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AG: $143m Tobago complex deal for DPP (with CNC3 video)
Government is initiating legal action against the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) Chief Secretary Orville London and the THA for use of the build own lease transfer (BOLT) process for the THA’s Milshirv administrative complex, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday.
Speaking in the Senate, Ramlogan said he also was referring the matter to the Integrity Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the acting Police Commissioner for an immediate urgent criminal probe against London to see if there was misconduct in public office by “entering into sweetheart deals under the table.”
Ramlogan added: “There are things about this from the start. However, you twist, turn it or dice it, it reeks of corruption.” The $143 million complex has been the focus in recent weeks of Government’s concern about the process used. Government claims the THA used a BOLT process in contravention of the THA Act, which requires approval from the Finance Minister for borrowing.
Last weekend, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar demanded answers from London on the project as she launched the Tobago Organisation of People’s (TOP) THA election campaign. TOP is a PP member.
Yesterday, Ramlogan said: “I have advised the Minister of Finance to bring a claim and file legal action against Orville London and the THA to seek declaration from the court that Section 51 was violated and the actions of London and the THA were illegal in entering into that BOLT arrangement for the Milshirv complex.
“Mr London had no legal authority to bypass the Finance Minister and enter that BOLT arrangement. If we allow this precedent to be set, T&T does so at great risk and peril.” Ramlogan said provisions were set out to seek the Finance Minister’s permission because the latter would need to know his liability and other aspects of the finance when planning his budgets. Ramlogan said if the minister was not told, he would be budgeting on a false premise.
He said a disingenuous financial device could not be used to get around provisions and avoid the law. He added if London had no legal authority to enter the transaction, it may well be illegal and null and that “ pernicious and oppressive agreement” might yet be voided.
Saying there were many questions on the issue, Ramlogan said development should not be at taxpayers’ expense. Noting London had said there was no tendering or public advertisement, Ramlogan queried how the developer had known to approach the THA with the proposals for the office complex in the first place.
“It’s a strange case of political telepathy. Something is terribly wrong,” Ramlogan added. He asked if it was true once the lease was done, London immediately paid 18 months’ rent, $21.64 million, through FCB, to the developer. He said if the company had folded, the money would have been lost.
PNM Senator Fitzgerald Hinds, who spoke after Ramlogan, said the Government was initiating the court action against THA’s London to stymie the process since the PP knew there was a THA election in the air and was upset at PNM’s progress. Hinds said the AG would know the DPP did not investigate matters but the police did. He said London already had said he would be open to any probe of the matter.
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