The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has appealed the High Court judgment which says it cannot enter into special financing arrangements for construction projects without the permission of the Minister of Finance.
Speaking with reporters during Wednesday’s post-Executive Council media briefing at the Victor E Bruce Financial Complex in Scarborough, THA Deputy Chief Secretary Joel Jack made the disclosure.
Jack, also the Secretary of Finance and the Economy, recalled that on October 21, in a ruling in the Court of Appeal, Justices Allan Mendonca, Gregory Smith and Andre DesVignes held that under the THA Act, the assembly was not empowered to enter into Build, Own, Lease, Transfer (BOLT) arrangements for developing and financing construction outside the statutory framework for the control of expenditure. The judgment said the THA must have the permission of the Minister of Finance.
Jack said it was Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh who ruled initially in the High Court that the THA can enter into BOLT arrangements without the consent or approval of the minister, a decision the assembly agreed with.
“I wish to put on record that the necessary documentation regarding the leave to appeal to the judicial committee of the Privy Council was filed within the stipulated time. Our attorneys agree that this issue is of great importance to the Tobago House of Assembly, because what it does, it raises the true scope of the authority and the autonomy given to the Tobago House of Assembly under Act #40 of 1996,” he said.
Jack said the ability to utilsie BOLT arrangement was necessary in the step towards self-government on the island.
“Let me say that the assembly remains committed to delivering self-government to the people of Tobago. We believe that appealing this decision is one of the ways by which we would be able to realise that autonomy for and on behalf of the people of Tobago.”
BOLT agreements are non-traditional procurement methods of non-debt-based project financing under which a client gives permission to a private entity to build on the client’s land. The client then repays the construction costs by entering into a lease with the company to rent the building for a prescribed period. On the completion of the lease, ownership of the facility will be transferred to the client.
The $143 million THA administrative complex, which has 83,000 square feet of floor space, was built using a BOLT arrangement. The THA, under Orville London, bought three acres of land, then leased the property to Milshirv Ltd for $10 annually for 199 years.
The special-purpose company Milshirv was to build the complex at an estimated cost of $143 million and then lease/rent it to the THA for $1.2 million a month for 20 years. At the end of the 20 years, or at three-year intervals, the THA could buy and take ownership of the complex.
Milshirv currently houses the Licensing Department and will soon also house the head office of the THA Division of Food Production, Forestry and Fisheries.