Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has denied any “underhandness” regarding a meeting with German company Ferrostaal which has reportedly been seeking to purchase Trinidad Generation Unlimited (TGU).
He said Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar believed she had “buss a mark” when she revealed during her budget response on Friday that officials of Ferrostaal met with him in May last year and then TGU was offered for sale.
“And what she was implying is that there was some ‘underhandness’ in the visit of Ferrostaal to my office and any policy of the Government to divest (TGU) shares. Well let me say something to Kamla Persad-Bissessar tonight. The one thing that the people of Trinidad and Tobago can go to sleep and wake up on in the morning is that I didn’t come to office with the house wall falling down and enrich myself and end up in a palace.”
Rowley said as Prime Minister “all kinds of people” would want to see him though he did not confirm nor deny that the meeting with Ferrostaal had taken place.
“But it is strange that the Opposition Leader could tell the world without a shred of evidence to back it up that an international company, a major German power company, came to visit the Prime Minister and she concludes that that has something underhand to do with corruption and government business. Kamla that is your style, that is not my style.”
He was speaking on Friday night at the People’s National Movement (PNM) post-budget public meeting held at Piggott’s Corner, Belmont.
Rowley said as Prime Minister he would never entertain any oil company executive in his hotel room in his pyjamas or have contractors come to his house to have contracts divvied up. He said the Opposition had spent the year looking for “mark to buss” on a government minister.
“We are a different government to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
He said his Cabinet will not be a clearing house of corruption.
Persad-Bissessar had told the Lower House a Cabinet minute of May 25 showed Government planned to sell TGU, which she said was worth between $3 billion to $5 billion to Ferrostaal without a tender process. Government, she said, had previously announced its intention in the 2016-2017 budget to divest 20 per cent of TGU shares but said it chose instead to seek private sector investment in the La Brea power plant, taking divestment of shares to 40 per cent.
Persad-Bissessar questioned if the Prime Minister received a “private courtesy call” from a Ferrostaal executive accompanied by energy adviser Ken Julien.
She recalled the Prime Minister had said there was no agreement to sell in reply to a question from Pointe a Pierre MP David Lee on June 9, but suggested the May 25 minute showed otherwise.
“Why is this transaction shrouded in secrecy?” she asked.
On concerns from the Opposition about him heading a committee to deal with the agencies required for housing approvals as part of a new housing drive, Rowley said the position is to clear up lock jams and bottlenecks in the system.
Also speaking at the meeting was Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Fitzgerald Hinds. He said no minister was involved in the tender process on the extension of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway to Manzanilla but it was done by the National Infrastructure Development Company.
“We don’t have Mary King or no alleged Mary King here.”
King was fired as a minister from the People’s Partnership government after it was discovered she awarded a $100,000 contract to a company in which her family had an interest. Hinds said the Opposition was trying to “put thing” on Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan but it did not work because it was not true. Last month, Sinanan confirmed one of his relatives is married to one of the owners of Kallco, the company awarded the $400 million contract for the first phase of the project.
Sinanan, however, denied there was any nepotism and said there was an open tender process with six companies submitting tenders.
Hinds said it was a fair process and the Works Minister had invited Transparency International to examine the books but they turned down the offer “because they knew there was nothing after all the noise in the public.” He said Kallco’s bid was $110 million less than its closest rival and that was money saved for taxpayers.
Hinds also said Rowley informed ministers they should not have food cards compared to the previous government where “their back pocket” was stuffed with them to give out to people.
He said when the PNM came into office there was a much higher demand for openness, transparency and accountability in government.
“And my leader and the PNM we promised you that in the 2015 campaign and we have been giving you that for the last two years. You have not after two years not one single minister accused of anything untoward in managing your money. Not one. And we boast in that.”