FIERY: PNM Senator Faris Al-Rawi speaks in the Senate yesterday. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

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BAD DEAL

PNM senator demands probe into Govt purchase of land for $175m; bought for $5m

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

Government paid $175 million for 50 acres of land at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, Freeport, in 2012, when the same parcel of land had been bought two years earlier for $5 million.

So said People's National Movement (PNM) Senator Faris Al-Rawi in his budget contribution at yesterday's Senate sitting at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.

He quoted from both the Cabinet minute 1538, dated June 6, 2012, which approved the $175 million purchase, and the deed of purchase, 2010, by which the property was bought for $5 million.

Al-Rawi said the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) sought a valuation on the land from "reputable" valuator Linden Scott and Associates. That company gave the HDC a valuation of $52 million, excluding stamp duty, legal fees and other costs associated with the purchase.

The valuation, he said, also was premised on the fact that the 50 acres were being sold en bloc to one purchaser, the HDC.

He said Linden and Scott was "on every bank panel in Trinidad and Tobago conducting mortgages. Ask Senator Howai, he sat on FCB and he would tell you Linden Scott is very reputable".

This valuation was done in November 2011.

Al-Rawi said that by letter dated April, 26, 2012, the Commissioner of Valuation (whom he did not name) advised that "$180 million was a fair estimate of the current open market value for the unencumbered freehold interest (land)".

"The Government valuator with no material attached to the Cabinet minute, other than his letter, says 'forget the $52 million (estimate of Scott) ... I say the Government valuator says it is $180 million'," Al-Rawi stated.

"So I decided that I wanted to check the land value in relation to this property. The deed in 2010 for the purchase of this property by the developer ... 3rd February, 2010, a deed prepared by Roopchan Chadeesingh, Madam President, you know what the value is .. .$5 million," he said.

"Oh goood!" exclaimed his colleague, Fitzgerald Hinds.

Al-Rawi said $350,000 in stamp duty was paid, stamped by the Board of Inland Revenue.

"The Commissioner of Valuation would have checked this and seen $5 million worth of land," he said.

Al-Rawi said one could develop land and enhance the land, but "Mr Scott contemplates that in his report".

Al-Rawi said he did a lot of legal work (with properties) in that area and he knew that if one added the developmental costs and the interest associated with these costs, "you could not cross $115 million".

"The market is soft, the construction sector is going down, the review of the economy says that and yet this Government is going to buy land for $180 million," he said.

He added, "In the same way the Prime Minister demanded that the Milshirv and Aquatic Centre projects (in Tobago) be referred for investigation, in the same way I demand that the Honourable Minister of Justice start doing the work that the last Honourable Minister (Herbert Volney) didn't do."

Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal had stated in the House of Representatives that the Cabinet had taken into consideration that the land (between 2010 and 2012) had been fully developed with roads, drainage, sewage treatment plant, water and electricity.

Al-Rawi also accused Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of being in breach of the parliamentary rules.

He said the PM's budget contribution was carried live on State-owned CNMG, in violation of the parliamentary rules on live broadcasts which state that only the Minister of Finance, the Opposition Leader and the Finance Minister's wind-up were to be carried live.

Al-Rawi said Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed, who is talking about the kind of broadcasts to be aired on the media, had allowed this kind of breach.

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