Sunday 21 October, 2018

Mitchell: No secrecy in posh apartments allocated to Tobago MPs

Housing Minister Randall Mitchell has taken issue with articles published in a daily newspaper today which suggested that improper practices led to two Cabinet Ministers and a Government Senator being afforded accommodation in rent-to-own apartments at Victoria Keyes.

In a statement from the Minister issued by the Ministry, Mitchell sought to address inaccuracies contained in the two articles: “Secret Keys – Gov’t ministers, senator get posh rent-to-own Victoria Keyes apartments” and related story: “Shamfa, Ayanna get apartments”.

He made it clear that there was no secrecy in the accommodation of the units by the Members of Parliament (MPs) as the policy regarding the distribution of Victoria Keyes apartments is on the Parliamentary record and was widely publicised following the formal launch of the property in February.

He noted that Cabinet approved the distribution of the 264 units at Victoria Keyes in September 2016 with 206 units agreed to be sold on the open market,  48 units approved for Rent To Own (RTO) under the Cabinet approved allocation policy, and 10 units reserved for Government use.

Mitchell recalled that the development, started in 2006, was meant to provide affordable housing to low and middle income families as per the mandate of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC).

When the development was completed in 2010, it was modified to include more luxurious fittings and amenities such as fully air-conditioned buildings, swimming pool, clubhouse, play park, tennis courts and multi-storey car parks with elevators, when the People's Partnership assumed government.

These modifications ballooned the amount spent on Victoria Keyes to over $652,000,000 from its original $200,000,000 cost.

“At TTD652,000,000.00, the average cost to construct each apartment, would have been approximately TTD $2,500,000.00, which is out of the range of low and middle income earning citizens seeking affordable housing from the HDC. As a consequence, the government approved the distribution of the units at Victoria Keyes in the manner as mentioned above,” the Minister said.

Mitchell added that Government has intended for the proceeds of the sales of the units at Victoria Keyes to go toward the completion of other stalled HDC projects which have been in abeyance, some for over a decade.

Addressing the occupation of apartments by Tobago Members of Parliament Shamfa Cudjoe, Ayanna Webster-Roy and Senate Vice President Nigel DeFreitas, he said that they were assigned units reserved for government use at the Victoria Keyes development.

Members of Parliament from Tobago are afforded the opportunity to access government housing in lieu of their housing allowance.

“All three members of Parliament would be made to vacate such accommodation as and when their tenure ends,” he explained.

The Tobago MPs were previously housed at government-owned accommodation located at Federation Villas or Flagstaff, but due to the fact that the units allocated for government use at Federation Villas and Flagstaff are in need of repair, a decision was taken to house the parliamentarians and their families at Victoria Keyes in the units allocated for government use.

Mitchell indicated that Government accommodation is also made available in the short or medium term to visiting technocrats, public servants, and other persons employed in the service of the Government, at its discretion.

The Minister also appealed to “sections of the media” to exercise restraint when the question of disclosure to sensitive personal information might endanger not only the parliamentarians but their families.