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Price increase justified—Garcia
Former managing director of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) Noel Garcia yesterday testified that it was not odd or improper for the HDC to have appointed CE Management and Services (CEMAS) as the project manager on the Las Alturas housing project in the absence of a contract.
Appearing before the Commission of Enquiry at the Caribbean Court of Justice, Henry Street, Port-of-Spain, Garcia described it as an “unusual” move—even as he admitted that he had an obligation to ensure that millions of dollars worth of public funds were not misused.
Under cross-examination by the commission’s lead attorney Senior Counsel Pamela Elder, Garcia said the HDC inherited the project from the Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott) in 2006.
Presented with a copy of a contract between China Jiangsu International Corporation (CJIC) and the HDC which outlined the tender price of $74 million for 134 apartment units, Garcia was unable to definitively say what enquiries had been made relating to an increase of $2.3 million—as CJIC had previously offered to build the apartments at a cost of $72 million.
Pressed by Elder to indicate what questions he raised about the price increase, Garcia said he was sure that such concerns would have been addressed by the tenders committee and that the price would have been “justified.”
Asking how the HDC could be paying more for less as under the previous arrangement between Udecott and CJIC, 297 apartment units were earmarked to be built at a cost of $67 million, Elder said the HDC was now forced to pay $74 million for 134 units.
Disagreeing with her statement, Garcia pointed out that the units were smaller than the norm and that the HDC later agreed on units that met the minimum requirements—but that there were no documents to confirm this.
Garcia said, “At the HDC, we were very careful about value for money.”
In relation to a number of other questions, Garcia said he was unable to recall without having the relevant documents to consult.
A request was later made for certain documents to be provided to assist Garcia with his testimony today.
During the course of his cross-examination by Elder, Garcia said it also appeared that CEMAS had played a dual role, as they had been engaged as HDC’s project manager, as well as being hired by CJIC to complete the design for the project in phase two.
Admitting that he had no explanation “at this time” as to why he had not insisted on a written contract between the HDC and CEMAS, Garcia was also unable to say if he had ever advised the board to formalise the arrangement and if he had authorised any payments to be made to CEMAS.
Denying that geotechnical advice relating to the slope instability at the southern side of the site had been ignored, Garcia said CEMAS was charged with managing the project and it was expected that they would have advised them as they saw fit.
In a letter dated January 22, 2008, CJIC warned CEMAS that they would not accept responsibility for any resultant fallout from landslips at the site, as they requested that geotechnical works be carried out prior to beginning construction at the location.
Meanwhile, the commission was yesterday informed that the CJIC chairman was out of the country and was not expected to return until June.
Attempts have been made to have CJIC officials appear before the commission which comes to an end in March, when it is expected to deliver its findings.
Commission chairman, retired justice Mustapha Ibrahim, yesterday warned, “If there is any evidence whatsoever implicating CJIC, indicating that they would be liable either criminally or civil, we will have no objection in making such an order in the matter. They have refused to come before us and are now saying they cannot come until June.”
At a glance
The commission of enquiry was set up to investigate “the entire process which led to the construction of the Las Alturas Towers at Lady Young Gardens, Morvant, and all other acts, matters or decisions done or undertaken incidental to and including the construction” of the project, which includes the procurement process.
Two multi-storey units of the Las Alturas housing project began falling apart after construction and the $26 million towers were earmarked for demolition.
They were part of a larger project, which was originally budgeted at $65 million and then rose to $90 million.
The commission is chaired by former Justice of Appeal Mustapha Ibrahim. The other members include civil engineers Dr Myron Wing-Sang Chin and Anthony Farrell. Attorney Laraine Lutchmedial is the secretary. They were appointed by President Anthony Carmona in December 2014.