The grand piano has been found —in the very place it was alleged to have been missing from.
National Security adviser to the Prime Minister, Gary Griffith, told the Express by phone yesterday that the piano was found after checks of the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann's.
"It (the piano) seemed to be deliberately tucked and hidden away. It was covered with layers of cloth and appears to have never been used," Griffith told the Express.
Asked specifically where the piano was found, Griffith said it was located at the back of the stage area inside the Diplomatic Centre. Griffith said because of the way the piano was "hidden", no one noticed it was there. He said, however, that the issue is not about the piano itself but that taxpayers' money was wasted under the PNM to purchase these pianos.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, at the first sitting of the Parliament for the year, said that ten pianos were purchased by the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) from Bosendorfer, Las Vegas, USA, to the tune of US$850,677, one of which was missing. He called on former prime minister Patrick Manning to help with locating the piano, which he said had gone missing from the Diplomatic Centre.
"I have asked Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar to search those premises to locate this grand piano, because all we know about is a lil Bob Marley music and a lil kaiso and calypso and chutney, that's all we listen to. But this grand piano, I want to ask the member for San Fernando East, Sir, if you know where that piano is in the Diplomatic Centre and your former residence, can you please assist us?" Ramlogan had said.
He added, "I don't know if it's behind the chapel, is it behind the gym? Tell me sir, I don't know where it is. If you can tell us where it is housed, it will be very very helpful to us sir. Lord Kitch used to sing where the money gone, today we have to ask where the piano gone."
At a press conference the following day, Manning said he had left the piano at the Diplomatic Centre, adding that it was stored on the eastern side of the stage. The piano was indeed found on the stage inside the Diplomatic Centre.
Ramlogan, in a release yesterday, thanked Manning for his response. However, he went further to condemn Manning for the misuse and abuse of public funds under his tenure.
"The University of Trinidad and Tobago is meant to provide tertiary education for our young adults and it is therefore strange that such funds were secretly diverted to purchase ten grand pianos. This is in violation of the established practice and procedures that govern and regulates the expenditure of public funds," Ramlogan said.
He said Manning should have followed correct procedure and purchased the piano from the budget of the Ministry of Arts and Culture or the office of the Prime Minister.
"The fact that ten pianos were purchased without any form of public disclosure must be condemned. It strikes at the heart of our democracy, transparent government and the established regulation of public expenditure," Ramlogan said.
"Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar could hardly be criticised for her failure to locate something that she did not even know existed in the first place. The real issue at hand is why Mr Manning acquired these pianos using UTT's funds as opposed to funds from a government ministry."
Ramlogan also took issue with Manning's statement that he (Ramlogan) may not have recognised the piano because he might have mistaken it for a harmonium.
"The harmonium is the Indian equivalent to the piano ... Mr Manning's contempt for the harmonium is consistent with the contempt and arrogance he displayed towards the Indo-Trinidadian community during his tenure," he said. (See Page 7)
The piano was again raised in the Parliament yesterday.
Opposition MP Colm Imbert asked Government Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal whether the piano was found in the same place it was left.
Moonilal replied: "The issue is expenditure policy and priority, that is the issue...whether we find the piano or not is relevant...the issue is not where it is, the issue is why this country has to spend $5 million plus to buy pianos when people can't get bed in the hospital, why people crying for a box drain."
Contacted last evening for comment on the discovery of the piano, Manning said, "No comment, I would like to see how the media treats with this issue."
However, speaking later in the sitting, Imbert said he was "reliably informed" that the piano had been found exactly where Manning said it was left.
"While the Attorney General was carrying on...the piano was right there on the compound of the Diplomatic Centre, right where it was when the Member for San Fernando East departed from that residence. Yes, it is incredible," he added.
He said Government had consumed national media attention for two days and it spread regionally and internationally, while "is just a set of pappy show". He told Government that although they want to score points, they need to get their facts straight before wasting the time of Members of Parliament and citizens.
—Reporting by Julien Neaves