Finance Minister Colm Imbert has criticised the former People’s Partnership administration which, he said, passed the Children’s Act virtually on the eve of the 2015 general election without putting the necessary infrastructure in place at Children’s Homes. Imbert added that they then sued the incoming government for failing to have the necessary infrastructure in place in keeping with the provisions of the act.
As a result of the legal action, the Minister said, the State had to move swiftly to meet deadlines set by the court to bring the homes in line with the provisions of the act resulting in a $56 million loan for Nipdec to upgrade three homes, one of which the St Michael’s School for Boys now facing closure because of the decline in occupants.
The issue was raised when Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee met on Tuesday to discuss the Variation of Appropriations to the tune of $769,297,635 from the Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF) to be transferred for various ministries to be used as recurrent expenditure.
Imbert assured that despite the large amount being moved from the IDF there was still enough to do the projects.
He said this year the allocation to the fund was $2.675 billion, and even with the removal of the close to $0.8 billion, the fund would be left with $1.8 billion “which is more than adequate to fund projects for this year.”
It was the variation of $10 million to the Office of the Prime Minister to be used as payment on a loan from the First Citizens in the sum of $56 million, for the modernisation of the St Michael’s Home for Boys, the St Mary’s Children’s Home and the St Dominic’s Children’s Home which generated the most heated discussion.
He said, “What this government had to do after that atrocity was committed, we in Government had to go with lightning speed to engage a State Enterprise, in this case, Nipdec, to hustle and do the construction work, because we were given deadlines by the court as a result of proclamation of an incomplete system by your government.”
But Oropouche MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said he found it strange that the Government took more than two years to get the money required to put the infrastructure in place. Imbert said that the Government was given “certain deadlines by the court,” and as a result “proceeded with dispatch and these loan arrangements were executed in January this year and that is why they appear now.”
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi dismissed a claim by Naparima MP Rodney Charles that the Government was sued “because of its sloth.”
He said he was taking his oath of office on September 9, 2015 “when he got a phone call in the middle of the swearing in” that the court had been moved in a case “where there were no child rehabilitation centres for the law proclaimed by the UNC.”
Al-Rawi said even the court was “astounded and shocked by the fact that the person who came to the court was Anand Ramlogan asking for a declaration that the State was in breach of an Act proclaimed by the UNC.”