Former Housing Development Corporation (HDC) board chairman Henckle Lall yesterday justified the leasing of a Range Rover HSE currently being used by Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal, saying the corporation purchases "rugged vehicles for the terrain."In a telephone interview, however, Lall said the Range Rover was not leased specifically for the minister but for HDC officials."Nothing is leased for the minister, all vehicles are leased for the HDC," he said.Lall said Moonilal did not ask the board for such a vehicle to be leased. Asked who suggested it, he said, "I can't get into those things, I don't recall who made the suggestion."It was a corporation decision to purchase vehicles, especially good lasting vehicles. Most vehicles are leased and approved by the board."
The former chairman said Cabinet had mandated that ministers could use vehicles belonging to ministries, and as a result, "the board approved the vehicle and all expenses."The Range Rover HSE was leased from Furness Car Rentals.HDC pays a monthly fee of $24,150 for it, while the total lease agreement for the three-year period is $869,400. The lease runs from February 2011 to February 2014. At the time of the approval, the HDC board also included Douglas Johnson, Gunness Sudama, Graig Davis, Reyna Kowlessar, Naddia Ali and James Lambert. Since being leased, the vehicle has been used only by Moonilal.Sources say when the lease has expired it may be extended or the HDC has an option to buy the vehicle. Such a decision would again have to be made by the board and its soon-to-be-appointed chairman Rabindra Moonan. Moonan, who was fired as the chairman of Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL), is yet to be issued with his instruments of appointment by President Anthony Carmona, who is said to be seeking legal advice on the matter.
Asked whether it was economical to lease a luxury vehicle, Lall said the HDC purchased "rugged vehicles for the terrain that we enter. We look at the geography of an area. We look for good branding, good to last."The corporation leases vehicles, some are more sturdy than others. We looked for a good brand built."The T&T Guardian pointed out that there are less expensive vehicles which are just as sturdy and used by several ministries, including the HDC. These include the Nissan Pathfinder, Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorrento, Ford Fortuna, Toyota Prado and Hyundai Tucson.Lall said: "We don't micromanage and we are not involved in the day-to-day operations."Questions have been raised about why a state enterprise is financing the lease, since the ministry that Moonilal heads has several vehicles which could be used for official government business.Contacted on the matter, Moonilal had told the T&T Guardian: "The Rover is very sturdy. The vehicle was provided as a lease vehicle in keeping with (the) practice before to provide vehicles to ministers."I also use other vehicles depending on work requirements. As for choice, Rover is strong and equipped for the terrain. You seldom see a Rover in highway crash."