One of the first issues that soon-to-be-appointed Housing Development Corporation (HDC) chairman Rabindra Moonan will have to deal with is whether he will approve the extension of a lease on a Range Rover for Minister of Housing Dr Roodal Moonilal.Moonilal currently enjoys the use of a black Range Rover leased by the HDC for $289,800 a year.
The Range Rover HSE, which carries the licence plate PCR 5656, has been leased from Furness Car Rentals.The T&T Guardian has confirmed that the HDC pays a monthly bill of $24,150 for the vehicle, while the total lease agreement for the three-year period is $869,400.Sources say the lease took effect on February 2011 and ends in February 2014.The Range Rover has been customised to include blue police strobe lights in the centre of the grill at the front and back. A police siren has also been installed.
Questions have been raised about why such a vehicle has been leased for the minister, and also why a state enterprise is financing the lease, given that the ministry that Moonilal heads has several vehicles which can be used for official government business.Apart from this, sources say other vehicles could have been leased at a much cheaper rate.Sources say when vehicles are leased, the ministers do not pay for the vehicles' maintenance or operational costs. These costs as well as the leases are borne by taxpayers.
At the time of the approval, the HDC board was chaired by Henckle Lall and included Douglas Johnson, Gunness Sudama, Graig Davis, Reyna Kowlessar, Naddia Ali and James Lambert.Efforts to contact those board members were unsuccessful.Last year, a slew of criticism was levelled against then Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath over the purchase of a $400,000 duty-free Porsche Cayenne as the official vehicle for his ministry.
Bharath defended the purchase, saying it was not extravagant.Contacted on the matter, a government minister said if a request to lease the Range Rover had been made to Cabinet there would have been strong objection.Since the People's Partnership government took office, ministers are now entitled to use a ministry vehicle for official purposes.This entitlement was put in place after Sport Minister Anil Roberts was involved in an accident on October 6, 2010.
In response to several text messages sent by the T&T Guardian, Moonilal yesterday responded by defending the use of the leased vehicle.He wrote: "The Rover is very sturdy. The vehicle was provided as a lease vehicle in keeping with (the) practice before to provide vehicle to minister."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."He added that Cepep also provided transport support when needed.The T&T Guardian then pointed out that such a high-maintenance vehicle "puts a strain on taxpayers, given there are other options," to which Moonilal repled: "But Rover is very good vehicle, you should buy one if possible."
The T&T Guardian repeated its initial question on whether Moonilal had approached the HDC board to ask it to lease the Range Rover. He is yet to respond.Asked whether he had received permission from the acting Commissioner of Police or Transport Commissioner to use the blue lights and siren on the Range Rover, Moonilal said he did not comment on matters of security.
"The devices are matters under the purview of security authorities, I don't comment on security issues. Suffice to say we act according to the law at all times," he texted.
On January 17, 2012, Moonilal denied claims that his ministry had purchased a Range Rover for his use. Speaking during a Parliament debate, Moonilal said MPs are entitled to concessions on cars and most take advantage of these, using their personal funds.He said while in opposition he purchased a BMW X53 but subsequently sold it and bought a Range Rover for his personal use, using his personal funds.
Moonilal also said the Environment Ministry planned to buy two hybrid vehicles at a total cost of $600,000. To date, sources say this is yet to happen.
According to the Salaries Review Commission Web site, the last pay hike for ministers and MPs was in 2006. The Prime Minister's salary was increased to $48,000 a month; Cabinet ministers' salaries increased to $33,000 a month and non-Cabinet ministers to $27,000.The Leader of the Opposition moved to $23,800, MPs (non-ministers) increased to $14,000 and senators (non-ministers) $10,500.Among the allowances given to government ministers are transport facilities. These include:
(i) A maximum loan of $350,000 at a six per cent per annum repayable over six years for the purchase of either:
(a) a new vehicle with full exemption from motor vehicle tax, VAT and customs duty; or
(b) a used vehicle with full exemption from special motor vehicle tax, VAT and customs duty.
(ii) A loan to cover the cost of car insurance at a rate of interest of six per cent per annum.
(iii) A maximum loan of $20,000 at a rate of interest of six per cent per annum for repairs to a vehicle.
(iv) A transportation allowance of $4,700 per month.
(v) A personal chauffeur