The Prime Minister does not and should not have the authority to stop projects in Tobago that fall under the ambit of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA).
This was stated yesterday by THA Chief Secretary Orville London, as he fired back following statements by Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar in Parliament on Wednesday night that two Tobago projects were to be stopped and probed.
In her contribution to the budget debate, Persad-Bissessar raised questions with respect to the $250 million Bacolet Aquatic Centre and Indoor Sport Complex and the $143 million Milshirv THA Administration Complex at Shirvan Park.
"I am suggesting first of all that the projects — Milshirv and the projects with respect to the aquatic centre — be halted pending proper clarification and investigation. Secondly, the matters be referred to the Attorney General, the DPP and the Integrity Commission to be investigated," said Persad-Bissessar.
She also said she had asked the Finance Minister to conduct a central audit on these projects.
Director at Milshirv Properties Ltd, Joseph Rahael, has welcomed the probe, saying that the Build, Own, Lease, Transfer (BOLT) arrangement with the THA was above board and transparent.
At a press conference at the Calder Hall Administrative Building yesterday to address the Prime Minister's statements , London said with respect to the Bacolet Indoor Complex and Aquatic Centre, one cannot stop a project that has not started. The proposed building is located on lands next to the Dwight Yorke Stadium.
"The Bacolet Aquatic and Indoor Complex, that project has not started, there is no contract, no agreement to start that project, discussions have been going on with various entities over an extended period. No decision has been made and therefore there is no project to stop," London said.
He said in the case of the Shirvan complex it was for the construction of the administrative offices of the Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment. He said the complex because of its location would also serve other divisions of the Assembly for training, conference facilities and members of the public.
London said the Shirvan Complex was being constructed under a BOLT arrangement with the Assembly and it was only after it was completed that the 20-year lease would kick in.
London stressed that the THA had been forced into BOLT arrangements due to a lack of funding from Central Government to complete projects in Tobago.
He argued that the THA was not breaking the law by entering into the BOLT arrangement because it was not borrowing and this was supported by advice from attorneys Hamel-Smith & Company. He said he would welcome any kind of investigation into the projects.
Deputy Chief Secretary Hilton Sandy said this controversy over the projects would not have occurred if the Prime Minister had taken the opportunity under Section 31 of the THA Act and consulted with the Chief Secretary when the matter could have been cleared up.
Chief Secretary London agreed with Sandy and said he had met the Prime Minister once since she took office in May 2010 and since then had written her three times requesting a meeting to discuss the affairs of Tobago.
THA Senior Legal Adviser Alvin Pascall noted that the Prime Minister stated that a copy of the lease agreement in her possession was missing an appendix. He said she most likely would have had the wrong document since law firm Fitzwilliam Stone Furness-Smith & Morgan who prepared and registered the 35-page lease was a reputable company and therefore she would have been attacking its reputation.
He said the Prime Minister's utterances in Parliament was a clear distraction from her party's challenges in Trinidad, but also to help leverage their fortunes in Tobago, in light of the upcoming THA Elections.
"What is going on is that the Prime Minister and her team recognise that the polls in Tobago are indicating that they are losing ground very fast," London said.
London said the Prime Minister continues to undermine the present Assembly under the THA Act 40 of 1996, and for the past 10 years Tobago has been significantly underfunded, with this year being much worse.
"The Prime Minister is talking about breaking the law, the Finance Minister has in fact broken the law by actually giving Tobago less than the minimum 4.03%," he said.
London charged that the Prime Minister, aided and abetted by Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) leader Ashworth Jack, were continuing their fishing expedition that will only be detrimental to Tobagonians and as a result Tobago development projects may suffer severely .
"From the Assembly perspective there is no way in this century not even in this generation that we would be able to fund any major projects in Tobago, based on the allocation," London said.
The budgetary allocation for the THA for fiscal 2013 is $2.356 billion of which $2.006 billion would be for recurrent expenditure and $350 million for capital expenditure. Further, Tobago will receive an additional $874.9 million under the various other Heads of Expenditure. The THA had asked for $4.3 billion.