By Sean Douglas
October 20, 2009 – newsday.co.tt
PULLING no punches as he fearlessly trained his guns on his political leader, Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley yesterday launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Patrick Manning, declaring the Udecott scandal was ten times worse than the Piarco Airport affair and warning that come the next General Election, the issue would be about PNM corruption.
Speaking in the Lower House on the Validation and Immunity from Proceedings Bill 2009, a bill which seeks to validate the Uff Commission of Inquiry into Udecott and the local construction industry, Rowley unleashed his verbal assault against Manning while at the same time appealing to his PNM colleagues to, “do the right thing” and save the party from being tainted by the Udecott scandal.
“There are strong forces that are making it their duty to make sure this Commission of Inquiry does not succeed,” Rowley declared.
“As we validate this (Bill) today, we are validating the hope to save the PNM. We of the PNM, other than anybody else in this country, have a particular interest in this matter. And as we come here to validate this Bill, to validate the work of the Commission of Inquiry, the PNM is on trial!” Rowley declared.
He said those PNM members who bear the stain of corrupt former Minister, the late John O’Halloran, could not take the view that the Udecott Commission of Inquiry, was mere “old talk”.
Rowley asked how could Manning allege a Tobagonian company was too small to hire NH International (which built Landate) but never asked if a company was too small to hire Michael Zhang’s Shanghai Construction Group. “Then $700 million in contracts land on the Princes Building Grounds.” Rowley said that no Trinbagonian got a day’s work on that project which he added was done with 100 percent Chinese labour and materials.
“Mr Speaker, this country has to understand that sometimes you have to break the mold to make a new shape. And I am breaking the mold! I am breaking the mold! I’m breaking it on behalf of all the PNM people, who in 1986, when we went to campaign in my area, I was there, I don’t know who else was there, I was there and you are going door to door and they are slamming doors in your face in Westmoorings, in Glencoe, in Bayshore and all they telling you about is, O’Halloran,” Rowley thundered.
And as Rowley tore into him, Prime Minister Manning sat in his chair, between Leader of Government Business Colm Imbert and Attorney General John Jeremie, staring straight ahead, silent and never once looking at Rowley.
Recalling his firing from Cabinet as Housing Minister for demanding accountability on Udecott — a mega state entity which oversees construction of Government buildings and which has at its disposal, billions of dollars in state funds — Rowley challenged PM Manning, looking directly at him. “Do me a favour, Prime Minister. In this debate, get up and tell the country what I said in the Cabinet!” Manning remained silent. The Opposition members were in their glee and energetically pounded their desks.
Rowley made the challenge as he alluded to Manning’s statement several months ago that he (Rowley) had engaged in “wajank behaviour” at a Cabinet meeting which precipitated Manning’s decision to fire him from Cabinet. “The whole country knows that this is a contrived lie!” Rowley said. He then chastised Manning for earlier, during yesterday’s sitting, repeating allegations made a year and a half ago, against him.
“It appears as though as long as Udecott is involved, they don’t care whose character and reputation they destroy.” Rowley recalled that Manning, “my leader…my Prime Minister” tried to make out a case against him, over the Cleaver Heights housing project in Arima. Rowley said one design cost had actually been just $175,000 and not the $6 million as alleged by Manning.
Rowley wondered aloud, “Mr Speaker, why should people be sacrificed to allow others, wrongdoers, to prosper? That is what we are being called upon to do, colleagues. Those of you who think I am being obstructionist, what we are being called on to do, by a small clique of people in the country, is to support wrongdoing…pretend that we know nothing and see if we can ride it out. We are not going to ride this out!”
He said former PM Dr Eric Williams never publicly defended O’Halloran in the face of corruption allegations. “Right now, I am saying to my colleagues that what this Commission of Inquiry is looking at, is ten times worse than what happened in Piarco Airport. It’s even more brazen. I cannot believe they could have been so bold”.
Recalling spending the whole night sifting through six cartons of documents, released by Udecott the night before the inquiry hearing, Rowley said, “I had to defend myself from those vermin”.
Rowley then demanded that Government remove the Udecott Board, as he warned: “The next election will be the Udecott election”.
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