Construction variations or changes to the agreed scope of works at Housing Development Corporation (HDC) projects cost taxpayers some $2.4 billion between 2005 and 2017. These include two projects that had to be abandoned because of structural and engineering obstacles that were not determined before construction began.
The news comes even as the ruling People’s National Movement and Opposition United National Congress continue to spar over which party made the errors while in government which led to the recent flooding disaster at the Greenvale Park, La Horquetta development.
On Friday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley confirmed that pressure to provide state housing to a growing market meant that the HDC was sometimes forced to bypass approvals and procedures to complete projects on time. Rowley served as minister of housing from November 2003 to November 2007 and during that time, two other projects were started and had to be stopped because of the lack of proper approvals.
On Thursday, the T&T Guardian received a report from a former HDC engineer, who requested anonymity, detailing a list of projects with massive cost overruns and variations. Some had structural errors that brought construction to a complete halt although millions were already spent. The engineer said sites like Oropune Gardens, Piarco and Greenvale Park were subjected to incomplete planning and designs.
“Housing were built prior to completion of infrastructure works,” he said.
According to the report the T&T Guardian received, large projects contracted between 2005 to 2010 under the Joint Venture model overran their contract sums by 194 per cent and took eight years on average to complete. The engineer said the average cost of a unit under these projects was $832,000. He said large projects contracted between 2010 to 2015 under the Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) model meanwhile overran their contract sum by 4 per cent and took four years on average to complete. The average cost of a unit was $1,057,000.
According to the documents, Greenvale construction began in March 2007 was completed in June 2015. The project was initially pegged at $277 million for 584 units, but by the time the work was completed it cost the HDC some $339 million.
The project list also details the construction at the abandoned Edinburgh Towers in Edinburgh 500, Chaguanas, which began in July 2007 and remains incomplete today.
The construction of the towers also began when Rowley was minister of housing and has been left abandoned by the HDC for the past 11 years. It was initially pegged at a cost of $57 million but incurred a massive $87.7 million in variations before it was abandoned because of “design flaws.” According to information received by Guardian Media, construction began in March 2005 and “progressed slowly” for six years. In that time it suffered from major cost overruns and schedule overruns until work on it was eventually suspended in May 2011.
Even after some $87.7 million and six years was spent on those towers, by 2011 the buildings were still without the statutory approvals from the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC), Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) and Fire Service. They also did not have Town and Country approval or approvals for design and drainage.
Despite the millions spent, the towers still do not have staircases, the roof is still incomplete, elevator shafts are still to be constructed and the external cladding to the building and external work contracts were never awarded. According to an internal HDC report on that project, while the sewer is in place the drainage and paving walkways and hydrants are also still outstanding.
Similarly, at Harmony Hall, Gasparillo, the HDC began construction on 72 townhouses and 80 apartments between December 2004 and December 2011. However, it was discovered that some 36 apartments were “structurally unsound” after $44 million was already spent in variation costs.
At Cashew Gardens, Carlsen Field, Chaguanas, construction of 701 units as part of Phase 3C began in 2003 and is “ongoing.” Its cost was initially put at $313 million but incurred an $18 million variation and there is no notification as to why the job remains incomplete.
Construction of 422 homes at La Fortune, south Trinidad, began in April 2006 and is ongoing, but began at $85 million and incurred a cost variation of $175 million.
Dick-Forde: Things done in ad-hoc manner
Contacted on the issue, former PNM housing minister Dr Emily Gaynor Dick-Forde said when she inherited the HDC from Rowley it was “in a mess.” Dick-Forde said before 2010, when she demitted office, her personal assistant visited the Greenvale project, which was already almost complete.
“When I took over that ministry and went to HDC I found things were done in a very ad-hoc manner,” Dick-Forde said in an interview on Wednesday.
“The HDC did not have a tenders committee and was not using the Central Tenders Board so it was unclear how it was buying lands or selecting contractors,” she said.
She added, “When I went in November 2007, the HDC was building without approvals. I got rid of the entire board.”
However, she admitted she was pressured to continue housing projects without approvals.
“I was told that everything with housing would be shut down if I waited for approvals and so we had to continue with some of the projects,” she said.
This is not the first time Dick-Forde and Rowley have had conflicting views over a poor construction issue related to the HDC. Back in 2014, Rowley defended his role in the construction of the now demolished $26 million Las Alturas towers in Morvant and Dick-Fode took sides against the party to defend her own role in the construction of the buildings. At that time too, Dick-Forde said she had inherited a mess from Rowley, but confi1rmed at that time that ministerial approval was necessary as a building project continued. She had said then that it was not possible for the HDC to approve and begin construction without ministerial say-so and Cabinet approval.
In 2014 when Rowley was Opposition leader, the then minister of housing Dr Roodal Moonilal spoke out on the $26 million Las Alturas project which had to be demolished because of structural deficiencies. At that time, Moonilal said the Las Alturas project rose from $65 million to $90 million and two towers valued at $26 million had to be demolished since geo-technical work had not been done, though Rowley was a geologist. At that time, Rowley had confirmed that the original Las Alturas structure was completed under his watch, but denied any knowledge of the construction of the portion that had to be demolished.
The T&T Guardian on Saturday asked current HDC chairman Newman George about the entity’s operations regarding approvals for projects and various issues with variances, given what PM Rowley and the Opposition have claimed about the Greenvale project and what the T&T Guardian investigation has revealed about other projects.
Following was the question sent via WhatsApp after George did not answer calls to his phone:
Sir, Dr Rowley said yesterday (Friday) that HDC, because of pressure to provide houses, would sometimes start construction without requisite approvals. Can you confirm if this is still the case at HDC?
The T&T Guardian also asked George whether the HDC had quantified the amount it has spent on variations for projects.
On both occasions, George read the messages on WhatsApp, but did not respond.