Rowley: Public duped over CAL

(Trinidad Express) Say sorry.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Finance Minister Winston Dookeran must apologise for creating a national “scandal” and misleading the people of this country on the true financial position of Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL), says Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.

In response to a question on the Order Paper at the Parliament sitting yesterday, Dookeran disclosed that CAL was in debt to the tune of millions for the last financial year.

Rowley, speaking to the media during the Parliament’s tea break, pointed out that this information comes after former CAL chairman George Nicholas last year said CAL had made a profit of some TT$200 million.

He pointed out that on the basis of this, Nicholas made a US$5 million pledge to the Prime Minister’s Children’s Life Fund.

Rowley said under the former administration he served on a sub-committee of Cabinet on BWIA (now CAL) as the former minister of planning and development and was privy to the financial shape of the airline and was shocked when Nicholas announced a profit was made.

“What we found shocking is that the chairman of a State enterprise could have made a statement like that, that the Prime Minister could have accepted it and that the Minister of Finance, who is corporation sole, could have allowed the public to have been so duped,” said Rowley.

Rowley said Dookeran’s disclosure of the true state of CAL yesterday was scandalous. “We were told the profit was TT$200-odd million, we are now told by the corporation sole CAL made a loss in that year of TT$300 million,” he said.

“…Against that background, how could the Prime Minister take part in this charade with the chairman of that organisation to so mislead the country about CAL’s financial situation and receiving from CAL this cheque of US$5 million?” he asked.

He noted that on any CAL aircraft now, there is the We Beat magazine with colour photographs of Nicholas presenting the US$5 million cheque to the Prime Minister.

This contribution, he said, was never made and some US$200,000 instead was given.

Rowley criticised the decision by CAL to begin flying directly to London from next month given its financial state.

Rowley said he warned about CAL when he was on the People’s National Movement back benches in the Parliament, but this Government proceeded to inject money into the airline and acquired Air Jamaica, which is now running a fuel subsidy of TT$7 million monthly. Huge sums of money, he said, were injected into BWIA to pay off liabilities and re-create a new “lean and mean” airline.

“Basically we have re-created the BWIA problem with a vengeance, except that now we are doing it against a background of deficit spending in the national budget,” said Rowley.

“These US-dollar expenditure being incurred by CAL will put the Minister of Finance in a situation where there will be days in this country where the hospitals will go wanting, the schools will go wanting, other important things will go wanting because these bills have to be paid,” said Rowley.

“…And we will like today to ask for an apology from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, who sat there with their fingers on their lips and in fact did more than that, paraded in front the cameras, got themselves photographed, deliberately misled the public about the true state of affairs of CAL. This is a national scandal that a State enterprise can be so encouraged by the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister to mislead the population,” Rowley added.


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