Like lawyers, opposition MPs dont ask a question unless
they think they know the answer, but the whole Senate was
surprised by a response on Tuesday afternoon.
Opposition leader in the Senate Wade Mark had asked how much
government ministries and state enterprises had spent on advertising
from May 2002 to the end of 2004.
In reply, junior Finance Minister Conrad Enill read a long
and mostly tedious list.
The Opposition didnt care about the $115,000 that First
Citizens Bank spent on a Scrabble tournament, the $857,000
on horseracing, or even $989,000 on cocktails in North, South
Instead, Mr Mark and his colleague Robin Montano zeroed in
on the amount the National Lotteries Control Board had spent
on advertising on two radio stations, I92.5 and its successor,
I95.5: $72,613.86 and $545,847.69 respectively. The closest
any other station came to making this much money from the
NLCB was 103, which was paid $395,499.50.
Mr Mark asked Mr Enill to explain this disproportionate amount,
bearing in mind that the chairman of the NLCB is also the
chairman of I95. (Mr Mark didnt name him, but the big
cheese in question is Louis Lee Sing.) Had a declaration of
interest been entered, he wanted to know.
A plainly embarrassed Mr Enill said he had had cause to look
at the matter. The chairman and board of the NLCB approved
the general project, but the advertising and public
relations officer responsible is, I think, he muttered,
as he dropped his bombshell, somebody called Devant
I have difficulty when I see results like this,
he added hastily. I did investigate.
Mr Enill had good reason to look abashed, and it was no wonder
his claim was greeted with incredulous laughter.
You believe that? asked Mr Mark.
Mr Enill said he was just there to answer the question.
Just to get this comedy in perspective, asked
Mr Montano, is the minister asking us to believe the
chairman of NLCB had absolutely nothing to do with $800,000
(sic) going to his companyhe just closed his eyes and
let Devant Maharaj do it?
No further light
Im not asking anyone to believe anything,
Mr Enill said sheepishly. Im just providing the
Now whereas Mr Lee Sing is well known as a friend of the Government,
Mr Maharaj came to prominence last year when he took the Government
to court, and won, over the Prime Ministers veto of
his promotion at the NLCB. Since then he has had even less
reason to be kindly disposed to Mr Lee Sing or the PNM, as
he has been refused leave of absence from the NLCB to take
up a job in the office of the leader of the Opposition.
To sum up, then, Mr Maharaj is the last person on the planet
who would be inclined to funnel revenue in the direction of
Mr Lee Sings radio station.
But no further light was shed on this mystery, as question
time ended before Mr Montano got to ask the supplemental questions
he was bursting to put to Mr Enill.
But government spending on advertising remained the theme
as the Senate debated Mr Montanos motion criticising
the government media campaign that promoted the police bills
Mr Mark adjudged the advertising agencies the winners in this
matter. The agencies used were CMB, Ample and the Resource
Factory, he said, and he noted that the chap who owns
Ample is Mr Alfred Aguiton, who is also, to the tune
of $20,000 a month plus perks, the Prime Ministers communications
As for the Resource Factory, Mr Mark thought its owners included
PNM PRO and ambassador plenipotentiary Jerry Narace, and,
once again, Louis Lee Sing. (However, Mr Lee Sing has since
denied any involvement and the Resource Factory issued a press
release saying Mr Narace was not a shareholder.)
Mr Mark also dug up figures suggesting more might have been
spent on the police reform bills media blitz than the $1.9
million the Government had admitted to.
He had noticed that among the funds allocated to the office
of the Prime Minister, there had been transferred from one
sub-head to another $2.5 million for promotions, publicity
Mr Mark purported to find it incredible that the country could
be given one figure when the true figure was $.6 million more.
But thats all too easy to credit. He may have been caught
off guard earlier in the afternoon, but its harder to
believe that an old hand like Mr Mark was actually surprised
at what he found.