Posts Tagged construction industry
The current Government to Government (G2G) arrangements are a direct threat to our country’s fundamental interests.
The key element of the G2G arrangement is that a larger, more advanced, country will assist a smaller, less-advanced country by building or operating complex facilities which are beyond the reach of the smaller state.
One of the features the G2G arrangements have in common with the other large-scale projects is the high degree of secrecy with which the proposals are developed. That secrecy raises doubts as to whether proper Needs Assessments are undertaken and as to the degree to which the views of citizens and stakeholders are sought, far less considered. The fundamental issue as to the necessity for these projects is thus routinely sidelined, which is inimical to the public interest.
The main criticisms of the G2G arrangements are -
- Sidelining of the elementary Tendering Process – the procurement process is effectively outsourced, since the more powerful country has the right to select the contractor;
- Limited, if any, role for Local Participation in terms of labour, professionals, suppliers, or contractors;
- Weak or nonexistent contract controls, due to the disparity in power between the parties;
- Serious drain on Foreign Exchange;
- Lack of the promised Transfer of Technology.
These arrangements have been heavily criticised in our country for almost 35 years, starting with Winston Riley’s October 1979 paper which identified many of the emerging problems. As a result of that rising tide of criticism, an official enquiry was established by then PM, George Chambers. In March 1982, the Ballah Report was published and the G2G programme was brought to a halt as a result of its dire findings.
Despite the learning, successive political administrations seem unable to resist the appeal of these G2G arrangements, so we have today’s situation as shown in the table.
Physical Development Projects via G2G – April 2014
Readers who access this article online can view the background info via the hyperlinks
|CHINA||NAPA – North & South||2008||
||NAPA (POS) completed in 2009, NAPA (San Fernando) completed in 2012– stated final cost of both projects was $130M USD ($818M TTD). A further $207M was borrowed from EXIM Bank of China in 2011 for ‘remedial works‘ on NAPA (POS). Design & Build contractor was Shanghai Construction Group.|
|AUSTRIA||San Fernando Teaching Hospital||2011||TT$739M||Opened in January 2014|
|CANADA||Penal Hospital||2012||Undisclosed||Involvement with Canada’s nominated designer SNC-Lavalin was discontinued after serious concerns over that firm’s international banning for corrupt business practices.|
||2012||TT$1.8 Billion||Loan Agreement signed in March 2013 with EXIM Bank of China, with Shanghai Construction Group selected as the contractor for all the projects.These projects include the swimming & cycling complex at Balmain and the sporting complex at Tacarigua Savannah in Orange Grove.|
|CHINA||Lake Asphalt||2013||Undisclosed||MoU, with a Confidentiality Agreement, signed on 30 May 2013 between Lake Asphalt T&T Ltd and a Chinese contractor. One of the official objectives of the February 2014 State visit to China, according to the Office of the PM, was “…Removal of asphalt from the Pitch Lake in greater capacities…”.|
|CHINA||La Brea Port and seven industrial parks.||2014||US$750M (TT$4.83 Billion)||Agreement signed in February 2014 to have these facilities built by China Harbour and China Construction.|
The total cost of these projects is just under $8.4 Billion TTD.
That is the background, against which we must consider these further elements -
- Regional Strategy – As a leading nation within CARICOM, it is important for Trinidad & Tobago to give serious consideration to the role of the various bilateral G2G arrangements China is pursuing in our region and the implications of those arrangements on our aspirations for healthy regionalism. I have been reading the February 2013 Research Note by UWI’s Dr. Annita Montoute – ‘Caribbean-China Economic Relations: what are the Implications?‘ The scope of Dr. Montoute’s research and her findings are sobering – at pg 115 “…CARICOM Trade with China is on the increase; however it is overwhelmingly in China’s favour…”. The regional issue is a serious one to which we must address our energies.
- Trinidad & Tobago’s Strategy – Now consider these statements by then Finance Minister, Winston Dookeran, at the September 2011 ceremony to sign the $207M TTD loan for NAPA (POS) ‘remedial works’ -
“…Dookeran said it was now imperative that TT deepens its ties with China…’In the first instance China has now emerged as a very significant player, especially in light of the recent tremors and uncertainties in the world economy,’ he said. ‘China…is now an economy that we will have to rely upon. It is in that context that it is very appropriate and timely for Trinidad and Tobago to start to intensify its relationship with China.’..”
Winston Dookeran is now Trinidad & Tobago’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
- The Uff Report – The 42nd and 43rd recommendations of the 2010 Uff Report deal directly with this issue -
- The Government’s policy on the use of foreign contractors and consultants for public construction projects should be transparent and open to review.
- Local contractors and consultants who compete with foreign companies should be provided with the same or equivalent benefits as enjoyed by those foreign companies and should be protected from unfair competition through matters such as soft loans…
Uff was calling for the establishment of a national policy on this series of issues and the JCC has been requesting a consultation between government and stakeholders, so that a proper strategy can be developed in open collaboration. That would include labour, professionals, the State, the contracting sector and all the associated elements such as suppliers of building materials, financiers, skills training and so on. The JCC wrote to the PM on this in April 2012, but to date there has been no response to our calls for those consultations in the national interest.
- NAPA, again – The Minister of Culture, Dr. Lincoln Douglas, told the Senate on 8 April 2014 of the serious issues arising at NAPA (POS), with an estimated further $100M being required for more repairs. It is not certain if the issues of disrepair are all due to inadequate maintenance, but it is unacceptable for such issues to have emerged for a structure less than 5 years old.
- Shanghai Construction Group – Despite the bad record at NAPA, the selected contractor for the $1.8 Billion Couva Children’s Hospital and the other sporting facilities is the said Shanghai Construction Group.
- Proposed Public Procurement Law – most alarmingly, Clause 7 of the proposed Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Bill 2014 specifically excludes Government to Government Arrangements and projects funded by International Financial Institutions form oversight. That proposed exclusion is entirely unacceptable as it further jeopardises our national interest.
The PM has made a call for a National Conversation and this is one topic which needs addressing. Our country cannot continue exporting our jobs, capital and skilled people in favour of unexamined and undisclosed foreign policies.
The huge potential supply of State-built, unfinished office buildings in our capital is the ‘Elephant in the Room‘. There are potent elements at play here in terms of the viability of the long-term and large-scale investments which have been made in Port-of-Spain by private and public capital.
At this point, taking account of offices over 25,000 sf in size, there are over 1,500,000 sf of incomplete offices in our capital. This article will examine the likely outcomes for our capital and those investors as the various projects are completed.
The State has 1,329,000 sf of incomplete offices in POS and the private sector has 224,800 sf. The State has virtually seven times more incomplete offices than the private sector and that is the ‘Elephant in the Room’. This chart portrays the reality – the details are set out in the table below.
The legacy of the POS offices built during the previous administration is a matter which deserves serious consideration. The sheer volume of offices built by the State during the previous administration is sobering – 2.3M sf. Given that Nicholas Tower – that elliptical, blue tower on Independence Square – contains 100,000 sf, it means that the State built the equivalent of ‘23 Nicholas Towers‘ in our capital in that period of rapid development.
We also know that there was no attempt at public consultation or feasibility studies by the State or its agent, UDECOTT. At the Uff Enquiry, the Executive Chairman of UDECOTT, Calder Hart, admitted that a feasibility study had been done for only one of those projects. That project is the International Waterfront Centre (IWC), which comprises the two office towers of 890,000 sf, the Hyatt Hotel, New Breakfast Shed and car-parking/outdoor facilities. Hart also admitted, under oath, that the value of the land had been omitted from the viability study for the IWC, so it was a bogus exercise. The break-even rent is the amount which must be earned by a project to repay the cost of land, construction, professional fees and finance. The IWC, repeatedly boasted-of as UDECOTT’s flagship project, is not a viable project, since its break-even rent exceeds the highest rents now earned by A-class offices in POS.
The Parliament has now relocated there during the Red House repairs and renovations. A number of other Ministries and Public Bodies have also started to occupy those offices.
The Office of the Prime Minister is now in the new 75,000 sf building on St. Clair Avenue, opposite to QRC grounds.
The rationale advanced by the Manning administration for that surge in office construction in our capital is that it would free the State from the payment of large monthly rents to private landlords. Although I made several requests, I was never able to get the actual figures for the rents paid by the State in POS. My own familiarity with that market allowed me to estimate the average rent at that time (2007-2009) at about $8-9 per sf. The break-even rents of those new buildings exceeded $25 per sf, so the costs of those office projects would never be recovered. I have read reports that the estimated cost of the Government Campus Plaza, which is the largest element in the POS offices, was recently stated by UDECOTT’s Chairman, Jearlean John, to be of the order of $3.2 Billion.
We can reasonably estimate that the rate of rents paid by the State for office buildings has now increased since 2007, in terms of dollars paid per sf.
The completion of those State-owned office buildings is therefore a matter of the first importance, given the high carrying-costs. There is also the significant issue of the high opportunity cost of the State continuing to occupy rented offices alongside virtually-completed offices.
Against this background, we are now seeing an active policy of decentralisation of POS offices by the present administration, with several Ministries and Public Bodies being relocated to south and central Trinidad. The decentralisation discussion is one which has been going on since the 1970s and it is an important issue to be pursued, in my opinion. That said, one has to wonder how is the decentralisation to be rationalised, given the existence of this over-supply of State-owned offices in our capital. That is a serious question which needs to be discussed if we are to achieve any proper resolution.
The completion of the State-owned offices is under the management of UDECOTT, the original developers, with recent disclosures from the Finance Minister of plans to sell the buildings and lease them back as a means of financing their completion. The terms of any such proposals would have to be carefully considered to avoid the mistakes and fraudulent behaviour of the past.
The completion and occupation of the State-owned office buildings in POS will pose an existential challenge to those private investors who have built offices for rent. The rental levels for offices in POS are likely to decline significantly, which will impact on the revenues of those investors.
The complete overhaul of our country’s public procurement system is urgently required, given the daily reports of large-scale theft and waste of public money.
The last administration lost public confidence due largely to the high levels of corruption, as revealed in the Uff Enquiry into the Public Sector Construction Industry.
The JCC met in April 2010 with the leadership of the People’s Partnership at its request and with the media in attendance.
At that meeting, the People’s Partnership made three significant promises:
- Implementation of the recommendations of the Uff Report – This was the first item at the first post-Cabinet press briefing on July 1, 2010, with the Justice Ministry being tasked to implement those critical recommendations. That promise has been broken.
- Tabling of legislative proposals for public procurement within one month of an electoral victory. Then Finance Minister Winston Dookeran did lay two draft bills — a 1997 draft to repeal the Central Tenders Board Act and a 2006 draft Public Procurement Bill — so that promise was fulfilled.
- Creation of new laws for Public Procurement & the Disposal of Public Property within one year of an electoral victory. Despite the statements at pg 18 of the People’s Partnership Manifesto, the appointment of a Joint Select Committee (JSC) and many public pronouncements, that has not happened. Read the rest of this entry »
On December 11, I wrote ‘Invader’s Bay Review‘ in this space, calling for an immediate public review of that improper large-scale development being proposed on reclaimed State lands in west POS. I also took the opportunity to make the point that there had been no consultation on that proposed development and that UDECOTT’s repeated public statements that its operations are now compliant with the Uff Report recommendations are false.
UDECOTT’s response was to place full-page advertisements in the three daily newspapers, on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 December, in an expensive attempt to refute my criticisms. My letter to the editor, carried in this newspaper on the Sunday, put UDECOTT’s misleading advertisement in context and reaffirmed the continuing falsehood of their claimed compliance with the Uff Report. The episode is recounted here.
There are several lessons one can draw from this exchange – the sheer hostility to the truth which is now becoming a disturbing ‘new normal‘ in our society; the invisible hand of the bureaucracy in devising large-scale developments, stated to be for the benefit of citizens, without citizen inputs; the inescapable reality that these obstructive forces operate across and within all our political administrations.
Sunity Maharaj wrote a fine overview of these burning issues in ‘Amandla! Now listen to the people‘ in the 15 December Sunday Express. In that article, Sunity detailed the development of a perverse consultation industry “Its specialty is in designing events that look like consultation, sound like consultation but do not actually involve consultation…”.
There is a serious challenge facing us here, since there is no will to implement the beneficial recommendations contained in the Uff Report, despite the repeated false promises. The failure to implement those proposals is deeply detrimental to our society as it entrenches the colonial idea that development is not something which really concerns the people of this country. Worse, the deceptive policy of politicians claiming to intend to do the right thing, while doing the underhanded thing, is imposing a neo-colonial reality. The State has a duty to be exemplary in its conduct and for the State to fail to do so and to act deceptively in that failure, is to increase cynicism and instability in our society.
In addition to failing to implement the Uff Report recommendations, there was also another significant setback. The Enquiry website – www.constructionenquiry.gov.tt – which held all of the proceedings and evidence, became inaccessible at the end of 2010, about 6 months after the Peoples Partnership electoral victory.
The JCC has been pressing for the implementation of the Uff Report recommendations and the restoration of the Enquiry website. Those efforts have ranged from the Attorney General, who directed us to the Minister of Justice, to the then Minister Volney who ignored our three letters on the matter – see http://www.jcc.org.tt/uff.htm. When we pressed-on with Volney’s successor, Christlyn Moore, the exchanges were sobering.
The two previous Ministers of Justice – Volney and Moore – both claimed that the Uff Report recommendations were to be implemented by the impending Public Procurement legislation. Quite apart from the inordinate delay in bringing these critical new laws into being, that claim is entirely false, since only one of the recommendations, the 56th, relates to new Public Procurement laws. 90 of the 91 recommendations could have been implemented by now with no need to get any new laws passed or any use of valuable Parliamentary time. The JCC’s repeated offers to assist and advise in any working party for that purpose have also been ignored. The implementation of those 90 recommendations would have greatly reduced the criminal theft and waste of Public Money with which we are now beset. The failure to implement those recommendations is probably the largest single ingredient in the continuing decline in our ‘morality in public affairs‘.
Even worse is the steadfast refusal to reinstate the Uff Enquiry website. There is no way to tell if the website was deliberately removed or if there was a mundane technical reason for its disappearance. What we do know for sure is that there is solid official resistance to even offer a sensible explanation for the continuing refusal to reinstate.
It is critical for us to learn from our errors if we are to avoid a repetition and it is therefore important that we excavate those lessons so that they can be considered. To fail to do that is to thwart the entire move to a ‘developed nation status’. Our nation’s primary information needs to be properly documented and published so that anyone who wants to learn the lessons can do so.
The evidence in the Uff Enquiry offers a deep, unprecedented insight into the state of affairs in our country and the conduct of our substantial business dealings. That information is first-class primary source material for research and teaching in critical fields such as Government, Finance, Engineering, Surveying, Planning, Economics, Sciences, Law and Management. We cannot become a ‘learning society‘ if first-class primary information is suppressed. It does not matter how many universities we build or how many pupils we certificate, the ignorance of our own primary information will frustrate the drive to a higher level of education.
On 26 March 2013, then Minister Moore replied to the JCC -
“…It is inappropriate to make available the evidence revealed in the Uff Enquiry at this time as they may ground future criminal enquiry…”
On 23 May, we invited the Minister to reconsider her position, pointing out that -
“…To quote from the final remarks of the Enquiry Chairman, Professor John Uff QC Ph.D. – “…Finally we would like to thank the Press for their continued and expert coverage of the Enquiry; and the public for their unflagging interest in the proceedings. There are few countries in the world where an Enquiry into the construction industry could fill a prime time television slot for over a year. For me it has been a unique experience and I am personally honoured to have had the opportunity, as I hope, to serve the interests of the construction industry and the people of Trinidad & Tobago…” There can therefore be no doubt that the entire proceedings of the Uff Enquiry were published widely…”
This is the Minister of Justice, claiming that our request to reinstate this invaluable website, would amount to ‘making the evidence available‘. Evidence which had been widely televised, all day long and rebroadcast at night. I tell you.
The Minister promised to revert to us by the end of June 2013, but that reply never came.
So now UDECOTT’s stance is clearer, given the overarching policy of the State on these critical matters of public concern. I maintain that UDECOTT did not conform to the 17th Uff recommendation in its involvement in the Couva Children’s Hospital. That recommendation is -
“User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made.” (emphasis mine)
But the current concern goes beyond the ongoing Couva Children’s Hospital, since UDECOTT is playing a leading role in the Invader’s Bay development. In December 2013, UDECOTT published full-page Requests for Proposals in the newspapers for Designers for Infrastructure Development of Invader’s Bay. UDECOTT is seeking to hire a designer for the infrastructure element of this large-scale development which means that the selected designers would have to conform to the client’s instructions in preparing their plans. The client’s instructions would have to be based on some kind of concept, proposal or outline. That raises the obvious questions of when were these concepts, proposals or outlines conceived and by whom? Most importantly, who approved these? We know for sure that there has been no consultation with the public, user groups or other interest groups.
So, we are witness to yet another episode of large-scale development being undertaken, in this case by UDECOTT, with none of the promised consultation.
Hence my title – The Uff Bluff.
In response to a full page UDECOTT advert (embedded below) in response to my article “Invader’s Bay Review” (excerpted above), also published in the Business Express.
From: Afra Raymond <email@example.com>
Date: Sat, Dec 14, 2013 at 9:30 AM
Subject: Letter to the Editor – UDECOTT’s failure to consult
To: Editors of daily newspapers. Email addresses withheld
The 17th recommendation of the Uff Report is -
“User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made.”
The decisive part is ‘before decisions are made.‘
The Peoples Partnership has not implemented the Uff Report’s 90 recommendations as promised and there has never been an explanation of that failure or refusal to carry out those critical measures. The sod was turned for the Couva Children’s Hospital on 2nd March 2012, at which time the project type, location, size, budget and procurement arrangements were all announced for the first time. Plainly, no consultation took place before those decisions were made, which was the point made in my 11th December article ‘Invader’s Bay Review’.
UDECOTT has now issued full-page newspaper advertisements to attempt to label my irrefutable observation as ‘reckless and damaging’ and so on. Yet another waste of public money, given that UDECOTT provided no examples of consultation before the key decisions were made on this huge project.
That pattern of secret development is inimical to our country’s progress. We must be properly consulted before decisions are made. We strongly criticised the last administration for that pattern of development and we will continue to make the same point. We must become a learning society.
There now needs to be a complete and open review of the Invader’s Bay matter. That is imperative if the public interest is to be safeguarded.
The catalogue of irregular dealings and improper procurement practice at Invader’s Bay has now grown so that we are facing an important moment of decision. At this point there has been no announcement as to an award of contract or grant of any lease, so the threshold of binding legal agreement has not been crossed. In investment language, we are at the ‘inflection point’, which is where the prudent investor has to make a decision to continue or abandon a course of action.
This is the exact moment we should be calling for an open review of this major public project, before any binding commitments are made.
The Commission of Enquiry is an often-used device to probe into matters of serious public concern. In relation to construction and property development, we have had recent CoEs into the Piarco Airport Project, UDECOTT, Land-Date and the Biche School Project, to name a few.
The public has a sceptical attitude to these Commissions, since they never seem bring the desired results in terms of arrests of prominent public officials or disgorgement of stolen monies. Many people dismiss CoEs as ‘talk shops’ set up to enrich lawyers, but I do not dismiss them as effective ways to serve the public interest. Despite the imperfections of the Enquiry process, including the fact that key witnesses can refuse to appear without incurring any serious penalties, there are real benefits. The main one, in my view is that a CoE allows us in the public to learn about major matters of public concern which would likely have remained hidden.
That is the reason we need to retain this process so that the wrongdoing of the past can be exposed, so that we can have the possibility of avoiding those in the future. The weak point of the process is that it always takes place after the crimes have been committed, so during the Bernard Enquiry we were learning about the already-constructed Piarco Airport Terminal. Too late to prevent the massive theft and waste of Public Money.
That is why we need to consider a shift in our approach to the question of enquiries into questionable public projects, since the process is a reactive one, completely unable to stem wrongdoing.
At the ‘inflection point’ now occupied by the Invader’s Bay project, we have an opportunity to examine this large-scale development before any significant expenditure of Public Money so that we can detect and deter wrongdoing. I am not yet settled in my mind as to exactly what type of review is best here, but whatever happens, it must be independent and committed to publication of its findings.
Some of the main issues which such an Enquiry or Review should examine are -
- Consultation – The complete lack of consultation in this large-scale development proposal for our capital city would be addressed by the process. The land is vested in UDECOTT via a lease and that organisation has repeatedly claimed to have implemented the recommendations of the Uff Report. The 17th of those recommendations states “User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made”. Given the swiftness with which the Couva Children’s Hospital – which is being executed via UDECOTT – emerged in March 2012, we know for sure that those recommendations are not being observed by UDECOTT. Even looking beyond UDECOTT and its conflicting ‘versions’, we can see the contradictory actions of the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development supporting a public consultation process at King’s Wharf in San Fernando, yet refusing to hold public consultations on Invader’s Bay in Port-of-Spain.
- Environmental Concerns – The Invader’s Bay lands are extensive waterfront holdings in State property. They proper development of those lands must take full account of drainage issues and the impact on the environment, including the marine-life issues arising in any waterfront project. I have before me the EMA’s letter of 14 November, which confirms that there have been no requests or Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) applications for the Invader’s Bay lands. In addition, the EMA records provided to me show that the most recent application for a CEC at Invader’s Bay was in January 2007. It is not possible to obtain planning permission without EMA approval, so there are other implications of the lack of these approvals.;
- There is no link between the RFP and the other three strategic plans for the POS area. That violates the fundamental notion of strategic planning in that existing plans are ignored for no given reason. Piecemeal planning and development is detrimental to the Public Interest. So, who was the author of that RFP and who in the Ministry of Planning approved such a document?;
- The Request for Proposals (RFP) published by the Ministry of Planning in August 2011 seeking Design-Build proposals for the development of these lands specified an entirely inadequate 6 weeks for submissions. Whose recommendation was it to truncate the development process in this fashion?;
- The evaluation rules were only published after the closing-date for the tenders, so how did the proposers know what criteria to meet? That late publication is in breach of proper tender procedure, so the entire process is voidable and therefore illegal.
- Legal Instructions and advice – Also critical to any review process would be the details of the legal advice sought and obtained at various stages of this process. The Ministry is adopting a bizarre, secretive stance in which the advice is claimed to vindicate their actions ‘thus far’, yet that legal advice is being suppressed. The JCC has taken legal action to challenge that unacceptable secrecy in this most public matter.;
- Infrastructure – The 2014 Budget discloses a $50M allocation for infrastructure at Invader’s Bay, which of course is only a small part of this substantial cost. In the absence of environmental or planning approvals, it is difficult to establish the cost for proposals of this nature, since a design cannot be completed.
- Allegations of squatting – Finally, we turn to one of the most vexed phrases in our lexicon where land is concerned. The issue of squatting, which is the unauthorised occupation of land not in your ownership. From the sequence of images shown below, we can trace some elementary conclusions:
- the first (left) is a map/plan, which uses a dotted line to illustrate the boundary between the Invader’s Bay property and adjoining Port Authority lands to the north…the physical boundary is occupied by a watercourse/ravine and those ‘Port’ lands are occupied by MovieTowne/PriceSmart, a green play park and the Marriott/BHP-Billiton building
- the second (middle image) is an aerial photo which shows the Invader’s Bay land bare of vegetation
- the third (image at the base) is an aerial photo which shows the Invader’s Bay land re-vegetated with mangrove and what appears to be a bare excision, immediately south of MovieTowne’s western carpark…that is a gravel-paved area, which is south of the watercourse I mentioned earlier…it is accessed via a basic bridge from the said MovieTowne carpark.
(Click on images to expand)
I am asking whether MovieTowne has a lease, licence or tenancy agreement to occupy those lands. Does MovieTowne pay any rent, licence fee or charge of any sort for the use and occupation of those lands? What action is UDECOTT taking on this? What action is the Commissioner of State Lands taking on this? It would be unacceptable for an entity in breach of State policy to benefit from the decisions of the State. I hope that is not what we are seeing here.
We need a full, independent and open review of this Invader’s Bay matter. Do you agree?
JCC President Afra Raymond interviewed on Heritage Radio 101.7FM by Hans Hanoomansingh to discuss JCC matters such as Public Procurement, Invader’s Bay and G2G Arrangements. 04 December 2013. Audio courtesy Heritage Radio 101.7 FM
- Programme Date: Wednesday, 04 December 2013
- Programme Length: 1:23:27
I closed last week’s article by restating my view that all the ingredients for corruption were present at Invader’s Bay.
What are those ingredients?
Here is my list -
- Extensive public assets coming onto the market, in turbid circumstances. Those assets can include property, concessions, contracts and jobs;
- Questions of access to the gatekeepers – in these scenarios, some people will have unbelievable access to the decision-makers;
- Conflicting and confusing versions of the project or proposal. The confusion is as persistent as it is deliberate, a part of the tangled web.
- Blatant double-standards and lying is the norm in these situations;
- Apart from ceremonial fluff, such as sod-turnings and ribbon-cuttings, there is no intention whatsoever to give any proper public account or statement of intentions. True transparency is evaded like taxes;
- Professional Civil Servants who are unable or unwilling to insist on the maintenance of minimum standards;
Extensive Public Assets
These lands are estimated to be worth in excess of $1.2Bn at today’s priced, that means the unimproved value. Although the lands are reclaimed, a significant amount would have to be spent on infrastructure to make the property ‘shovel-ready’ for development.
As I noted in the first in this series, there were conflicting claims on this aspect, with the selected developers claiming extensive infrastructure expenses as a way to reduce what they would pay for the land. There were no estimates given for the developers’ cost of infrastructure, but I noted that the National Budget for 2014 had specified, at pg 89 of the Public Sector Investment Program, that there would be publicly-funded ‘Infrastructure Development’ at Invader’s Bay.
I have been assisted by some of the professionals in the very Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development in identifying that item as being a $50M allocation for 2014. The actual works are unspecified, so it is difficult to be certain what is included. It certainly seems a modest sum given the size and peculiar challenges posed by the Invader’s Bay property.
In addition to the obvious public asset of the actual property, readers should note that assets in this context can include concessions. In this context that can mean maritime & docking concessions as well as tax concessions, so we will have to maintain full vigilance to safeguard the public interest.
As a first position, all the details of the overall agreements must be published for public consideration at the earliest opportunity. This is no minor point, since really huge sums of wealth can be transferred from public hands to private interests if proper transparency is not ensured. Just remember that in June this year while the President of the Peoples Republic of China was here there was the signing of a Government to Government Agreement. The JCC has lodged many strong objections to those agreements. How many readers will remember that there was an important agreement signed with respect to the Pitch Lake at that time?
To cite a press report -
…According to a release from Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (1978) Ltd, the signing ceremony of a Memorandum of Understanding and a Confidentiality Agreement with Beijing Oriental Yuhong Waterproofing Technology Co Ltd of the People’s Republic of China is scheduled to take place at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain…
So, faced with a Freedom of Information Act which ensures disclosure, the new trend is to wrap-up the details in yet another layer of secrecy. We need to be alert to that trend. After all, this is the same Ministry which claims to have legal advice confirming that its actions conform to the Central Tenders Board Act, yet steadfastly refuse to publish that advice.
Access to the gatekeepers
One of the two successful proposers has been the MovieTowne principal, Derek Chin, whose confidence has been striking.
According to Mr. Chin, in an extensive interview -
…Chin has met with the Prime Minister and many government ministers seeking approval for this project.
Before Christmas 2010, he had a meeting with the Transport Minister Jack Warner, Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan, and other ministers, at the Prime Minister’s Office. They all supported his plans. “I have been lobbying the Government for a year now, even before the elections. I sent in the preliminary sketches about the concept; I met 19 Cabinet ministers over the last six months. The next minister I am meeting is Bhoe Tewarie, Minister of Planning. He wants to see me. I also met with Jearlean John, Udecott chairman. She also loves it, but that was three to four months ago…
That interview was given in early July 2011, which is over one month before the Request for Proposals was published by the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development at the end of August. I tell you.
Conflicting and confusing versions
So, to return to the legal opinions, we have this swirling set of stories.
To date, Minister Tewarie has insisted that the project has been removed from UDeCoTT’s portfolio and placed within the Ministry of Planning. He claims that Cabinet approved this in 2011 and also insists that there is no tender process at Invader’s Bay. Of course it is impossible for the Ministry to proceed to invite tenders for anything without following the Central Tenders Board Act.
The first legal advice I saw was clear that there is indeed a tender process at work here and that the CTB Act ought to have been followed. Obviously, that conclusion did not ‘fit the script’, so an escape hatch had to be fashioned. Shortly thereafter another opinion was submitted by Sir Fenton Ramsahoye SC, on an entirely different set of assumptions which made UDeCoTT the central enabling agency in the entire scheme.
The approach endorsed by the Ramsahoye opinion flatly contradicts the version being advanced by Minister Tewarie.
That is the deep, intentional confusion being encouraged by public officials in this matter.
Blatant double-standards and lying
So, let us start with the role of the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development on the Invader’s Bay project. How does that Ministry reconcile its active role in seeking public views on the King’s Wharf project in San Fernando with its silence on Invader’s Bay in POS?
These are blatant double-standards of the worst kind. One can scarcely believe that there are professional civil servants who could condone this reckless and underhanded approach to national development. But there we have it.
When is the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development going to host a public consultation on Invader’s Bay? That is now an inescapable requirement. Sooner rather than later.
But that is not all. No, not at all.
This administration campaigned on the findings of the Uff Enquiry and made several public promises to implement the 91 recommendations of the Uff Report. Such was the importance of the matter in the political agenda that it formed the first item of the very first post-Cabinet Press Briefing of the Peoples Partnership administration on 1st July 2010. That is a broken promise, since those Uff recommendations have not been adopted and the JCC’s many attempts to offer our assistance to achieve that have all been rejected.
The 17th recommendation of the Uff Report is -
- User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made…
There has been no consultation at all on the Invader’s Bay proposals. Quite frankly, apart from rumours and conflicting press reports, I do not really know exactly what is going to be built or where or even when.
According to the iconic American jurist Louis Brandeis, speaking on eradicating corruption -
‘Sunlight is the best Disinfectant’
Since my previous article on this controversial proposal, we have seen that certain legal advice reportedly considered by the government has been featured in another newspaper. If that is the advice the State is relying upon in advancing their Invader’s Bay proposals, we are seeing a large-scale act of intentional illegality and a worrying return to the ‘bad-old-days‘.
My main concerns are -
Compare the lack of consultation at Invader’s Bay with what happens elsewhere. In particular, the large waterfront lands near the city centre of San Fernando at King’s Wharf, which has been the subject of ongoing public consultations over the years. The press reports that various design and redevelopment concepts were presented to and discussed with a widely-based audience.
Whatever the criticisms one might make of the King’s Wharf proposals, it is undeniable that views have been sought from the public/stakeholders and various proposals have been made for consideration.
The JCC and its Kindred Associations in Civil Society met with Ministers Tewarie and Cadiz on 26 September 2011 to express our serious concerns. Yet, when Minister Tewarie was challenged by the JCC and others as to the complete failure to consult with the public, the only example of consultation he could cite was the very meeting we had insisted on, which took place after publication of the Ministry’s Request for Proposals (RFP) and just about one week before the closing-date for proposals.
This Minister obviously does not consider public consultation to be a serious element in real development, notwithstanding the lyrics about innovation, planning and, of course, Sustainability and the Cultural Sector. Just consider the way in which East Port-of-Spain is being discussed within that same Ministry. The prospects for sustainable economic development of East POS must be linked with the Invader’s Bay lands, there is no doubt about that. What is more, to carry-on as though the two parts of the capital can enjoy prosperity in isolation from each other is to trade in dangerous nonsense. When criticising the large-scale physical development plans of the last administration, ‘dangerous nonsense’ is exactly what I had accused them of dealing in.
Public Administration must be consistent, reasonable and transparent if the public is to be properly-served. To do otherwise is to encourage disorder and a growing sense that merit is of little value. The decisive thing has become ‘Who know you’.
We need to be informed now what planning permissions or environmental approvals have been granted on Invader’s Bay and on what terms.
The Legal advice
I have seen the two legal documents reported on in another newspaper and have to say that those are remarkable documents.
A critical undisputed point, is that the evaluation rules – the “Invader’s Bay Development Matrix and Criteria Description” – were only published after the closing-date. The JCC made that allegation in its letter of 14 December 2011 and that was confirmed by Minister Tewarie in his Senate contribution on 28 February 2012. That is a fatal concession which makes the entire process voidable and therefore illegal, since the proposers would have been unfairly treated.
Note carefully that in writing to seek legal advice in response to that challenge of December 2011, the fact that the tender rules were published ex post facto does not seem to have been the subject of a query as to its legal effect.
In one of the legal documents I saw, the penultimate para is chilling in its directness -
“…A simple answer to Dr Armstrong’s question on whether the RFP conforms to the (Central) Tenders Board Act is that it does. In reality, the entire tender process was not brought under the CTB Act and the matrix and criteria were forwarded to the tenderers AFTER they submitted their initial proposals to the MoPE…”
The ‘simple answer‘, which is what Senator Armstrong got from Minister Tewarie, is that the Central Tenders’ Board Act had been conformed with. The next sentence is where we enter the other place…let us deconstruct it -
Meaning of the phrase
|‘In reality‘||The prior sentence is the official version we are going to tell Senator Armstrong, but here is what really happened.|
|“…the entire tender process…”||Minister Tewarie has consistently held that there was no tender process, this is the State’s senior legal adviser calling that process by its correct title, two weeks before his statement in the Senate.|
|…“the entire tender process was not brought under the CTB Act…”||The tender process was required to be brought under the CTB Act, since it was being done via a Ministry…but that did not happen.|
|“…the matrix and criteria were forwarded to the tenderers AFTER they submitted their initial proposals to the MoPE…”||The State’s senior legal adviser is confirming here that the elementary good practice rules of tendering have been violated, rendering the entire process voidable.|
There are two clear findings of illegality in that single paragraph by the State’s senior legal adviser. Yet a ‘simple answer‘, which was ultimately deceptive, was suggested for Senator Armstrong.
The advice which featured in the press was from Sir Fenton Ramsahoye SC, seemingly obtained after the initial opinion just discussed.
The Ramsahoye opinion was reported to have ‘given Bhoe a green light‘ and so on, but I have serious doubts on that.
- Firstly, if there had been clear-cut, solid advice which would have exonerated its actions, the government would have published that so as to silence its critics.
- Secondly, having read it myself, their game is a lot clearer.
Ramsahoye’s mind seems to have been directed to the prospect of UDECOTT being granted a head-lease of the entire Invader’s Bay property and then granting sub-leases to the developers selected by the Ministry of Planning. Those developers would then carry out the proposed development/s.
If that is the way this is proceeding, then there are two serious issues arising on UDeCoTT’s involvement -
- The Switch – While it is true that UDeCOTT can lawfully grant the subleases and operate outside the CTB Act, the burning question has to be when was this decision taken to give UDeCoTT that role? Minister Tewarie has been adamant, since November 2011, that Cabinet took a decision that the Invader’s Bay project be removed from UDeCoTT’s portfolio to be placed within his Ministry. When did that purported switch back to UDeCoTT take place? Has Cabinet actually approved such a move? The first advice looked at the development as it had proceeded and made the conclusions which I criticised above. The second advice, contemplated a procedure which had been vigorously resisted by the responsible Minister.
- The role of the Board – One of the most vexatious issues to be probed in the Uff Enquiry is the question of to what extent can Cabinet instruct a State Board. That issue of undue Cabinet influence was also a large contention during the Bernard Enquiry into the Piarco Airport scandal. Uff concluded, at para 8, that the scope of Ministers’ power to give instructions ought to be clarified. There are several significant challenges if one accepts the formulation put onto the Invader’s Bay process in Ramsahoye’s opinion. Cabinet would have to instruct that UDeCoTT implement decisions taken by the Ministry of Planning etc. As we have seen and as the legal advice has clarified, those decisions emerged from unlawful processes. Is UDeCoTT obliged to follow unlawful instructions? In the event of litigation, which is increasingly likely, will the members of UDeCoTT’s Board be indemnified by the State for their unlawful acts? If that were the case, it would be repugnant, with deep echoes of the two earlier large-scale episodes of wrongdoing at Piarco Airport and UDeCoTT projects as cited above.
I stated earlier that this Invader’s Bay matter had all the ingredients for corruption. I stand by those views.
Invader’s Bay has re-emerged from the shadows via PNM Senator Faris Al-Rawi’s budget contribution on Monday 23 September 2013 (pp. 168-175). The twists and turns in this controversial proposed scheme are detailed at JCC’s webpage.
Invader’s Bay is a 70-acre parcel of reclaimed State land off the Audrey Jeffers Highway – just south of PriceSmart & MovieTowne – in the western part of Port-of-Spain. Its value was estimated by the State in 2011 to be in excess of $1.2Bn, so these are prime development lands, possessing these attributes -
- Water, Electricity and all urban services are readily available;
- Flat/gently-sloping terrain;
- Direct access to Audrey Jeffers Highway;
- Waterfront location.
Before proceeding to the latest revelations, it is important to restate the main objections raised by the JCC and others with respect to this proposed development -
- The Request for Proposals (RFP) was published by the Ministry of Planning in August 2011 seeking Design-Build proposals for the development of these lands and specifying an entirely inadequate 6 weeks for submissions;
- There has been no public consultation at all, so the public has not been involved in this, the largest proposed development in our capital in living memory;
- The RFP was silent as to the other three, extant strategic plans for the POS area, all paid for with Public Money. Given that the RFP was published by the Ministry of Planning, that is a tragic irony, to say the least;
- EIA – The RFP is silent as to the requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment in a development of this scale;
- The proposals were to be evaluated against the “Invader’s Bay Development Matrix and Criteria Description”, which was only published after the closing-date for submissions. That is a clear breach of proper tender procedure, which renders the entire process voidable and therefore illegal.