A legal battle is brewing over the financial information provided to Parliament last week about payment made to attorneys by the Ministry of the Attorney General for legal and other technical/profe
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Tewarie answers PNM on Invaders
The Invaders Bay development plan predates the current Government, and the current project is being opposed by people who themselves have an interest in it, Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie said yesterday. He listed a 2007 request for proposals for the development, a 2007 letter from Prof Ken Julien to the Planning Ministry making suggestions on the issue and a March 2010 PNM Cabinet note concerning international developers, which he said confirmed that clients were lining up for it in front of the PNM Government.
“The history of Invaders Bay as a project predates the PP Government and involves a number of interested—and some may say self-interested—parties. The only reason it has become so controversial in our time is because there were deals already in motion before we came; there was a line-up of people for the project,” Tewarie said in Parliament.
He said there were interests engaged in active pursuit and engagement of the then minister, who brought it to the former Cabinet’s attention, and even a letter to the former prime minister from a bank which wanted to finance a company on the project. One of the companies which the PNM cabinet was told had an interest in the project was Columbus Towers Property Development (CTPD) Co Ltd, a division of the M Falcon group, he noted.
Tewarie noted an August 12, 2007, request for proposals (design and build). It said the then government’s Planning Ministry was seeking interest for the development of Invaders Bay and detailed what was being sought. It projected the activity would be finalised within two months of the RFP’s submission.
Tewarie read a 2007 letter from Julien on a University of T&T letterhead, sent to the permanent secretary and suggesting the ministry should do a prequalification exercise and take other specific steps. Julien’s letter suggested the “two envelope” process should be used, with technical information in one envelope and financial data in another.
A March 29, 2010, PNM Government Cabinet note showed Cabinet was asked to accept the Planning Ministry’s recommendation and accept an outlined plan. It also said Cabinet should note that in the light of the area’s potential for development, several international developers had expressed interest in establishing commercial enterprises there.
The most recent expression then came from the CTPD company. Tewarie also read a letter from a bank affiliated to the Falcon group to the former prime minister, noting he wanted to announce the project at the 2009 Commonwealth meeting in T&T and permitting him to say initial talks had been held with the bank on the project. On this week’s court judgment in favour of the JCC on the project, Tewarie said there was no issue of failing to disclose, seeking to prevent disclosure or fear of disclosing.
The JCC successfully took the ministry to court to force it to hand over the legal advice that said it was not obliged to reveal information on the project. “The only issue we’re contesting is whether the advice of an attorney to client, generally regarded as privileged information, is subject to the jurisdiction of the Freedom of Information Act, or whether, since it is a privileged exchange of information between attorney and client, it is exempt from the act.
“The issue Government is contesting is because of the view that if attorney/client privilege were not honoured by the court, it would create a precedent that would have far-reaching implications.” Saying the project met all necessary criteria and could withstand scrutiny, he added lawyers were studying the court’s judgment and the ministry would decide whether to appeal. Tewarie was attacked by PNM MPs, who accused him of trying government’s court case in the Parliament.
The PNM’s attacks were so ferocious that Deputy Speaker Nela Khan had to shout for order amid the “mob” atmosphere, particularly when PNM leader Keith Rowley insisted on protesting.