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Prime Minister: Money for houses justified

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The $4.4 million set aside in the budget for renovations to the Prime Minister’s official residence and to purchase an Ambassador’s House in New York is justified.{{more}}

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves addressed the subject during his wrap up statement at the end of the debate on the 2009 budget last Friday, December 5.

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace had suggested during his budget presentation that those two projects, along with a few others could be forgone to facilitate the removal of the Value Added Tax (VAT) from some more basic food items.

Eustace said that the government stands to lose $6 million in VAT revenue if his suggestion is adopted, and said that by canceling the projects he named, government will not have to worry about the loss of that income.

But Dr Gonsalves said that the Prime Minister’s official residence at Old Montrose is in need of repairs.

He said that his 16-year-old son Storm almost fell over a faulty banister and that part of the house is leaking.

The Prime Minister also complained about slippery tiles, which caused him to fall twice, “I had to walk with a walking stick for two days,” he said.

He also defended the need for the extension of the security quarters at the residence.

Dr Gonsalves said that a team from Trinidad, commissioned by Commissioner of Police Keith Miller to review his security detail, made several recommendations, including that his security detail be increased.

He said that the current quarters are inadequate for this increased detail. He also said that it was important that his security personnel live in quarters that are as comfortable as possible.

“I know each of them will take a bullet for me, it if comes to that,” he said.

Some $400,000 has been budgeted for the overall repairs at the official residence.

Regarding the house for the Ambassador to the United Nations, to which $4 million has been budgeted, Dr Gonsalves said that since 2001, this country has paid $1.4 million in rent for its United Nations Ambassadors.

He said that Minister of Foreign Affairs Sir Louis Straker has been asking for the money to be set aside for four years now, but it was decided that because the housing market is going down, now may be the best time to make the investment.

He however stressed that the house will only be bought if it is proven to be “value for money.” (KJ)