Asked about his brand-new BMW Li740, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles replied: “Act 40 of 1996. Tell me what that act says and then we’ll have a conversation again. Have a conversation with the Chief Admin. No comment.”
During Wednesday’s weekly post-Executive Council media briefing, reporters attempted to get more information, but his responses were very vague.
A press release from his office on Thursday, said the car was bought for $777,817.33 to replace the previous one, which was more than six years old, having been acquired in 2012.
“The THA made the decision to replace the Chief Secretary’s official vehicle after considering its age, continued maintenance issues, and the security requirements for the Chief Secretary,” the release read.
It added that the purchase is in keeping with Section 16 of the THA Act 40 of 1996.
“The salary, allowances and other conditions of service of the Chief Secretary shall be equal to that of a Minister, except that the State shall provide the Chief Secretary with the following: (a) an official residence in lieu of a housing allowance; (b) an official car in lieu of a travelling allowance; (c) appropriate security services.”
Chief Administrator Raye Sandy said replacing the car was an administrative decision.
“We considered the age of the previous (Chief Secretary’s) vehicle, and the maintenance needs of a vehicle of that age,” Sandy said.
Sandy said the THA considered a number of options and made a selection after seeking advice on the security requirements for the Chief Secretary and other pertinent issues.
“I must also highlight the distinction between the vehicles for official use by the Chief Secretary, and the vehicles that serve the Office of the Chief Secretary.
“In keeping with those security requirements, two vehicles are assigned to the Chief Secretary. The vehicle that has been replaced has since been added to the Office of the Chief Secretary’s fleet of vehicles,” Sandy said.
Commenting on the issue, Minority Leader Watson Duke told Newsday that the Chief Secretary “is devoid of understanding when it comes to good governance.”
He said he could not understand “what one man is doing with three vehicles assigned to him. It is not like they are trying to sell one and it cannot be sold, or like they are trying to sell two and it cannot be sold – no, all three. I have no problem with that…but at least be a man, be a good Chief Secretary and give a good explanation as to why and how you intend to use them. Don’t just brush the question aside or operate like the question does not operate in the minds of the public,” he said.
Minority Councillor Dr Faith BYisrael called on the Chief Secretary and Prime Minister to take their own advice, saying the Office of the Chief Secretary, like the Prime Minister, has been repeating to the nation the need to tighten belts.
“It is therefore suspicious that the Office of the Chief Secretary would then purchase a vehicle worth over $700,000, when there are other, cheaper options available, and when there are several THA members of staff who have not received salaries; who are still being owed their gratuity; when there are projects that cannot proceed because there is no building material; when there are schools using portable toilets because the THA does not have the money,” she said.
BYisrael described the Chief Secretary as arrogant, adding that “he proves that he is not accountable to the people who elected him.
“What is also frustrating,” she added, “is the Chief Secretary’s response when questioned about the purchase.
“He seemed to be chastising members of the media when they asked, again showing that he does now believe that he is accountable to the citizens who elected him.
“His response of ‘no comment,’ and, when pressed, referring all questions to the Chief Administrator ,shows a level of arrogance that is unbecoming of a leader, particularly a leader in these economic times.”