Ferdinand “Ferdie” Ferreira, a founding member of the People's National Movement (PNM), says the party has always had difficulties raising money.
But if the Prime Minister says the party got the money to construct the new five-storey building next to Balisier House through fundraising initiatives, then Ferreira will take him at his word because, as PM, Dr Rowley is in a better position to negotiate with donors.
“Until we could provide some empirical evidence otherwise, then I would not venture into where it (the money) came from. The fact of the matter is, it’s a massive construction project and, as far as I’m concerned, I am going to be 91 this year and I am hoping to be alive for the opening. If they ain’t invite meh, I go storm.”
The Opposition has asked questions about where the party got the money to construct the new building, at 1 Tranquillity Street, Port of Spain, after construction began in 2019.
These include Naparima MP Rodney Charles and Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh, who both called for an investigation into the financing of the building, claiming “more than just donation money” was being used to fund the project.
Ferreira said different architects drew up several plans over the years, as, from the party’s inception in 1956, it was the PNM’s founding father, Dr Eric Williams’ objective for the party to have its own headquarters.
“The plan was always to put up a proper party headquarters with a conference room, cafeteria, and some accommodations for Tobago delegates and do a little renting. But we were never able to accumulate sufficient funds to get engaged in the kind of construction we wanted.”
He recalled the PNM’s original headquarters was at 67 Queen Street, Port of Spain, on the second floor. There was a donations committee, accountable to the political leader, which was responsible for collecting and using the money donated by members, supporters and sponsors.
Through various fundraising events and donations, the party bought Balisier House in 1961 and moved into it the next year.
“It was a pretty old colonial building then, but we didn’t have the money to do any updates, so very little was done. But it was close to the Savannah, in an upper-class area.”
Between 1968 and 1971, the PNM bought the property next door for $200,000. The house was demolished and turned into a car park, which is where the new building is being constructed.
Ferreira said that was accomplished partially thanks to the party’s “best period of funding,” between 1970 and 1971, during the Black Power movement, when the business community, who were predominantly Caucasian, gravitated towards the PNM. Those donations, he said, helped pay the mortgage on the second property.
Ferreira said when Dr Rowley became party leader in 2010, the PNM was heavily in debt to the bank. And car raffles were held in 2011 and 2013, as well as other fundraising initiatives.
“The party had a heavy mortgage with the bank. He had to raise funds to write off a debt to save the Balisier House from being taken.”
Now, he said he was “anxiously looking forward” to seeing the archive, although he was told it would no longer be in the original building, because it was “termite-ridden” and could not be saved.
Construction began in 2019 on what is supposed to be a 25,000-square-foot building with office space for the party as well as rental space. The old Balisier House was to be refurbished and used as a museum and archive library.
When Sunday Newsday visited the site it was surrounded by galvanised sheets, some painted blue and others in red. However, it seemed most of the old colonial-style Balisier House had been completely demolished and a large, almost completed three-storey building was in its place, painted red and white. This is in addition to the anticipated five-storey building in mid-construction with scaffolding erected around the building. There were no workers seen on the site from the roadside.
In 2018, it was announced that total construction costs would be around $38 million and the work would be completed in two years.
However, since that time the pandemic has negatively affected the world’s construction industry, delaying work and shipments and increasing the prices of labour and materials.
Over the years, various government ministers said the funding will be provided through party fundraising initiatives. These have included a buy-a-brick project, a ten-car raffle, and purchase of jewellery from the Balisier Collection.
Members were encouraged to buy a brick so members would feel a sense of ownership when Balisier House was constructed. The car raffle which started in 2018: nine of the cars were Honda City CNG cars and the first prize was a BMW 3CD. The Balisier Collection includes loyalty rings, tie tacks, necklaces, earrings and more, created by Caribbean Jewellers.
Sunday Newsday called and messaged several people on the PNM executive, including chairman Stuart Young, general secretary Foster Cummings, to ascertain any changes to or updates on the construction plans, costs, fundraisers or timeline, but received no responses.