The Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau has been asked to investigate reports that Juliana Pena, the spiritual adviser to former prime minister Patrick Manning may have used state funds through the country's foreign missions to finance her overseas travels. This was one of several startling revelations made by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar about the elusive Pena and the controversial Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ church which was being constructed for her at the Heights of Guanapo. Speaking on the hustings in Penal on Thursday night, Persad-Bissessar said: "There is a trail of e-mail correspondence at the office of the Attorney General which is suggesting that Mrs Pena may have been collecting funds from our foreign embassies to fund her jet-setting and globe-trotting lifestyles."
She called on Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley who was in the Manning administration to say if he had any knowledge of this latest scandal surrounding Pena. "I want to ask Dr Rowley whether he knows anything about state funds being used through our foreign missions as a slush fund to finance the lifestyle of Mrs Pena," she said. The tentacles of corruption, the Prime Minister argued, had reached every transaction the former Manning administration was involved in. "We are now bombarded with an avalanche of corrupt deeds on their part," she said as she brought to the fore more startling revelations about the three and one quarter acres of agricultural state lands used to put up the church.
Persad-Bissessar disclosed that the land on which the church was being constructed, before it was destroyed by looters, was never legally transferred to Pena or her organisation. "In fact, the Commissioner of State Lands has informed us that Mrs Pena did not agree to pay the rent for the lease of the land, and so the lease was never signed, never executed, never completed." She told her audience that this meant that the State was and remains the lawful owners of the land at Guanapo. In light of this she asked: "If Mrs Pena and organisation, as is alleged, could not afford to pay the rent of the land, how come they were getting $30 million, to finance this rapid construction, even with a swimming pool. How did that happen?"
Charging that the Manning-led Cabinet authorised and was driving this project all along, she concluded that this was the reason why no one came forward to claim ownership when the building was being destroyed after the PNM lost the election. She questioned how state agencies, including Town and Country Planning, T&TEC and WASA could have given permission to build and provide utilities where there was no title or ownership. "You know when you apply to WASA and T&TEC, they want to see ownership, they want to see paper, they want to see deed, so how did this happen, how did they get approval without proof of ownership?" she asked her cheering audience.
The "disappearance" of Manning's spiritual adviser was also played out on the political platform as Persad-Bissessar revealed her immigration records which showed of numerous visits to Venezuela, the latest being on February 6, 2010. Saying that they were looking for her but could not find her, Persad-Bissessar said she had, instead, asked Minister of Planning Mary King to pull the Guanapo file. "And what that file has revealed can only be described as unbelievable and shocking," the PM said. "Would you believe Town and Country approval was not signed? How can you get T&TEC approval but nobody signed the application?"
She added that most of the application form were blank, including the portion for the applicant's name, and the owner's name. "This scandal is so bad," she continued, explaining that permission was initially refused because this parcel of land was classified as agricultural. To circumvent legal requirements, the then Commissioner of State Lands granted permission on the basis that Pena and her organisation submit a proposal for a comprehensive spiritual centre, including the active cultivation of a garden and an orchard. Copies of the thick dossier were handed to members of the media present at the meeting.