Chief Secretary responds to Prime Minister

THA officials at the press conference on Thursday. From left Deputy Chief Secretary Hilton Sandy, Chief Secretary Orville London, Senior Legal Adviser Alvin Pascall and Secretary of Finance and Enterprise Development Dr Anselm London. Photo THA Information Dept.
There is no law to give a Prime Minister authority to stop any project of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) in Tobago, says THA Chief Secretary Orville London on Thursday. (11th October 2012)

He said all the advice he had been given since Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar spoke about stopping two THA projects during the 2013 Budget debate in Parliament on Wednesday night indicated to him that the Prime Minister did not and should not have the authority to stop projects in Tobago that fall under the ambit of the THA. The Prime Minister had said she was suggesting the stopping of construction of the Bacolet Aquatic Centre and Indoor Sports Complex and the Shirvan Administrative Complex being undertaken by private developer, MILSHIRV Limited.

“One cannot stop a project that has not started; the two projects she indicated that she intends to stop, one of which is the Bacolet Aquatic Centre and Indoor Sports Complex, that project has not started, there is no contract, no agreement to start this project, discussions have been going on with various entities over an extended period, no decision has been made as yet so there is no project to stop.” London told reporters at a media conference to deal with the statements made by the Prime Minister.

He said in the case of the Shirvan complex it was for the construction of the administrative offices of the Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment. He said the complex because of its location would also serve other divisions of the Assembly for training, conference facilities and public.

London said the Shirvan complex was being constructed under a BOLT (Build Operate Lease and Transfer) arrangement with the Assembly and it was only after it was completed that the 20-year lease would kick in.

He said Tobago remained under-developed over the past decade because of the shortfall in allocations and said this year was no different. He alleged that Finance Minister Larry Howai broke the law by not providing the THA with the minimum allocation of 4.03 per cent of the national budget. He said this year’s allocation according to the estimates of expenditure was $2.336B and not $2.356B as indicated in the budget statement read by Howai on October 1; as a result the allocation was 3.9 per cent of the national budget.

“We in the Assembly have a challenge, how do you develop Tobago with the limited resources provided. However, we have a responsibility to do whatever is necessary within the law to develop Tobago,” he said.

London argued that the THA was not breaking the law by entering into the BOLT arrangement because it was not burrowing and this was supported by advice from attorneys Hamel-Smith & Company. He said he would welcome any kind of investigation into the projects.

Deputy Chief Secretary Hilton Sandy said this controversy over the projects would not have occurred if the Prime Minister took the opportunity under Section 31 of the THA Act and consulted with the Chief Secretary when the matter could have been cleared up.

Chief Secretary London agreed with Sandy and said he had met the Prime Minister once since she took office in May 2010 and since then had written her three times requesting a meeting to discuss the affairs of Tobago.

THA Senior Legal Adviser Alvin Pascall noted that the Prime Minister stated that a copy of the lease agreement in her possession was missing an appendix. He said she most likely would have had the wrong document since top law firm Fitzwilliam Stone Furness-Smith & Morgan who prepared and registered the 35-page lease was a reputable company and therefore she would have been attacking its reputation. He added that any aspirations made were against this reputable firm of attorneys.

He said the transaction was a serious one and not any fly by night transaction and added that it was the developers who were taking the risk.

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