Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Orville London has defied the seven-day deadline given to him by Finance Minister Larry Howai to hand over documents on the controversial BOLT (Build-Own-Lease-Transfer) arrangement for the $143 million Milshirv office complex in Tobago.
The Finance Minister had asked London to provide the information "within seven days" since "the matter has been the subject of much public disquiet and discussion, and my ministry has no knowledge of same."
Howai had written to the Chief Secretary on October 23, 2012 for "details of the funding accessed by the THA for the payment of the purchase for the price of the land for $12m; and details of and all documents relating to the proposed construction of the office complex and its financing, including, without limitations, details of and documents pertaining to any BOLT arrangement the THA has entered, or proposed to enter in respect to/ same."
London yesterday indicated that Howai would have to wait a little longer than the seven days for documents. He said that under the laws and the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution, the Finance Minister had no authority to instruct him to provide information to him within any timeframe.
London said he will send off a letter to Howai today (Thursday) explaining the position and indicating to him that the various documents were being vetted by senior counsel and the THA senior state counsel following which, the information would be made available to the public and to him.
At yesterday's media briefing, London confirmed the Integrity Commission had written him requesting that the documents on the office complex be produced within seven days, and he said since the Integrity Commission had the legal authority to so instruct, that information would be made available to it within the seven days.
London said he wanted to make it very clear that the decision not to submit the documents within seven days to Howai was by no means meant to prevent the information from being made public. "Quite the contrary; we want to ensure that at the same time the minister has the information, the public has the information," London added.
London had earlier told the Express that he had a responsibility to ensure the files were properly checked, and "in the spirit of transparency and in the public interest, I will make the files available to the public and the minister at the same time".
Howai's request followed a statement by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan in the Senate about two weeks ago on the matter. In a four-page letter, dated October 24, Ramlogan referred the matter to the Integrity Commission and the Commissioner of Police.
In her contribution to the budget debate recently, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar suggested that the Milshirv Administration Complex at Shirvan Park and the $250 million Bacolet Aquatic Centre and Indoor Sport Complex be halted, pending proper clarification and investigation.
Ramlogan yesterday criticised London's delay in responding to the Finance Minister.
"Mr London has proclaimed publicly that he has nothing to hide and was prepared to make a full and frank disclosure of all documents pertaining to this transaction in the interest of transparency.
"One would have thought a polite request by the Finance Minister for the documents in one week's time would have been more than sufficient," he said, adding there was no need to get into quarrel as to whether the request for information was an "instruction".
"That is a play on semantics and typifies the kind of gamesmanship and power Mr London is playing...at the end of the day, the simple question is whether the documents pertaining to this public transaction are going to be disclosed, so that the ministry can review it and independent legal advice be obtained," Ramlogan said.