Last update: 09-Dec-2013 12:11 am
Monday, December 09, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Contractors link Govt’s unpaid $$ with crime
Vice-president of the T&T Contractors Association (TTCA) Ramlogan Roopnarinesingh says Government’s failure to honour $1 billion in payments to local contractors is responsible for an increase in unemployment and crime. Commenting on an article in Monday’s T&T Guardian which highlighted Government’s debt owed to contractors developing lands at Petit Morne, Ste Madeleine and Cedar Hill, Princes Town, he called on Government make the payments soon.
Both sites are being developed by the Estate Management and Business Development Company Limited (EMBD) for the relocation of residents living in the path of the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway. He said the construction industry already was crippled by a lack of opportunities while interest on loans taken to finance projects continued to increase.
Roopnarinesingh asked: “Why is it that Government is doing work and does not have the finances available to pay the contractors? They have been asking the contractors to continue until they assess the finances. Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal told the T&T Guardian last week small payments would be made this week.
However, he said, claims amounting to $300 million by Namalco Construction Services Limited, LCB Contractors Limited and BBFL Civil Limited for work done on the EMBD sites were being assessed. Roopnarinesingh said 17 per cent of T&T’s labour force relied on the construction industry for jobs but as contractors await payment, they are forced to retrench workers. That trend, he said, increased unemployment and, indirectly, crime.
He added: “The local construction industry is basically crippled. It is the Government and then the construction industry who employs people. “The thing with the construction industry is everyone benefits. From the engineers, architects and designers, come straight down to the man on the street... the masons, the labourers, everyone benefits. “When contractors are not paid, you will see they are owing the bank and there will be unemployment.
“Because of unemployment people cannot provide for their family and it is one of the reasons you have this high murder rate,” Roopnarinesingh said. Already, Namalco has retrenched 250 workers as a result of non-payment with project manager Lenny Sookram saying more cutbacks may come soon. “This has been happening to a lot of contractors. Contractors are shutting down and they are going into receivership. A lot of the established contractors are not getting work and the ones that are at work are not being paid.
“You see it on television, people are saying if they get jobs the crime will shut down.” When foreign firms are given large projects, the bulk of the payment is repatriated to their home country, according to Roopnarinesingh. He said Government’s awarding of major jobs to these contractors would lead to the demise of the local construction industry. He added: “Our future generation, people who aren’t even born yet, will be born into debt.
“All the major projects which are being given to the foreign contractors in the government-to-government agreements, that is also crippling the industry. “In the meantime, our local contractors are suffering. They are killing the local construction industry to benefit the foreigners.” Roopnarinesingh also lamented the lack of proper surveys. He said black organic material found embedded in the soil at the Petit Morne site would raise the cost of construction.
During a site visit last week, one expert said the EMBD did not conduct a geotechnical survey on the site to determine whether the land was suitable for housing. He said the land was a former canefield which meant it was layered with clay. He also recalled that refuse from the old Usine factory in Ste Madeleine would be dumped at the site during Caroni’s 1975 Limited’s operation.
He added: “I remember what Usine used to do in the back there, they would dump waste products. That product was a by-product from the cane when they manufactured sugar. “They said no geotechnical survey was done. All those things were supposed to be done because all those things extend the cost of your construction. When that happens, for you to get paid for that, it is a variation that the engineer on site has to approve.”
However, he said, contractors at the site compounded their financial woes by continuing to work although they knew finances were not allocated by Central Government.
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