TT$3m villa in Tobago bought with gov’t funds `squandermania’

(Trinidad Express) It is still scandalous squandermania.

This was stated yesterday by Government Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal in the face of an e-mail from Calder Hart, former executive chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT), who has denied that a $3 million Tobago house was purchased for him.

Hart told the Express on Sunday night via e-mail that the house was for use by a joint Nipdec/UDeCOTT manager.

Last Thursday at the People’s Partnership second anniversary celebrations at Mid Centre Mall, Chaguanas, Moonilal disclosed that UDeCOTT had acquired property at Coral Seashells Villas #113, Anthony Charles Crescent, Bon Accord, Tobago, to the tune of US$449,500 (TT$3 million).

Moonilal claimed further that he had a document which had as a signatory attorney Sharon Rowley, the wife of Opposition Leader Keith Rowley and questioned whether the Opposition Leader knew of the transaction.

“Now when a UDeCOTT manager wants to go on vacation, they have to get permission from me (Minister of Housing). You think Calder Hart could have gone to Rowley (former minister of housing) and ask permission to go on a vacation? No,” Moonilal had said.

Following Moonilal’s statements, both Hart and Opposition Leader Rowley responded.

Hart, who lives in Florida, stated via e-mail that the Tobago house was purchased by UDeCOTT for use as a residence by the manager of the joint Nipdec/UDeCOTT operations office there.

“At no time did I, or any UDeCOTT executive under my supervision use the home while I was chairman. It was not purchased as a vacation home. I question the highly politicised manner in which this information was provided to the public. The home is hardly a secret to people in both organisations and in fact, it was a senior development manager from Nipdec who was first appointed to the post and was required to relocate his family there,” stated Hart.

Rowley has also criticised Moonilal, saying that he (Moonilal) embarrassed himself by drawing his wife into politics

Rowley said his wife is a private attorney who conducted private business and had not business with Hart. He said his wife was witness to the actions of others.

The Member of Parliament for Diego Martin West said on Sunday the signature was done in 2007, while Hart was not reporting to him.

He also said, however, that he was then the Housing Minister but not line minister for UDeCOTT, which fell under the portfolio of the Ministry of Planning.

Contacted yesterday by the Express, Sharon Rowley said she preferred to not comment on the matter.

Moonilal, speaking to the Express by phone yesterday, said:

“I am shocked that Mr Hart has resurfaced and appears to have accepted responsibly and I am very concerned that there was no Ministerial and Cabinet oversight and multi-million-dollar residence could have been acquired for the use of a middle manager,” said Moonilal.

Asked about Hart’s explanation that the house was bought for a manager’s use, Moonilal said “that speaks to the waste, squandermania and mismanagement. I am sure if a manager is required to be in Tobago, a guest house at a much more modest cost could have been found,” said Moonilal.

Responding to Rowley’s criticisms, Moonilal said he (Rowley) should not be “infantile”.

“I was very clear on the platform to indicate that I was reading from the deed and I was giving the names of persons who were witnesses and I called the lawyers of UDeCOTT and also the lawyers from the independent firm, among which Mrs Rowley is an attorney involved,” said Moonilal.

“I was very careful to indicate that she would have done that in her professional capacity, I went on to say that given her professional ethics, she would not have informed him (Rowley) of that. So therefore I was taking it upon myself to inform him, he should be happy that I brought this to his attention,” said Moonilal.

“When you are in public life…you cannot take an infantile approach about don’t call my name, or don’t call my wife name or don’t call the name of my dog, it doesn’t work so,” he added.

Moonilal said his wife is also an attorney who worked in the Public Administration Ministry.

“Several PNM Ministers then would make reference to her work and her affiliation, I had no hard feelings, because she was working in a Government Ministry, so when someone is an attorney at law conducting business it is obvious their name would appear in documents,” said Moonilal.



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