Opposition MPs blast finance minister’s ‘pig in a bag’ approach in parliament

Opposition MPs blast finance minister’s ‘pig in a bag’ approach in parliament

Opposition Members of Parliament Major St Clair Leacock and Daniel Cummings on Wednesday blasted what they referred to as a “pig in a bag” situation as they rose to make their contribution to the Mt Wynne/Peters Hope Hotel Project Loan Authorization Bill presented by Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves..

The object of the bill was to have authorization from parliament for the government to borrow a loan of US$50 million from the Export/ Import Bank of Taiwan to finance the  construction of hotel in the Mt Wynne/Peters Hope area.

In introducing the bill, Gonsalves said the issue of the government’s intention to construct the hotel was well-known as it was stated during the  budget debate in February and canvassed in parliament subsequently. He said designs “are fairly advanced” and “we are in advanced discussions with a major operator.”

“The bill itself is short and fairly simple. Clause 4 says the loan should be applied for the purposes for which it was raised – which means we have to use the money to build the hotel. It says thath it will be charged under the Consolidated Fund. It says that the Minister of Finance is authorized to sign the loan. And it says that no stamp duty or other taxes should be charged on the loan,” Gonsalves told parliament in his presentation of the loan authorization bill.

“And that, Mr Speaker, in sum is what this bill is and what we’re bringing here,” Gonsalves said.

The minister of finance said he was surprised at the comment because the Leader of the Opposition had previously asked a question in the House about financing of the hotel and one would also recall that Central Kingstown MP St Clair Leacock had similarly asked the question. He said he had given a 9-page answer to the Leader of the Opposition.

Gonsalves said that in his response he hald stated the government intended to borrow US$50 million (EC$134 million) on terms to repay over 20 years with a grace period of 3 at a per annum interest rate of US 6months libur plus a fixed sum of 1.2 percent. He said information had been released but he would be more than happy in his wrapping up to give all the information that I’d already given to the Leader of the Opposition in responding to the question he had asked only two parliaments ago.

“I am being asked as a Member of Parliament representing the people of West Kingstown and a member of the party that should be in government but has been cheated into opposition, and I am being asked to make up my mind on the basis of a two-minute presentation by the minister who is piloting the bill for the expenditure of $135 million,” Cummings said.

Cummings said he did not have a clue as a member of parliament whether the government intended to ask Bragsa, the ministry of works, or hire a friend to select a contractor, or how the project is going to be constructed.

“Are we going to see another Argyle Airport style of construction without accountability? Are we? What kind of a project is before this house for my endorsement or rejection?” Cummings asked.

“I find it absolutely ludicrous and extremely insulting as an individual and as a Member of Parliament to be put in this position,” Cummings said.

Rising to express his concern, Central Kingstown MP Major St Clair Leacock said Gonsalves made a rather unusual approach on presenting the bill. He said the approach by the minister of finance was “wholly insulting and inadequate.”

“I mean we are here, I am inclined to give support to this legislation. That’s my natural inclination. But, the bill has serious issues,” Leacock said.

Leacock noted that he had asked questions “a few parliaments ago” in anticipation that it would have assisted him in his direction when they come of the presentation of the bill. He said the questions he asked then were precise economic and finance questions which, in his view, were not answered. He said what the finance minister was doing was presumably allowing him and others to speak in ignorance of information that he has.

He said, for example, Gonsalves told parliament that morning that they were in an advanced stage of design discussions fora 250 room hotel and with “a partner.” He said it was totally inadequate to speak for 3 minutes to ask for $135 million dollars to finance a project.