Vote the United National Congress (UNC) into office and get more matters like Piarco Airport, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has told citizens.
Though stating that Thursday’s political meeting in San Fernando was not the launch of the People’s National Movement (PNM) local government campaign, Rowley trained his guns on Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the UNC.
“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I’m not launching any local government campaign, I want to talk to you about my life. I want to talk to you about the life of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” Rowley said, as he addressed the audience at the San Fernando City Hall.
“A lot of people in this country are exposed to being manipulated by boldface people. And, a lot of people in this country have no idea what their circumstances are, and therefore, they cannot appreciate what happens to them or what could have happened to them if others had not done what they had done. And, that is why tonight I’m going to spend my time talking to you about where we came from, and a particular matter.”
Going straight to the two-decade-old Piarco Airport corruption case, where the Government was recently awarded a US$131,318,840.47 (TTS893m) judgment in a Miami court, he said it all began with a PNM project called Project Pride, where the Government was going to build a new terminal building at Piarco, under a public/private partnership model where the investor would fund the cost of the project, and after 15 years the terminal building would have been owned by the Government, having not put out any money initially.
“The builder would have used his money and the Airports Authority’s revenues would have paid for the building,” he stated.
‘Elections have consequences’
Producing a document which he claimed to be a Hansard copy of his October 1998 budget presentation, Rowley said then-finance minister Brian Kuei Tung, who was with the PNM prior, went to the UNC and took with him an opportunity.
“We were going to build an airport for $300 million without paying one cent and at the end of 15 years the investor’s money was going to be repaid and the airport handed over to the State. In comes the UNC. They put an end to that. And, they decide to award a contract for $1 billion,” he said.
He said, initially, the project was to cost US$75 million but the revenues from the Airports Authority could not service that cost, so it was shrunk to US$60 million to ensure it could be funded from the revenue of the Airports Authority.
“That was a PNM Government doing that, but elections have consequences. You voted the PNM out, and in comes the UNC, and somebody saw an opportunity,” he added.
Pointing to the document, he said: “They didn’t want to do it like that because there was no opportunity to thief. It’s here in the Hansard, and I said that in the Parliament. They didn’t want a method where no money was passing. They wanted a method to award contract and, in the contract, they would then thief.”
He said the UNC shifted the project to the National Insurance Property Development Company Ltd (Nipdec), and awarded it without any tender.
“They handed the contract to these people, and in that handing, the arrangements were made that came out in the testimony in Miami.
“So, they take what they want, gave away what they want, and that was the beginning and the execution.”
Tender rules amended
Rowley said upon the PNM pointing out in Parliament that the contract was awarded in breach of Nipdec’s tender rules, and realising they were caught, they went and amended the tender rules.
“Just to avoid saying they did not follow the tender rules, they amended the rules to say, from here on in, all tender equals tenders, and all male equal female.
“So, to be able to answer that they followed the tender rules, they amended the tender rules so that where the tender rules say that you have to invite tenders, and since you only had one tender, and now you say tenders equal tender, you could say, yes, I followed the tender rules. That is what the UNC did in Trinidad and Tobago.
“So, tonight, when I hear Kamla Persad-Bissessar and all that yellow peril talking about they go win seats, I want to say to all those who plan and intend to support them, to put them into executive authority that that is exactly what you are supporting and what they’re asking you to support, because that is what they represent, that is what they did in this country,” Rowley said.
He said the UNC was so boldfaced that when he took issue with the contract awarded to maintenance firm Calmaquip, they got the US Ambassador to write to him, accusing him of obstructing an American company in Trinidad and Tobago. “And, I replied to him in one line, telling him in Trinidad and Tobago we have no problem with American investment, what we have a problem with is corruption.”
He said, 25 years later, when the case was finally about to be settled in a Miami court, the level of attacks on new Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, was reprehensible, simply because they did not want the State to win.
“They treated the man as though he has committed the worst crime, as though mistakes are not made in court. They were setting the tone for lawyers for the criminal there in Miami, to say to the court in Miami, look, even the politicians and the Opposition Leader in Trinidad and Tobago is saying the case should be thrown out.
“So, your MPs were working to create a situation where people in Miami could use their behaviour and their statements as their defence and their support in Miami to have the case thrown out.”
He noted, however, that the judge refused to throw out the case.
Blows for media
Rowley also accused the UNC of receiving restitutions from the Piarco Airport case and remaining silent about it.
“What they didn’t tell you, and what we didn’t know we found out eventually, was that when the American government sued and jailed the Americans who took part in the Piarco Airport scandal, some of the restitution money belonged to Trinidad and Tobago, and we got it back. Kamla and the UNC received that money back in silence and never said a word. Never said a word that the restitution was paid by criminals who were found guilty in Miami, who were fined, give up property, kickback money and so on.
“And, as for the local press, them have a lot of questions to answer too. Because this happening out there, they have no interest in it. Only printing a set of foolishness about personalities and personal nonsense, and major issues like this you cannot read in the local media.”
The PM said the UNC waged a relentless campaign for him to remove Faris Al-Rawi, who was given the mandate to go after white-collar crime, from the office of Attorney General, but he (Rowley) paid no attention to their noises.
“So, something is happening to us. Our standards are falling, and I want to find out on what basis the UNC is so gung-ho they’re going to win San Fernando. Is it that San Fernando people are totally unaware and will support what I just outlined to you?”
Receiving a ‘no’ from the audience, he asked: “What is the basis that they’re saying they’re going to win San Fernando. That they carry on personal attacks consistently. They bad mouth the country consistently. They obstruct everything in the Parliament consistently. They’ve not put one positive proposal anywhere in the Parliament.”