Monday, November 19, 2012

AG Ramlogan writes Guardian about bias; expresses "dismay" at erroneous reporting

From: The office of the Attorney General

To: Guardian Media

I write to convey my dismay on behalf of the people of this country over the spectacularly erroneous reporting by your newspaper regarding the recent settlement in the OPV dispute between BAE and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.

1. The headline story in the Sunday Guardian of October 28 stated I sought cabinet approval for the payment of $1.3 Billion to BAE to settle the OPV arbitration and that three Ministers strongly objected to this request with one (Minister Winston Dookeran) walking out of the meeting in protest of my request. 

The reporter who interviewed me for this story PRIOR to its publication claimed that her source was a copy of a cabinet note, which I assured her, did not exist. I also made it clear that no cabinet minister walked out during Cabinet in protest.

In a surprise move for a newspaper held in high regard by the decision makers of this society, (and one in I can only associate with sensational tabloid journalism) The Guardian went ahead and published this entirely fabricated and unsubstantiated story based on a ‘cabinet report’ which blatantly disregarded my explanation, the so called disagreement and walkout.

2. This story was published on the same day that the PNM had its national convention at a time when I was the subject of intense attack by the opposition. 

Dr Rowley gleefully referred to this story and triumphantly declared that the government knew it was going to lose the OPV arbitration and would have to pay hundreds of millions to BAE. He falsely accused the government of fraudulently “hiding” the $1.3 billion settlement money in the budget of the Ministry of National Security.

This irresponsible article compromised T&T’s position in the settlement negotiations with BAE which was at a delicate and sensitive stage. Why should BAE pay us if we were thinking about paying them? It also had a domino effect and spawned similar stories in the international media.

3. On November 15, I announced the $1.3 Billion settlement of the OPV arbitration in our favour. I entertained and answered ALL questions asked by the media. 

One of your senior reporters (Gail Alexander) was present. I disclosed that we had spent a fraction of our legal budget and estimated the cost of the arbitration to be less than 2 million pounds. (BAE had a bigger legal team and hence our liability, had we lost, inclusive of interest and costs, would have been in the vicinity of $700 Million.)

The day after this announcement, (November 16) your front page headline inexplicably read “T&T’s legal bill $200M for OPV arbitration” and “Secret Deal For More BAE Boats”. Both stories were inaccurate and baseless.
Firstly, at no time have I ever indicated an exorbitant cost of $200Million. A six-line correction was published at the bottom of the right-hand corner of page 3 (where no one can see it) on November 17th. 

Unlike the erroneous blaring headline front page story, this correction did not make it to the widely read on-line version of the Guardian (this letter will probably follow a similar fate if it is published). This is unfair, bordering on unethical – a correction to a damaging front page story clearly deserves greater prominence.Secondly, the allegation of a secret deal with BAE to purchase more boats was made in the context of the settlement. The article implied that this “secret deal” was somehow part of the settlement which I was hiding from the public –with the snide unsubstantiated aside that again, has more to do with the gutter press than a reputable daily newspaper “There may be far more to the settlement story than we think”.

4. I repeat - the $1.3 Billion is in full and final settlement and we do not have to pay BAE anything.

Far from congratulating the government on this landmark settlement on behalf of the people of Trinidad and Tobago your editorial of November 17 (“At what cost OPV victory”) misrepresented several facts, which is surprising given how accessible I am to media. Among them:

a) Falsely attributing to me the statement that the $1.3 Billion settlement was an award made by the International Chamber of Commerce’s arbitration body in London when it fact I categorically said it was a negotiated settlement.

b)The question raised about the cost of the training was answered in the parliament and the figures were provided.
c) The editorial supported the PNM’s plans for the acquisition of these OPV’s concluding “there are many who would question the wisdom of the government’s decision to cancel the OPV contract – even if the end result of the battle with the shipbuilder has been a victory for the country”.

d)Such manifest political bias, of course, missed the obvious point that the cancellation was based on the fact that the OPV’s were defective and not built in accordance with the contractual specifications. Had the government accepted them, one can well imagine what the converse editorial condemning us for not cancelling would’ve said.

e) This erroneous and biased editorial was reinforced with a cartoon which portrayed an angelic media trying to tug the truth about this settlement out of me. The words “the good, the bad and the ugly” are used to describe the media, myself and the devil. Guess which one I was? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t “good”. The devil is seen sticking his fork into my face and back and says “Don’t forget the truth hurts”.

In keeping with this maxim, I trust that your newspaper has the integrity and fortitude to publish this letter regardless of how much the truth hurts it.

NOVEMBER 18, 2012

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai