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Finance Ministry not blocking Elias housing project —Imbert

Published: 
Thursday, November 9, 2017
Colm Imbert

Finance Minister Colm Imbert is dismissing as “entirely untrue,” allegations that he is refusing to give a Government guarantee to Emile Elias’ NH International on the State’s first public/private partnership housing development in Mt Hope.

NH International won the bid for the contract and the sod for the $145 million dollar apartment complex on the Eastern Main Road Mt Hope was turned in November last year.

But Elias, the Executive Chairman of NH International, has alleged that a senior government official is blocking a Government guarantee for the project.

This issue was picked up by former housing Minister and MP for Oropouche East, Dr Roodal Moonilal who pointed fingers at Finance Minister Colm Imbert, accusing him of “declining to give a government guarantee,” to NH International (Caribbean) Limited, because of the “on-going private legal row involving the Minister and the company’s Chairman Emile Elias.”

Moonilal also expressed concern that the “lack of support for NH International is a direct result of a lack of proper project planning and execution.”

In his response, issued via a release from the Ministry of Finance, Imbert described the allegation as “entirely untrue.”

Imbert said, “the Minister of Finance is not involved in this HDC project and is not required to give any guarantee of any kind for any purpose whatever.”

He said the project is under the purview of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, and not the Ministry of Finance, insisting that“the Minister of Finance would never act in the way suggested by Dr

Moonilal and any such inference is rejected.”

Imbert said any allegation that the Minister of Finance had declined to give a guarantee for the housing project “for personal reasons, or for any reason, is therefore entirely untrue.”

Local contractors want issue resolved

But local contractors are voicing their own concerns about the situation.

While they admit there is little information on the first public-private partnership in the housing sector under this Government they admitted that they would view future projects with “scepticism.”

President of the Contractors Association Ramlogan Roopnarinesingh told the T&T Guardian “this is one of the first major projects and if the government is planning to go ahead with this PPP model, people will be a lot more sceptical now.”He said Elias “is recognised all up the Caribbean, NH is a reputable firm and I find it strange that something like this has happened.”

Former President of the Contractors Association Mikey Joseph said “projects like this have the ability to kick-start activity in the sector, with people being employed, material being sold, etc. The parties involved should do everything to resolve this and get the project going.”

He said for public/private partnerships to work properly, there is need to amend the Financial Institutions Act which restricts banks from investing in property.

“If the act is amended the bank could be a partner and carry the project on the books and make financing a lot easier,” he said.

Other contractors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Government needed to take “responsibility” for what has happened.

“They cannot expect a contractor to do a project investing his own money and not having some kind of guarantee that the contractor’s debt will be covered. They need to look at this and think about what they want to achieve.”

There was no response to several questions sent to housing Minister Randall Mitchell yesterday.