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Blame game over $27m Arima building foolish—Jack

Published: 
Saturday, November 18, 2017

Former works and transport minister Jack Warner yesterday admitted he started the process to purchase the $27 million building in Arima which is now under investigation by the Government.

During Thursday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Minister of Legal Affairs and the Attorney General Stuart Young said Government was probing the People’s Partnership administration’s 2012 purchase of the building despite advice from Government’s Property and Real Estate Services Division (PRESD) that it wasn’t “the soundest structure.” Young also said just last month an independent valuator placed the value of the property at $18 million, also claiming the the owner was allowed to continue operating in the building rent free after it was purchased.

Yesterday, however, Warner said he selected the property because he thought it was “an ideal location” for the Motor Vehicle Authority centre in Arima because the licensing office in Arima was “absurd, an insult and embarrassment” to the public and its workers. But he said after he began the purchase process he was transferred to the national security ministry, but said he was unaware the property had not been structurally sound.

Asked if there was a lack of oversight on his part, Warner said he had the best permanent secretary at the ministry, Cheryl Blackman, who ensured everything was done above board.

“If you are saying that there was a lack of oversight…I do not accept that at all. So all the details and so on, I didn’t have it. Yes, I began the process, sure,” Warner said, adding Devant Maharaj took over the ministry and the process thereafter.

Maharaj has confirmed he continued the process after Warner.

Asked if taxpayers got value for money with the $27 million purchase, Warner said, “I was in Cabinet when it came. At the time I thought so. The building was bought in 2012 and never used…as with many other government properties.”

He said he was instrumental in selecting the location for the Motor Vehicle Authority in Caroni along with several other properties and his name was never called in anything. He added, however, that the blame game between People’s National Movement and the United National Congress was a useless exercise.

“It’s foolish... Monday morning all we hearing is this one corrupt and that one corrupt. That does not make sense. The PNM saying UNC corrupt and vice versa. Okay, the PP was corrupt and that is why they were removed and the PNM was put in place. If they corrupt, charge who corrupt.”

Warner said right now the country was faced with a situation with who was more corrupt than who.

“People are getting tired of that. Everybody corrupt and nobody getting charged. What foolishness is this? This is another probe…so what is the difference? What will one more probe do?

Warner said for years the PNM has paid rent for One Alexandra Place in Woodbrook, which remained under-utilised.

“They paid $1 million a month…so that too doesn’t call for a probe?”

Efforts to reach Commissioner of Valuation Rick Ali at the Ministry of Finance and the property’s former owner Bindra Maharaj were unsuccessful yesterday.