Although the $24,000 a month Range Rover HSE leased by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) is for use by employees, it was Minister of Housing Dr Roodal Moonilal who applied to the transport commissioner Ruben Cato for permission to install a siren and two strobe lights in the vehicle.
Sources say Moonilal's initial application was rejected by Cato, since the minister could not properly explain the reason (s) he needed the "blue lights." Apart from this, Moonilal did not have law enforcement escorts driving the vehicle, which was another requirement for granting permission.Around the same time, sources said, Cato also had an application for a similar vehicle outfitting from then national security minister Jack Warner. In rejecting Moonilal's application, Cato approved Warner's application.
The T&T Guardian understands Moonilal subsequently submitted another application, this time through the security ministry.Cato was on leave at the time and the request was granted by assistant transport commissioner Basdeo Gosine.Contacted by the T&T Guardian and asked on what grounds he needed the "blue lights and siren" installed in the Rover, the minister, via text message, said: "These are security matters. I feel insecure with your questions."
Also asked on what grounds Basdeo acceded to the request, Moonilal did not respond.Questions thus remain as to why Moonilal is using the vehicle exclusively and why he installed "blue lights and siren" in the vehicle if it was for use by HDC employees as well.Last week, former HDC board chairman Henckle Lall justified the leasing of the Rover, saying the corporation purchases "rugged vehicles for the terrain." Lall had 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.Since the vehicle was leased in February 2011 it has been in use by Moonilal. The T&T Guardian contacted a well known mechanic who specialises in Range Rovers to ask his opinion on the suitability for local terrain. The mechanic, who did not wish to be identified, said it would not be a wise choice because the Rover HSE is a luxury sport vehicle.
The mechanic said while it is used for rough terrain in other countries, T&T did not really have such difficult areas and the cost for repairing and maintaining them varies and parts locally were expensive, with one shock costing a minimum $10,000."It is a great vehicle for outdoors. This vehicle is used in heavy terrain in the US, England and other countries, but their terrains are worse than ours,"the mechanic said.
Asked what he considered "heavy terrain" in T&T, he said, "Going into the oil fields or even into the rice fields in Caroni.The fields in Caroni are terrible, even tractors get stuck there," he said.Checks into some of the locations visited by Moonilal since the lease of the Range Rover revealed he is yet to venture into any terrain which could be classified as "heavy."
The Range Rover
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, Nadia Ali and James Lambert.
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 accidents."