Kamla: Young rings hollow on Cabinet recusals

UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar during a motorcade in central Trinidad on July 29.  - Marvin Hamilton
UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar during a motorcade in central Trinidad on July 29. - Marvin Hamilton

UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar says National Security Minister Stuart Young has raised more questions than answers in his response to reports of his recusal from Cabinet on matters involving close relatives.

Young and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi recused themselves from Cabinet meetings between 2016-2020 a total of 94 times due to conflicts of interest.

Persad-Bissessar described Young's absence from 57 Cabinet meetings as "astonishing and unprecedented." Al-Rawi recused himself 37 times. It was revealed by the Cabinet Secretariat in response to a Freedom of Information Act request made by Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj.

In a media release, Persad-Bissessar wrote, "Young claims he recused himself from matters relating to 'Cabinet Notes that were dealing with the award of contracts to certain contractors, after competitive tender because he was involved in litigation with these same contractors whom the Rowley PNM administration accused of 'bidrigging and other corrupt behaviour.' This is a shocking admission that the Rowley administration has been awarding multi-million-dollar contracts to the very companies that they sued for corruption.

"It is clear that Rowley was secretly embracing the very contractors he publicly branded and demonised as 'corrupt UNC contractors.'

"Instead of recusing himself, why didn’t Young tell the Cabinet that he was involved in litigation against these contractors and seek to dissuade the Government from awarding such massive contracts to them?

"Did Dr Rowley, as Prime Minister and head of the Cabinet, vote in favour of the award of such lucrative contracts to these so-called corrupt 'UNC contractors?' Why was the Government awarding contracts to them in the face of pending litigation over alleged bid-rigging and corruption?

"Were these cases a sham designed to create a political distraction and give the public the impression that the UNC was corrupt whilst the Rowley administration was secretly in bed with them to finance its election campaign? Is this the reason why, after five years in office, Dr Rowley has not brought any campaign finance legislation and proclaimed the legislation to operationalise the independent Office of the Procurement Regulator? After five years in office, they have nothing to show on these two items which they repeatedly promised as part of their so-called fight against UNC corruption and to promote transparency in governance.

She also spoke about Young's defence of his brother Angus, whose prosperity under the PNM, she described as "ridiculous." Angus is CEO of NCB Global Finance.

"Why would NCB Global Finance, which in 2013 had such a small balance sheet and even smaller profit, show such amazing exponential income and profit growth at a time of severe economic depression between 2015 and 2019 in Trinidad?

"Having admitted that his brother’s company NCB Global Finance accounted for 'the vast majority' of Cabinet notes from which he was forced to recuse himself, Young justifies the award of significant lucrative contracts totalling some $2.5 billion on the ground that they were 'the most beneficial and competitive bid for the state to accept.'"

She said if Young is serious about his defence, he must "come clean and disclose the terms and conditions of the financial consultancy arrangements which his father Richard Young enjoys with companies which were awarded government contracts." Richard Young, a retired banker, is chairman of the International Finance Centre.

"If he wasn’t acting as a broker for these transactions and stood to benefit personally, then why bother to recuse yourself? What is the percentage of commission and bonus that his father Richard Young is paid on such transactions? Apparently, Stuart Young would have us believe that his father works for free."

Persad-Bissessar said Young should also disclose his brother's remuneration package.

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"Kamla: Young rings hollow on Cabinet recusals"

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