2005-08-18 / Caribbean Corner

Caribbean Roundup

Two Americans in Piarco Airport fraud case

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) – Two American businessmen were re-cently charged with multiple fraud counts in a corruption case involving the construction of Trinidad’s airport.

Eduardo Hillman, 70, arrived Mon-day afternoon from Miami under the escort of Trinidadian police and was brought before Magistrate John Prince in Port-of-Spain, the capital, Police Superintendent Mark Piggott said.

Hillman’s United States business partner, Ronald Birk, also appeared in court after surrendering to police Sun-day night, Piggott said.

The Coral Gables, Florida business-men each were charged with seven counts of conspiracy to defraud Tri-nidad’s government in connection with the Piarco Airport development project.

They were released on TT$2.5 million (US$402 800) bail each and ordered to return for trial on September 15.

Both men will be allowed to leave the country. However, Prince ordered Hillman to restrict his travel to be-tween the United States and Trinidad.

Hillman was arrested August 5 at Miami International Airport on a July 2004 warrant issued by Trinidadian authorities. He was released on bail after agreeing to travel to the twin-island nation to face charges.

Hillman and Birk are among 13 people and four companies charged in the case. Defendants include several former Trinidadian government ministers.

Prosecutors allege the defendants illegally conspired over six years to obtain contracts and payments totall-ing US$1.6 billion during the construc-tion of the new airport. Prosecutors charged that US$24 million in bribes and gifts were exchanged between the 17 defendants.

Hillman and Birk formed the now-defunct Orlando-based Birk Hillman Consulting firm, which served as the project manager of the Piarco Airport.

Former Finance and Tourism Min-ister Brian Kuei Tung and former works and transport minister Sadiq Baksh are among those charged.

Raul Gutierrez, a consultant from Birk Hillman who served on the airport project, turned himself in to Tri-nidadian authorities in November. He was free on bail pending trial.

Flying public ‘at risk’ says (ATCA) president Greaves

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) – The safety of air travel over Jamaica is re-portedly being compromised as there are too few suitably qualified air traffic controllers operating at the island’s two major airports.

Howard Greaves, the president of the Air Traffic Controllers Association (ATCA) on Sunday warned that “the flying public is at risk and the government needs to take responsibility”.

He said air traffic controllers were being pressured to work extremely long hours and denied vacation leave, factors that could impair their ability to process and monitor air traffic information on airlines entering, leaving and passing over Jamaica’s air space.

“When you have people who are exhausted because they are working double shifts and can’t get any [vacation] leave it is going to cause a problem. The worst case scenario is [that] it could cause an accident . . . because a controller’s job is based on his decision in being able to monitor the traffic in terms of the radar and if he is exhausted then that can lead to some sort of error,” he explained.

Earl Richards, president of the Air-ports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ), said while he was not aware of the inadequate staffing situation, noted that the situation was cause for concern. He said the air traffic controllers’ function was not only limited to air traffic en-tering and exiting the country, but also those passing over local air space in-transit to other destinations.

The ATCA and the Government have been entangled in a year-long dispute over salary increases.

The ATCA has been pressing for a 20 to 30 percent increase to bring members’ salaries in line with flight safety inspectors. But the government has refused, claiming that it would affect the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to control the public sector wage bill.

A meeting has been scheduled for today with the ATCA and the government.

Since last week, the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) has been actively seeking new recruits through advertisements in the press. However, Greaves said that would not solve the immediate shortage as it would take at least four to five years before training is completed.

PM Owen Arthur to submit bill for


BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP) – Prime Minister Owen Arthur said he would submit a bill next week for a popular referendum on whether Bar-bados should replace the British queen with a locally chosen president as its head of state.

Barbadians have long been debating whether their parliamentary demo-cracy should become a republic, with a president as the ceremonial head of state, a change that would require constitutional reform.

Arthur announced Friday night that he would submit the referendum proposal to Parliament on Tuesday. Ar-thur’s Barbados Labor Party holds 23 of 30 parliamentary seats.

Barbados gained independence from Britain in 1966, but still recognizes the Queen of England as the official head of state. A governor general with largely ceremonial duties represents the queen on the island.

“When Barbados became indepen-dent people had doubts, and it was felt we should try and hold on to symbols of stability,’’ Arthur said.

“We have more than established that we can we can manage every aspect of our affairs,’’ he added.

Antigua gets help to stop daily


ST JOHN’S, Antigua (AP) – Ven-ezuela sent engineers to assess how the oil-rich South American country can help Antigua overcome a power shortage that has led to daily blackouts, an official said yesterday.

Three engineers came over the weekend in response to an appeal for help from the two-island Caribbean nation, said Joan Underwood, Antigua’s ambassador to Latin America.

The state-run Antigua Public Util-ities Authority’s outdated power plants have several parts that have broken down and are difficult to replace. The problem has forced the government to cut off electricity for up to four hours a day for thepast week.

Antiguan officials are seeking Ven-ezuela’s help in either replacing the parts or installinga temporary generator.

“We are looking for an interim solution to stabilize the situation and generate enough power to stop the load shedding,” Underwood said. “We also need to look at long-term solutions which are sustainable. The engineers have gone back to present their report, and we are very optimistic we going to get the assistance we need,” he added.

Venezuela, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, has increased aid to Ca-ribbean countries, sometimes partnering with Cuba for initiatives. Vene-zuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro have touted their efforts as alternatives to United States-led efforts to strengthen regional ties through free trade.

Venezuela signed an agreement in June with13 Caribbean countriesto provide oil under favourable financial terms, offering to help build storage facilities and accept goods and creditas payment.

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