OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Monday publicly urged Finance Minister Colm Imbert to say if he had declared his alleged personal interest in an apartment block at Picton Street, Port of Spain, when he piloted a bill in 2016 to give tax breaks for such properties.
She was addressing the UNC Monday Night Forum at St Helena Eco Park.
Persad-Bissessar alleged that in 2005, Century 21 had sold three lots of land for $3 million, which in 2010 were then sold for $1.75 million to Belgrave Properties Ltd, in which Imbert allegedly later, in 2012, surfaced as a shareholder and director, with his wife and son. She said today some 20 apartments under construction there are each being sold for $2.75 million, or a total of $55 million.
Persad-Bissessar said Imbert had piloted Finance Bill No 2 of 2016 to give tax exemptions for earnings from the sale or rental of multi-family dwellings.
“Did he declare an interest when piloting the bill?” she asked.
Persad-Bissessar said he should have recused himself from handling the bill.
“I await Mr Imbert’s answers to the questions we are posing here tonight.”
She also questioned the Government’s recent cancellation of a US$72 million contract with China Gezhouba Group International Engineering Co Ltd (CGGC) to build public housing at sites including Port of Spain and San Fernando. Persad-Bissessar asked how could the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), chaired by Newman George and managed by Brent Lyons, sign this huge contract, but without Cabinet’s knowledge.
Referring to five ministers in a photo taken at the signing, she hit, “Faris is grinning. He is the AG and is supposed to vet the contract.”
Saying Dr Rowley had headed the Housing Ministry in 2018, she said he must have known of this contract, which she described as a sweetheart deal.
“The PM travelled to China in May of 2018 and had a meeting with the top brass of the CGGC while he held the portfolio of Minister of Housing.
“Don’t play Pontius Pilate and say, ‘I didn’t know.’”
Persad-Bissessar said the Government had other bad deals, dubbing them the Ferry Fiasco, the Sandals Scandal, the Dragon Can't Dance gas deal and the Petrotrin Closure.
Earlier she lamented that 400 residents of Kelly Village had not yet been compensated for last year’s flood damage. She suggested residents initiate a class-action lawsuit for alleged discrimination and inequality of treatment. Looking forward, she said a future UNC government would use technology such as ICT to transform the local labour landscape and so help create 50,000 new jobs.
“We cannot survive unless we embrace technology.”
She promised to foster a business environment and to try to shift CEPEP work to private-sector employment, in areas that could be economically productive and sustainable, rather than being a drain on the treasury.
Claiming the PNM is not up to the job of running TT, Persad-Bissessar said, “All is not lost. The sun will rise again.”
Newsday was unable to contact Imbert for a response to her questions.