ANGRY PM: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley shakes his fists as he waded into the Opposition during a PNM public meeting Thursday night at San Fernando City Hall. PHOTO BY MARVIN HAMILTON –
OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar will not escape the facts of the Piarco Airport scandal to which the UNC is linked, Government said on Thursday.
The Prime Minister and Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi addressed the circumstances that led to the multi-billion-dollar Piarco corruption case, which dates back almost three decades.
The award for the airport extension project was granted by the UNC administration led by former prime minister Basdeo Panday, and the case against a former cabinet minister and UNC financiers continued during Persad-Bissessar’s People’s Partnership government.
During a PNM public meeting on Thursday night at San Fernando City Hall, Al-Rawi said the Piarco matter “went to bed” under the UNC between 2010 and 2015. He said Persad-Bissessar must tell the population why the UNC did not pursue this matter, when there was taxpayers’ money to be collected.
“You could jump high, you could jump low. You could wine to the left, you could wine to the right. You’re not getting away!”
On May 15, Miami Dade Circuit Court judge Reemberto Diaz ruled that former government minister Brian Kuei Tung, businessman Steve Ferguson and Raul Gutierrez Jr must pay an estimated $1 billion to Government over criminal conduct linked to the project.
Al-Rawi, who took over the Miami case ten years ago, and retained it after Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, was disqualified from representing TT earlier this year, held a media conference recently to announce the Miami judge’s final judgment.
He said in a matter of days, the State will begin enforcement proceedings, once the three defendants declare their assets, as they are required to do under US law, which will be traced.
“We are on track to recovery,” Al-Rawi said.
Al-Rawi said the recovery of the restitution owed to TT would run separately from any appeal the three chose to lodge.
The three have 30 days from May 15 to file an appeal and will be required to post a bond for the full amount awarded by the jury, along with two years’ worth of interest, if they choose to challenge the recovery process.
Ferguson’s appeal was filed on May 15. Kuei Tung and Gutierrez filed their appeals the following day.
‘PNM, UNC NOT THE SAME’
Dr Rowley, even as he said Thursday’s PNM meeting was not a local government election campaign launch, nevertheless warned the population that “elections have consequences.”
The PNM is not the same as the UNC, he said, and he wanted people to understand what the true identity of the UNC was and to reject them.
“You go and vote for them and you will get more Piarco Airport!”
Rowley referred to his Hansard contribution of October 1998 to show the Piarco scandal had started since then. He claimed the UNC was continually looking for opportunities for corruption.
He also spoke of how the former UNC-led coalition government silently received restitution from the matter. He claimed the UNC unsuccessfully tried to discredit both Armour and Al-Rawi over the case being heard in Miami.
The PM also trained his guns on the media, saying some elements had questions to answer as to why they only focus on the UNC’s misdirection and not their conduct in the Piarco scandal and other corruption matters.
Rowley told the population this is the kind of behaviour the UNC is offering them, “and I am saying no to that!”
He claimed all the UNC did was delay and obstruct.
He also said only the UNC turns a blind eye to corruption and criminality, allowing people with questions to answer to be chosen as candidates for public office.“When did class die in TT? That is the record of Kamla Persad-Bissessar.”
He urged citizens to reject the hate, nastiness and anger being spread by the UNC and their friends. He said the UNC was only about winning elections, being popular and not serving the population.
He reiterated there is no local government crisis.
“Pay attention to what happened in the court!”
On Wednesday in the House of Representatives, Rowley rejected claims from the UNC and others that there was a crisis because local government elections have not been held.
Rowley announced the elections will be held within three months of May 18. This is the date when the Privy Council ruled that the decision to extend the life of local government corporations by a year was unlawful.
On May 29, the House will meet to approve legislation to validate acts of local government corporations between December and May 18 – the period during which the extension was in effect. Once this legislation is approved, the election date will be announced.
In its judgment, the Privy Council said the extension of the life of local government bodies was unlawful. But it did not deem the extension a constitutional breach or that it deprived people of the right to vote.
Rowley said on Wednesday that the Government accepted the judgment and will call an election in accordance with the procedure in the Municipal Corporations Act and the Representation of the People Act.
President Christine Kangaloo, he continued, acting on the Cabinet’s advice, in accordance with Section 81 of the Constitution, will issue a writ for the elections.
Rowley agreed with Armour that the validity of councillors and aldermen and the operations of local government corporations is covered by the de facto officers doctrine.
In the Senate on Tuesday, Armour said that doctrine validated actions of the officers, who were “duly elected and continued to be duly elected until the decision of the Privy Council.”