Housing Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday alleged that Fifa vice president Jack Austin Warner used his influence with the United National Congress to gain contracts under the guise of the international football federation.
Rowley linked Warner to alleged impropriety involving the construction of four stadiums and the renovation of the Hasely Crawford Stadium at a news conference at the Housing Development Corporation, South Quay, Port-of-Spain.
Rowley called on Fifa to widen its current investigation of Warner on his alleged violation of its code of ethics.
“I want Fifa to answer some serious questions that the UNC has failed to answer,” Rowley said.
The minister’s call came weeks after it was brought to light that Warner’s travel agency, Simpaul, was selling tickets for World Cup 2006 in Germany.
The T&T Soca Warriors earned themselves a spot in this year’s competition for the first time.
Warner is now being investigated by Fifa’s executive.
Yesterday, Rowley went back to 1999 when the then UNC Government awarded contracts for the construction of the four stadiums and the renovation of the Hasely Crawford Stadium in preparation of Fifa’s Under-17 World Cup 2001.
Rowley said the project was a PNM initiative that fell to the UNC after the PNM left office. He said in October 1995, Cabinet had endorsed the project to the tune of $165 million.
Under the UNC, he said, this figure was revised to $348 million, which was later finalised at $365 million.
He said the reason given for the increase was to include expenditure on interior fittings, bleachers, fixed spectator seating, playing fields, floodlighting and scoreboards.
“All of this could have been reasonably assumed to be part of the original stadium,” Rowley said.
“Instead they raised the price by $200 million.”
Rowley said it was recommended that Fifa be appointed project manager for the construction of the stadium.
“By this Cabinet note, Fifa was integrally a part of the construction programme,” he said.
The minister said provisions in the national budget of $102 million for that fiscal year pointed out that the project was funded under the Fincor Loans Facilities.
He said if the UNC had gone by way of the Central Board Ordinance, this would have ensured ensured transparency and tendering.
“Instead, somewhere in the mix, out of the blue, that procedure was abandoned.
“The project was being done by another group of financiers; Fincor was nowhere in the picture,” Rowley said.
He said Cabinet had accepted an offer by the Royal Merchant Bank and Finance Company Ltd, Guardian Life, Barbados Mutual Life Assurance and Concacaf to construct the stadiums.
Concacaf and these companies were to be the joint developers and project managers of the project.
Rowley said the process was illegal and improper for Government to award any contract without any tender from Fifa or Concacaf.
“Who was the contract awarded to? Contracts were awarded in a very strange manner,” he said.
Rowley asked that Fifa answer what specific services was the association to provide to the construction programme. He also wanted the probe to investigate if Fifa was ever involved as a contractor to the programme, or whether it was just a local umbrella statement where the name of Fifa was being used to facilitate certain avenues of money management in T&T.
“Did Fifa ever advance itself as a contractor to the Government of T&T? If so, when and under what terms and conditions?” Rowley asked.
The minister also questioned Warner’s funding of the national team.
“Warner is also telling people that he put $17 million out of his own pocket to fund the national team.
“In any serious country, even schoolchildren would ask the question: Why is he so generous? Where this money came from?” Rowley said.
Contacted for a response yesterday, Warner scoffed at the allegations.
“Oh gosh, please. Don’t insult my intelligence. I am not going to respond to that dotishness.
“It take Rowley six years and a massive UNC rally for him to bring up this issue. They (PNM) may abuse their power, but don’t let them abuse our intelligence,” Warner said.
He said anything Rowley wanted to know about him or his organisation, “Let him ask Fifa.”