Joint Consultative Council (JCC) president, Afra Raymond, has been forced to resign after an internal rift with two council members.
Raymond resigned with immediate effect over a month ago after tension within the organisation became unbearable. His resignation has left the JCC headless and silent on pressing matters including the economic downturn and its immediate effect on the billion-dollar construction industry.
Several questions have arisen since Raymond's departure and chief among them is whether political cronyism played a role in his sudden decision to quit the JCC. The Sunday Guardian understands that an exchange of letters between Raymond and new Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott) chairman, Noel Garcia, is responsible for the rift among the JCC executive that led to Raymond being ousted from office. Raymond publicly questioned whether Garcia was eligible for a state board appointment even though he was widely reported to have failed to appear at the Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the Las Alturas project.
Las Alturas, an apartment complex in Lady Young, Morvant, cost the then government some $26 million to construct but had to be demolished when the land slipped and created structural damage to the building. It was commissioned and constructed under the former People's National Movement (PNM) by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) when Garcia stood as the general manager. Garcia was expected to appear at the CoE to answer questions on the project.
The Sunday Guardian learned that two JCC members sided with Garcia and attempted to force Raymond to publish an apology to him, citing the need for a "cordial" relationship with the Udecott board. Raymond's refusal led to heightened tensions within the JCC, which triggered his resignation. The matter of whether an apology is warranted is now before the council's legal team, but the Sunday Guardian was told that with Raymond out of the office for a month now, the need for a letter of apology has waned.
The Sunday Guardian also learned that the JCC violated its own constitution and bypassed Raymond on the attendance list for council meetings. As the immediate past president, Raymond is automatically a council member but the Sunday Guardian has learned that the former president Winston Riley has refused to give way and acknowledge Raymond as the new immediate past president on the JCC executive.
Those close to Raymond, who spoke with the Sunday Guardian on Tuesday and Wednesday, said that out of respect for the JCC's role in the construction sector, Raymond has not commented at all on this issue, despite several requests.
When contacted last week, JCC founder Emile Elias said in an email that he "discussed this whole question with Mr Garcia."
He said, "I do believe that he would appreciate an apology from the JCC for the record. However, after some discussion, he does not seem to have an interest in taking the matter against the JCC any further. In my judgment, the JCC does not have an exposure."
Those close to Raymond are questioning why an apology was important enough to force him out of office, but was no longer necessary once he resigned.
Elias personally selected Raymond over other longstanding colleagues to be the feature speaker at the NH International 50th anniversary celebration dinner in September. Days after Raymond resigned, Elias said he spoke with Garcia and determined that an apology was no longer necessary.
The role of the JCC
The JCC is made up of members from all segments of the construction industry and often acts as the watchdog for that sector. The six member organisations under the JCC advocate for more transparency in tendering procedures, fair business practices, efficient dispute resolution and work to establish codes of practice.
There are six heads of councils which make up the JCC which include:
�2 Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT),
�2 Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Architects (TTIA),
�2 Trinidad and Tobago Society of Planners (TTSP),
�2 Trinidad and Tobago Contractors Association (TTCA)
�2 Institute of Surveyors of Trinidad and Tobago (ISTT),
�2 The TT Chapter of the International Facility Management Association (TTIFMA),
Several frontline members of the JCC are among contractors and consultants owed millions of dollars by the State. Several of those bills would have to be cleared via Udecott.
It is the JCC that leverages on the Government for the payment of millions of dollars owed to the construction industry. In 2014 alone, the figure owed to contractors stood at $116 million. In 2010 when Raymond first took office, the construction industry was owed some $1.5 billion. The JCC had even threatened to take the Government to court to ensure its membership was paid.
The Riley factor
The internal JCC strife seems centred among two pivotal council members: Raymond and Riley
In Raymond's resignation letter, obtained by the Sunday Guardian, he singled out former JCC president Riley. He said Riley was fully aware that he planned to question Garcia's appointment to Udecott and queried why Riley was now denying that they spoke on the matter. Riley's objections came only after Garcia blasted Raymond for his letter to the editor.
"Another significant point we must register is the silence of that submission on WR's (Riley's) position on how Noel Garcia responded to the various newspaper reports. There is a glaring logical disconnect between WR's full support for/rationalisation of Noel Garcia's position and the imputation that Garcia has somehow been attacked. I will restate it for the record–If what Noel Garcia has done is in fact proper–which was the emphatic view of WR–how then does JCC writing the editor about it come to be seen as an attack now requiring an apology?" Raymond asked.
The Sunday Guardian has also learned that Riley is now bidding to return to the JCC as its president.
Raymond: Mediation is needed
In an email correspondence to JCC heavyweights–Elias, Riley and Mervyn Thompson–Raymond stated that Riley had been "abusive and disruptive" towards him at two meetings immediately prior to his resignation.
"For those who were absent from the second of those meetings, I stated clearly that the deterioration in the behaviour of the then immediate past-President towards me was the greatest concern facing our organisation. I also went on formal record to say that, despite the flagrant abuse, I was prepared to take part in a process of mediation so that this important relationship could be restored in the greater interest," he said in that email.
Several attempts to contact Garcia proved futile, but the Sunday Guardian received a copy of his response to Raymond's contentious letter to the editor. In that letter, which was written on the day the letter appeared in the newspaper, Garcia said that Raymond, in reference to the CoE, "speaks disparagingly of the prospect of the Chairman of a State Enterprise declining to testify at a Commission of Enquiry."
Despite media reports to the con-trary, Garcia said he "never refused to give evidence" before the CoE.
"Despite what Mr Raymond claims to have read (and what he erroneously plainly believes), the Commission has never at any time contacted or subpoenaed me on the matter of the Las Alturas Project. This, although my postal address, email address and telephone number have remained unchanged for years," Garcia said in that letter.
Garcia said he never shirked his duty to give evidence before any court or any tribunal with respect to matters within his knowledge as a former employee of the HDC.
"In his self-appointed role as guardian of the public conscience, Mr Raymond ought to be more careful about permitting his officious zeal to lead him into making what can be considered to be defamatory imputations about others. Mr Raymond's self-confessed inability to locate any published responses from me to press reports he has read is no licence for him to do so," Garcia said.
?The JCC has often challenged state boards and Governmental projects. It was the JCC which publicly called for more transparency in the award of the Beetham Wastewater Treatment facility and the Eden Gardens housing project. The JCC also tackled and publicised the Education Facilities Company Ltd move to hide the name of its contractors and was intrinsic in ending the first hunger strike by environmentalist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh over the Debe to Mon Desir portion of the highway to Point Fortin back in 2012.
The JCC serves as the watchdog for the construction sector.