Friday, July 26, 2013

Anand Ramlogan Backs Down From Milshirv Battle

Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has backed down from his High Court battle against the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) in the controversial multi-million-dollar Milshirv project at Shirvan, Tobago.

Instead, Ramlogan has asked the court to change his initial application for judicial review of the THA’s decision to enter into a form of financing known as Build, Own, Lease, Transfer (BOLT) which was deemed as “illegal” to instead give an interpretation as to the “true extent” of the THA’s powers under the THA Act Chap: 25:03.

Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh, sitting in the Port of Spain High Court, Hall of Justice, yesterday issued a consent order to this effect.

This now means the way has been cleared for the resumption of construction of the $143 million Milshirv office complex for the THA Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment.

Ramlogan had filed civil proceedings against the Tobago House of Assembly in January this year, requesting a judicial review of its decision to enter into a BOLT arrangement with Milshirv Properties Ltd to build the complex on 12 acres of land at the junction of the Claude Noel Highway and Shirvan Road in Lowlands, south-western Tobago. 

Since then work had come to a standstill on the project.
Ramlogan had taken action on the eve of the hotly-contested Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections and the Milshirv deal was a burning topic on the political platform by the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), a coalition partner of the ruling People’s Partnership Government. 
At the time as well, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had called for the project to be halted, and a probe be conducted into what she called questionable dealings of the THA.

Persad-Bissessar also called on the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Integrity Commission to become involved in the investigations. 

At the time of the AG’s decision to take the THA to court over the BOLT arrangement, London had already secured separate legal opinions of former attorney general, John Jeremie, SC and acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith, who both confirmed the ability of the THA to enter into a BOLT arrangement. 

Jeremie’s opinion was specific to Milshirv while Hamel-Smith’s was on the BOLT arrangement.
Milshirv and First Citizens Bank were joined as parties in the proceedings, but  Justice Boodoosingh in his consent order stated that Milshirv and First Citizens be removed as parties to the proceedings.

According to a THA statement yesterday, “During the hearing Alvin Fitzpatrick SC representing the Attorney General submitted a letter from Finance Minister Larry Howai to London dated Friday, July 19.”

The letter stated that the BOLT arrangement for the project was done without the consent of the Finance Minister, and on this basis it was being challenged. 

The THA had however contended it did not require the Minister’s consent to enter into such an arrangement, including the finance component.

Howai, in his letter, said, “It was evident that the question as to whether the THA can enter into such arrangement including the financing component, without the consent of the Minister of Finance, was an important issue which required the guidance of the court.”

Howai also indicated he had been informed by the Attorney General of the change from judicial review to one of “interpretation for the court to determine the true extent of the THA’s powers under the THA Act.” 

But even as the court decides on this new application, Howai has given the green light for the resumption of the project. 

In his letter, he explained, this was “ view of the possibility that the rights of innocent third parties, in particular Milshirv Properties Limited and FCB Limited, may be adversely affected by the court proceedings as presently constituted and in the interest of good public administration to approve under section 51(b) of the THA Act and all enabling powers, the construction of the office complex as well as the lease and mortgage of the same to the THA and FCB pursuant to the BOLT arrangements entered between the THA and Milshirv.”

He has also approved “under the Act expenditure for the payment of lease rents to Milshirv under the proposed office lease between the THA and Milshirv”.

Alvin Fitzpatrick SC represented the Attorney General, John Jeremy SC represented the THA, while Milshirv was represented by Fyard Hosein SC and Milshirv by Douglas Mendes SC.


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