Posts Tagged construction industry
This article is to engage the issues of falling national revenues due to price declines for fossil fuels, the ongoing commentary and the PM’s 8 January 2015 statement with its attendant criticisms. I am going to focus on the role of the real estate and construction sectors in this unfolding series of serious challenges.
This is the graph and table from my previous budget commentary ‘A Fistful of Dollars‘ to illustrate the trend in terms of how successive governments have attempted to balance revenues and expenditure.
The Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Bill was passed by the Senate on Tuesday 16 December 2014, completing its journey through the legislative process. That is an historic achievement for our country, so it is essential that we take our bearings and properly record the moment.
This important new law to control transactions in Public Money was the objective of a long-term, collective campaign by the Private Sector Civil Society group (PSCS) of which JCC was a member. The JCC met with the leaders of the Peoples Partnership in April 2010, with one of the key promises emerging from that meeting being that new Public Procurement laws would be passed within one year of an election victory. It has taken four and a half years for the government to achieve that.
This achievement was only possible because of our collective efforts. Ours was a diverse group which resolved to campaign together for this critical reform of our country’s laws to ensure effective control over transactions in Public Money. Read the rest of this entry »
The continued dispute over the Debe-Mon Desir Link of the Point Fortin Highway and the growing public debate over this issue require further attention to certain critical aspects.
The Armstrong Report was published in March 2013 after a process agreed between parties to the dispute over this highway link. It is a significant achievement in the journey to a more considered and consultative approach to national development. Given the shifting grounds of the dispute and the nature of the various statements, it is necessary to clarify some of the key issues.
The three main issues to be clarified are –
The Armstrong Report
The State’s position in relation to The Armstrong Report is a critical element of the dispute, so it is important to detail how this has morphed, like so much else in this matter. The Ministry of Works & Infrastructure Press Statement of 3 December 2012 ‘welcomed the inputs…from the JCC, FITUN, T&T Transparency Institute and Working Women‘ and went on to note that ‘the discussions had been very fruitful‘. That statement settled a basic framework for a Review of the elements of the link which were in dispute, with the preliminary Report to be provided within 60 days ‘to NIDCO for its consideration and publication thereafter’. Some people have tried to restrict the meaning of NIDCO’s ‘consideration’ of The Armstrong Report to a merely editorial vetting which implied no commitment to any post-publication consideration. The only conceivable reason for a party to this kind of process to have the right to review the preliminary Report would be to address factual errors in a situation in which the completed Report is of some significance.
At the post-Cabinet Press Briefing on Thursday 14 February 2013, the then ‘line Minister’ for NIDCO, Emmanuel George, said that the Report gave the State the ‘green light’, thanked the members of the Highway Review Committee and was reported to have agreed to ‘…as far as possible, accommodate their suggestions and recommendations…‘.
The only reasonable meaning to put to the State’s actions and agreements at the time was that there was a commitment to consider the recommendations of the Report. Of course we are now hearing from officials that there was no commitment to adopt or consider any of the recommendations in The Armstrong Report.
As a reality check, just ask yourself what would have been the position if The Armstrong Report had fully vindicated the State’s actions.
The Highway Contract
The high cost of halting construction is the main argument being used by the State to criticise The Armstrong Report and in its litigation with the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM). On 25 February 2013, NIDCO wrote to JCC with its comments on the preliminary Report and the first page of that letter noted its concern that no consideration had been given to the fact that a $5.2Billion construction contract was in existence for this project. (Comment #2 on p. 30) That complaint is fundamentally misplaced, to say the least, since technical and scientific reviews do not normally take financial or commercial elements into account as material considerations.
At the level of general principles, two examples can clarify the position. In the widely-used two-envelope tendering situations, the tenderers submit separate technical and financial proposals, which are examined independently, with points awarded for each. The eventual selection is made after considering both those scores.
The most recent Commission of Enquiry was announced by the Prime Minister on 18 September 2014 into the HDC apartment blocks which had to be demolished in 2012 at Las Alturas in Morvant. (pp. 68-70) When HDC recognised that the stability of these newly-constructed hillside apartment blocks was in jeopardy, they obtained technical advice from professional engineers. It is doubtful whether those reports considered the financial and commercial fact that the building had already been erected or the losses that would accrue if they were to be demolished. Very doubtful. Indeed, one would rightly be suspicious of technical advice which was coloured by commercial considerations.
SIDEBAR: NIDCO’s reply to JCC
The JCC wrote to NIDCO on 10 October 2014 to request a detailed statement as to how the ten recommendations of The Armstrong Report had been treated and we met with NIDCO’s team on 17 October to discuss that request. NIDCO agreed to provide the details to JCC by Friday 24 October, but that reply is still awaited at the time of this writing.
Now, to deal directly with NIDCO’s criticism of The Armstrong Report, we need to note two facts –
- Terms of Reference – If, despite the general principle, NIDCO had wished to have the construction contract for the highway considered alongside the other factors to be examined during the 60-day Review, it could have made that request. The fact is that NIDCO never made that request, so the construction contract was not included in the terms of engagement for this review exercise.
- The Highway Review – If, having not requested that the construction contract be included in the review, NIDCO subsequently wanted it considered, there was an option to submit it. NIDCO never submitted the contract to the JCC or the Highway Review Committee.
Proceeding from the general principle to the particulars of this case, it is therefore clear why the Highway Review Committee did not consider the contract as part of the review process.
Note also that NIDCO has not submitted the contract to the Court during this extended litigation with the HRM.
Submitting the contract to either the Highway Review Committee or the Court would have exposed the underlying financial and commercial arrangements, as well as the repeated claims of adverse cost implications, to critical scrutiny.
Lastly, there is now a series of new statements emerging from the HRM and its supporters which did not form part of the original concerns of that group. The most striking of these is that the highway contract was not tendered. That allegation can be found in the HRM’s International Media Release of 24th September 2014 on their Facebook page and on the AVAAZ campaign webpage, as well as in other media statements by various persons supporting the HRM. That assertion is most alarming for two reasons.
Firstly, that is an entirely false assertion since the highway contract was tendered in 2010. Consider this extract from the top of page 19 of The Armstrong Report –
…On May 07, 2010, the closing date for this procurement, three proposals were submitted by 1.00 p.m. (from the 29 Request for Proposals issued)
The three entities submitting tenders were, in alphabetical order:
- China Railway Construction Corporation Limited;
- Construtora OAS Ltda (OAS); and
- GLF Construction Corporation…
On May 13, 2010 The NIDCO Evaluation Committee submitted its Final Report and recommended OAS as the Preferred Respondent, and so informed OAS by letter dated May 25, 2010…”
Secondly, those baseless assertions by the HRM show a lack of familiarity with the contents of The Armstrong Report. The HRM has relied heavily upon The Armstrong Report in its recent campaigning, so one can only wonder at the implications of these repeated claims.
Given the public positions taken by the protagonists, it seems unlikely that mediation can be a real option.
The Armstrong Report is a serious advance in terms of our nation’s development, being to my knowledge the first Civil Society review of a State-sponsored project in the Caribbean region. That Report would not have existed without Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh’s sacrifice, but the full benefits of the Report can only be realised by a proper and open consideration of its recommendations. Only then can we gain from the increased public attention to the complex issues of national development and really start to learn the lessons.
National development is a real and inescapable challenge which will continue to evolve, whoever is in government. That challenge can only be properly addressed by a fact-based approach adopted by all parties.
After a flurry of attempted explanations from the Minister of Planning & Sustainable Development, Dr. Bhoe Tewarie, as to the real meaning of the High Court’s 14 July ruling on the Invader’s Bay matter, the State has now appealed that ruling and applied for expedited hearing of the matter while having the judgment stayed.
What that means is that the State is asking the Court to agree an extension of the Stay of Execution until the appeal is decided, so that the requested information could be withheld while the case is being heard. Presumably, the State has asked for a speedy hearing so as to avoid any impression of them encouraging needless delay in this matter of high public concern.
This article will focus on the three critical findings in the judgment. I will be examining Dr. Tewarie’s statement to Parliament on Friday 18 July, alongside the facts and the actual High Court ruling.
Legal Professional Privilege
The very first point to be made in relation to this is that the reason given by the State for refusing the JCC’s request for this information was not originally ‘legal professional privilege’.
That reason for refusal was only advanced after the litigation started, literally arising out of the very briefcase of the State’s attorney, on his feet before Justice Seepersad on 4 December 2012.
We contested the State’s late introduction of these new reasons for refusal, but the Court ruled at para 37 –
- The Court…is of the view that the Defendant is entitled to rely upon additional reasons with respect to the refusal to disclose the said information…
The question of whether the legal opinions are privileged was ruled-upon by Justice Seepersad –
- It cannot be disputed that the said information requested, is information that would ordinarily attract legal professional privilege…
So that issue is not in dispute, in the Court’s mind at least. I continue to hold the view that it is highly-questionable to easily accept this notion of client confidentiality, given that the State ought to be acting on our common behalf.
In fact, no evidence was tendered nor was any real case made by the State as to the difficulties which would result from publishing the requested information. None. It is only now, with a ruling in the JCC’s favour, that we are getting these positions being advanced.
For the record, the JCC’s original request under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) was for the legal advices and the letters of instruction.
Consider this, from Dr. Tewarie’s opening statement –
The very first point that I wish to make with regard to the high court ruling is that there is no issue of disclosure here. There is no issue of failing to disclose or of wanting to withhold disclosures. The Government is not seeking to prevent disclosure of any matter nor is the Government fearful of making any disclosure of fact.
The only issue we are contesting is whether the advice of an Attorney to his/her client, which is generally regarded as privileged information, is subject to the jurisdiction of the Freedom of Information Act or whether, since it is a privileged exchange of information between Attorney and Client, it is exempt from the Act…”
If that is truly the case, with the State’s only concern being the possible adverse impact of releasing the legal advices, the question has to be – ‘Why not publish the letters of instruction now?’
Waiver of Privilege
A significant aspect of the case was as to the impact of Dr. Tewarie’s statement to the Senate on 28 February 2012, in reply to a question by then Independent Senator Dr. James Armstrong – see pg 716 of Hansard –
The answer to (c); the publication of the request for proposals was not the subject of nor required to be in conformity with the Central Tenders Board Act. Advice to this effect was received from the Legal Unit of the Ministry of Planning and the Economy, and subsequently from the Ministry of the Attorney General…
The point being advanced by the JCC was that a statement like that one, which purports to publicly disclose the very essence of the advice, has the effect of extinguishing the State’s right to suppress the document as being exempted.
The Court ruled clearly on this –
- The gist and nature of the legal advice was in fact revealed when the Minister’s response was made and this amounted to conduct that is inconsistent with the stance that the said legal advice is exempt from being disclosed under the Act by virtue of section 29(1)…
So, the High Court found that Dr. Tewarie’s statement to the Senate neutralized the State’s ‘legal professional privilege’. That is an important aspect of this ruling, given the frequency with which legal opinions and names are brandished by our leaders, always when convenient, of course.
The Public Interest Test
This ruling is significant in that Justice Seepersad weighed the existing ‘legal professional privilege’ – making a clear ruling on that at para 41 – against the ‘Public Interest Test’ set out in S.35 of the FoIA.
At one point it was widely reported that Dr. Tewarie was insisting that the ruling had nothing to do with transparency, but was only on the narrow issue of legal professional privilege.
The substance of Justice Seepersad’s ruling was at paras 85 & 86 –
- The nature of the project in this case and the process adopted by the Defendant to pursue the Request for Proposals process without regard to the provisions of the Central Tenders Board act, requires disclosure of all the relevant information that was considered before the said decision was taken and the refusal to provide the requested information can create a perception that there may have been misfeasance in the process and any such perception can result in the loss of public confidence. Every effort therefore ought to be made to avoid such a circumstance and if there is a valid and legally sound rationale for the adoption of the Request for Proposals process, then it must be in the public interest to disclose it and the rationale behind the process adopted ought not to be cloaked by a veil of secrecy.
- The public interest in having access to the requested information therefore is far more substantial than the Defendant’s interest in attempting to maintain any perceived confidentiality in relation to the said information…”
The real point here is that Justice Seepersad has carried out the Public Interest Test, as mandated at S.35 of the FoIA and ignored by the State in this matter, to find that the ‘legal professional privilege’ is subordinate to the Public Interest in this case, given all the evidence submitted to the Court.
The entire process possesses all the ingredients for corruption, I maintain that view.
Dr. Tewarie has repeatedly claimed that the process was transparent because he disclosed the assessment rules for the Invader’s Bay development at the T&T Contractors’ Association Dinner on Saturday 5 November 2011. That assertion is perfectly tautological, in that it is entirely true that the rules were revealed for the first time on that occasion, but it does not explain anything of substance. The decisive fact is that the closing-date for the Invader’s Bay RFP process was 4 October 2011, a full month before the rules were disclosed. That fact alone renders the entire process voidable and illegal.
What is more, we have to consider the widely-advertised public consultations on the redevelopment of King’s Wharf in San Fernando; the South-Western Peninsula development; the issue of ‘City-status’ for Chaguanas; Constitutional Reform and of course, the latest one, the Civil Society Board. The glaring question has to be – ‘When is the State hosting the first in its series of Public Consultations on the Invader’s Bay development?’
Finally, will this development process continue, while the legal arguments continue?
It seems to me that we are entering a sustained and hard-fought Information War, global in extent, but with local flavour. The main features of this are the attempted redefinition of Privacy as a defunct notion, right alongside the State’s duty to know all about us, but tell us as little as possible of their own operations. That is the name of the game, so these issues are going to be challenged strongly as we go forward.
The High Court ruled on 14 July 2014 that the Minister of Planning & Sustainable Development must provide the legal advice which was said to have justified the development process at Invader’s Bay. This case was brought by the JCC after the Ministry refused to publish the legal advice obtained in response to our challenge that the Invader’s Bay development process was in breach of the Central Tenders’ Board Act. Given the repeated statements that the legal opinions supported the State’s actions in relation to the CTB Act, the obvious question is ‘Why the secrecy and refusal to publish those opinions?‘
The JCC requested the legal opinions and the letters of instructions under the Freedom of Information Act and the judge applied the ‘Public Interest Test’ in deciding that the public right to that information eclipsed the accepted point as to the existence of ‘legal professional privilege’. There have been many comments on what has been described as a landmark ruling and it appears that the question of just what is an official secret is once again up for discussion.
We are now being told that the right of the client to maintain the confidentiality of legal advice is now under threat, so the State is reportedly considering an appeal of that High Court ruling. Read the rest of this entry »
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.