Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A house for Mr Jack


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Leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), Ashworth Jack, has to provide a better explanation for his relatively sudden construction of a multi-million-dollar mansion on land he does not own.

As exclusively reported in the Sunday Express, Mr Jack moved into his new two-storey, eight-room home two months ago. He has dismissed allegations that the house was built for him free of charge as payback for his support of the People's Partnership administration. Although he did not take out a bank loan to build the house which, he says, cost $2 million, Mr Jack explained that he was able to pay for the construction because he has four sources of income.

Unfortunately, there are some holes in his explanations. He says, for example, that one of his four incomes comes from selling cucumbers and pumpkins. Unless he has acres of land planted for overseas buyers, however, this would hardly generate the kind of funds required to build a mansion. Mr Jack also claimed that his main source of income came from his job as a project manager, which paid him $35,000 a month. That is a substantial enough sum to account for his lifestyle, but Mr Jack unfortunately has no known qualifications or track record in project management and has refused to say which Trinidadian company employs him in this capacity.

He also admitted to not owning the land on which he had built his new home. In fact, he still owes $880,000 on the $1 million property, although the land's owner seems unworried about this hefty balance. Still, this curious financial arrangement naturally arouses scepticism from a citizenry predisposed to be cynical about politicians.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar faced similar allegations about her own home, which San Fernando East MP Patrick Manning had absurdly alleged cost $30 million. But Mrs Persad-Bissessar, an attorney who is married to a medical doctor, has a credible explanation for her $4.5 million construction. But it too often happens that, when politicians get into office, their finances take a fortuitous turn for the better. They start driving luxury cars, get good deals in real estate, and start completing family homes. This may be nothing more than serendipity, given that people's careers tend to peak at particular periods. But politicians, especially, need to have good explanations for their good fortune. When they do not, it looks as though they are being paid hefty bribes by party financiers or that they are using public funds for private gain.

As a politician vying for the plum post of THA Chief Secretary, Mr Jack needs to come better in order to avoid the perception that he falls into any of these categories.