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Good Christmas gift to the people
After battling with Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and winning a case in the High Court in July this year, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has begun construction of its new administrative building, for the second time, on Shirvan Road, Tobago. In a somewhat triumphant speech at the construction site on Thursday, THA Secretary of Finance and Enterprise Development, Joel Jack, said the controversial building will proceed in spite of moves made by Ramlogan to derail the project and no help from the central government.
“Today is the launch of the Milshirv project, a project important to Tobago, but not stifled by agents of central government,” Jack said during the function on the 12-acre site.
In October 2012, Ramlogan filed civil proceedings against the THA, requesting a judicial review of its decision to enter into a BOLT (Build, Own, Lease, Transfer) agreement with Milshirv and commercial bank First Citizens (FCB) to construct the building. The High Court subsequently removed Milshirv and FCB from the proceedings and ruled that construction of the $143 million complex could continue.
The central government has since withdrawn its challenge to the Milshirv project, and Finance Minister Larry Howai has supported such public/private partnerships (PPP) and sanctioned the project, Chief Secretary Orville London said. However, Ramlogan has asked the court to determine whether the BOLT arrangement between the THA and Milsherv could be considered borrowing, which is in contravention of the THA Act.
The THA Act requires the assembly to ask permission from the central government before it can borrow money. London, however, said the BOLT arrangement is not breaking any rules, as the nature of the agreement means Milsherv would pay for all the cost of construction up front. After a 20-year lease, the THA will then own the building, he said.
“This matter is now before the court for judicial interpretation and a ruling is expected in 2014. The THA is confident that the Attorney General will not be successful in his misadvised crusade,” Jack said. He noted that the outcome of the ruling will not affect ongoing construction, which is set to be completed within 16 months. With tractors working as the function went on, Jack criticised the overall lack of assistance given to the THA with respect to projects aimed at developing Tobago.
“This is an unfortunate fact,” he said. “No central government administration has ever acceded to a request from the assembly to engage in non-cash or debt financing, in order to finance our capital expenditure programme. Consequently, the progress of our more ambitious capital projects has been jerky at best, unreasonably delayed otherwise.” The project will see the construction of the administrative complex for the THA’s Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment.
London said he was “relieved” construction had resumed. “I think the timing is quite propitious. It’s a good Christmas gift for the people of Tobago.”
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