“One must not use one’s entrusted public office for private gain,” Hart noted in an interview with Newsday yesterday. “If in fact the Prime Minister has used the power entrusted to him by virtue of his position to benefit that project then that clearly is an abuse of power and it fits within Transparency International’s definition of corruption and he should answer for it.”
“It all comes back to the Prime Minister misusing the power entrusted to him and benefitting a private party,” he said.
In an interview broadcast on television on Sunday after the State exercised its power to commandeer broadcast time, Manning said, “The Prime Minister assists the Lighthouse of Our Lord Jesus Christ and indeed assists other churches in his own constituency...The Lighthouse of Our Lord Jesus Christ is just another church that the Prime Minister is assisting.” At the same time, of Pena, Manning admitted, “she is indeed my spiritual adviser.”
It was the first time that the Prime Minister publicly admitted Pena was his spiritual adviser and, thus, linked to him in a personal capacity. Manning also said Pena, who is the head of the Lighthouse of Our Lord Jesus Christ, may have visited former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart in Hart’s “personal capacity”.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Saturday released documents raising the questions of the possible siphoning of funds from the Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre for the church project under the heading, “outdoor stage project of Prime Minister’s House”. Victor Hart noted that several questions were raised by Persad-Bissessar’s documents and by Manning’s interview on Sunday night.
“Did the Prime Minister afford preferential treatment to his spiritual adviser, the owner of the Guanapo church? Did he use his office to advance the personal or financial interest of the said spiritual adviser? Did he allow public property (the design of the “outdoor stage project of the Prime Minister’s House”), paid for by taxpayers, to be used by the said spiritual adviser for the construction of the Guanapo church and, if so, under what terms and conditions? Did he cause a public officer (Calder Hart) to use his time and services for church activities (sourcing of design and construction services) unrelated to any official work? Did he directly or indirectly use his office for private gain?” Victor Hart asked.
In the interview on Sunday, Manning suggested that he had admitted his relationship to Pena and his assistance to her in Parliament earlier this year. “That is exactly what I said in Parliament earlier this year,” he said. “I spoke to the Parliament recently on this matter.”
But checks by Newsday reveal that in Parliament on February 26, Manning did not name Pena as his spiritual adviser, distanced himself from her travels and failed to disclose that Pena had met with Hart on the church. He also did not disclose assisting her church, but instead disclosed Cabinet approval of State lands. He made no mention of issuing instructions, since 2006, on the church to architect Stephen Mendes.
Manning was silent on the “assistance” he gave Pena, saying, “when the Cabinet took a decision that it would make lands available to the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ, all it was doing was acting in accordance with a tradition of long-standing that had become an essential and integral part of the conduct of government business in its relations between church and State. There is nothing unusual about it.”He confirmed visiting the site of the church at the Heights of Guanapo but did not explain why he made this visit or reveal that it was in the course of “assisting” Pena.
“When the Prime Minister visits the site of the church for the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ, he did not go under the cover of darkness you know; he went with a security detail. Everybody knew he went, and contrary to all that we are reading in the newspapers, the Prime Minister visited that site once, during broad daylight in the year 2005,” he said.
He denied the use of State funds in the church project, adding that the church does not belong to him.
“...The church is owned by the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ; neither the Prime Minister nor any Member of the Government gave any instruction to Udecott regarding the construction of the church,” he said. He fell short of denying Udecott staff’s involvement and did not disclose Hart’s role in the project.
As for his relationship with Pena, Manning did not name her as his spiritual adviser and arguably placed some distance between himself and her. He denied Pena had ever travelled with him or had travelled in an official capacity on behalf of the State.
“There is no Cabinet decision authorising any payment for the head of the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ to travel to any part of the world.”
Far from admitting to assisting Pena’s church, Manning went on the defensive, saying, “I will attend any church of my choice. That is my right. I would pursue the faith of my choice. That is my right, as it is the right of anybody else. I will consult whom I wish for spiritual advice. That is my right.”