Kamla: CoE Another distraction

An­oth­er dis­trac­tion.

 

That was how Op­po­si­tion leader Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar de­scribed the Gov­ern­ment's Com­mis­sion of En­quiry (CoE) in­to the $500 mil­lion dol­lar high­way to Point Fortin.

Min­is­ter of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Stu­art Young yes­ter­day an­nounced that Gov­ern­ment had re­ceived a re­port on the ac­qui­si­tion of land for the ex­ten­sion of the $800M San Fer­nan­do to Point Fortin high­way.

He said it was found that some of tha land pur­chased by the State to make way for the road works was not nec­es­sary. The re­port al­so found that some peo­ple were paid mil­lions of dol­lars for prop­er­ties.

He said that Cab­i­net had tak­en the de­ci­sion to ap­point a Com­mis­sion of En­quiry to look in­to this land ac­qui­si­tion for the high­way and how $500 mil­lion came to be spent.

The CoE would be chaired by for­mer Jus­tice Se­bas­t­ian Ven­tour, as­sist­ed by Gre­go­ry Delzin, and sup­port­ed by Se­nior Coun­sel Regi­nald Ar­mour, and Ju­nior Coun­sel Ve­nes­sa Gopaul and Rishi Dass.

"Would he al­so be look­ing in­to the land ac­qui­si­tion in the Curepe In­ter­change project? Did he say?," Per­sad-Bissessr said in re­sponse to ques­tions from the me­dia yes­ter­day.

Per­sad-Bisses­sar made the re­marks at the Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress' screen­ing for the lo­cal Gov­ern­ment elec­tions in Tu­na­puna.

"Would it in­clude a mil­lion dol­lar rental con­tracts to friends and fam­i­ly. Would it in­clude fake oil? these and many oth­er is­sues are wor­thy of Com­mis­sions of En­quiry," she said re­fer­ring to the State's mil­lion dol­lar rental from the fam­i­ly of At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Faris Al-Rawi and the $100 mil­lion oil scan­dal in­volv­ing A&V Oil com­pa­ny and the now de­funct Petrotrin.

"I have no prob­lem with any CoE, but we are in the fourth year, you are on the doorstep of your way out," she said.

"I don't see what they hope to get," she said.

Per­sad-Bisses­sar de­scribed the CoE as an at­tempt to dis­tract the pop­u­la­tion from the Gov­ern­ment's fail­ings.

"They are seek­ing to dis­tract from their own in­com­pe­tence and their in­abil­i­ty to gov­ern," she said

Per­sad-Bisses­sar yes­ter­day al­so called on Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley to un­bur­den his chest and re­veal the date of the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tion.

Per­sad-Bisses­sar's call came at yes­ter­day's Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress (UNC) screen­ing in Tu­na­puna for can­di­dates for that very elec­tion.

Speak­ing to the me­dia on sev­er­al is­sues at the time, Per­sad-Bissess­sar said that legal­ly time was run­ning out for the call­ing of the elec­tion.

"It is on­ly re­cent­ly that Prime Min­is­ter Row­ley in­di­cat­ed that he would call the elec­tion but we will keep press­ing," she said.

She said that the Gov­ern­ment may use the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Bill to post­pone the elec­tion but said the Op­po­si­tion will "call them out".

"Ear­li­er he said he had the date close to his chest, well we want him to un­bur­den his chest and take that weight of the elec­tion date off his chest and call the elec­tion," she said.

Per­sad-Bisses­sar said that while Row­ley may an­nounce the date this year, the date can­not be in 2019.

"Be­cause the way the law is framed, the seats be­come va­cant on the an­niver­sary date of the last lo­cal elec­tion, that an­niver­sary date is the No­vem­ber 28," she said.

She said there must be five weeks no­tice be­fore the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions.

"So un­less the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tion is on Christ­mas Day, it will be in Jan­u­ary 2020 un­less the break the law," she said.

"And if they break the law, we have court clothes, we know what to do," she said.

Per­sad-Bisses­sar al­so ques­tioned the le­gal­i­ty of Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert's let­ter to Paria Trad­ing chair­man Wil­fred Es­pinet ef­fec­tive­ly waiv­ing the com­pa­ny's $388 mil­lion Val­ue Added Tax (VAT).

Speak­ing at the Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress can­di­date screen­ing in Tu­na­puna yes­ter­day, the for­mer prime min­is­ter said the let­ter was a mis­step.

"If you look at the VAT Act, Sec­tion 124 of the In­come Tax Act says that the Pres­i­dent can give a waiv­er or a re­mis­sion of the VAT as I un­der­stand it. But here we have the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance waiv­ing the VAT," she said.

On Tues­day, the Trinidad Guardian re­port­ed that Im­bert ap­proved a VAT deal with Paria.

In that let­ter to Es­pinet, Im­bert wrote, “In May, 2019 the gov­ern­ment of the Re­pub­lic of Trinidad and To­ba­go agreed that in ac­cor­dance with the pro­vi­sion of sec­tion 55 (2) of the Val­ue Added Tax Act Chap 75:06, which ap­plies Sec­tion 124 of the In­come Tax Act, Chap 75:01, to re­mis­sion to VAT Act in the sum, $382,499,481,83 on car­goes of re­fined pe­tro­le­um prod­ucts im­port­ed by Paria Fu­el Trad­ing Com­pa­ny Lim­it­ed as at April 30th 2019.

Im­bert said then that the de­ci­sion to al­low Paria not to pay its VAT was in an ef­fort to as­sist the com­pa­ny with its cash flow.

But Per­sad-Bisses­sar ques­tioned whether Im­bert had the au­thor­i­ty to do that.

"It is my re­spect­ful view that this was in­cor­rect­ly done and that the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance should have is­sued a le­gal no­tice to the world and not just to the chair­man of Paria,"she said.

Per­sad-Bisses­sar said a le­gal let­ter would in­form the Board of In­land Rev­enue and not just the Paria Trad­ing chair­man.

"Can the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance sim­ply ad­vise the chair­man of Paria Trad­ing that they have re­mit­ted the VAT to the tune of 385 mil­lion as of April 2019? If it's true and this is on­ly up to April, so by the time it reach­es the end of the fis­cal year, its an­oth­er 388.5 mil­lion,"she said.

"It ap­pears that this is a way to cook the books, as a ruse, as a sleight of hand to make the com­pa­ny prof­itable. That's all it is on pa­per," she said.

"The VAT is al­ready col­lect­ed at the pumps, so you the cus­tomer is al­ready pay­ing the VAT, al­ready paid it up to April, so what is hap­pen­ing with that mon­ey? it is al­ready record­ed on the Paria books to make it look as though they were mak­ing a prof­it," Per­sad-Bisses­sar said

Per­sad-Bisses­sar said one of the rea­sons that the Gov­ern­ment gave for shut­ting down Petrotrin was that the com­pa­ny was not pay­ing tax­es.

"But here you are, you com­plain that they not pay­ing tax­es, we shut you down and then with the next hand, you say ok, I'm not tak­ing tax," she said.

"They make it up as they go along, that is what they do," she said

Per­sad-Bisses­sar al­so ac­cused Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley and Im­bert of "spin­ning" the re­cent­ly pub­lished down­grade by Stan­dards and Poor

"How could a down­grade ever be a good thing for Trinidad and To­ba­go?" she said.

"Un­less the Govt does some­thing to ad­dress the prob­lem, we are falling off a slope, we are down in­to the precipice,' she said.

"The down­grade means our debt re­pay­ment ca­pac­i­ty is now more chal­leng­ing, we will face in­creased dif­fi­cul­ty is ac­cess­ing bor­row­ing and loans, giv­en the de­cline in our rev­enues as it is al­so go­ing to im­pact on for­eign di­et in­vest­ment.

"Since this govt came in­to pow­er there has been no for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment

Speak­ing at the UNC's Mon­day Night Fo­rum in Fyz­abad, Per­sad-Bisses­sar quot­ed from a let­ter which she said was dropped in her mail­box.

The let­ter, dat­ed June 7, Es­pinet to En­er­gy Min­is­ter Franklin Khan and high­light­ed an on­go­ing short­fall of US$20 mil­lion per month to pur­chase re­fined fu­els to en­sure sup­ply to the coun­try.

Per­sad-Bisses­sar said then that it was a "very se­ri­ous is­sue". Tand ques­tioned what that US $20 mil­lion short­fall was about. She asked then whether the oil com­pa­ny is los­ing US$20 mil­lion per month, say­ing at to­day’s rate of ex­change, that was TT$140 mil­lion.

Yes­ter­day, she re­mind­ed the me­dia of that let­ter and she said that Petrotrin used to a net earn­er of for­eign ex­change, but now Paria Trad­ing has to find for­eign ex­change to pay to im­port fu­els and be­cause they are sell­ing to lo­cal sup­pli­ers like NP and Unipet, they earn TT dol­lars

"We lost the for­eign ex­change we were earn­ing," she said.

Per­sad-Bisses­sar spoke out on those is­sues as the UNC got ready to be­gin­ing screen­ing can­di­date for the up­com­ing elec­tion.

This was the UNC's first screen­ing ses­sion for the new elec­tion pe­ri­od and Per­sad-Bisses­sar said that there were 30 can­di­dates to be screened. She said the par­ty would be screen­ing can­di­dates in San­gre Grande and Ari­ma next.

Reporter: Renuka Singh

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