Minister of Finance Colm Imbert has responded to allegations made by the Opposition who claim he failed to declare his interest in a 20-unit block Picton Street project, in Port of Spain, valued at $55 million.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar claimed Imbert did not not excuse himself during the debate on the Finance No 2 Bill in 2016 in Parliament because he intended to benefit through tax breaks on such projects.
In a release, Imbert said Finance No 2 Bill was a money bill that can benefit every single member of Parliament, “for tax amnesties, improvement in parliamentarians’ pension benefits and/or salaries and allowances, reduction in VAT and increase in the personal allowance.”
He accused the Opposition of voting for several bills that have benefited them financially, without declaring an interest.
The statement noted that Imbert did declare a potential future interest in the incentives to stimulate the construction sector adding “there is no evidence the minister will benefit from 2016 tax exemptions for a multi-family dwelling. “There are pre-existing tax incentives, going as far back as 1966, for the construction of apartment buildings, such as the Picton Street project.”
These allegations were made between September 4 and 20.
At a press conference at the Diplomatic Centre on Tuesday, the Prime Minister told reporters he had not discussed the allegations with Imbert.
On Wednesday night, during a UNC pavement meeting at New Grant Government Primary School, Persad-Bissessar said the UNC intends to write the Integrity Commission asking for an investigation into Imbert’s actions in piloting a bill which provides fiscal incentives for the construction sector.
She claimed there may have been a conflict of interest if Imbert was a private real estate developer when he proposed the legislation to the Cabinet.
She claimed Imbert used his position for a waiver on planning laws to exceed the two-storey height in the area the project is located. Imbert denied this accusation saying several high-rise building up to seven storeys already exist in the area.
Imbert purchased the company that owns the land while he served as the member of Parliament for Diego Martin North/East in 2012 at $3 million and not $1.7 million. The statement said the transaction was not made during his time as finance minister and he “was in no position to grant anyone any favours (or benefit) at that time.”
A document showing approval from Town and Country Planning and the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable development, in 2014, was attached to the release.