AFTER being told to “take a walk” by the Speaker of the House during the morning session of the House’s Standing Finance Committee’s deliberations on Wednesday, National Security Minister Stuart Young returned in the afternoon and brought with him some heat which led to an abrupt end of proceedings for the day.
Young was given marching orders by committee chairman Bridgid Annisette-George during the committee’s morning deliberations on allocations for the Tobago House of Assembly.
But as he sat later in the day in the meeting on the Personnel Department of the Ministry of Public Administration and Digital Transformation, Young heatedly engaged with Opposition San Juan/Barataria MP Saddam Hosein.
Deputy chair Esmond Forde was forced to put the sum allocated to the vote for it to stand part of the schedule and when this was done, he thanked the participants and bade them goodbye, bringing the meeting to an end for the day.
At the centre of the furore between Young and Hosein was the rental by government of 3 Alexandra Place.
Hosein, who sat on the committee, made several attempts to find out when the lease/rental arrangement was entered into, the cost of the rental, the cost to customise and outfit the building, the name of the landlord and whether Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi was one of the directors of the company owned by the landlord.
Forde refused to engage Hosein, but Public Administration and Digital Transformation Minister Allyson West, who fielded questions, said the rental was fair and so too the cost of $20 million to customise and outfit the building for occupation by the ministry. Finance Minister Colm Imbert, who joined the proceedings, explained in a calm voice it was standard practice when government rented a building to outfit it, because most came as a shell and quite often with rudimentary fittings and fixtures.
He said the legacy of the UNC was renting buildings for millions of dollars for several years without the building being outfitted or even occupied.
There was thumping of desks and applause as Imbert ended, with Young entering the fray saying he wanted to add to the point made by Imbert. Forde hesitatingly gave way.
“I recall when we came in as a Cabinet in 2015. Ironically, (for) a building right next door to the one we are now discussing, a contract was awarded for the outfitting of that building to a company which has absolutely no experience in office equipment, furniture, outfitting etc, for $120 million,” Young began.
“The further irony is that for the same period, between 2010 and 2015, a rent was paid for that building and a contract awarded for $120 million. Not a single ministry moved into that building.”
The rest of Young’s contribution became inaudible as Hosein raised his voice in objection, prompting Forde to call on the “honourable members” for calm. When the calm did not come, Forde moved the vote and brought the meeting to an end.