Last update: 10-Dec-2013 12:48 am
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
You are here
PSA owes state $14m
As the Public Services Association (PSA) election race heats up, the splintered union is facing a mounting $14 million debt to the State, stemming from a worrisome 2006 land lease which has left the PSA’s finances in shambles. The lease was granted for 3.1769 hectares of land at Flagstaff Hill, Long Circular Road, St James, formerly known as PSA Grounds, where the La Fortresse development has been under construction for the past seven years. The lease transferred the PSA grounds from recreational to commercial land and mandates the union to pay the State $2 million annually for 199 years. Any new executive elected into office after the November 25 election will be saddled with this climbing $14 million debt, as well as possible litigation. Documents obtained by the T&T Guardian revealed that a deed of lease registered as No 1712 of 1999, dated January 15, 1999, was leased to trustees of the PSA for a term of 30 years.
By letter dated November 22, 2004, the PSA submitted an application to change the use of the land from recreational to commercial. The then president, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, envisioned the construction of the upscale La Fortresse housing development, including indoor sports and cultural complex, tennis courts, office complex and a gated townhouse community. In another letter dated January 20, 2006, Baptiste-Primus advised the Commissioner of State Lands that the PSA wished to surrender the unexpired residue of the existing 30-year lease and asked for a new lease for 199 years without any restrictions on the use of the land. By a cabinet minute (No 2020) of August 10, 2006, the Cabinet agreed to surrender the 30-year lease and grant a new lease at an annual rent of $2 million.
However, incumbent PSA president Watson Duke, who is going up for a second term, admitted that not a cent was paid towards the rent. Asked why by the T&T Guardian, he responded: “The PSA hasn’t started paying because we cannot afford to pay this exorbitant rent. I cannot understand why the former executive engaged in such an exercise that burdens the PSA with this annual $2 million for 199 years.” He said the PSA’s general council had mandated him to approach the Attorney General’s Office and the Commissioner of State Lands to rescind the lease arrangements. Duke said after the Baptiste-Primus-led executive left office, the PSA finances went down. “I came in at a time when the Public Service was very quiet and the Public Service was being destroyed bit by bit, and we stopped the destruction of 2,175 jobs in the Public Service. That was our first accomplishment and from that moment on we have not lost jobs in the Public Service, we have saved jobs,” Duke said.
However, former PSA general secretary Oral Saunders said Baptiste-Primus had left $7 million in the coffers of the PSA when she left office in 2009. “Duke has exhausted the funds of the union and not once did he present a budget that met with the conference of delegates as stipulated in the constitution,” Saunders said. He also said that it was illegal for Duke’s hand-picked general council to overturn a decision of the conference of delegates with regard to the lease arrangements. Admitting that the lease was not in the interest of the PSA, however, Saunders said he also did not know what was the thinking behind the new lease arrangements. “For Duke to now say that the general council has given him a decision is totally immoral. Duke has removed legitimate members of the general council and replaced them. Those members of the general council were supposed to be elected not selected, so he cannot go to the State to overturn this arrangement unless he gets authorisation from the PSA’s conference of delegates,” Saunders said. He added that it was shocking that Duke and his executives had not paid the PSA’s annual $2 million debts since they took office in 2010. Duke was elected on November 25, 2010, with a winning number of 2,461 votes.
PSA official: Monies went to legal fees
Meanwhile, PSA first vice-president Rosanna Robertson, who is contesting the election on a slate called PSA Liberators, said the latest financial records show the union only has under $1 million in its coffers. She said, “We know our finances are in shambles and the first thing we will have to do when we get into office is to do a forensic audit.” She also said the PSA had $7 million in 2009, but a lot of this money went towards paying legal fees for the incumbent president. Robertson said a lot of the legal squabbles had drained the PSA as Duke paid legal fees out of the union’s coffers. “The union is in serious financial difficulty,” Robertson said. “We have to wait until we get dues in to keep this union afloat. There are a lot of creditors who did work who have not been paid and there are some lawyers who we are still owing monies.” Chairman of another election slate—the PSA Phoenix—Harold Murray said Duke collects a monthly salary of $26,000. In terms of allowances, he said Duke has $2,500 a month in entertainment, a phone allowance of $1,500, travelling allowance of $2,000 a month, housing allowance of $5,000 and a chauffeur allowance of $1,500. Repeated efforts were made to contact Baptiste-Primus about the PSA’s finances and the controversial land lease over the past week, but she did not respond to texts or voice messages. Baptiste-Primus is the labour relations officer of the PNM. Efforts to contact the Commissioner of State Lands were also unsuccessful.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.