“Shocking” is how Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has described the Government’s request to the private sector, including the ANSA McAL Group, to buy vaccines for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
She said further that the message released by ANSA McAL Group chief executive officer (CEO) Anthony N Sabga III was a “slap in the face” of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and gives “lie” to comments he made at the Conversations with the Prime Minister event last Thursday.
The former prime minister told the Express yesterday that the ongoing scandal surrounding vaccines is frightening and it is “outrageous” that Government cannot find money (about TT$58 million) to buy vaccines for the people but can find money to pay rent for properties from Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and his family and for multi-million-dollar contracts to NCB Global Finance.
At a United National Congress (UNC) virtual meeting on Monday, Persad-Bissessar took Rowley to task over comments he made last week that a local conglomerate had asked for a tax break.
Persad-Bissessar noted Sabga stated that at a February 17 meeting, the Ministry of Health asked top business leaders to fund vaccines and public vaccination of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
She noted Sabga stated that on February 18, 2021 a team of ANSA representatives had a conference call with Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and his top health leaders where an “urgent situation” was discussed, that Government had negotiated the direct purchase of 351,000 vaccines from Pfizer Inc at a cost of US$8.4 million and was required to confirm the order the next day or lose it and any contribution from ANSA would be appreciated.
“The Government requested, they asked business leaders. That’s not the story the Prime Minister told us last week,” she said.
Persad-Bissessar read Sabga’s response to Government’s request.
She noted ANSA McAL requested that the contribution of all private sector companies purchasing vaccines for the exclusive use of vaccinating the public be credited against taxes payable for the income year 2021.
“Now that is not what the Prime Minister said on TV. He told us on Thursday night that they wanted a tax break—a tax exemption. What they were saying is this money we are taking, credit it against the taxes payable for income year 2021,” she said.
“What ANSA McAL is asking here is totally different from a tax break. A tax break is that ANSA would pay none of these taxes,” she added.
Persad-Bissessar noted that for fiscal 2019 ANSA McAL paid $259 million in taxes and therefore they were not asking for a tax write-off as the Prime Minister suggested.
“The Government wanted to buy vaccines, didn’t have the money, so they begged,” she said.
She said Deyalsingh should be fired if he was making deals without informing the Prime Minister.
Persad-Bissessar further noted Sabga’s statement that the group had access to one million approved vaccines and was seeking Government’s support to procure these.
She said if the Government does not partner with ANSA to bring in the vaccines, then they will simply get it for their companies in the Caribbean.
Appealing to the Prime Minister to talk with ANSA McAL, Persad-Bissessar said: “Today I am saying to you—talk with ANSA McAL, they are not my friends, they might be your friends but after this I don’t know if they will still be your friends but they are corporate citizens who want to engage in corporate social responsibility—let’s get the vaccines here!”