|Property Matters – Taking
Published Thursday August 18th, 2011
As part of this pre-budget
series, I am going to ‘take stock’ of some recent, significant
happenings in relevant areas.
Given the unstable
situation in relation to the State and its operations, many examples of
which have been set out in previous ‘Property
columns, it is very important that a critical stance be maintained.
That said, it is also important that any progress be properly recorded
The notable items were –
I was very pleased to
read of the success
HDC was having in collecting the serious rent arrears owed by its
tenants, reportedly in excess of $240M. Of course this is not the first
time there has been an effort to rectify this situation, so hopefully
this will be a sustained program as it is vital that housing be treated
with proper responsibility. That responsibility would extend from the
quality of the designs and construction, the treatment of contractors
and suppliers all the way to housing policies which respond to the needs
of the needy.
Last week, there was a
report in this newspaper that the Housing and Environment Minister, Dr.
Roodal Moonilal, disclosed a new housing policy.
According to that
report, the new policy
will favour distribution of serviced lots, with foundation slabs, over
the provision of new homes. I have been calling for a review of our
housing policy for some time now, so it was very disappointing to read
that Cabinet had recently approved this important new policy without
some formal process of dialogue or seeking wider views, much less a
thorough examination of the shortcomings of the 2002 policy. Yes, a new
housing policy was sorely needed, but there are solid benefits to wider
Housing is too important
an element of our Welfare State to ever become solely a creature of
Cabinet, whatever the credentials of the current crop of Ministers.
This leads directly into
my point about the poor flow of basic information, which can be
detrimental to the best intentions. The 2002 housing policy disappeared
from the internet about 6 months ago, but despite several written
requests I have had no success in having those links restored, for
whatever reason. The new housing policy is also not available online.
In contrast, last month the Ministry of Finance issued a revised State
Enterprises Performance Monitoring
Manual and that is
available online, together with the 2008
Manual it replaced.
Building code –
The impending new
Building Code is to be
welcomed, having been developed in collaboration with key stakeholders.
There needs to be a solid commitment by all parties to establishing
proper enforcement of those critical standards. The Building Code will
cover important areas such as earthquake and fire hazards as well as
other quality issues.
The initiative is being
piloted by Dr. Roodal Moonilal, Minister of Housing and the Environment.
UDECOTT and the HDC both form part of his responsibilities, so that is a
good fit. We will have to be vigilant to ensure that all State
construction conforms to the new standards.
I can scarcely believe
that the very Minister who understands the importance of collaborating
with stakeholders on the new National Building Code, would state a week
earlier that the new Housing Policy had been agreed by Cabinet, with no
visible attempt at consultation. Incredible, but true.
A Culture of
Consequence - I
have consistently stated that the absence of consequence is inimical to
any development and that consequence has to be restored to a proper
place if we are to progress. Up to last Thursday, 11th August, I
stated at a public meeting that I was unaware of any government in this
country taking decisive action against its own appointees in the State
Enterprises. The pattern has been one of charging people from the last
political administration in what almost always looks like revenge.
The Sunday Guardian
14th August ‘Cabinet
fires Chairman of School-feeding Programme’
was as welcome as it was surprising. It was reported that the Cabinet
had taken decisive action to fire a Chairman who had been appointed
about 6 months before and that is a positive step, the first time any
government in this country has done that, as far as I am aware.
According to that
exclusive story, the fired Chairwoman of the National Schools Dietary
Services Ltd (NSDSL)—Dawn Annamunthodo – had obtained extensive and
expensive security guards for herself, due to some alleged death
There were also details of
what seemed to be deceptive attempts by that individual to become a
signatory to the bank accounts of that State-owned company. If those
reports are true, there are two serious implications –
Firstly, it is extremely
unlikely that this is the first time that this individual was involved
in acts of that kind. Grown people do not just change their behaviour
in a few months’ time, we all know that. My point being that this
episode calls into question the screening which is carried out in
relation to these appointments.
processes now exist, will definitely have to be made stronger, together
with ongoing reviews of Board performance.
Given that the Prime
Minister is widely reported to have approved the Chairpersons of State
Boards, that screening process needs to be reviewed urgently so as to
preserve the integrity of that office.
Secondly, this individual
is reported to have attempted to convince Republic Bank’s Ellerslie
Plaza branch to make her a signatory and that matter must be promptly
investigated by the Fraud Squad, with charges to follow if those
allegations are true. It is an echo of the point I made here last week
about a dutiful police officer allowing a motorist with a defective
vehicle to just drive-off after a ticket is issued. Not good enough, if
we are serious about road-safety.
We have to restore a
Culture of Consequence if White-Collar Crime is to be challenged.
But, even though no money
appears to have been stolen in that School-Feeding episode, the saddest
part was the bold-faced question that individual asked the Guardian
reporter, when invited to give a comment “…How
did you get hold of those documents? Those are state documents. These
questions are state business…”
It reminded me very much
of the response of Jewan Ramcharitar, former PriceWaterhouseCoopers
partner, who suddenly resigned as eTeck Chairman almost a month ago.
mysterious, with Stephen Cadiz, the line Minister, stating that it was
due to a ‘difference of opinion’ and the departed Chairman reportedly
am actually working on a project in the public service arena on a
full-time basis and my time at eTeck is eroding the time and attention I
pay to that,” he said.
Just what that project
is, he won’t say…”
I wonder if Ramcharitar
would have found that dismissive answer to be acceptable when he was a
partner at PWC? Probably not, yet we are continually beset by these
evasive attitudes in public affairs. We need to hold our leaders to a
The latest twist is the
sudden resignation of George Nicholas as Chairman of Caribbean Airlines
and the opaque statement by the Minister of Transport, Devant Maharaj -
“...“Yes. I can
confirm this. I am in receipt of his letter but I cannot say anything
In the three cases,
bare-faced conflation of State Business with Business which is private,
personal or confidential.
Good steps are to be
recognized and applauded, but we must always strive for better. We need
to continue onward and upward. It would be good to have a statement
from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Communications as to the
governments’ commitment to a progressive policy in these important
The Housing policy needs
to be published for comment and we also need to have a clear statement
as to whether there can be any such thing as a confidential state
Confidential State Policy
may seem like an oxymoron, but readers will be aware of the reluctance
of the Education Facilities Company Limited to publish its new
Confidentiality Policy. I don’t want to say refusal, but when this
budget season is over we will be continuing to examine those EFCL
Afra Raymond is President
of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC)
and Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited. www.raymondandpierre.com.