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Politicking behind PM’s threat says London
THA Chief Secretary Orville London is charging that “politicking” is behind the Prime Minister’s vow to probe two multimillion dollar land deals in Tobago, which she has ordered to be stopped. The projects are the $250 million Tobago Aquatic Centre and the $320 million Shirvan THA Administrative Complex. The administrative complex project is to be undertaken by the THA and companies owned by the family of former PNM government minister John Rahael.
Sports Minister Anil Roberts, in his contribution to the budget debate earlier this week, outlined a transaction in which the THA bought three acres of land from the Rahael family for $12 million, agreed to lease the land back to the family business for 199 years, and then to rent an office building, to be built by the Rahaels, at $1.2 million a month for 20 years, at the end of which the land and building would be transferred to the THA.
In a full-page newspaper advertisement yesterday, Rahael Holdings Ltd (RHL) said the THA and RHL decided to use the build-own-operate-lease transfer (BOLT) concept for the project, a legitimate and globally-practised financing/construction arrangement. It said RHL has been involved in real estate for over half a century and built its reputation on the tenets of value and integrity.
The BOLT concept was decided upon to protect the THA from the risks of cost overruns, financing difficulties and time delays, RHL said. The company insisted it had acted in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations. London said he did not know how Persad-Bissessar could halt the project since there was nothing to halt. “Nothing has started,” he said.
He also argued that the PM had no authority to stop a THA project. “If you are saying you have the authority to override institutions and intervene without investigating, that is cause for concern. This flies in the face of the limited autonomy the THA has and the Prime Minister’s commitment to give Tobago self-governance. Why didn’t she ask for a meeting?” London asked.
Giving his own answer, he said, “It has to do with politicking, because the THA election is coming up soon.” London said everything was legal and above board with the administrative complex project and the BOLT concept was used because it would actually save the THA some $40 to $50 million. “It would seem like madness to the lay person, but it is something that would bring significant benefit to us.”
Ashworth Jack, leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), one of the parties in the People’s Partnership coalition government, countered, “What do you expect the Chief Secretary to say?” Jack, Minority Leader in the THA, said the issue had nothing to do with the BOLT concept. “It had to do with why one company was handpicked,” he said. “What is the procurement method that was used to select that company?” he asked.
On London’s charge of politicking, he countered: “Is he saying because the THA election is coming around, one should say nothing about anything, even if it is wrong?” President of the Contractors Association and representative on the Joint Consultative Council, Mervyn Chin, said allegations like these would not arise if procurement reform had been brought about.
“If there is found to be wrongdoing, the Director of Public Prosecutions will investigate the matter and do what he has to do.” Chin said the PM has promised a review of procurement legislation, something the JCC had been awaiting for three years. Refraining from comment on the administrative complex project, he said it was all speculation so far.
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