September 29, 2016 – guardian.co.tt
President Anthony Carmona says “contrary to false and incorrect media reports, neither Ms Pramati Noe, former private secretary to the President, nor Antonio Piccolo purchased, nor imported quality wines on behalf of the Office of the President.”
Additionally, he said, Italian Import/Export Limited, a registered local company and/or its directors, neither purchased nor imported any wine on behalf of the office of the President.
He made the comment yesterday in response to queries over whether his office had properly tendered for the purchase of the wine and whether he had used the services of an employee’s company to do so.
Carmona said they utilised “a well-established registered local company to be the agent who facilitated the purchase and importation of such quality wines.” He said the wines were neither bottled nor labelled in Trinidad and Tobago but gave no detail as to the company used.
“The purchase of the quality wines (red wine, white wine and sparkling wine) has been conducted with the requisite transparency, due diligence and in keeping with proper procurement practices as advised,” he said.
He said when he assumed office he realised the cost of “wine, champagne and cuisine” was too high and a decision was taken to remove champagne and reduce the cost of food for events.
He said “given the high local and regional market prices for quality wines, the office sourced comparable quality wines (white wine, red wine and sparkling wines) at reasonable prices from a well-respected vineyard in Italy.”
The cost of the wine bought in 2014, he said, “was erroneously stated in the media as $1,000,000,” but actually amounted to $1,483,638.40. The purchase was made in three voucher payments on the following dates: One on November 28, 2014 for $793,472.40, another on May 1, 2015 for $347,484 and a third voucher on July 27 for $342,682, he said.
“As a result of the cost effective purchase, the Office of the President has not made any additional purchases of quality wines since late 2014, 2015, 2016 and we anticipate 2017, notwithstanding the increased number of events hosted and paid for by their excellencies under the presidential budget,” he added.
He justified the spend, however, saying the importation of high quality wines cut significantly the rest of the alcohol budget. By removing the champagne alone, he said they cut alcohol expenses by some $600,000 a year.
On the use of the presidential seal on the bottles of wine, he said: “The use of the crest/seal of the Head of State on bottles of wine or spirits to be served at official functions is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago.”
He cited the United Kingdom, where he said there are whiskies named the House of Lords and the House of Commons with the seal of the UK Parliament, which are presented by members of both houses as official gifts.
In the US, he said at the White House “an exclusive beer is brewed for the President and his guests.”
He listed some positives of the Presidential wine, saying “there is no corporate branding or advertisement on the wine bottles of a supplier” and it is used strictly for official functions of the Office of the President.
The wines with the crest and seal, he said, “can be monitored and audited so as to prevent theft and disappearance,” and the wines cannot be “commercially sold, exchanged or be available to the public outside of State functions and events.” He said the wines have also never been sold, exchanged or given as a gift.
“Anyone found in possession of a full bottle of the wine with the presidential seal/crest can be charged with being in unlawful possession of stolen goods,” he said. He said the use of the “replica of the seal of the President on bottles of wine for functions and events does not infringe or violate any law of the republic of Trinidad and Tobago.”
The issue of the presidential seal, he said, did “not infringe or violate any law. It is for the exclusive use of the office of the President.”
He said while use of the Coat of Arms required the permission of the National Emblem Committee, no such permission was required for use of the presidential seal. The crest and the seal, he said, was “exclusive to the Head of State and the Office of the President in the performance of his functions and administrative duties. It is the symbol of the President and the office he holds.”
The crest/seal he said was used on all, stationery, cutlery,crockery, napkins and vehicles and other diverse things.
Questions still to answer, say analysts
By Anna Ramdass
September 28, 2016 – www.trinidadexpress.com
There are a number of questions that the highest office holders in the country — the President and the Prime Minister — have to answer, according to political commentators.
Political analyst Dr Hamid Ghany said yesterday that the Prime Minister needs to give his version with respect to the President’s claim that the Prime Minister was informed of the meeting with National Security Minister Edmund Dillon.
And, former head of the public service Reginald Dumas was also of the view that there are questions on this controversy as well as the President’s House importation of over a million dollars in wine.
President Anthony Carmona said yesterday that he had informed Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that he intended to meet with Dillon.
Ghany said, if this were the case, why then did Rowley seek a legal opinion from senior counsel Martin Daly on the meeting.
“The President has given his version so now having opened up that particular avenue I think the Prime Minister may now have to respond to the President in public,” said Ghany.
“The thing that raises a concern to me is the contradiction regarding the meeting that the President had with Mr Dillon and the divisional heads who accompanied him because the President said that this meeting was done with the full knowledge of the Prime Minister and it is a bit difficult for me to understand why the Prime Minister would have requested a legal opinion from Martin Daly, senior counsel, as to the constitutional propriety of the meeting,” he said.
Ghany said the cost of the legal opinion should also be made public. “I am pretty certain that Minister Dillon would not have attended such a meeting if the Prime Minister did not know so I think there are more questions to be answered now and those questions must be answered by the Prime Minister,” he said.
Ghany said he did not see a problem with the President, who is commander of the armed forces, meeting with Dillon.
“I have publicly disputed Martin Daly’s opinion on the ground that if you take the opinion to its logical conclusion, it would result in the dismissal of Minister Dillon. I do not see the need to dismiss Minister Dillon because I disagree with Martin Daly’s opinion,” he said.