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Manning wants private jet

RIA TAITT Friday, February 6 2004

Prime Minister Patrick Manning wants a private jet. He told a post-Cabinet media conference yesterday that “as Trinidad and Tobago moves into developed country status, and as we begin to exert greater influence in the region, the Caribbean and western hemisphere, and especially if we acquire the headquarters of the FTAA, you are going to see a need for greater travel by the political directorate of this country, and other questions (about an executive jet) will then arise if not before.” He pointed out that this was the way the petroleum industry operated.

Earlier, as he spoke to the media, Manning continued to justify his decision to accept “free trips” from energy giants Repsol and British Gas. Manning disclosed that Caricom leaders have been discussing the issue of having an executive jet facility put at the disposal of Caricom leaders. His statement came even as he stated that he intended to cooperate fully with the Integrity Commission which is probing his “free trips.” Saying that the question of private jet travel for Caricom heads was being discussed among the leaders, the Prime Minister stated: “There is a lot of travel that is being done within the Caricom region, and a number of the Caricom leaders have begun to discuss that matter even though nobody has as yet come to a conclusion,” he said.

He said there was at least one Caricom leader who uses executive jets to commute between islands. He declined to name the country, but it is understood that it is Guyana. Canvassing the need for executive jet travel, Manning recalled that when he travelled to Jamaica last weekend, he had to leave on Friday morning and return on Sunday. He said: “I could easily have left on Friday afternoon and come back on Saturday (had he had a private jet facility). You go to Barbados and the amount of executive jets you would see on the ground at any one time, you would understand,” he added. On the Integrity probe, Manning confirmed that the Integrity Commission had written to him, giving him a 14-day deadline to provide information on his trips. The deadline would be met, he assured. But the Prime Minister wanted to remind the media (and the population) that it was his own disclosure at a previous  post-Cabinet briefing that “brought all the facts (of his sponsored trips)  to the national community.” He said he had a bona fide commercial ticket to both destinations (London and Spain) paid for by the Goverment (ie taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago), and therefore in accepting the “free trips,” a necessity created because he had certain appointments which he wanted to keep, he did not benefit in any “personal way.”

On the issue of an apparent contradiction between statements made by himself and his Barbados counterpart, Owen Arthur, over the fishing agreement, Manning was reticient, stressing that he did not want to “win the battle and lose the war.” “My eye is not on the battle. It is on the Caribbean objective and even if my image suffers as a consequence, that is a small price to pay in the context of the integration of the Caribbean,” Manning said, refusing to provide any explanation on the kind of forum at which the fishing dispute was discussed in Nigeria. He said he would not allow “small issues” to sidetrack him and disturb the “cordial relations” within the region. The Prime Minister said Trinidad and Tobago would lodge the fishing dispute with the Caricom Secretariat, not to have Caricom operate as a referee, but to keep the Secretariat abreast of what is happening. He said the bilateral discussions with Barbados would continue in an effort to resolve the impasse between the two countries. Meanwhile, flying fish has been off the supermarket shelves for some time now.

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