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London scoffs at Anil’s corruption charges
An election gimmick. That's how Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Orville London described the accusation of corruption by D’Abadie/O’Meara MP Anil Roberts concerning a $320 million deal involving the sale, lease and rental of three acres of land and an office building which is allegedly linked to the family of former PNM government minister John Rahael.
Roberts made the allegations last Friday, during his contribution to the 2013 budget debate in Parliament. But in an interview yesterday, London dismissed the allegation saying: “I think they (the People's Partnership) are looking for something to latch on to because I think their fortunes are wading in Tobago and they are looking for something to base their election campaign on.”
Roberts also alleged in Parliament that the deal is worth $320 million. But London said this is not so. “When the minister speaks of the total cost being (more than) $300 million, I think it is unfair,” he said. “Because anyone knows if you buy anything, say a car or house, and you pay for it at a certain interest for a certain period of time especially if the time is a lengthy period, in many cases the price doubles or more than doubles.
“What you do when you are calculating the benefits to you, you don't just look at the overall costs, you look at money saved, you look at the value of the building at the end of the period, you look at the enjoyment of what you would have had. London added that the THA needed to weigh the pros and cons of owning compared to leasing. He said a motion was filed during the sitting of the THA where the Opposition had the opportunity to voice their concerns.
“The Opposition had the opportunity to stand up to us face to face and make the accusations so that we could make counter-accusations...It was quite interesting that only two members of the Opposition spoke,” he said. According to London, the Minority indicated that “there were only a few issues which needed clarification.”
Responding to the accusation that the THA engaged in corruption when it comes to this transaction, London said: “I take very strong objection to this idea that he is talking about something which has anything to do with corruption. As I said, it is something that is a process which started more or less three years ago. “Secondly, the project was checked by a project specialist,” he added.
Disclosing that the original proposal had to be adjusted on several occasions, he said tens of millions of dollars were saved. He said a “safeguard” was also included in the arrangement where THA could return to the negotiating table after three years to make further adjustments if it wanted to. The arrangement is called a build-own-lease-transfer or BOLT arrangement. The Rahael family is expected to have a news conference this week to clarify the issues raised in Parliament.
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