The mystery surrounding Beetham community activist Kenneth "Spanish" Rodriguez has deepened, as Housing Development Corporation (HDC) managing director Jearlean John has dismissed his role as either a contractor or sub-contractor on a state project.Rodriguez has said he is the main man on the Government's police post project on Duncan Street, Port-of-Spain.But John said yesterday, "What he is doing there is anybody's guess. He was never given an HDC contract to construct a police post. He is not a sub-contractor either.
"Of course, a contractor can hire a sub-contractor. I did ask and I was told he was not."John said she did not even know if Rodriguez was a worker on the project and he was not attached to the HDC in any official way. She said the contract was given to FIQH General Contractors, which had been working with the HDC for the last seven years, which she said was well publicised.
Asked if the contractors had contacted her to find out what was going on, she said, "No, they know they are the contractors."The T&T Guardian tried to get a comment from FIQH, which is based in Chaguanas, but the response was, "Uh uh. No way."John said some 60 people, including residents of Duncan Street, Beetham Gardens, Port-of-Spain West, Cocorite and Chaguanas, are employed on the project.
Rodriguez featured prominently during a tour of the $2 million Duncan Street police post project with John, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, National Security Minister Gary Griffith and acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams last week Friday.
Rodriguez told the media then that he was the contractor for the project. He met and greeted Moonilal, then the acting prime minister, John and her entourage and escorted them to the first and second floors of the buildings. Media personnel photographed and videographed the events of the tour.There was no other representative of any contracting firm present during the tour.
Days later, Williams told the media the police had information that Rodriguez was involved in gang activity and had passed on this information to the Government. Griffith, meanwhile, vowed that he would weed out all criminal elements from state projects, maintaining they would use the money earned from these contracts to strengthen their criminal gangs. He reiterated this again yesterday.
Both the PNM and the Independent Liberal Party, on the local government elections campaign trail, have since criticised the award of a state contract to a suspected gang leader.Yesterday, however, John attributed Rodriguez' presence at the tour to his being "over enthusiastic." She said, "He's there every day. If you go there now you will see him."The Spanish guy is very enthusiastic. People like a little swagger. Sometimes people just want a chance."
John made the disclosures at a media conference yesterday at the HDC offices on South Quay, Port-of-Spain, which she said she called to clear the air on the HDC's hiring practices and its relations with gang leaders. Criticising media reports that Rodriguez was the contractor, she said, "Last Friday when we toured the Duncan Street facility, I was asked whether a gang leader got the contract. I said no and then I gave the name of the contractor."
She said this information was written in a Guardian report by Richard Lord after the Duncan Street tour.In fact, Lord's article did not contain the information as claimed by John. Neither did a Newsday report on the same tour.Both newspapers, however, did carry an interview with Rodriguez, in which he was reported as saying he saw articles about gang members getting contracts for the police post, but said no one, including the police, had any proof against him.
"I am a registered contractor and I work for what I want," he said.Rodriguez also said he was involved in an HDC construction project at Beetham Gardens and even worked for the East Port-of-Spain Development Company, another state entity.John said yesterday that reporting Rodriguez had been given a million-dollar contract could be putting his life in danger."The man's life is probably now at risk. People may think he has come into very good fortune."
"Further, he has not been charged with any offence and if he is not incarcerated, he can be seen anywhere," she said."Spanish wasn't hiding Friday."The claim that a gang leader had been given the Duncan Street contract was made by Opposition senator Pennelope Beckles, while speaking during the budget debate. She did not name the contractor.
The HDC and Duncan Street
The police post project came about after a spate of killings in the Duncan Street area in August and is based on recommendations from the Ryan Crime Report, John said."Government adopted the recommendations and has mandated that we have to generate productive employment."She said people in the Duncan Street area have been complaining about a lack of employment and are, in fact, very proud of the work being done on the police post.
"Is it because the project is on Duncan Street that gang membership is being ascribed to it?" she asked. She said there has been no negative incident, violent or otherwise, on the project."People running their mouth. They know where Duncan Street is?"Asked if the aim of project was also to create peace in the area, she replied, "I don't know about peace. I am not in the peace business. I'm about work. We can't pick and choose where we want to work."
John also criticised CoP Williams' remark that the police know the gang leaders but do not have the evidence to prosecute them.She said, "I find that an oxymoron. Do you have the facts or do you have the evidence? If you have the evidence, lock the folks up. There's the anti-gang law."Asked how she felt about awarding state contracts to gang leaders, John said, "That is a matter for the police."John then called on Williams to pass on the list of gang leaders he said he had to her.
"Put their names in the papers too."She said she and other government officials held a meeting with two Special Branch officers last week Wednesday on the same matter and the names of gang leaders were never disclosed to her.
Hi-tech police post
The new police post on Duncan Street has a 360-degree vantage point, monitoring devices, and bullet-proof glass panels.John said it is probably the first solar-powered building in the country. She said 12 families were relocated from Building 64 so that it could be converted into a police post."The ground floor contains a mediation room, homework centre and, of course, a little charge room. It has a nice little waiting area and a kitchenette.
"The first floor has surveillance space, offices, bunks and three dormitories. There is a temporary little lock-up facility here too."The second floor has administration offices, a monitoring room and an interview room."