An election gimmick that will never materialise. This was how former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal described Government’s announcement that they intended to construct 204 apartments at South Quay, Port-of-Spain, as part of its continuing effort to address the urgent demand for public housing.
On Friday, Housing Minister Edmund Dillion signed the US $71 million contract with China Gezhouba Group International Engineering Company Limited (CGGC) for the design, build and financing of four high-rise buildings containing 133 three-bedroom and 71 two-bedroom apartments at POS; and five high-rise buildings containing 120 three-bedroom and 115 two-bedroom apartments at Lady Hailes Avenue, San Fernando.
Construction is expected to begin shortly, with phase one set to span two years.
It is hoped that by the end of 2020, at least 5,000 low-cost homes would have been constructed via this project.
Claiming such promises were “calculated” and “political in nature”, Moonilal said, “These announcements and fancy pictures are being taken from websites and they are transposing it. This is really an election gimmick to show the people that they will build something in the future, but there is absolutely nothing in place for any type of mega-development that they are speaking about.”
Expressing concern that state projects were being done without proper land acquisition procedures being followed, Moonilal pointed to continuing developments such as the Kay Donna Overpass and the Toco Highway as examples of where the authorities had failed to follow proper protocols.
He reiterated, “They are just using pictures because they have no achievements to show.”
Moonilal, referring to the People’s Partnership’s term in office, said, “Whereas we could have shown schools, fire-stations, police stations, hospitals…they are just going on the Internet and find some buildings to put up and decide, this will be POS and San Fernando.
“There is absolutely no planning, no projection, no vision, no source of financing.”
Moonilal said when the PP administration assumed office in 2010, they continued with previous plans from the Patrick Manning led-administration which involved the re-development of East POS and the port development at Beetham.
“These are projects that were in the pipeline for many years and we were continuing in that line,” he said.
Moonilal accused the People’s National Movement (PNM) of moving away from this model, preferring city-scape type buildings.
“I want to assure the people that none of this will happen. It certainly cannot happen in 12 months. It is just trying to fool the people in an election year.”
Concerned that Chinese contractors were being engaged for this particular kind of project, Moonilal said, “T&T has an abundance and surplus of home construction experts and contractors who produce high-quality work all over the Caribbean. There are several of them and it is very disturbing that the PNM Government would identify a construction company that has been in some trouble with the World Bank Group.”
Dismissing the need to engage foreign contractors to construct local housing units, Moonilal said, “We have the equipment, we have the labour force, we have the technical capacity to do the work. You should engage foreign contractors in projects where you may not have the domestic capacity such as in port building and hospital construction, certainly not in housing.”
“This is a retrograde and backward step that will further push out local businesses, local labour and local capital formation so this is an extremely backward approach by the Government to engage Chinese contractors for home construction.”
He claimed local firms would not benefit as the Chinese normally bring in their own equipment and labour, with precious little left for the local market.
In August 2013, Independent Liberal Party leader Jack Warner presented a package of goodies to residents in East POS which included food, land, government contracts, jobs in the protective services, and houses as part of his party’s promise to improve their lives.
The World Bank Group and CGGC
On May 29, 2015, The World Bank Group announced the debarment of Gezhouba No 1 Engineering Co Ltd, the Gezhouba No 5 Engineering Co Ltd, and the Gezhouba No 6 Engineering Co Ltd and their affiliates for a period of 18 months.
In addition, China Gezhouba Three Gorges Engineering Co Ltd and its affiliates were also debarred for a period of six months.
China Gezhouba Group Co Ltd also received a Letter of Reprimand which was valid for six months during which the group remained eligible to participate in World Bank-financed activities.
The sanctions were part of a Negotiated Resolution Agreement between the World Bank and China Gezhouba Group Co Ltd, and its four subsidiaries; namely: Gezhouba No 1 Engineering Co Ltd, Gezhouba No 5 Engineering Co Ltd, Gezhouba No 6 Engineering Co Ltd, and China Gezhouba Three Gorges Engineering Co Ltd.
The settlement follows the acknowledgment of misconduct by these entities in three bank-funded projects in the Peoples Republic of China in relation to water conservation, earthquake recovery, and flood management.
The agreement signed between the World Bank and China Gezhouba Group Co Ltd took note of the extent of cooperation that the group and its subsidiaries' demonstrated and the extent of proactivity and remedial action taken by the companies to ensure that this misconduct does not recur.
Under the terms of the Agreement, Gezhouba No 1 Engineering Company Limited, Gezhouba No 5 Engineering Company Limited and Gezhouba No. 6 Engineering Company Limited committed to cooperating with the World Bank Integrity team and were also required to adopt a Corporate Compliance Program consistent with the World Bank Group Integrity Compliance Guidelines.