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Rowley during debate on Finance Bill: $400,000 in alcohol at PM’s residence

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Alcohol valued at more than $400,000 have been discovered at the official residence of the Prime Minister, St Ann’s.

This was revealed by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley during his contribution to the debate on the Finance Bill 2016, which was approved in the House of Representatives yesterday morning. 

The debate on measures to remove items from the zero-rated list, reduce the 15 per cent rate of VAT to 12.5 per cent, increase the Business Levy and Green Fund and increase personal allowance from $60,000 to $72,000 were presented for debate by Finance Minister Colm Imbert shortly after 2 pm on Monday and the measure was approved by legislators at about 12.10 am yesterday.

Rowley moved into the official residence last month. He told legislators there were a series of functions, including one for children. He said there was an alcohol bar at each of those functions except the one for children.

He quickly added: “You’ll be surprised to know that all the alcohol for those functions... we didn’t buy a bottle. We used from the household.”

This prompted Government MPs to shout “wooooh”. 

Rowley said: “When Christmas was over, we had a valuation done on what was left... $400,000 worth of liquor was on the compound there and that is what they left when they went.”

He repeated: “That is what they left and that should tell you what the priorities were for those who were there before the PNM. That should tell you where there priorities were.”

He said: “Right now in that compound up there is $400,000 in alcohol and the interesting thing about it is that in the records we can’t find how it was sourced. 

“There is no paper trail towards its sourcing. So it leaves us to wonder how all that alcohol got into that compound but if I understand how they ran the country it might have even been paid for by XYZ or Mr ABC.”

Contacted for comment, Opposition Leader and former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she was not aware of Rowley’s statement.

“I didn’t hear those comments from the Prime Minister but there is a staff that ran the Diplomatic Centre (located on the compound of the official residence) and they would be in a better position to indicate what was there or what was not,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar said when she “took up residence there, at that time, there was also a lot of alcohol in the Diplomatic Centre as well as other items.” 

Persad-Bissessar lived there after the Patrick Manning government was defeated in the May 2010 general election.

Persad-Bissessar said she knew that “when people checked, people running the place would have left an inventory of what was there. At no time did I order any such items. You would find no order coming from me with respect to those matters (alcohol). They were handled by staff at the place.”

In response to another question from the T&T Guardian, Persad-Bissessar said the new PNM Government “finds everything they can find to play the blame game to paint the past government in the worst light possible.”

She said it must be part of the politics of life.

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Rowley, in his contribution in Parliament, said if his administration was to follow the pattern of the former PP government the country would become bankrupt.

He said the Opposition was aware of the state of the economy. He said he was leading the PNM for one five-year term before the next election was called. 

He said between "now and then I have a responsibility to you, your children and the country to ensure that this country does not become another IMF case. That is the commitment I give to you, once we could avoid it."

Rowley said while the Opposition MPs have criticised the measures contained in the bill, the PNM was committed to take the difficult decisions in the best interest of the entire nation.

The measures will cause certain food prices to increase. 

He said: "If you think that is difficult it will be ten times more difficult if the IMF starts to call the shots in T&T. You are much better off calling your own shots."

He said the priority of his Government "under the current circumstances is to keep T&T out of the jaws of the IMF while making the best of a bad situation.”

He criticised Opposition MP Prakash Ramadhar for trying to instill fear in the population about plans to resume collection of the Property Tax.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert, in his wind-up of the debate, dismissed a claim by Ramadhar that the Property Tax of a house valued at $1 million would be $30,000 a year.

Imbert said the rate for such a building that was being rented would be just about $1,500 a year.

The House was adjourned to January 20 at 1.30 pm.