Friday, February 23, 2018

Pumpkin, cucumber helped build house

TOP's Jack moves into multi-million dollar home


"NICE HOME": Tobago Organisation of the People Leader Ashworth Jack's multi-million dollar house in Tobago. —Photo: Irene Medina

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Questions are being raised by Tobagonians over a multi-million dollar house recently built for cash by Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Minority Leader Ashworth Jack and on lands for which he has no deed.

Tobagonians are alleging that the two-storey house, which comprises eight rooms, complete with a 25ft by 12ft swimming pool, and a gazebo at Hillsborough, Mt St George was a "gift" to Jack from a construction firm in Trinidad which has secured several million-dollar contracts from the People's Partnership government.

But Jack, whose party the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) forms a key part of the ruling coalition government, has dismissed this notion.

"I am not hand-to-mouth," he said. "No construction firm from Trinidad built my home for free for me."

He was speaking to the Sunday Express from Tobago last Thursday.

Jack, the Assemblyman for the Patience Hill/Moriah/Mason Hall area, is the main challenger to incumbent THA Chief Secretary Dr Orville London in the January 21, 2013 THA elections.

London faces political scrutiny and possibly legal investigations over the controversial $134 million Milshirv Complex, brokered through a Build, Own, Lease, Transfer (BOLT) arrangement.

Jack admitted that the six acres of land on which his house was completed were not "fully" his.

"The final transfer of the land is being completed right now," he said, adding that the land belongs to Tobago businessman Allan Warner.

This was confirmed by Warner, who explained that Jack had made an initial downpayment of $100,000 on the $1 million dollar parcel of land some 12 years ago, and two subsequent monthly payments totaling $20,000.

In total, the TOP leader has paid $120,000.

This means he owes a balance of $880,000 on the land on which his palatial residence now stands.

The house was started in late 2010 after the People's Partnership came into power and was completed in 2011.

Warner also confirmed that Jack told him about one month ago, that the transfer would be settled soon.

Responding to queries about funding for his home without taking a loan from a bank, Jack said his brother, who owns CJ Construction, constructed his home.

"My house was constructed by my brother Curtis Jack of CJ Construction, a company I have worked with for years.

"And for all those who are asking questions, I work four jobs to build my house…my family has three businesses, one of which is AJ Rentals, which deals with the rentals of any and everything and also a store called 'Splurge City' which sells accessories. I also work as a project manager in Trinidad," he said, but refused to name the firm for which he works.

" …In short, I make money," he added.

While there are those who put the value of his new home in the vicinity of $4 million, Jack said it was built at a cost of $2 million.

Contributing to the cutting down of costs, Jack said he did all the plumbing and electrical works himself.

"I do all the plumbing and electrical work...we don't pay for that. All I paid my brother was a salary," he said.

Declaring that the processes surrounding the construction of his palatial residence were above board, Jack said that as far back as 2008 he declared to the Integrity Commission the presence of materials for the house.

Saying that he loved to plant, the TOP leader also admitted that one source of his income was from pumpkin and cucumber sales. "At one time, before I started building on the land I used to plant pumpkin and cucumber on that land, so while it is a source of income, it's not the only source," he said.

He admitted that at one time when he worked at the THA it was difficult to build his home but explained: "That changed when I got a job as a project manager with a company in Trinidad."

Speaking elatedly about his new home, Jack, a father of two daughters, one of whom is studying medicine while the other is pursuing business studies, said his home was not built in the traditional square but circular style.

"It has four bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, dining room, library, swimming pool and gazebo. I make no apology for building my family a nice home," he said.

Jack said like most Tobagonians, he plants all his seasonings, and vegetables adding, "I plant every banana and every dasheen that I eat...My favourite meal is dasheen and salt fish or steamed fish.

"I am not a steak and lobster kind of person. I make no apology for that. I have two children, two girls, and whenever they come home on weekends, they work in the family businesses."

Jack reiterated, "As I said, I have a job as project manager, I work hard that is how my family live, we all help each other. I do not want to call the names of the companies for which I work."

He said having lost his mother when he was just three months old and his father when he was just 15 months old, "I promised myself that no matter what, I will never make my children go through the same experiences that I faced."

"Did I tell you that I am also a promoter?" he asked, further pointing out that he holds several jobs.

Jack also distanced himself from those who spent money in bars rather than securing their families' well being.

Asked whether he had secured bank loans to finance his home, Jack said he had not.

"I receive a salary of $35,000 a month as a project manager, and I entered an arrangement to pay the entire salary towards the materials to construct of my home."

He also added that while most of the material came from Trinidad, some of it was bought from a hardware in Bacolet.

"I am not hand to mouth," he said.

"I don't have a care what people say," he said, adding that the architectural design for his home was done in 2000.

Having moved into the home about two months ago, Jack boasted that every room in the house had a spectacular view of the sea.

Jack, who faces a tough battle in his constituency from the People's National Movement's candidate Sheldon Cunningham, believes that astute management of his finances enabled him to build a multi-million-dollar house without facing the banks and put him in good stead to run the affairs of the THA.

"I understand how to use money wisely…that's why I believe I can be Chief Secretary," he said.

It was only last week that the TOP leader named his 12 candidates for the upcoming elections.

They are: incumbent Ashworth Jack for Providence/Mason Hall/Moriah; Steve Jack for Goodwood/Belle Garden and Rolly Quaccoo for Canaan/Bon Accord. The other new and returning faces on the TOP slate are Fitzherbert Taylor for Parlatuvier/L'anseFourmi/Charlotteville; Anslem Richards for Roxborough/Delaford; Pastor Chester Robinson Alleyne for Lambeau/Signal Hill; Sherry Ann Rollocks-Hackett for Bethel/Mt Irvine; Theodil Mc-Pherson for Black Rock/Whim; Anthony Arnold for Scarborough/Calder Hall; Richard Alfred for Buccoo/Mt Pleasant, Certica Williams-Orr for Plymouth/Golden Lane and Gladstone Solomon for Bacolet/Mt St George.

Jack was previously an assistant secretary for the Division of Works and Infrastructure.

He became the leader of the TOP after its formation on October 26, 2008 after the then once dominant National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) in Tobago led by Hochoy Charles, split into the Democratic Action Congress (DAC) and the People's Empowerment Party (PEP) led by Deborah Moore-Miggins.