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Housing chairman has big decision to make

PORT OF SPAIN — One of the first issues that soon-to-be-appointed Housing Development Corporation (HDC) chairman Rabindra Moonan will have to deal with is whether he will approve the extension of a lease on a Range Rover for Minister of Housing Dr Roodal Moonilal.

Moonilal currently enjoys the use of a black Range Rover leased by the HDC for $289,800 a year.

The Range Rover HSE, which carries the licence plate PCR 5656, has been leased from Furness Car Rentals. The HDC pays a monthly bill of $24,150 for the vehicle, while the total lease agreement for the three-year period is $869,400. Sources say the lease took effect on February 2011 and ends in February 2014. The Range Rover has been customised to include blue police strobe lights in the centre of the grill at the front and back. A police siren has also been installed.

Questions have been raised about why such a vehicle has been leased for the minister, and also why a state enterprise is financing the lease, given that the ministry that Moonilal heads has several vehicles which can be used for official government business.

Apart from this, sources say other vehicles could have been leased at a much cheaper rate. Sources say when vehicles are leased, the ministers do not pay for the vehicles’ maintenance or operational costs. These costs as well as the leases are borne by taxpayers.

At the time of the approval, the HDC board was chaired by Henckle Lall and included Douglas Johnson, Gunness Sudama, Graig Davis, Reyna Kowlessar, Naddia Ali and James Lambert. Efforts to contact those board members were unsuccessful.

Last year, a slew of criticism was levelled against then Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath over the purchase of a $400,000 duty-free Porsche Cayenne as the official vehicle for his ministry.

Bharath defended the purchase, saying it was not extravagant. Contacted on the matter, a government minister said if a request to lease the Range Rover had been made to Cabinet there would have been strong objection.

Since the People’s Partnership government took office, ministers are now entitled to use a ministry vehicle for official purposes. This entitlement was put in place after Sport Minister Anil Roberts was involved in an accident on October 6, 2010. (Guardian)

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