Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has defended her right to own a new, high-end luxury vehicle and yesterday dismissed any suggestion that it was a gift.
Persad-Bissessar, in June, purchased a customised black Range Rover Sport vehicle, registration PCW 1, for her personal use.
"Purchased by me, with downpayment from my personal funds acquired from my salary, with the majority payment from a loan from Parlia- ment which is accessible to all MPs. I have to repay the loan by monthly instalments from my salary. Definitely not a gift. I pay out of my hard-earned income," the Prime Minister texted in reply to a text query from the Sunday Express yesterday.
The Sunday Express learned that Persad-Bissessar obtained the vehicle, which averages about $1.8 million, at about half the cost, or about $900,000, based on the tax and duty exemptions afforded to political office-holders.
The registration card of the vehicle, which the Sunday Express obtained from the Licensing Office after an application was made two weeks ago, has it being registered on June 11.
It stated she got a $166,905 exemption from value added tax and $249,950 exemption from motor vehicle tax.
It also noted the vehicle cannot be transferred "within two years of its purchase without the approval of chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue".
The Prime Minister observed that many other MPs have used this facility from Parliament to buy a vehicle as the car loan facility is part of the terms and conditions of MPs as provided for by the Salaries and Review Commission.
"Indeed, when I was a minister of government previously and when I was an opposition MP, I also accessed this facility as did many others," she texted.
As an Opposition MP, Persad-Bissessar maintained a Prado vehicle- PCJ 3—which the Sunday Express understands has since been sold.
The Sunday Express shared a text message exchange with the Prime Minister yesterday.
Sunday Express: Do you think it's unfair that attention will be drawn because its you (the Prime Minister) purchasing the car?
Persad-Bissessar: "Smiley-face" symbol.
Persad-Bissessar: It is not unusual for a PM to access a facility which is lawfully available. As it is not unusual for MPs to do so. Nor for ministers to do so.
Sunday Express: Why acquire this vehicle now?
Persad-Bissessar: If not now, when?
Persad-Bissessar: It is something I am lawfully allowed to do. Do not forget that I give a percentage of my salary to Children's Life Fund as do all Govt parliamentarians, and we do so voluntarily.
While there is no restriction to Persad-Bissessar purchasing a vehicle for her personal use, as Prime Minister, she has at her disposal the vehicles of the Office of the Prime Minister and has used helicopter transportation from time to time.
She would not say if PCW 1 will be included in the fleet of official vehicles at the Office of the Prime Minister.
As Prime Minister, she has two official vehicles for her use—PM 1 and PCM 1. Those vehicles are among a few which are registered to the Office of the Prime Minister.
Persad-Bissessar has completed the majority of her private residence in Phillipine, which began construction in 2002, according to a statement read in Parliament on November 24, 2010.
She also explained that the house, which is jointly owned by her husband. Dr Gregory Bissessar, was built "country-style".
"Mr Speaker, when we were constructing that house, it was in the tradition of what professional contractors call country-style—we bought material and paid for labour when it was available and when we could afford it. Midway into construction when this country suffered a construction boom and we found it hard to pay the labour fees then in demand, we stopped construction and restarted only when we could afford. Mr Speaker, after eight years, the physical structure of this house was finished in April this year, 2010," she had said.
Further, she explained that from 2001, the cost spent on the house was $3 million.
"Indeed, in my last Integrity form for 2009, I disclosed that as at December 2009, the value was $2.9 million," she had said.
According to the 89th Report of the Salaries and Review Commission, the Prime Minister's entitlements are as follows:
Salary: $48,000 per month
Duty allowance: $7,500 per month
Transport facilities (some of which are):
1. A fleet of official motor vehicles, fully furnished by the State and manned by a complement of chauffeurs
2. A maximum loan of $350,000, at a rate of interest of six per cent per annum, repayable over a period of six years, to facilitate the purchase of either—
i. a new motor vehicle, with full exemption from motor vehicle tax, value added tax and customs duty or
ii. a used motor vehicle, with full exemption from special motor vehicles tax, value added tax and customs duty
3. A transportation allowance of $5,550 per month
4. A personal chauffeur; Housing: Official residences, fully furnished and maintained by the State, with the necessary complement of household staff.
Entertainment: Actual expenses incurred for official entertainment to be met from an official Entertainment Vote under the control of the Office of the Prime Minister.