By Ria Taitt, www.newsday.co.tt
For the first time since accusations were levelled against him, Housing Minister Dr Keith Rowley went on the offensive. In addressing the Senate yesterday on the controversial Mason Hall Project, Rowley moved even the normally taciturn Independent bench to applaud (table-thump) his spirited defence. During his contribution the belaboured minister produced documentary evidence - in the form of an $83,000 cheque - to bolster his claim that he didn't get anything free from the State for his land project. As Rowley rose to speak, the Opposition staged a walkout, with Wade Mark saying, "We are not prepared at this time to listen to this minister. We believe he should resign." But the Minister was unfazed. He said the Mason Hall Development had exercised the Opposition "to the point of an orgasm," which he had no problem with. However, he asserted that he needed to set the record of Hansard straight against the "naked fabrication." The first "falsehood" came from a "bush vet" (Senator Jennifer Jones Kernahan) who alleged he had received free electricity services from TTEC, and free water services from WASA.
Rowley noted that Public Utilities Minister Pennelope Beckles, (who happened to be in the Senate at the time Jones-Kernahan made her allegations) immediately denied the allegation "without knowing anything in the matter Such is the confidence that my colleagues have in me." But he said he thought he owed it to the Senate, "especially the Independent Senators," to give an explanation. The minister produced a cheque dated June 21, 2004 made out to the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission for $83,282 signed by Sharon Rowley, his wife, "to pay for the services on her project in Tobago." On the WASA issue, Rowley said it was only when a connection was made that WASA was owed anything. Since there had been no connection on that project, no money was owed to WASA," he said. Noting he had been accused of "thiefing" a load of sand, and some bricks and whatever, "maybe I have it under my bed," Rowley declared, "My name is Keith Christopher Rowley. The Keith means that I have been named after a great cricketer who died last week (Keith Miller,) the Christopher means that Saint Christopher carries me on his back, and Rowley means I am from Mason Hall in Tobago.
Where I got my upbringing at the Mason Hall Methodist, Mason Hall Adventist and the Bishops Anglican Schools - the one thing they taught us was ‘thou shall not steal.' And if they (UNC) had a little exposure to those institutions and that upbringing, maybe they wouldn't be where they are today." Noting that temporary Senator Dr Tim Gopeesingh had asked why the police didn't search his (Rowley) home, Rowley said, "Anytime the police come to my house they come to lime with me, or they come to ask directions to their (UNC members) houses," he said to laughter and desk-thumping. Rowley also turned his guns on Robin Montano, who, he said, blatantly violated two fundamental rules governing the conduct of MPs - the sub judice principle and the advocacy rule. Quoting from parliamentary documents on the advocacy rule, Rowley stated, "No member shall advocate any matter on behalf of any individual by means of a speech in Parliament in consideration of any fee, direct or indirect." He noted that Montano had waved a document purporting to come from the NHA, but which was a "fraud" and "forgery."
Explaining the background to this document, Rowley said an employee had tried to blackmail the NHA into paying him $600,000 to leave the job. When the NHA refused, the person threatened the CEO, saying he had the goods on him (the CEO,) the chairman and the government. After he was told "which lake to jump into," the individual went to a legal advisor, Senator Robin Montano, who in turn prepared an affidavit on the basis of the fraudulent memos, and filed a writ in the court. "Here you have a sitting senator, prepares an affidavit, files a writ, brings it to the Parliament, stands up in the Parliament prosecutes the case, presents exhibits," he said. He called on his colleagues in the Senate to ensure that Montano was brought before the disciplinary committee of the Senate. he said Montano told another "patent falsehood" - that the NH International, owned by Emile Elias was granted over TT $1.1 billion in contracts, Rowley said. And some of the buildings cited by Montano in accounting for this figure, like the Ministry of Education building, "not even a drawing had gone to tender" as yet.
It was clear, Rowley stated, the Opposition was "feeling lonely in the wilderness of corruption and was looking for company." This "beleaguered Opposition" found itself in a "quagmire" and was looking for a ladder to climb out. "That is why when they see me come here today and they know I will make them out for what they are, they run out the Parliament," he said, to supportive table-thumping. Rowley said that unlike Opposition members, he was prepared to subject himself and his family affairs to scrutiny by the competent authority - the Integrity Commission and any number of Commissions of Inquiry. "I plan to cooperate with one and all," he said. Rowley, who earlier stoutly defended government's housing policy, concluded his presentation by saying he wanted to tell Wade Mark, who led the walk out, that he (Rowley) was fortunate to have been blessed with a wife who was capable of providing him with love, strength and resources, "as and when required."
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