Just last week, Lewis’ office was broken into and her computer seized by Port Authority Police, but only yesterday on her return, she said that she was “leaving everything in the hands of my attorneys.”

Stay with Newsday for more updates and read the full story in tomorrow’s paper.

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