PORT OF SPAIN –– Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar flew for 636 hours while she was head of government at a cost to taxpayers of more than $6 million.
Rowley made the statement during his contribution to yesterday’s debate on the 2016 National Budget in the House of Representatives. He said that might be linked to a dubious contract for use of specific helicopters by the National Operations Centre.
Rowley said it was “extremely wasteful for the [former] prime minister of T&T”.
Said Rowley: “The records show that the last prime minister occupied helicopter time of 636 hours, 415 missions at a cost of over $6 million.”
Rowley told legislators: “That kind of expenditure ought not to be on the backs of the people of T&T.”
He said he had no intention to follow in Persad-Bissessar’s footsteps and would be travelling by land and sea.
He said the NOC, which was set up as a coordinating agency for national security agencies in the country “seems to be trying to become another operational arm of the state”.
Rowley said when he assumed office as prime minister he saw a document requesting payment of a $500 million commitment for a company called Bell Helicopters. He said he had “some concern as to how that contract was issued”.
He said there was no money budgeted for that helicopter contract “but the country was contracted by an officer of the state”. He said when questions were raised about who had authorized the contract nobody knew.
Rowley said the National Helicopter Services Ltd (NHSL) was approached “to try to get them to sign on to this thing and
According to Rowley, the “transaction regarding the loan financing was not completed by NHSL”. Rowley said it was a questionable arrangement.
He told Parliament the Ministry of National Security “will look into this and report to the population further as we go forward”.
Rowley also spoke about “another troubling” matter within the Office of the Prime Minister, which he said was “another $500 million contract to a Chinese company (unnamed) in Knowsley building . . . . I am told that this Chinese company is putting in some system which will allow us, electronically, to look on television screens over the whole of T&T”.
He said he was “more concerned about that as a security breach to our sovereignty”.
He added that the contract entered into “was not properly funded”.
“These are billion dollars of contracting for these two items with no proper financing in place.”
Rowley said earlier that Cemex, one of the joint venture companies in the Alutrint Smelter Plant in La Brea cancelled by the former People’s Partnership government, “has submitted a letter to Alutrint to institute the dispute resolution clause in April 2015”.
He said Alutrint sought an extension and there had been no further development on the matter to date.
Rowley also said there would be no further amnesty for property tax and it would be reintroduced next year.