Clint Chan Tack
PRIME Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday condemned Opposition MPs for using the Parliament as a cover to attack the Port Authority, claiming TT nationals were being held in foreign jurisdictions and preventing the country’s gaming industry from being properly regulated.
In his contribution to the budget debate in the House of Representatives, Rowley said when he was elected Prime Minister in 2015, he was “shocked at the all pervasive nature of corruption” in TT.
Making passing reference to the dismissal of Port general manager Charmaine Lewis, Rowley said he was shocked by the “cavalier” comments made by Opposition MPs on this issue. “The actions of the port board are the actions of a board authorised under law, authorised by the Cabinet of TT,” Rowley said. Recalling his appearance before the Parliament’s Land and Physical Infrastructure Joint Select Committee (JSC), Rowley said he brought documentary evidence which showed the country’s taxpayers were paying US$6,000 more per day for a vessel than they should have.
However, he said the Opposition was only concerned about who was fired. Rowley said while the Opposition talks about process, “ when it suits them, to defend who they figure they want to defend, they have no interest in process.” Earlier in the day, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) slammed an erroneous Guardian article yesterday which alleged that acting TT Inter-Island Transport CEO Leon Grant was suspended after Rowley appeared before the JSC. The OPM said Rowley appeared before the JSC on September 18 while Grant was suspended on August 15. The OPM said the Guardian previously confirmed these facts.
Rowley slammed Naparima MP Rodney Charles for alleging TT nationals were among other foreigners being detained in Syria. He said while Government is trying to attract investment to TT, other people were claiming TT was a hub for the Islamic State terrorist group. Government MPs thumped their desks as Rowley declared, “That is treason!” He also said some private members clubs in TT have been converted by foreigners into casinos which are illegal in TT.
Saying this poses “serious national security risks,” Rowley said, “None of the local banks want to handle their money.” Vowing Government will bring the Gambling Bill back to Parliament once the budget debate is over, Rowley appealed to Opposition MPs to ensure the JSC dealing with the bill completes its work. He said only through proper legislation, can the gaming industry be regulated and its workers’ jobs secured.
Rowley disclosed that under his watch expenditure at the OPM was reduced to $522 million from the $882 million under his predecessor Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Noting the Opposition is trying to advise the Government how to spend money, Rowley quipped, “No thank you.” He said the People’s National Movement (PNM) will not complete the People’s Partnership’s efforts to bankrupt TT.
Rowley also said one of his first acts as Prime Minister was to beg TT’s international partners to protect the TTS Nelson, when it sailed from China to TT, without any weapons to protect it. He said this happened because the PP acquired the vessel “on credit” but it now being put to proper use by the Coast Guard. Rowley also said the PP wasted $200 million per year to maintain four helicopters which were specifically designed for the three offshore patrol vessels which a previous PNM government had acquired. He said the PP also never utilised money allocated to train pilots to fly those helicopters.