By Miranda La Rose Saturday, October 6 2012
Minister of Sports Anil Roberts has accused the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) of corruption in a $320 million deal involving the sale, lease and rental of three acres of lands and an office building, all linked to the family of former PNM government minister John Rahael.
According to Roberts, the THA bought the parcel of land for $12 million from a company owned by members of the Rahael family.
The THA then leased the land back to another Rahael family company for a 199-year period at $10 a year. The Rahaels then offered to rent to the THA the property with office space at a cost of $1.2 million a month for 20 years.
Roberts yesterday flung a barrage of accusations of corruption and mismanagement under the former PNM government during his contribution to the 2013 Budget debate in the House of Representatives, Tower D, Port-of-Spain International Waterfront Centre.
His salvoes— including a denial of funding to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation senior team for a current overseas tour (see page 8, 42A), and the linking of the current budget deficit to wastage, overruns and corruption under the PNM administration— were directed at Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, who opened the debate with claims that the People’s Partnership Government had demonstrated over the past two and a half years that it was corrupt.
“They gonna learn something right now,” Roberts said as he disclosed the details of transactions involving the THA and the Rahael family companies.
The THA, Roberts said, bought three acres of land from Dankett Limited for $12 million. Dankett’s two directors were Joseph Rahael, son of former PNM government minister John Rahael, and Anthony Rahael, brother of the former minister.
John Rahael, Roberts noted, was a former ministerial colleague of Rowley, and the candidate whom Rowley backed as chairman for the PNM at the party’s last elections for its executive. Six days after buying the land from Dankett Ltd, Roberts said the THA leased the land to Milshirv Properties Limited for 199 years at $10 a year. Milshirv Properties, Roberts claimed, is owned by Joseph Rahael.
According to Roberts, “The story gets worse.”
While the THA did not say to Milshirv Properties that it needed office space, according to Roberts, “Joseph Rahael, son of John Rahael, said to the THA, you all need office space. Buy my land. Lease it to my next company, Amera. I will give you the design (for a building of 82,654 square feet) and you pay me over the next 20 years, $1.2 million a month.”
That would amount to, Roberts said, over $320 million.
On September 7, Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) leader Ashworth Jack told the media at a press conference in Port-of-Spain, that the building was built at a cost of $143 million with taxpayers contributing funds under a BOLT (build-own-lease-transfer) arrangement.
Jack said the Bolt arrangement was not necessary as the THA also owned the land next door to the new three-storey building at the corner of Claude Noel Highway and Shirvam Road in West Tobago.
The new building is to house the THA’s Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment.
According to a THA release issued in response to the TOP press conference, taxpayers stood to gain “significant benefits” from the way the project was financed.
The THA admitted to having to pay $322 million over a 20-year period.
However, the release said the THA would not be responsible “for the external maintenance of the building constructed under the arrangement, the developer would take all the risks in the investment; at the end of every three-year period the (THA) would capitalise the rent to the end of the lease period and pay off for the building; and at the end of the 20-year period, the property would be automatically owned by the (THA).”
According to Roberts, after the lease agreement was effected, the THA agreed to pay up front $21.64 million to cover an 18-month period through a First Citizens Bank account of which the THA and the Milshirv Ltd were signatories.
Linking the PNM to the THA and the businesses, Roberts said, Tobago “is the last little piece” that the PNM has a hold on.
“This is what they doing in Tobago. This is why we call on Orville London (THA Chief Secretary) to call elections in Tobago, because Ashworth Jack and TOP are waiting to save the last piece.”
Referring to the PNM, he said, “and they have the audacity to talk to us about dishonesty and corruption.”
On the issue of deficit financing which Rowley criticised, Roberts said no matter how much Finance Minister Larry Howai explained that the economy has to get moving, the PNM does not understand that extravagant spending, wastage and cost overruns were mainly responsible for the $17 billion budget deficits of the People’s Partnership Government over the past two and a half years.
“Because of the PNM budget arithmetic,” he said, the sums of cost overruns of projects undertaken by the PNM government over its last term in office amounted to $17.3 billion in Trinidad, and $1.12 billion in Tobago. The PNM government overruns in Trinidad, he said, included the International Waterfront project, $2 billion; Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and Summit of the Americas, $2.2 billion; Tarouba Stadium, $1.2 billion; E-teck, $1.2 billion; and Rapid Rail.
“Understand what you did with the people’s money,” he said. “That was just Trinidad.”
The overruns in Tobago, he said, included Scarborough Hospital, $620 million; Financial Complex, $80 million; Goat Racing Track, $110 million; NALIS Library, $52 million, “and it only have a foundation”.