Larry writes London
By KARL E CUPID Tobago Bureau Wednesday, October 24 2012
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Finance Minister Larry Howai has requested from the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), within seven days, all documents and details related to the THA/MILSHIRV transaction pegged at $320 million.
The deal is for the construction of an administrative office complex to house the THA Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment (DAMME) on a three-acre parcel of land at the Shirvan Road/Claude Noel Highway intersection in Tobago’s west end.
The letter to London, dated October 23 and signed by Howai, states: “I refer to the THA’s purported construction of the Shirvan Administrative Office Complex on land acquired by the THA from Dankett Limited on November 15, 2011 by Deed no DE2012 009055 14D001.
“I would be grateful if you would provide me by return with (1) details of the funding accessed by the THA for payment of the purchase price of the land said in the Deed to be $12 million;
“(2) details of and all documents related to the proposed construction of the Office Complex and its financing, including, without limitation, details of and documents pertaining to, any BOLT arrangement which the THA has entered, or proposes to enter into with respect to same. Please be good enough to provide same within seven (7) days hereof, as this matter has been the subject of much public disquiet and discussion and my Ministry has no knowledge of same.”
London disclosed the letter at a press briefing at the THA Administrative Complex in Scarborough, yesterday.
In response to the request, London said: “We have no problem in making all the information available to the Finance Minister.”
Howai’s request follows recent announcement in the Parliament by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar that the Finance Ministry is to conduct an audit of the THA deal, which is to be referred to the Integrity Commission and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan last week said the THA and London would be sued over the deal.
It has been revealed that the land for the complex was purchased for $12 million from companies under the Rahael Group, which is associated with former PNM Minister John Rahael. The deal includes the lease for 199 years of the land back to the Rahael Group which would construct a $143 million office complex to be rented by the THA at $1.2 million for 20 years. The whole transaction s estimated at $320 million.
London yesterday said the Finance Minister was now seeking information to see if there was any wrongdoing, after a brouhaha had been raised by Persad-Bissessar, Ramlogan and Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) leader/THA Minority Leader Ashworth Jack, suggesting impropriety on the part of the PNM-led Assembly.
“We do not trust this Government,” London declared. “We are convinced in the THA that the central Government and their colleagues in the minority (TOP) in the Assembly have taken a deliberate decision to manipulate the information with respect to the (office complex) at Shirvan, so as to create in the minds of the people doubt about the integrity of this administration and about the integrity of its actions.”
He added: “We are convinced in this administration that in a civilised society if you are evaluating the actions of any administration, you have a responsibility in the first place to access the information, evaluate that information, and then to make a decision as to whether that action was responsible, irresponsible, or even corrupt.”
London said the Assembly has, so far, received no official notification from the Office of the Attorney General, the DPP, or the Integrity Commission, as to any investigation being mounted into the project.
“What is the offence that anybody has committed that you could take to the Integrity Commission?” he asked. “Has the THA broken any laws? There is nothing here that suggests anybody took a decision that could lead to a claim of corruption.”
The transaction under which MILSHIRV would construct the office complex on land purchased by the THA from Dankett Ltd, and then lease/rent it to the THA for 20 years at the end of, which, according to London and Assembly officials, the THA would take possession of the building, has generated much controversy with allegations/counter allegations between the PNM-led THA and officials of the PP/TOP. London charged that this was a plot by the PP/TOP to win the upcoming THA Election.
“We have a problem with the Government who have made it clear their intention is to release selective pieces of information and create a certain impression because they believe that is the only way they could win the THA election,” he said. London later flew to Trinidad for, he said, a series of television interviews today.
He told Newsday, Government’s attack on the THA has been galvanising PNM supporters in the sister isle and said attendance at meetings were good and referred to the “overwhelming” response to the party’s meeting at Goodwood last Sunday. “It was one of the largest turnouts we’ve had. The level of enthusiasm was quite high,” he said.
On the date of the THA elections due next year, London said the date was not difficult to work out. “A lot of people don’t recognise how very difficult it is to play games with the THA elections. The THA will dissolve itself after a motion is brought by the Chief Secretary and the election must be held no less than two months and no more than three months after the dissolution.”