"Soon," was Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley's response to reporters yesterday when they asked him when the date for Local Government elections will be announced.
Rowley the reply at a media conference about his recent trip to the United States. Local Government polls are constitutionally due between November and early February. PNM officials have projected that the election will be held later this year since Carnival 2020 takes place early next year.
Commenting on Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar's calls for answers on Finance Minister Colm Imbert's interest in a private housing project, Rowley said he wasn't "braksing for nobody" but she had to make specific allegations of wrong-doing and then he could look at it. He said she won't get his "guidance" on the matter without that.
"I'm not dealing with 'ifs'," he added.
Persad-Bissessar raised the housing matter recently, claiming Imbert owned the property. She asked if he had declared his interest in it when he sat in Cabinet and when he recently proposed a Finance Bill which sought to exempt multi-family dwellings from tax.
The Opposition Leader said Imbert hadn't declared any such interest when he piloted the bill in Parliament in July. Imbert has remained mum since her allegations were raised two weeks ago.
Rowley said Persad-Bissessar was "desperately looking for a PNM scandal." He added that when the Bill was brought up, Government had jokingly referred to it as the Rambachan Bill since UNC MP Suruj Rambachan was known to be a builder.
He said Persad-Bissessar had seen no issue there. He added that he wouldn't be drawn down any "rabbit hole" by every bit of UNC information.
"They must say specifically what the wrong-doing is, then we'll deal with it," he said, adding that if he required any information on any minister's conduct, he would do so.
On Persad-Bissessar's recent silence following his revelation that she tipped off PNM's Marlene McDonald that police were going to arrest her, Rowley grinned broadly. He then related—saying he had once looked after yard fowl—how chickens get "pip" on their tongue, preventing them from clucking.
Internet sites state "pip" is the formation of a hard scale at the end of the tongue of a bird caused by respiratory distress. This leaves the bird breathing through the mouth, causing the tip of the tongue to dry out and eventually blacken. Left untreated, the bird dies.
Rowley also defended the cancellation of the US$71m housing project agreement with China Gezhouba Group. He said while Cabinet, with oversight, approved the framework agreement, the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) went on with the issue and later problems were discovered.
He said Cabinet had even reviewed its position on aspects of the matter, such as the HDC selling all the units. It was also found that the HDC took too long with private-public partnership moves. He said it might be that- the matter will be "more facilitatory "for local contractors.
Rowley defended HDC chairman Newman George's appointment as Paria Fuel Trading chairman, saying: "The HDC board isn't George."
On whether he was Housing Minister when the contract was agreed to, he brushed it off saying if he happened to hold the portfolio temporarily at the time, it had "nothing to do with " his being PM. He said there was no personal involvement.
Rowley said the Law Association's recent position on his stance on their issue involving the Chief Justice shows there's freedom of speech.
Reporter: Gail Alexander