Asking the Lower House to set up a joint select committee to update the Prevention of Corruption Act, Ramlogan said UTT head, Prof Ken Julien, had in 2008 bought ten grand pianos from the Bosendorfer firm for US$850,000 (TT$5 million), after a one-third discount.
Quoting a Bosendorfer letter of November 24, 2008, he said, “One unit entitled Strauss and listed at US$114,215 is listed with a location of ‘Home of Prime Minister – The Honourable Patrick Manning’.”
“They in fact delivered one to the residence of the Prime Minister (Manning),” he said.
Ramlogan said he had asked Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to search for it. Turning to Manning, Ramlogan said, “Sir, if you know where that piano is..could you kindly assist us?” Paraphrasing a Lord Kitchener ditty, “Where the money gone?”, Ramlogan said, “Today we have to ask, where the piano gone?” He said one grand piano had gone to each of four UTT campuses at O’Meara, Point Lisas, San Fernando, Chaguaramas (Maritime campus); and one to the residence of a musician known as Prof Mikkens. “Until about three months ago, we understand that two of the pianos were in their original packaging. None of the pianos appear to have been used to any extent at all, save for a few recitals given by Professor Mikkens or Professor Seivewright. Recently, in the last few months, three of the pianos were transferred to the Academy of the Performing Arts, and two are to be found at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA).” Ramlogan said the purchase was a most shameful and disgraceful use of public funds.
Ramlogan said the purchase, to set up a National Symphony Orchestra, was outside of the UTT’s remit. Manning did not visibly react to Ramlogan’s claims.
Saying Manning should instead support the local steelpan and dholak, Ramlogan said he’d like to see “my little friend”, Diego Martin North East MP Colm Imbert, play a chutney or calypso song on a grand piano. Ramlogan hit the UTT under the former regime for spending $14 million to lease and repair a guesthouse at which Manning’s reputed spiritual adviser Rev Juliana Pena had stayed from December 2007 to October 2008. “On 1 February 2006, UTT signed a lease with Consolidated Services Limited (CSL). The lease was for a term of five years at a monthly rent of TT$50,000. In or about November 2006, it was discovered that CSL had no legal title...”.
The UTT had spent $5 million repairing the house, not the $1 million first forecast, while the lease had amounted to $9.4 million.
Ramlogan said the UTT had paid staff despite them not performing, being paid elsewhere, leaving UTT, being foreign-based, and not being contractually entitled to be paid.
“An employee in the Academy of Fashion was identified as having been paid TT$40,000 per month for three years without performing any work,” said Ramlogan.
He said a London-based Saville Row tailor who rarely visited Trinidad was paid TT$116,912 as a UTT professor from May 2009 to May 2010, including airfare. A director unnecessarily got a $240,000 ex-gratia payment and $147,000 in lieu of salary. Prof Julien got US$30,000 worth of medical treatment, outside of his contractual dues, plus $37,000 in landscaping.
Dubbing the UTT a “thiefdom”, he said it was one of several bodies now being probed for corruption, as he made the case for a new anti-corruption commission.