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No cost to the State
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says her stay at a Tunapuna house owned by her friends Ralph and Maureen Gopaul was at no additional cost to taxpayers. “So there is absolutely nothing in terms of staying there,” she said. “The only cost that might have come to the State...it’s the time I was there they would have had security personnel.” Persad-Bissessar revealed this during an interview with reporters, after the opening of the Bon Air West Early Childhood Care and Education Centre. She said she did not rent, buy or lease the premises or even pay a contracted sum during her stay which ended last December. “What would have happened (was) I stayed there from time to time, while I continued to live at my private home at Charlo Village and at Phillipines,” the PM said. “I stayed there in order to facilitate my public engagements in the North.” She said she stayed there before the election and after the May 24 polls.
“I did not go to rent a home...I know others rented homes or stayed in hotels,” she said. “I did not bring that additional cost to the taxpayer to get another home to stay in whilst the official residence was being taken care off.” Asked about her relationship with the Gopauls, Persad-Bissessar quickly responded: “We are not blood relatives. We are not related by blood. Not by blood or marriage.” Asked to state the exact nature of the relationship, Persad-Bissessar said: “They were friends (of mine).”
She was then asked if the owner of the Tunapuna house was the same person, who allegedly received a $40 million contract from State-owned National Petroleum Marketing Co Ltd (NP) to transport flammable gasolene, the PM said based on newspaper reports, “it appears so.” She quickly pointed out that she had “not spoken with them since this matter arose and, people may not believe it, God’s truth, I never spoke to them about this contract, nor did I ever speak to the board about this contract. “I am unaware that they even tendered for the contract.” The PM said as far as she was aware, the contract had not as yet been awarded. She said she had “no interest in any contracts being granted by the state or any state enterprise.” She said with respect to the award of contracts, “boards are expected to be faithful to the tendering rules and to be fair.
“It would be unfair and unjust, in my view, to exclude persons from bidding for contracts simply because I know them,” Persad-Bissessar added. She said there were laws to deal with these matters. She said her People’s Partnership remained committed to the best procurement practices and the Joint Select Committee was now looking at that matter. She then warned: “Should any member of the Government or any member of any board transgress against these laws and practices, then I will deal with it decisively as I have already demonstrated.”
Asked repeatedly if the NP contract issue was any different to the circumstances which caused the dismissal of former planning minister Mary King, the PM said: I don’t know if it is different. Let me wait and see the report. I honestly don’t know.” The PM declined detailed comment on claims by the leader of National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) Makandal Daaga that there was too much corruption in the country today. NJAC is a member of the PP Government. She said she had not had a report of the statement and could not comment on it. The PM also said that the suspension of San Fernando East MP, former prime Minister Patrick Manning, was cause for sadness.
She said, however, that people should not be allowed to make misleading statements in the Parliament and not be sanctioned for such acts of irresponsibility. She said Manning’s suspension from the service of the Parliament would be for about one month. Persad-Bissessar said the Committee of Privileges acted properly in having the report brought to the Parliament as quickly as it did because the session is to be prorogued next month. She said if that was not done, the matter would have lapsed and no sanction would have been effected.
Minister names investigators
Energy Minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan yesterday appointed an independent team to review the investigation into the award of a transport contract by NP. This, after a request by CDS Transport Limited for the minister to investigate the award of the contract. She said that was done after yesterday’s meeting with NP’s board. She said it is to be led by Indira Rampaul-Chadee, acting head, legal matters at the Energy Ministry. Other members of the team are Reynold Mahadeo, head of Audit of Production Sharing Contracts; Joyce Lynch, legal adviser; and Deborah Persadie-Jones, manager, Commercial and Project Controls. The team has seven days to report to the minister.
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