Thursday, October 25, 2012

Guest commentary BOLTs and Red Herrings by Robin Montano

The old saying "the law is an ass" came about for very obvious reasons: from time to time a decision is handed down by one judge or the other that flies in the face of common sense. Put another way, something may be legal on the face of it but may be morally repugnant. 

For example, until very recently a man could not be convicted of raping his wife. (I am not a criminal lawyer but believe that in Trinidad & Tobago that is still the case, i.e., a man cannot be convicted of raping his wife.) The very nature of rape is sexual intercourse without the woman's consent. It doesn't take all that much imagination or analysis to realise that this law is simply wrong. But you know what? It's the law!

That is why I looked upon the release of the legal opinion from no less a person than the Acting President of Trinidad & Tobago, Senator Timothy Hamel-Smith, given some 18 months ago as a complete red herring and its use in this BOLT affair as making a mockery of the law. 

Let's understand something: there is absolutely NOTHING illegal about a Build-Own-Lease-Transfer deal. Nothing at all! And without even reading the THA Act (the legislation which sets up the Tobago House of Assembly) I can bet dollars to doughnuts that a BOLT deal is well within the powers of the THA.

So? Why the fuss? The answer is that while there is nothing illegal with a BOLT transaction, the details of the particular transaction under scrutiny do require a lot of straight answers and do (without those answers) raise a number of very ugly and very unnecessary suspicions. 

As I have said many times, if you want to understand a problem go back to the beginning. So, here are the facts (again) as publicised in the newspapers:
  • The THA buys a piece of land from a company owned by the 
  • Rahael family for $12 million
  • John Rahael is a former PNM Government Minister; the THA is controlled by the PNM
  • The THA leases the same land back to the Rahael family - just in a different company name for 199 years at the rent of $10 a year
  • The THA then enters into an arrangement with the Rahaels whereby they will build an office complex for the THA and rent it to them for 20 years at the end of which the THA has the option to buy the property back at a reduced price. The agreed rent is $1.2 million per month
  • The THA makes a deposit of some $21.5 million as security for 
  • the rent for a building that hasn't yet been built
Now, if you ask me as a lawyer is the above deal legal, my answer would be an unequivocal 'yes'. 

But if you asked me as a person does the whole thing "smell" I would also have to say "yes". It doesn't take a genius to see from the above that some rather serious questions arise as to the propriety of the whole transaction. 

That there may be answers to these questions is always possible and at this time we ought not to rush to judgement. But the fact that Mr. London's THA has been silent to date on the questions of propriety (or impropriety) does tend to exacerbate the reasonable fears of the ordinary citizen. 

Mr. Hamel-Smith's legal opinion would not have addressed these issues - and if it did (which I doubt), then we should be allowed to see how the learned gentleman dealt with them.

But some $33.5 million of public money has been paid out already and nothing concrete (literally as well as figuratively) has been received in return. This is an issue that needs to be aired and answered in full. But without the obfuscations and red herrings that are being dragged across its path. We don't deserve that.

Read more of Robin Montano's writings in the RAG

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai