Sources close to the UNC Leader yesterday revealed that Persad-Bissessar has privately assured her colleagues that she has no desire to live at the controversial residence and that she would open the facilities up to the public. However, there is as yet no final plan on what form this arrangement would take or what the facilities would be used for.
“She has said she would not want to live there,” a source said. “It would be opened up to the public.”
Word of Persad-Bissessar’s private assurance to top-level UNC members came one day after Prime Minister Patrick Manning hosted a lavish reception for members of the local art fraternity at La Fantasie Road, which is off-limits to the public.
Hundreds attended Friday’s event, entitled, “Expressions” which saw staff at the residence take over the adjoining President’s Grounds in order to use it as a car park. The event, which was hosted in a newly-constructed wing of the Prime Minister’s Residence which features an outdoor amphitheatre, featured live music by the Divine Echoes, a band funded through the Office of the Prime Minister.
“There was a wide variety of alcohol being served: Johnny Walker Blue Scotch Whiskey, Bailey’s Irish Cream, it was a lot, and I am not a fan of alcohol,” one attendee said yesterday. “I noticed a lot of food and a lot of drink. We were also surrounded by the Prime Minister’s security detail, with some uniformed and un-uniformed officers. I saw a lot of members of party groups and ministers.”
Interim president of the Artists Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT), Rubadiri Victor, who attended the event as a member of the National Drama Association of Trinidad and Tobago, described the newly constructed outdoor amphitheatre, which has been said to have cost $10 million, as a superior facility to the much criticised $500 million National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA).
“It felt kinda tragic,” Victor said yesterday. “That space is infinitely more practical than NAPA. It just goes to show. The facility is so practical, people enjoyed themselves and it was inexpensive compared to NAPA. If only we got this for our general use and not the facility they ended up building across the Savannah.”
Victor was due to hand Prime Minister Patrick Manning a petition calling on whoever wins the election to introduce provisions to help artists, but did not at the event. Manning attended the event in the company of his wife, Hazel, the Local Government Minister.
The construction of and accounting for the Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre, a Udecott project built by contractor Shanghai Construction Group (SCG), has been one of the most controversial aspects of Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s administration.
When it was first announced, the project was estimated to cost $40 million. Later, that rose to $148 million. In September, 2008, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Mariano Brown put the cost at $175.3 million.
But a Udecott dossier on the project which was submitted by Udecott lawyers to the Uff Commission of Inquiry, and obtained by Newsday, put the estimated cost for the project at $243,961,819 as at December 31, 2008. Those documents appeared to not include the later addition of the $10 million outdoor amphitheatre and reported refurbishment work inside of the facility which have possibly pushed the cost towards more than $255 million.
It also emerged that SCG had billed Udecott more than $3 million for “drapes and blinds” at the facility. Additionally, as detailed by other documents lodged with the Uff Commission, SCG billed Udecott $7 million for furniture inside of the building, including a king-sized bed that cost $26,800 in a “master bedroom”, fitted sheets that cost $3,400 each, and pillow cases at $158 apiece, according to the SCG documents. Invoices also revealed that Udecott approved a moat at the residence at a cost of $1.2 million.
The Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre comprises a 20,084 sq ft diplomatic centre and a 35,797 sq ft prime ministerial residence. It is off limits to the general public and was first opened at a ceremony and media tour on August 29, 2007, which was aborted due to repeated power outages.
Persad-Bissessar’s assurance comes ahead of the party’s launch of its manifesto which will be revealed this week. The PNM manifesto, which is tipped to emphasise the contribution the party has made via education and social development programmes, is expected to be unveiled today.
Sunday Newsday understands that the UNC manifesto is set to include a series of promises for reform already publicly announced by Persad-Bissessar.
Among these are: the introduction of fixed terms for the office of prime minister, reform of the laws governing the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund, fixed election dates, the repeal of property tax laws, an increase of old age pension to $3,000, the expansion of the GATE programme to include some mainstream tertiary education courses, new health care facilities, laws to introduce public procurement regulations and an anti-corruption commission.