LEADER of Government Business in the Senate Ganga Singh has parried an allegation by Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi about the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) overpaying for land in Freeport, and thrust with his own allegation that the previous People's National Movement (PNM) administration sought to put the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) in the hands of an Israeli company.
Singh was referring to statements made by Al-Rawi in the Senate on Tuesday when he reported that Government paid $175 million for 50 acres of land—previously sold for $5 million—at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, Freeport, in 2012. Al-Rawi had said the HDC sought a valuation on the land from "reputable" valuator Linden Scott and Associates and the company gave the Corporation a valuation of $52 million, but instead went with the $180 million estimate by the Commissioner of Valuations.
Singh,while contributing to yesterday's Senate debate on the national budget at the International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, said it was a "spurious allegation" meant to capture a newspaper headline, but it lacked merit.
He reported there was an offer for sale dated January 20, 2012 from Point Lisas Park Ltd to HDC managing director Jerlean John and there was a request by her for a valuation by the Commissioner of Valuations. He quoted from a letter by the Commissioner dated March 6 in which he expressed his view that the valuation by Linden Scott and Associates was "grossly understated given the current state of development and under the assumption that all the approvals have been had for residential use".
Singh then read from another letter from the Commissioner dated April 26 in which he stated that a valuation of the land had been conducted based on current open market value and, in accordance with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors international guidelines, that $180 million is "a fair estimate of the current open-market value of the unencumbered freehold in the subject parcel of land with vacant possession" subject to a number of provisos which he went on to list.
He also read that the estimate was for the "entire parcel of land" which included 20 hectares, playground, retention pond, nursery, school site and land reserved for community purposes.
Singh advised Al-Rawi that when he wanted to come and attack senior public officials "you have to do better than that".
Singh, also Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, said the allegation was "recycled" from Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.
"Leave recycling to me. I am in charge of the environment," he quipped.
He also took aim at Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds personally, claiming that the scholarship he received to study in London was not based on merit but because he was a PNM member.
He also accused Hinds of "patent racism" when he said 33 Indians were working at the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB).
Singh reported that there were 70 per cent African, 25 per cent Indian and five per cent of mixed race. He said that type of propaganda and "rum shop talk" only lowered the quality of the debate.
He described the previous contribution by Hinds as having "hate and vitriol" directed, especially against Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her family.