PORT OF SPAIN –– Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has made a startling revelation of scandalous and wasteful spending amounting to millions of dollars by the former People’s Partnership administration to enrich its friends.
The allegations include a whopping $350,000 roti bill for a Divali function at the PM’s official residence, $47,000 for monthly pool maintenance and unwarranted spending on a water contract for the residence and the building of box drains.
The PM made the claims during a local government elections meeting in San Fernando on Tuesday night as he discredited Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s rant about contracts being awarded to the wives of Government ministers. He said while they were trying to tarnish the PNM’s name, they were guilty of wanton spending and proceeded to tell “stories” based on documentary evidence and first-hand accounts from people who operated with her administration.
He referred to the unprecedented method of awarding a contract to build the stalled and controversial Point Fortin Highway from San Fernando to Point Fortin, the awarding of $1 billion to the preferred contractor prior to its start and the changing of clauses in the contract on the eve of last year’s general election to protect the contractor when its parent company went bankrupt.
With reference to functions hosted at the PM’s residence, Rowley noted that over $1.6 million was spent on a Divali function, with records showing $350,000 of that figure being spent on roti alone.
He added: “She waving a paper that she has proof that [Energy Minister] Frankie Khan’s wife got a contract and was paid for it. This senior counsel can’t see if you get a contract and you did the work you ought to be paid.
“I want you to wave your receipt for the contract for the roti . . . $350,000 in roti for one Divali function at the PM’s residence.”
He said: “Look at this crowd here tonight. If I give every one of you two roti, I can’t spend that kind of money, but they want to go back in office. When you have money you do things like that but trust me, you don’t want to go back there.”
As the crowd lapped up the stories, Rowley spoke about a water problem at the official residence since he moved in nine months ago, because “somebody under the last regime cement the valve close to the PM’s residence so as to generate an opportunity for a contract for someone to supply water to the PM’s residence.”
Rowley said he called in the Water and Sewage Authority to determine why there was no water in the system “and all WASA had to do was break the concrete, open the valve and we have had water flowing ever since”.
He also told a tale of how cabinet colleague, Stuart Young, wanted to give up his ministerial salary to maintain the pool at the residence, after learning someone was being paid $47,000 a month for its maintenance. He said the contractor maintaining the pool was fired and under his tenure the same pool is now being maintained at $15,000.
Alluding to corruption in the last administration, he spoke about a man who was introduced to him “as so and so who thief so and so money,” during a walkabout in Claxton Bay prior to the last general election.
Rowley said the man denied he stole but admitted to taking a “lift” (a hand in all fours) from the Government official he used to pick up money for which he used to build a mansion equipped with a pool.
“He took the lift and the man fire him. He lost the work but he kept the lift and he got a house and a pool from one lift. That eh no joke, was told to me by the man. That is where money was going in this country,” he surmised.
Pointing out to the audience that the PP was known as the box-drain government, Rowley related a story told to him by a Port of Spain businessman about one of his employees and son, who were also able to build a mansion and purchase several high-end vehicles from building box drains.
He said the businessman initially thought the man and his son were milking his company dry, only to realise their wealth was being acquired from box-drain contracts in which a cut was given to corrupt officials.
“This eh no nancy story, the Port of Spain businessman was relieved that the money [used to acquire the wealth] was not leaking from his company, it was leaking from the Treasury of Trinidad and Tobago,” he added.