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PM defends need to repair official residence, purchase new vehicle

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Dr Ralph Gonsalves has defended the inclusion of a sum of money in the 2012 Estimates for the refurbishment of the prime minister’s residence and the purchase of a new vehicle.{{more}}

Gonsalves’s defence came in response to representative for Central Kingstown St Clair Leacock, during the wrap up session of the debate on the 2012 Estimates in the House on Tuesday, December 13.

Leacock in his contribution to the debate, made reference to the amounts of $80,000 for the purchase of a new vehicle to be placed at the prime minister’s residence; $500,000 for special development projects; $500,000 for special works and services; $260,000 for the refurbishment of the residence and $200,000 for the security quarters.

“You getting too expensive to mind; you almost sound like a government within a government,” Leacock told Gonsalves.

He continued that despite the hard times, the Prime Minister was making a request for an $80,000 vehicle.

“What you going do with another vehicle Mr Prime Minister?” he questioned.

“You say your house leaking, you want refurbishment of your house for $260,000. Well, that’s a house. That ain’t refurbishment,” Leacock continued.

“…$260,000 to fix a leak in the house. The roof drop in? You want $200,000 for security quarters. Mr Prime Minister, have a heart. And another $500,000 for special works and services that you alone could choose. This vex me, you know,” he said.

“All them other guys not strong enough to talk to you, you know – I will take off my glasses and look you in your eyes, you know.”

But the prime minister responded minutes later, saying that he had been advised that a vehicle was needed.

“I don’t drive any of the vehicles, and the one relating to the house of the prime minister, because there has to be a vehicle there, which a policeman drives, the vehicle breaks down all about,” Gonsalves responded.

“Vehicles do get old, so you have to buy a new one. Simple as that,” he continued.

Special development projects are $500,000 and special works and projects are $500,000, but according to the prime minister, those sums of money were there since Sir James Mitchell held the post of Finance Minister.

He further contended that there are sums of money allocated not just for constituencies and parliamentarians on this side, but on the other side, and that persons do come from time to time to access the funds.

According to Gonsalves, he instructs them to check the Cabinet Secretary who will in turn get BRAGSA or one of the other entities to do the work.

But the prime minister contended that Leacock was suggesting that he wanted the allocation for himself, but that could not be allowed.

“The improvement of the security quarters, that is not for me,” the Prime Minister said, adding that one of the reasons that he did not immediately move into the prime minister’s quarters in 2001 was that they did not have any security quarters, but that the quarters that had been subsequently built were inadequate.

“I have built police stations all over the country that people call hotels. Police officers are not boy scouts,” Gonsalves said.

“To say that they must go up Montrose (Police Station) to sleep is a Randolph Toussaint point, but I am not following him.”

The prime minister maintained that the prime minister’s residence was an old building, and one with many flaws.

“Look, I don’t have to live there, you know. I have a house. I have no problem with that. In fact before they built the library which I had insisted on and police quarters, I didn’t move in for three years,” Gonsalves said.

He further contended that in other parts of the region where there was no formal prime minister’s residence, the state paid the prime minister rent to live in their private residence.

So, too, Gonsalves noted that after he took office, the official vehicle was in bad shape and he used his personal vehicle for which he paid out of pocket for gasoline.

“But none of that would be remembered, you know.”

“I didn’t know that in the year 2011 I had to come here to defend some money to buy a vehicle for the residence of the prime minister to repair it or to provide better accommodation for the security officers who put their lives on the line,” Gonsalves said.

“I am really sorry that the prime minister of a proud and independent country has to be dragged into this.”

The prime minister further contended that the salary of the prime minister was less than that of the Chief Executive Officer of VINLEC (St. Vincent Electricity Services Ltd.), the IADC (International Airport Development Company), BRAGSA (The Buildings, Roads and General Services Authority) and the Tourism Authority.

“You think I begrudge them? All those persons are on contract, I don’t begrudge them. In fact I am glad because they are very good people in some important positions, and to get good people you have to pay,” he said. (DD)

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