Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley dedicated a chapter in his book, From Mason Hall to Whitehall, to his dismissal from the Cabinet of the late prime minister Patrick Manning.
President of the T&T Contractors Association (TTCA) Mikey Joseph says contractors are owed between $1.5 and $1.7 billion by the Government and he has identified the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL) as the two main companies at fault.
The monies have been outstanding to the contractors for the past two years.
Joseph described the debt as “extremely worrying and troubling” since many contractors have not been able to pay suppliers, creditors and banks and have found themselves in a financial bind.
“Many are unable to meet their obligations. It has not been easy,” Joseph said.
To date, Joseph said, contractors (members) within the TTCA were owed in excess of “$1.5 to 1.7 billion.”
The TTCA has a financial membership of 95.
Joseph was responding to comments made by Prime Minister Keith Rowley who, on Thursday at the post-Cabinet news conference in Tobago, conceded that Government owed money to contractors, but challenged the circumstances in which some of that debt was incurred.
Rowley admitted that there was a problem with “the government’s financial ability to pay some of the debt” and that the Government will take responsibility for only valid debts.
“I can’t tell you what is the value of the valid debt. I was not a party to the contracts given out to members of the construction fraternity by different agencies.”
Joseph said the EFCL owed contractors “in excess of $600 million right now,” while the HDC had an outstanding payment of “$400 to $500 million” to its members.
He said while the $1.7 billion was valid “in some cases there were certified debts, whereby the contractor goes through all the approval stages and you have a certificate awaiting payment. All of our members would not have had that at this time because consultants are advised by clients, sometimes, not to issue further certificates when they are not in a position to pay.”
In some instances, Joseph said, the contractor would have continued working and would submit their interim payment claim and the client would not issue an interim payment certificate.
“Which means the debt is not certified.”
Joseph said between 25 and 30 per cent of the $1.7 billion owed “could not be certified. As far as I know our members are generally scrupulous in how they obtain these contracts.”
Since the PNM assumed office last September, Joseph said, the Government paid some contractors who worked under the Programme for Upgrading Roads Efficiency (PURE) in the last two months.
“I can’t say what was the figure these received. I really don’t know. So the Prime Minister is saying that they would pay valid debts...that is good. But what he needs to say is when will they start payments? They should not wait until they have validated 100 per cent of the debt to start paying. By that time the country might grind to a halt.”
He said while the country was in a recession and the economy was facing some turbulence, the Ministry of Finance should bring some measure of relief to contractors, who have been waiting months for their monies.