Sunday 21 October, 2018

Opposition members got state housing too, Young says

Several members of the former People's Partnership government, including Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, benefitted from government housing despite owning homes of their own. 

This revelation came from Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young during a post-Cabinet media conference on Thursday.

Young was responding to an article published in the Sunday Express newspaper which claimed two Ministers, the Vice President of the Senate and two advisors to the Prime Minister had been allocated rent-to-own units at the upscale Victoria Keyes Development in Diego Martin.

Young maintained that Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe, Minister of Child and Gender Affairs Ayanna Webster-Roy and Senate Vice President Nigel De Freitas were allocated units because they live in Tobago and required housing while in Trinidad on government business. 

He said Cabinet also made the decision to provide two-bedroom units for Dr John Alleyne, a special advisor to the PM in agriculture, and Steve Gardner, a project management advisor.

He said the government maintains a number of residences for the purpose of providing accommodations for persons coming to T&T to work with the government for a period of time.

But he stressed that this was temporary and that the units remain the property of the government. He added that the Ministers allocated units at Victoria Keyes had forgone their housing allowances.

He added that the decision was more cost effective than securing hotel accommodations as Federation Villas, which is used for this purpose, is in a severe state of disrepair. 

Young said the units at Federation Villas are uninhabitable due to a range of issues including electrical and plumbing problems.

He said it was hypocritical of the Opposition to criticise the move to house the five officials at Victoria Keyes, when Opposition members took advantage of State housing during the period 2010-2015.

This included former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, UNC General Secretary Dave Tancoo, former Tobago West representative Delmon Baker, former Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) leader Ashworth Jack and former Tobago East MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin who were all allocated units at Federation Villas.

Additionally, Princes Town MP Barry Padarath was housed at Flagstaff while former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan was allocated not one, but two units at Federation Villas, Young said.

Opposition Senator Wade Mark and former Independent Liberal Party (ILP) leader Jack Warner were also allocated units at Federation Villas but never utilised them, he said. 

But Young said, most strangely, Persad-Bissessar had been allocated a unit at Flagstaff despite having a residence in Trinidad.

He further revealed that an investigation had been conducted after items of furniture and computers assigned to Persad-Bissessar's unit went missing. 

He said the government has discovered that more than $6 million was spent to furnish and equip these units and an investigation is being done to determine what happened to the furnishings and equipment afterward.

Young said unlike the government which had taken Cabinet decisions for its allocations to the five persons mentioned, there was no record of any Cabinet decision taken by the former administration.

He said records seemed to have been erased and computers wiped clean of any information related to the allocations.

"It appears as though records have been destroyed, computers have been wiped out at the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and Ministry of Housing with specific reference to what took place between the period of 2010 to 2015."

Young called on the Opposition to explain why units were allocated to members who already lived in Trinidad and why these decisions were not made at the Cabinet level.

He further criticised the Express Newspaper, which he said had carried defamatory information in its report and had failed to correct it subsequent reports.

"Unfortunately the Express repeated that and, having a bit of a legal background myself I can say that is defamatory and consideration should be given to the pursuit of legal action," he stated.