Sunday 1st May, 2005


Manning urged to fire board member

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The board of directors of the Estate Management and Business Development Company (EMBDC) has called on Prime Minister Patrick Manning to remove a senior official from office.

According to sources, the board held its monthly meeting two weeks ago, at which a motion of no confidence in the member was passed, citing controversial financial issues, among other matters.

On the main burner at the meeting, a source said, was a report that a real estate development company was tipped to purchase prime state-owned lands at Caroni Savannah Road, Chaguanas, to set up an upscale billion-dollar housing development, complete with golf course.

The board’s decision, which has been forwarded to PM Manning, in his capacity as Minister of Finance and Corporation Sole, was based on fears that the developer could be a sole selective tenderer, rather than being subject to established open tendering procedure, sources said.

The EMBDC was set up in 2002 as a state enterprise by the People’s National Movement regime to manage exclusively 80,000 acres of lands, after the closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd.

Its executive chairman is Uthara Rao, with Commodore Anthony Franklin as deputy chairman. Other board members are Alicia Chankar, Wilma Henry, Lenore Joseph, Farad Khan and Vernon Ramesar.

The EMBDC is mandated to execute government’s plan to distribute lands to former Caroni workers and for agricultural, housing and real estate development projects.

Only last month, the company got the legal right to perform these functions after the Lands Vesting Bill was brought to Parliament.

Other troubling matters said to have influenced the board’s decision to remove the member include the performance of a security company and the purchase of ten computers by an allegedly favoured bidder.

Inter-action with staff members was also another decisive issue.

After the motion was passed, it was reportedly sent by courier to the office of the Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Christine Sahadeo.

A copy was also said to have been faxed to Manning.

Last Monday, after the no- confidence motion, the board met Conrad Enill, Junior Minister of Finance at the Eric Williams Financial Complex, Port-of-Spain.

Enill reportedly told EMBDC board that Manning (who was scheduled to return to T&T from a week-long trip to Latin America) would meet with them “at his earliest convenience.”

The junior minister himself, in a telephone conversation with this newspaper, confirmed that he had met the board and that Manning would meet them "at his earliest convenience."

He added that he had been asked to do so by the PM last Sunday evening.

Contacted at her office for comment last week, Junior Minister Sahadeo said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the matter.

The EMBDC came into the national spotlight on April 5, when allegations of sexual misconduct were made against chairman Rao, during debate of the Caroni Lands Vesting Bill by Senator Wade Mark.

Mark even took a swipe at the chairman, saying he “goes around boasting he is a good friend of the Prime Minister.”

Rao was said to be “in a meeting” when this reporter called for a comment on Thursday. A male voice said the chairman would return the call, but there was no response from Rao up to press time.

– With reporting by

Sasha Mohammed


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