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It was not me

By CLINT CHAN TACK Saturday, November 15 2008

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PRIME MINISTER Patrick Manning last night denied misleading Parliament on September 30, when he questioned Diego Martin West MP, Dr Keith Rowley, about $10 million unaccounted for in the controversial Cleaver Heights Housing project in Arima, while Rowley was Housing Minister.

“If therefore on that occasion, anybody misled this Honourable House, it was not the Prime Minister. It was not the Prime Minister,” Manning said as he defended himself in Parliament last night. Instead of apologising to Rowley for the statements made on September 30, the Prime Minister announced that he has directed Attorney General Bridgid Annisette-George to send the Cleaver Heights project to the Urban Development Corporation of TT (Udecott)/construction industry Commission of Inquiry for investigation. This inquiry slated to start next year, will be chaired by UK jurist Prof John Uff.

“This project is a source of great concern to the Prime Minister. As a result of all of these concerns, the Prime Minister has today directed the Attorney General to refer this project to the commission of inquiry into the construction sector and to give it a direct level of priority,” Manning declared..

Manning’s salvo last night was the latest in a ever deepening public feud between himself and Rowley, ever since he fired Rowley from Cabinet on April 28, after Rowley raised concerns over the operations of mega-state entity Udecott.

Insisting that he never misled Parliament on September 30, contrary to Rowley’s statement that he did, the Prime Minister said he was not imputing improper motive against anyone, but was merely asking Rowley for assistance, since Rowley was Housing Minister at the time.

Referring to some of the documents which Rowley made public at a news conference on Thursday, Manning said: “No project which requires funding from the Treasury is undertaken by any ministry or state agency without authority of the Cabinet for the specific project. This requirement is well-known to all members of Cabinet and the Member for Diego Martin West has held Cabinet positions for a number of years.”

Referring to a September 2008 valuation report, Manning questioned a $20 million variation on the Cleaver Heights project and said the contract arrangement for the project said, “no variations would be entertained.”

“This is precisely what we are trying to fight to ensure that when we enter into contractual arrangements, the people of TT are not called to pay exorbitant sums. Up to now, there has been no satisfactory explanation for the $10 million discrepancy,” the Prime Minister stated. Manning said if this discrepancy was a “typographical error”, it was disturbing that it seemed to have eluded Rowley and staffers at both the Housing Ministry and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC).

As he left Parliament last night after Manning’s statements, Rowley told reporters: “The facts have come out, that he is wrong. He is too big to say he is wrong. He is too big to say he will apologise. There is somebody or persons who are misleading the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister is prepared to be misled. I am saying now that the Prime Minister is in need of proper advice on these and other matters.”

Rowley added: “Whoever is taking the Prime Minister down this road, is doing him no favours. I think the Prime Minister’s conduct is disgraceful.”

“I call on the Prime Minister to cease and desist. Somebody should advise the Prime Minister when you are in a hole and you want to get out, the first thing you have to do, is stop digging.”

Rowley said Manning was trying to escape from being referred to the Privileges Committee, by sending the project to the Udecott inquiry. “This is a matter which should be of great concern to the country.”

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