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3 questions for Manning

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Since the presentation of the national budget, several issues have been raised during the debate that have not been answered in any satisfactory manner.

There are three issues that I personally would like the PM to address before the end of that debate in the Senate, or at least before the general election is called.

They relate to:

(1) the Monteil shares transaction;

(2) the $148 million complex housing the official prime minister’s residence; and

(3) the question of renaming the highest national award, currently the Trinity Cross..

Monteil deal

It is now an established fact that Andre Monteil purchased $110 million worth of shares in the Home Mortgage Bank, a company of which he was the chairman.

This is not a private company, but one established by legislation, and one would expect its transactions to be above board.

On its face, there is a clear conflict of interest when the chairman of such a bank, which has been ascribed certain benefits that other banks do not enjoy, engages in such a deal.

There is the obvious inference that he has used its position to his own benefit.

When Mr Manning, in his first statement said the transaction was not illegal, but might have been immoral, I was taken aback.

Is this the same man who claims that he wants to save the country from the perils of gambling and would not even allow the country to take part in the Caribbean cricket lottery?

He had no problem, then, in determining that morality was a matter for him as head of government.

Furthermore, it has been the boast of the PNM that its government came into power on a ticket of “moral and spiritual values.” Why backtrack in this affair?

Mr Manning has now clarified that his government frowns on the transaction, and that he (unintentionally) misled the House when he said the matter had been sent to the DPP, the Commissioner of Police and the Integrity Commission since last May, when it was first raised.

Yet, he has sidestepped the issue of Monteil’s position as treasurer of the PNM. He claims whether Monteil retains his post is a matter for the PNM General Council.

Mr Manning, surely, cannot expect the public to buy that answer. The matter was raised since May, and a report has been available for some time.

Mr Manning is leader of the party and the Prime Minister of the PNM government.

If Mr Monteil remains as PNM treasurer after all of this, Mr Manning cannot expect the public to believe it is without his blessing.

Given the financial nature of the impropriety alleged against Mr Monteil, how can he remain as party treasurer?

Official residence

In principle, I have no quarrel with the expenditure of $148 million for an official residence for the prime minister and a diplomatic centre.

After all, much more than that is spent on URP every year and what do we have to show for it?

Like many people, I have several questions about it.

First of all, if this complex could be completed in nine months, albeit it was with Chinese labour, why was it not possible to build even one-third of the police stations promised in the last five years?

Secondly, like MP Dr Moonilal, I wish to know why there was no complex constructed for the president, since the president—and not the prime minister—is the head of state in this country?

In addition, we have been hearing for years of the unfitness of the current residence, whereas we had heard little complaint about the condition of the PM’s residence.

When President George Maxwell Richards was appointed, he could not occupy the premises for at least a year, because of the repairs that needed to be done.

Even now, the residence remains an uncomfortable place, and certainly there is no pool or gym. The furnishings, too, are quite sparse and not luxurious.

Finally, why is a diplomatic centre on the same complex as the PM’s residence?

One would have expected that such a centre would be in a seemingly non-partisan venue—possibly attached to a president’s residence.

No wonder there were objections to the National Awards Ceremony being held there. It is almost as if we are talking of “Prime Minister’s” awards.

Order of T&T

More than a year has passed since the PM appointed a committee to consider the renaming of the Trinity Cross award, because of the contention of a perception that the award reflected the Christian religion.

What is the status of that committee?

It was expected that all would be in place for this year’s independence celebrations, but this has not materialised. Has it reported, and if so why is the Government still vacillating?

Imagine a $148 million complex can be built in nine months, but we can’t rename our own national awards in over a year?

There must be more to it than that. The committee had put out an advertisement some time ago, suggesting that the name be changed to Order of the Republic of T&T.

Why have we not moved further on this?

My guess is that the PM is delaying this until after election. It may be tactical, but it is simply another indication that this government is slow at actually getting things done—like the police stations.

Having said that, it seems clear that when the PM wants something done speedily, such as the building of his residence, it gets done.

Everything else like police stations and the Trinity Cross must not be important—or so it seems.



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