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PNM ‘front lash’ for Harry—Khan
No one is above the law—not even ruling party members. The ruling Peoples' National Movement yesterday suspended longstanding PNMite Harry Ragoonanan from the party following police probe of a Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) bus tender issue. Police are probing alleged manipulation concerning award of a PTSC contract.
PNM chairman Franklin Khan announced the disciplinary move following yesterday's General Council meeting at Balisier House, Port-of-Spain. Members discussed and approved the suspension of Ragoonanan, the PNM's Oropouche constituency chairman of 17 years.
"As has been said by the party leadership, no one is above corruption and no one stands above the law," said Stuart Young (Office of the Prime Minister) and PNM public relations officer.
Ragoonanan, a General Council member, was not present yesterday, nor was Prime Minister Keith Rowley.
Young said the party only found out about the police probe yesterday. The Council acted immediately.
Young said the police probe began in the last few months, regarding a tender for certain buses in 2016.
He added, "Our understanding is the probe was launched and what came to the party today was evidence of an audio recording on three separate occasions with Harry Ragoonanan—a voice identified as his—talking to a Chinese businessman about the alleged manipulation of certain tender processes at (PTSC).
"You'd have heard the party leader saying the PNM will not hide or protect anyone who engages in corruption. What came to Council was evidence of three recorded phone conversations between someone whose voice appears to be that of Harry Ragoonanan, saying he can manipulate a bid at a state enterprise and the outcome of that bid with his relationship with the chairman of a state enterprise."
The alleged conversations were in June, July and September 2016. The special PTSC tender involved was aborted, Young added.
"This party takes those types of allegations very, very seriously. Therefore, a General Council member addressed the gathering on the matter, moved a motion for it to be investigated within the party and that was unanimously accepted.
"Anyone attempting to use any position or their membership in a PNM Government for corruption will not be tolerated. Today is a momentous one for the PNM (that) our party can take a strong position against corruption, whoever the member is."
Harry has to explain
Khan said it involves possible criminal conduct. If the party was involved in a police probe of such a matter, "...from a PNM standpoint we had to take certain actions".
Consequently, he added, the Council agreed to refer the matter to its Disciplinary Team for consideration.
It will be sent to that team's Investigation Committee which will report to the Council. If the report is accepted, it will be referred to the Disciplinary Team for handling. "The process has started," Khan added.
"Due to the seriousness and gravity of the matter, the party invoked Article 26 of PNM's Constitution which states that members under investigation could be suspended during that period."
Khan said the party will write Ragoonanan informing him of suspension, and will inform him that he will be brought before the investigating team.
"He'll be asked in due course to come and give his position." Khan added that this would be in the shortest time
Young said, "We're not passing any finality on this. We made a decision, it was sent to the investigating team. We await the outcome. But it's normal in these situations that our Constitution provides for members under probe to be suspended."
Khan denied the situation was a backlash from any issues Ragoonanan had with the Port Authority's ferry service. He said the police probe concerned a 2016 PTSC bus matter and the Port matter was only months old.
"It's not any backlash—it's a front lash," Khan added.
Young said the Port's second tender for a ferry will be dealt with this week and if there are corruption allegations against any agent bidding, that would have to be examined extremely carefully by any state entity.
On search warrant concerning Moonilal
On the search warrant concerning UNC MP Roodal Moonilal, which was read in Parliament last week, Young said police matters were outside the Government's remit. "But very shortly next week, the public will be made aware of certain work Government's been doing."
Harry: It must hurt
Harry Ragoonanan, who has followed the PNM since 1956, said word of yesterday's suspension was "Total news to me and it does hurt."
He said, "It must hurt. From age 13 nobody has been more PNM than me in T&T."
Ragoonanan, a long-standing businessman in varied fields, including Briko Air Services, is still chairman of PNM's Oropouche constituency after 17 years.
He was also on San Fernando East's executive and on PNM's Central Executive. He is a General Council member.
"No one from the party has officially informed me of suspension, just some members called to tell me what happened.
"The police haven't contacted me. This (PTSC claim) is a fabrication. I have no contact with PTSC. The last time was 15 years ago when I was the Volvo representative. I'm eagerly awaiting to be interviewed by PNM's investigating team to clear my name. I have no cocoa in the sun."
He added, "However, I've been concerned about corruption in the party and I voiced my opinion recently concerning the Cabo Star and Ocean Flower 2 ferry issues. I'd spoken of the breakdowns and what could happen, I saw the problems arising."
In 2008 Ragoonanan denied being associated with, or that he was the Bombardier agent in the failed executive jet deal for a $400m Global XRS under the Patrick Manning administration.
He said he wanted to retire from Oropouche constituency chairmanship this year, but "My people wanted me to go back." He noted the PNM's constituency elections are underway.