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Gaston Browne: “I don’t know what the bru-ha-ha is about!”

Prime Minister Gaston Browne has brushed aside criticism surrounding the rental of his home at Jolly Harbour.

The tenancy agreement between Mr. Browne and Victor Singh of Metropolitan University College of Medicine Incorporated that lists the monthly rent at US$20,000 a month was made public last week by political aspirant Algernon Watts.

This sparked debate in some quarters over Browne’s decision to enter such an arrangement.

The main opposition United Progressive Party’s leader, Harold Lovell, said the prime minister has gone about enriching himself through “creative means”, having negotiated the university deal with Mr. Singh and his associates. Lovell posits that the prime minister should have refrained from conducting private business with Mr. Singh and ought to have referred Metropolitan’s principals to real estate agents as the villa rental constitutes a conflict of interest and “rape of the institutions of Antigua and Barbuda.”

But on his radio programme at the weekend, Prime Minister Browne said the arrangement he entered with Victor Singh is above board.

“It is a private property owned by myself and my wife. We are renting it to another private person. It has nothing to do with government,” Browne assured. “We didn’t buy anything from government, the house is not on government property, the land was not a government piece of land. We pay our own utilities to Jolly Harbour.”

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Mr. Browne explained the property was rented after his family decided against moving from Hodges Bay to Jolly Harbour. This decision was taken after his wife, Minister Maria Bird-Browne, expressed worry over security, following the series of events involving Mehul Choksi.

“She [Maria Bird-Browne] has actually placed us in a position where she has to now go and get a mortgage to build a house somewhere, because I can’t go and get another mortgage in my old age.”

“I’m the only Antiguan who has a beach property at Jolly Harbour that’s available for rent. So I want to know: if my white neighbours can rent their properties for US $ 3,000 a night, collecting US$90,000 a month, I want to know why I can’t rent my own on a long-term basis for US $ 20,000?” Mr. Browne asked.

The Prime Minister told his listeners he believed he knew the source of the leak of the lease agreement as there were only two ways in which the agreement could have been leaked: through the real estate company, which he ruled out or the bank. He did not reveal, however, the name of the bank where the rent is deposited.

Despite the revelation of the agreement and the attention it has drawn, Prime Minister Browne is unfazed. He said proper procedure was  followed with precision with respect to the agreement so he’s still not sure what the uproar is about.

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