Monday, January 22, 2018

You don't build a mansion on land you don't own


The explanations given by Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) leader Ashworth Jack for the construction of a mortgage-free multi-million-dollar home on lands to which he does not yet have title have raised more questions than answers.

That's the opinion of Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley who told the Express yesterday:

"Nobody in their right mind would build a $4 million house or $2 million house on land that does not belong to you, that you are trying to purchase. You make a small downpayment, you not finish paying for the land, you come into some money, the first thing you (would normally) do is buy the land, then you build the house. But you don't build the house and leave the land unpaid for.

"And if that is your style, if that is how you make decisions, if that is your thought process— don't pay for the land but build a mansion on it—then you should not be offering yourself to the people of Tobago as Chief Secretary. And then (he is) coming with this Anansi story about how you plant cucumber and pumpkin (to help pay for the house).

"There are people in Mount St George who is saying now that all the years they passing by the road (by the house) they never see anything growing there but bamboo," Rowley stated. Rowley said he himself has passed there for the last seven years and he never saw any cultivation. He said Jack should bring some of the people who brought truckloads of pumpkin from him.

"He (Jack) has talked himself into a very difficult situation. He has admitted to constructing a house where the means of support for that construction is questionable, and he has admitted to constructing it on lands to which he has no paper title and which belongs to somebody else," he added.

Rowley said the allegations in Tobago were that the contractor who built the house is alleged to be the same contractor who built a house for a senior official in Trinidad and that the house was a "gift" supplied by that contractor.

Jack has denied that the house was a gift. "I am not hand-to-mouth. No construction firm from Trinidad built my home for free for me," he told the Sunday Express.

Rowley said that in trying to justify his means, Jack talked about holding a job as a project manager. "He earns $35,000 which he signs off (the $35,000) to the contractor to buy materials," Rowley said, adding that Jack immediately raised the spectre of whether he was declaring this money to the Inland Revenue Department.

Rowley said if one earned $35,000, a portion belonged to the State in the form of taxes. Furthermore, Rowley said 12 months multiplied by 35,000 was still far short of the value of the multi-million house.

"And to make matters worse, he refuses to say who he is working for as a project manager. The least you could do as a public official is to answer the question, who are you working for," Rowley said, adding: "Is it that if we find out who he is working for, that opens a new can of worms?

"If the person running for the position of Chief Secretary cannot explain how they afforded to obtain certain assets, can you meaningfully trust this person to manage public millions when they have question marks about their private business where it might interact with their public business?"

Rowley, who recalled that he has faced allegations in the past, said a person in public life can't prevent anyone from making an allegation, but the person against whom allegations are made should be in a position to credibly dismiss the allegations with fact.

"And that is where Mr Jack has a problem," Rowley said.