Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly Orville London says Prime Minister Kamla Persad–Bissessar does not have the power to stop any projects which fall under the ambit of the Assembly. London took the prime minister to task after she called for a probe into two projects—the Bacolet Aquatic Centre and the Administrative Complex for the Division of Agriculture which is expected to be built at Shirvan.
On Wednesday during the winding-up of the Budget debate, Persad–Bissessar described the projects as “two dubious land deals” led by the PNM Tobago House of Assembly. She said there was no tendering process for the projects and has ordered a probe.
However, at an emergency news conference held at the Administrative Complex at Calder Hall yesterday, London said the Prime Minister has no authority when it comes to projects in Tobago. “All the advice that I have been given indicates to me that the prime minister does not and should not have the authority to stop projects in Tobago which falls under the ambit of the Tobago House of Assembly. One cannot stop a project which has not started. The two projects that she indicated that she intends to stop, one of which is the Bacolet Acquatic Centre and the other the Indoor Complex, that project has not started. There is no contract, and no agreement to start that project. Discussions have been going on with various entities over an extended period. No decision has been made and therefore there is no project to stop,” he said.
Early Morning Show 2012 10 11 Orville London
Reading from an opinion from senior attorneys, the chief secretary said by law the THA has the right to enter into any arrangement for the development of Tobago. “We conclude that the sale and lease back arrangement falls within the powers and functions of the THA. In any event the THA is also granted wider powers to do all such acts and to take all steps as may be necessary for or incidental to the exercise of its powers for the discharge of its duties. Thus, while the THA is required to closely adhere to the act and the powers granted to it thereunder, statutory corporations will not be unreasonably restricted to those acts that are specially mentioned,” he said.
The Prime Minister told the Parliament on Wednesday that in November 2011, the THA leased land to Milshirv Ltd for 199 years at an annual rent of ten dollars. According to the lease documents, Milshirv will construct the office building and facilities and on completion would rent it to the THA for 20 years at $1.3 million per month.
The THA also will have the option to purchase the building every three years. However, Persad–Bissessar told the Parliament that a critical piece of the lease documents was missing, but senior counsel for the THA, Alvin Pascal, said all the papers are intact. “I want to put on record that this document was prepared by attorneys-at- law acting on behalf of the financiers and the special purpose company or the developers, the firm which registered and prepared this deed, approved, studied and vetted by me, was Fitzwilliam Stone Furness-Smith & Morgan may be the largest law firm in Port-of-Spain so if anybody is making any allegations they are attacking the competence of experienced and reputable attorneys in the city of Port-of-Spain,” he said.
Senior Counsel Pascal said also there is no law to prevent the THA from operating under lease agreements and hence BOLT Build, Operate, Lease, Transfer) arrangement is also being utilised legally. “The BOLT business is something different. It is a group of people talking to their financiers and building a building so when the honourable prime minister said she is going to stop a transaction we ask ourselves which transaction she is going to stop because this agreement is with Milshirv,” he said.
The two projects were first raised in Parliament by Sports Minister Anil Roberts during his contribution to the budget debate on Friday. However the issue surrounding the BOLT agreement at Shirvan was brought into the public domain by the minority Tobago Organisation of the People headed by Ashworth Jack.