Investigations into a multimillion-dollar payout made by former justice minister Herbert Volney has reached the desk of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
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$6.6 million to fix Beetham sinkhole
Jusamco Pavers was paid $6.6 million for emergency work on a three-metre sinkhole that opened up on the westbound carriageway of the Beetham Highway in September 2012, says Works Minister Suruj Rambachan. Replying to an Opposition question in the Senate yesterday, Rambachan said the sinkhole opened up in an area where the company had excavated before, but was subsequently affected after Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) contractors destroyed the underground culvert.
Rambachan said for a number of years culvert crossings under the Beetham Highway were not maintained and several were in danger of collapsing. “To fix any of those requires serious infrastructural work. It’s estimated it will cost between $9 million and $11 million. It involves digging up the Beetham highway and replacing all culverts. It’s major infrastructural work, so when something like this happens, it will cost money to get it rectified,” he said.
He said plans were in place to replace the affected Beetham culvert crossings with minimal disruption to the public, though some displacement would be inevitable. Rambachan said work would start in the new fiscal year after the 2015 budget. He said measures are being taken to prevent a recurrence of the sinkhole issue. His ministry met with the Public Utilities Ministry last week and they are preparing an MOU to ensure systems are in place before roadworks are done or WASA does work. The MOU would be completed soon.
Health Minister Fuad Khan also said Government was moving to reinstate the tax exemption on cars for doctors and other medical travelling personnel, after it was removed by the Chief Personnel Officer two years ago. Khan said Government was surprised the exemption was removed and was trying to find a way to reinstate it for the travelling officers who, he said, deserved it.
Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie, outlining new Town and Country Planning legislation, said Government is receiving a US$120 million IDB loan for flood alleviation in east Port-of-Spain, including detention ponds, flood alleviation interceptors and pumps. He also detailed a long list of projects done in Laventille, Morvant and east PoS. The planning legislation covers issues that include protecting trees and the environment and penalties for bribing ministry enforcement officers.
He said the ministry recently won an $800,000 award against a hotelier who was violating the law and it also had three unauthorised structures removed. Noting the backlog of applications when he entered the ministry, he said that of 30,878, 96 per cent had been processed. A total of 920 state projects were reviewed and 98 per cent processed. Some 326 appeals were processed and an enforcement unit with 12 officers established in 2013.
In a statement to the Senate, Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj said April saw an unprecedented occurrence in the agriculture sector, with the food price inflation rate for that month remaining in single digits of 4.1 per cent. “For the first time in 21 years the rate remained in single digits for the first four consecutive months of the year, when under the PNM the rate for the first quarter of 2009 was a dangerous 25.4 per cent,” Maharaj said,
He also said the sector, for the first time in 40 years, had experienced five consecutive quarters of growth from 2012 to 2013. There had also been a 77 per cent increase in the contribution of agriculture to GDP from 2009 to 2013, as well as a two per cent reduction in food imports and a price inflation rate reduction from 13 per cent in 2013 to three per cent.