Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Minority Leader Ashworth Jack is now saying that the land on which his house has been built in Tobago "has been fully paid for".
Faced with mounting questions over the construction of his multi-million- dollar home, and the status of the land on which on which it is built Jack issued a statement yesterday claiming that "the land, on which the home has been constructed, was purchased in 2000 and has been fully paid for".
He also referring the media to seek "clarification on the matter" from land owner and Tobago businessman, Allan Warner
When contacted, Warner would only say, "We have arrived at a settlement."
It was only a few days ago however, in an exclusive story in the Sunday Express this week, that Warner had indicated clearly that the deed to the six acres of land on which Jack had built his home was still in his (Warner's) possession, and that in fact, Jack had only made an initial downpayment of $100,000 and two subsequent payments up to the time of the publication of the article.
He indicated that the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) leader had paid a total of $120,000 on the $1 million parcel of land in 2000 when the two had first entered an agreement on the land.
Jack himself had revealed in that interview that "the final transfer of the land is being completed right now." Both men refused to comment further on the land issue yesterday.
In his statement, Jack said he wanted to set the record straight about questions raised "over the last two days" about his new home, saying that "many of the reports have quoted sources that have been misinformed".
He said the plans for the home were prepared in 2001 and that in the "intervening ten-year period, my major financial goal was to save towards the construction of my home and towards that end I started rearranging my affairs to make that home a reality".
"Construction started in 2009 and the work was done by CJ Construction, a firm owned by my brother. We have worked together for many years on various construction projects including my first home at Mt Grace and this present construction. We were able to keep costs down as we did a lot of the work ourselves and got "lend hand" from a number of construction persons with whom we have had a long- standing relationship," he added.
Jack said that while his most public source of income has been his salary from the THA, like many ambitious Tobagonians, he became involved in other activities to augment his income such as operating AJ Rentals which started off as a car rental company.
"I started planting on the land initially to keep the bush down, but when it became clear that the soil was extremely fertile, I began cultivating vegetables on a commercial scale. I am also employed on a project basis by CJ Construction and Phoenix Welding & Fabricating Ltd. Most importantly, I am known for being extremely thrifty with every single cent that comes into my hand," he added.
He made the point that Minority members of the THA are not debarred from private employment as indicated by Section 16 of the THA Act since 1998.
Jack's statement however failed to mention an earlier disclosure he had made to the Express, that he is also employed as a project manager with a firm in Trinidad and receives a salary of $35,000 a month, which is paid entirely to towards the materials to build his home.
He blamed media reports for "attempting to condemn me for doing what any Tobagonian does: making honest sacrifices to provide a comfortable home for their family," adding " I continue to be unfazed as I must remind members of the public that I have been in Opposition politics since January 2001".
"It is therefore a stretch to imply that I could have completed this new home by ill-gotten means as I have worked hard to build myself from a place of extreme childhood poverty. I have worked and will continue to work extremely hard for everything I have as an example to my own children and to all young people in Tobago that how you start is no predictor of how you will finish," he said.
Jack maintains that construction of his home started in 2009, despite reports that it in fact started in late 2010 and was completed in 2011.
He assured Tobagonians that the TOP remains committed to the principles of accountability and transparency in public life, saying it will continue to focus on the real issues affecting Tobago, such as high cost of living, low access to education, underemployment and constitutional reform.