Dame Jennifer defends PHC lease agreement in House
Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith has accused the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) of politicalisation and electioneering her Ministrys controversial lease agreement with Pembroke Hamilton Club (PHC).
Speaking to fellow Parliamentarians in the House of Assembly yesterday, Dame Jennifer lashed out at the Opposition for resorting to the media to get their questions answered rather than raising them in Parliament.
She said: Every week, in this place, opportunity is offered for just such disclosure — through Parliamentary Questions.
The Opposition generally use Parliamentary Questions to ask about travel and the number of teachers and students.
So I was surprised that they chose to ignore this avenue to get their questions about the matter of a 2008 agreement signed between the Pembroke Hamilton Club (PHC) and the Ministry of Education answered.
Dame Jennifer further accused the Opposition of ignoring the Parliamentary oath that they swore before shedding more details on her Ministrys agreement with PHC.
She said in September 2008 the then Minister of Education (Randy Horton) entered into an agreement to provide for the implementation of a wellness curriculum for preschool, primary and middle school students within the TN Tatem cluster of schools (Warwick and Paget Preschools, Purvis Primary, Heron Bay Primary, Gilbert Primary, Paget Primary Schools and TN Tatem Middle School).
The agreement, she added, called for PHC to provide the facility and the programmes for $442 per student per year, with the proviso that this sum would not be less than $391,000 per year.
She said the terms of the agreement mean that PHC must make the facility available to each school on request during the school day unless there is conflict due to a request by another member of the family of schools.
Dame Jennifer added: The facility may be used for students each week from Monday to Friday, between the hours of 9am and 4pm. And, the hours may be extended to 5pm on each of these days at no additional fee.
In addition, the Ministry shall have exclusive use of the facility when required for students, and PHC must ensure that other patrons do not interfere with use by students and staff.
The facility can also be used for prize-giving exercises, ceremonial events and recreational events organised by the schools or their Parent Teacher Association at no additional fee.
The facility will be made available to the Ministry of Education for the purpose of conducting meetings.
School staff will be able to use the facility at no additional fee, while parents and guardians will benefit from a discounted rate.
The Education Minister said the 20-year lease agreement, which doesnt come into effect until PHCs multidimensional complex at Stadium Lane, Warwick has been completed, will have a value of approximately $8 million.
Dame Jennifer said the agreement only came to her attention this year.
She added: In light of the economic climate I have asked the Attorney Generals Chambers to advise me of its validity four years after the date of its signing given that we currently do not have a completion date for the facility.
Members and the community can be assured that I will ensure transparency as we move forward.
Earlier this week Shadow Education Minister, Grant Gibbons, slammed Government for withholding its agreement with PHC from the public for four years.
He said: The PLP Government, once again, violated basic rules of transparency and good governance.
If a government commits taxpayer funds, then it has an obligation to disclose it, whether the spending occurs now, in the future or perhaps never.
This was clearly a Government back room deal cut in secret. Its the PLP Governments Uighur approach to governance — a secret deal with real consequences, unknown to all but a few.
And then, at some point, taxpayers have to pick up the pieces and pay the piper.
PHC embarked on an ambitious three-phase development plan to upgrade its sporting complex at Stadium Lane, Warwick in 2000.
The first phase entailed resurfacing the playing surface and installation of a new lighting system which was to be paid for by the $1.2 million PHC was loaned from the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) in 2001.
The loan was to be paid back over a 17-year period through rental income from PHCs two-storey building located at 81 Reid Street, Hamilton.
More than a decade later PHC has yet to pay principal on the loan.
The second phase of the development plan, which is already years behind schedule, involves the construction of a multipurpose facility that will seat as many as 2,500 people and include a health club and a youth club.
To date PHC have yet to secure funding for this phase of the project.
The third and final phase entails the construction of additional changing rooms and seating on the eastern side of PHCs Warwick ground.
According to a Government source, PHC repeatedly declined requests to downsize the project and accept the money HSBC was offering during negotiations to secure a loan to finance the project.
Club documents reveal that PHC were seeking to borrow between $10 million and $11 million from HSBC who were only willing to lend $8.5 million.
After the BIU made the $1.2 million loan to PHC, the club successfully negotiated a 20-year lease agreement for $1 million with Esso for 20,000 sq ft of land at their Warwick ground.
Esso subsequently leased an additional 2,000 sq ft of land for $125,000 to bring the total amount of the lease to $1,125,000.
Monies for leasing the gas station property have been fully paid to PHC.
PHC demolished their old clubhouse in Warwick in 2003 to make way for the new multidimensional complex.
In a recent interview OBA Warwick South Central candidate, Ras Mykkal, said PHC members and the Warwick community as a whole have been deprived of the promised facility for far too long. He also accused those spearheading the project of poor planning.
Speaking in the House of Assembly yesterday, Warwick South Central MP and Environment Minister, Marc Bean, said: Over the last few weeks, the PHC has been subject to the most vile, anti-community comments and statements that any community could possibly be going through.
As the MP for that area, I have remained silent because I understood the proof would be revealed in the pudding.
Shadow Attorney General Trevor Moniz objected to Dame Jennifers statement, suggesting that she was imputing improper motives to the OBA.
He said: This matter was raised in the public by members of the public, not by members of this side of the House.
The Speaker, Stanley Lowe, said the Minister was referring to the Opposition repeating the issues raised by the public. I cant see any imputing of motives, he said.
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