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Manning: PM wrong to stay in Tunapuna

Published: 
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
The house at St Vincent Avenue, Federation Park, rented for former Prime Minister Patrick Manning between 2005 and 2007. PHOTO: GAIL ALEXANDER

Former Prime Minister Patrick Manning lived at his Vistabella, San Fernando, home for eight months after becoming prime minister in 2001, commuting daily until the official residence at St Ann’s was ready. “I never for one minute contemplated going to stay at someone else’s residence,” Manning said yesterday.  “I drove from south to north every day to go to work so much so that there were questions in the newspaper on whether the capital of the country had moved from north to south, ” he added.  Manning was commenting on the issue concerning Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s stay at the house in Tunapuna of businessman Ralph Gopaul soon after she assumed office last May. He spoke about the issue at a meeting last night in his San Fernando East constituency.

Manning added: “A prime minister must always be sensitive to the fact that you have to be equidistant from the citizens you represent. “What Mrs Persad-Bissessar did in that issue, therefore, is entirely out of order and we knew it at the time.” Last Tuesday in the Senate, Housing Minister Roodal Monilal spoke in defence of Persad-Bissessar’s stay at the residence which was fee-free. Moonilal said over October 2005 to December 2007, Manning had stayed at St Vincent Avenue, Federation Park, which was owned by Vinsed Investments Ltd, at a cost of $1.3 million. He said one George Joseph had an interest in that property.

Manning said he had been living at the official St Ann’s residence when he was asked to vacate the premises for official improvements to be done. He said the State handled the transaction and he had no contact with the rental property’s owner. Asked why he did not stay at his Vistabella home, which he retained, and travel daily as he had done in 2001, Manning said it was decided that it was necessary for him to be in capital Port-of-Spain.

‘Rent was standard  industry price’
The rental price of a Federation Park house paid for by the State for former Prime Minister Patrick Manning over 2005 to 2007, was standard industry price, says Jerry Joseph of GV Holdings. Checks indicated that on behalf of the Office of the Prime Minister, in 2005, then permanent secretary Sandra Marchack had signed a contract with Vinsed Investment Company Limited for rental of the house. The cost was given yesterday as US$6,600 a month (TT$41,000). Joseph, a director of a family real estate firm, GV Holdings, said a director of GV owns Vinsed Investments. He said: “We’ve been renting to the private and public sectors for 25 years, starting from the UNC Government to the PNM and now PP. We’ve have consistently done business with everyone.”

Joseph said the St Vincent Avenue property was advertised by Nealco Real Estate. He added: “We had no direct linkage or interaction with Mr Manning. Nealco approached us, saying there was an entity interested in renting the house and we approached the owner. “A standard industry price was agreed upon and we were informed who the prospective renter was.” He said Vinsed’s owner was properly vetted ensuring proper standing in the community, taxes paid up and other aspects and received “a clean bill of health” on all areas. Joseph said the lease was then signed. Joseph added: “We’re not affiliated to anyone. We never met Mr Manning or interacted with him. Whenever anything had to be done at the house, like a pipe to be fixed, communication was via the permanent secretary’s division.”

He said one of GV’s property rentals to Government includes an El Socorro property rented to the PNM and continuing under the PP. He said there were other properties in Port-of-Spain which he declined to name.
“We do business with everyone, regardless of affiliation. We know people in the PNM but we’ve known people in all administrations. “Familiarity with anyone should not stop businessmen from tendering for any initiative, once due process is applied,” Joseph added.

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