An almost five-year battle between the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) and the Ministry of Planning and the Economy has stalled the billion-dollar proposed Invaders Bay development project.
Businessman Derek Chin, owner of the MovieTowne franchise, has abandoned his portion of the two-part project after waiting four years for the deed to ten acres of state lands in Invaders Bay, Port-of-Spain. Chin's company, Dachin Company Ltd, was picked for a 10.2-acre development, while another local firm, Invaders Bay Marina Company (IBMC), was selected for the development of the other 13 acres of the billion-dollar land development deal.
This is the source of some confusion, however, as communication between the Ministry of Planning and the JCC's president Afra Raymond, obtained by the Sunday Guardian, detailed that the land deal for Chin's portion of the $1.28 billion project was part of a long-term rental agreement with Chin's company and not the result of a sale.
According to one Ministry of Planning letter to the JCC on October 31,2014, Chin's company was expected to lease the land allocated for the development. There was no indication that Chin was about to purchase the state lands.
"Generally, commercial leases of this nature are for 30 years, renewable, permitted uses are defined and they are based on legitimate valuations linked to market rates. The same holds for 99-year leases in respect of residential. Leases will be linked to land use as appropriate–commercial or residential," the letter from the ministry's permanent secretary stated.
But in a telephone interview with Chin, he revealed that he was actually ready and able to purchase the 10.2-acre property for just over $130 million.
"We have negotiated a price for ten acres and awaiting final docs. The price is $130 million. We are hoping to buy some land once approved to do the project," Chin wrote in response to emailed questions from the Sunday Guardian.
More hiccups from JCC
Chin said, however, with just one month to go before the general election, he was not confident that his six-year dream would come true and he was even more concerned that the JCC's constant intervention would create more hiccups if the project ever got off the ground.
Letters obtained by the Sunday Guardian show that the JCC had tabled its concerns about the award of the billion-dollar project with Minister of Planning Dr Bhoe Tewarie since 2011.
"It's an investment. No tender or bid on anything so the JCC needs to check itself," Chin said.
The Ministry of Planning stated that the valuations on the proposed areas of development were provided by the Valuation Division, Ministry of Finance and the Economy, valuators engaged by the proposed developers and BCQS International, a company retained by PriceWaterhouseCoopers on behalf of the ministry. It revealed then that the land to be "leased to IBMG" was valued at $247,084,710, while Chin's share was pegged at $204,518,200.
In August 2014, after a series of questions on the proposed project during a parliamentary sitting, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar stated then that state-controlled Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott) was responsible for the development.
But Udecott's chairman Jearlean John, in an interview with the Sunday Guardian, could only comment on a part of the project and directed all questions regarding Chin's portion to the Ministry of Planning.
"I cannot speak to that. What I can tell you about is the 51-acre piece allocated for development by Udecott," John said.
The Sunday Guardian then texted John for further information on the status of the project and Chin's portion of the development deal.
"The tender for the designs for infrastructural works was won by BBFL (Blake Beston Francois Limited)," John said.
"Upon completion of these designs there will be another open tender for the roadways, waste water, electrical, plumbing etc. I can't comment on Mr Chin please," John replied via text message.
The JCC, in a letter dated July 6, 2015, lodged a formal complaint with the Integrity Commission citing possible breaches of the Integrity in Public Life Act in relation to the development at Invaders Bay. The JCC, in its letter, claimed that the lack of information and transparency in the way this billion-dollar development was handled was grounds for an investigation.
"The state lands at Invaders Bay are public resources...it is for that reason that the post facto publication of assessment criteria is considered to be solid grounds for declaring the tender process voidable," the JCC letter states.
The Sunday Guardian contacted both Finance Minister Larry Howai and the permanent secretary at that ministry, Vishnu Dhanpaul, seeking information on the possible breach of the Central Tenders Board Act in the award of this contract but both men directed all queries back to the Ministry of Planning and Tewarie.
Howai, in response to emailed questions from the Sunday Guardian, said he checked with Tewarie and was informed that "so far no money has been spent on the project".
"I should add that from my knowledge of it, there will be a requirement for some spend on infrastructure which is what Government normally does but the development of the project will be using private sector funding," Howai added.
Tewarie: Timing of JCC letter a story by itself
But Tewarie was not able to shed any more light on the mega-project. He said the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the two developers was negotiated by PriceWaterhouseCoopers on behalf of the ministry.
"No funds have been expended on the Invaders Bay project so far. The MoU's do, however, identify state responsibility for provision of infrastructure to open up access to the lands and private developers' responsibility for development of lands leased to them at market rates," he said.
He also responded to the JCC's claim that the MoU's were being kept private.
"The matter of the MoU's not being publicly released is easily understood in a context in which the actual leases for the land still remain to be executed by Udecott which is the land owner. Thus, the matter remains delicate," Tewarie said.
"I should also mention that the Ministry of Planning had set into motion the process for inviting investors for Invaders Bay under the last PNM (People's National Movement) administration and that this Invaders Bay matter has been controversial from the beginning because powerful business interests aligned to political interest are at war," he said.
"The fact that this matter is now being referred to the Integrity Commission five weeks before the general election tells a story by itself," he said.
When asked about the sale of the ten acres to Chin as a private developer, Tewarie referred the matter back to Udecott.
"Udecott is responsible for Invaders Bay land and development. The land is vested in Udecott. All developers, therefore, have to deal with them but Cabinet has made decisions which Udecott must pursue to facilitate the development objectives of Mr Chin (Dachin) and Mr (Jerry) Joseph (IBMC) with whom negotiations were concluded by Ministry of Planning through PwC leading to MoU's. Beyond these two developments there are about 40 acres of land at Invaders Bay still open for development by Udecott," he said.