29 February 2012

Minister compares Santa Rosa expenditure to that of previous administration. “$850,000 plus VAT” per month paid to property owner as rent.

Government has spent close to $60 million in taxpayers’ dollars to modify and lease the facility which houses the Santa Rosa prison.

National Security Minister Brigadier John Sandy, in response to questions from Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds at yesterday’s Senate sitting, disclosed that the beneficiary of the millions is the owner of the property—Wala Wala Ltd.

He said he was not embarrassed by the exorbitant sums spent on this prison, which housed just over 100 inmates during the State of Emergency, as this was nothing compared to the wastage under the People’s National Movement (PNM) administration.

Sandy said there was never a decision to construct a new prison at Santa Rosa, but the need for a place to house detainees came as a result of the imposition of the State of Emergency last year.

The Commissioner of Prisons, he said, was mandated to convene and share a working group to urgently find a suitable place and after visiting several sites they recommended that the old Neal and Massy site, which consists of two buildings situated at the 26-kilometre mark on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, was the best option.

Sandy said a decision was taken in principle and later by contract on August 29, 2011, for rental of the property by the National Security Ministry. On September 2, 2011, the facility was appointed as a district prison.

“The property upon which the district prison is located is owned by the company Wala Wala Ltd… The modification and other related costs to ensure that the facility compliance to international standards were as follows: modification and installation, $50 million; office accommodation, $3,329,250,” said Sandy.

“Wala Wala Ltd agreed to rent the property to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for a period of six months, commencing September 1, 2011, at a monthly cost of $850,000 plus VAT,” he said.

Although this expensive facility was considered the best site to house prisoners, on October 17, 2011, the facility had to be vacated to facilitate urgent repairs to the roof.

Sandy said these repairs were completed and by November 15 some 105 inmates had re-occupied the prison.

Sandy, who seemed irritated by Hinds’s constant questions, said he had no idea what was the cost to repair the roof, but he knows that it was at the expense of Wala Wala Ltd.

Hinds pressed further, saying he had one further question before he got his head bitten off: “Does the Minister consider that the $50 million spent in modification of that premises for rental for six months, does the Minister consider that is an absolute misuse of public funds, that brings no further benefit to the people of Trinidad and Tobago?”

“You will have to bring that question in another instance and I will answer you,” said Sandy.

Opposition Senator Terrence Deyalsingh then asked Sandy whether he could name who was the individual owner, shareholders or directors of Wala Wala Ltd, to which Sandy replied, “No I can’t”.

“Is the Minister aware that contrary to figures given by him to this Parliament about the cost of maintenance of a prison in the system that based on the figures you reveal today, to maintain the prisoners, the 105 of them, it costs this country $7,619 (each) per month?” asked Hinds.

Sandy said the inmates at the time were temporary, but the plan is to increase the population in that prison to ensure that the location is properly utilised in future.

The Minister disclosed that consideration is being given to purchase the facility as Hinds questioned whether not this would not be more economically feasible, as opposed to paying an exorbitant rent.

Deyalsingh questioned whether Government, in an attempt to justify the millions it is spending on this prison, would look for people to lock up.

Sandy said the Santa Rosa Prison would be used to ease the overcrowding at other prisons which he blamed the PNM for.

“Are we to understand that you are still paying Wala Wala $850,000 a month for rental as we speak?” asked Hinds as Sandy confirmed this.

“Are you not embarrassed honourable Minister?” asked Hinds.

“Am I embarrassed? With the things you all did, there is no comparison,” said Sandy.

Hinds told the Express last night that since Sandy himself disclosed that all persons detained during the State of Emergency were released, this means that close to $1 million was being paid to rent a facility to house an empty prison.

Checks by the Express on the Ministry of Legal Affairs company’s registry website found that Wala Wala Ltd was incorporated in August 2004 by attorney Mark Laquis and is located at Lots 1 and 1A Diamond Vale Industrial Estate, Diamond Vale, Diego Martin.

The Express was unable to reach Laquis for comment.


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