PRIME Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday dsimissed Opposition Whip David Lee’s claims of corruption at the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) related to the implementation of the lottery winnings tax.
Dr Rowley also dismissed Lee’s statement that the Opposition would consider raising a privilege matter against him and Communications Minister Stuart Young about a letter from the Opposition that was mentioned in the House of Representatives during debate on the nomination of acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams.
At a news conference at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Port of Spain, yesterday, Lee called on Finance Minister Colm Imbert to investigate what happened.
Lee also called for the current NLCB board to be fired.
He questioned how the NLCB would refund all tax deducted between July 30 and August 4. Lee wondered if unscrupulous people would come forward demanding to be refunded. He also queried procurement procedures at NLCB, an alleged summer camp for NCLB personnel’s children and work done for NLCB by a private company. In asking “who dropped the ball,” Lee wondered if the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs was to blame.
Efforts to contact Imbert were unsuccessful.
However the PM responded to Lee’s statements on NLCB and alleged abuse of parliamentary privilege. He said, “Lee is looking for something to do on Sundays. “ Rowley continued, “I suggest that he finds a church service and attend regularly and give praise and thanks to God, instead of raising foolishness every Sunday in his weak efforts to find political issues and non-existent scandals.”
On the lottery tax, senior government officials said Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi had no role to play in this process “until requested by the line minister (Imbert).” One official said Lee did not understand that Al-Rawi’s role “kicks in when any ministry requests an event to be done.” A second official explained that line ministries prepare for their own responsibilities and then seek implementation, if a proclamation is to be made. Once the line minister brings a note to Cabinet and and it is approved “the AG perfects by sending to the President.”
On Saturday, the Office of the President indicated it has not received the lottery tax legislation.
Saying the Opposition will have to caucus on whether to raise a privilege matter against the PM and Young, Lee said a letter which Young referred to was sacrosanct and could not be revealed until the relevant joint select committee (JSC) tabled its report in Parliament. Young referred to a letter from the Opposition which said its members would not attend any JSC meetings during the recess. Lee said the JSC in question is one chaired by Imbert. He claimed Imbert could “run afoul” of the standing orders if he provided that letter to either Rowley or Young. Lee neither confirmed nor denied Young’s statement about the letter’s contents.
Indicating that no JSCs are meeting now, Lee said the Opposition is prepared to participate in all committee deliberations. He criticised Al-Rawi’s statements about Opposition’s refusal to attend JSC meetings preventing the Parliament from passing legislation to ensure TT was compliant with entities such as the Global Forum and the Financial Action Task Force. Lee claimed Al-Rawi often had Parliament “under the gun” because he was bringing legislation late to Parliament.