|Only a matter of time
Published Thursday 27th October 2011
The way the Ministry of Planning & the Economy (MPE) is persisting in
their course of action on the Invader’s Bay development is perturbing in
terms of the long term consequences of short-term decision-making.
At Section 2.0 of the Request for Proposals (RFP) for Invader’s Bay
“..For Trinidad and Tobago this is a “major waterfront
transformation” along the line of other signature waterfront
developments such as Darling Habour (sic) in Sydney, Baltimore Inner
Habour (sic), the Habour-front (sic) in Toronto, London Docklands and
Teleport City in Tokyo. Although the genesis of the projects may vary,
the result has generally been bold and dramatic. With the change in the
manner in which ports operate and cargo is transported, waterfront
property is now more valuable for its residential, retail and
recreational function than simply for port activity with heavy industry,
docks and fenced off warehouses, as is the case currently in Port of
We are being asked to consider the Invader’s Bay initiative ‘along
the line’ of other leading international examples, which in itself is a
good place to proceed from. The reality is that those developments
cited by the MPE all took decades to conceive and what is more, the
authors of the RFP know that. Yet we are also being asked to believe
that a workable concept/s could be devised for Invader’s Bay in an RFP
which is silent on the current strategic plans for the capital and only
gives proposers 6 weeks to prepare.
Of course the lack of consultation will severely limit the
participation of many important developers, not to mention the public.
The point is that in all those cities cited by the RFP, there is a
serious commitment to consultation, which means that those large-scale
transformations took considerable time to conceptualise.
In the city of New York, for example, there has been a long-standing
commitment to community-based development. Check this 6th October
webcast from The New School
(link) – the
introduction is instructive -
“For decades, deliberations over land use in New York City have
included developers, community boards, elected officials, the Department
of City Planning and other city agencies. Do the people who live and
work in city neighborhoods have a sufficient voice? Do residents improve
the process, or impede progress? Who is best positioned to determine a
neighborhood's needs, and what are the best structures for public
participation? New York has long been a leader in community-based
development but as the city recovers from the Great Recession, what does
the future hold?”
And that is just one reference, readers can ‘Google’ to find the many
other supportive examples. In the very RFP, as well as in the recent
budget, there is a clear commitment to consultation in national
development. Except in this case.
But there is more.
As I wrote in the opening of ‘Reflections on Republic Day’, in this
space on 27th September 2007 – see
“The best example I can think of for the kind of broad commitment to
consultation is, of course, the site of the World Trade Centre in Lower
Manhattan: Ground Zero. This is a very interesting example since the
site is privately owned and the City of New York is controlled by the
Democrats while the Republicans control the national government of the
USA. Against this background of different players we have the fact that
the destruction of the WTC was a most severe blow to US prestige and
power. The entire defense apparatus was rendered useless by that attack.
Arguably, there could be no site in the world with a more urgent claim
to large-scale redevelopment.
Yet, the fact is that a sort of compact has been arrived at between
the parties to the effect that no redevelopment will take place unless
and until everyone has had their say. For example, there was a recently
concluded international competition for the design of the 911 Memorial.
There were over 5,000 entries from more than 60 countries and a winner
was just selected.
As expected, the consultations have been controversial and emotional
but the fact is that an environment existed in which such an
understanding could work. Whatever one’s view of the American imperium,
there is a potency to the existence of that huge crater at the heart of
their main city while the necessary conversations go on. Time for us to
At that time I was protesting the haste and waste of the then PNM
regime, a consequence of their pattern of proceeding with huge
developments without any consultation.
At Section 3.1 of the RFP –
The proposed Developer will be chosen via this RFP process and shall
then enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government
of Trinidad and Tobago (Ministry of Planning and the Economy) for an
agreed lease rate. It is expected that this activity would be finalized
within one (1) month of the submission of the said RFP.”
Which means that we can expect the choice of the proposed Developer
will be made and the lease agreements completed in one month from the
closing date. Yes, Friday 4th November.
Sad to say, there is even more. The RFP also specifies –
“…If financing has to be sourced from an external source, the
Developer MUST submit a letter of guarantee from the financier as well
as a profile of the financier. Failure to comply with this requirement
will result in disqualification…”
When we raised the point that this is an impossible condition for new
bidders to satisfy, given the sheer scale of the proposed development,
both Ministers – Tewarie and Cadiz – attempted to indicate that this
mandatory condition was flexible. Unbelievable, but true.
As leaders, whether in government or non-governmental organisations,
we have an obligation to learn from the past. This is an effort to
document the events in this episode, so that there will be a record,
when the Invader’s Bay matter comes to be critically examined in the
The clear inconsistency of the position taken in the budget on urban
planning was highlighted in last week’s column. With respect to this
project, we noted the attempt to cast this development in the same light
as other examples which all involved long-term consultation, the silence
on the existing plans, the impossibly-short timetable to elicit fresh
proposals, the even-shorter timetable for selection and agreement of
lease terms, the wobbling on the financial requirements and incredibly,
that the scoring criteria were to be finalized after the proposals were
It is literally impossible to determine which of these is worse than
the others and it is beyond the imagination of any fiction writer I know
to take a plot this far. But this is what is happening in our country
In my mind, all of these, taken together, show that the publication
of the RFP is a form of sham dialogue and openness. If this is the
genuine attempt by the MPE, to properly seek the public interest, then I
am giving them an ‘F’ for effort.
What we are seeing here is a recipe for disaster, we already have all
the ingredients of corruption, so what is next?
It really does make me wonder who runs this country and when, if
ever, can we achieve consistent and equitable government. Who is the
Afra Raymond is President of the Joint Consultative Council for the
Construction Industry (JCC)
www.jcc.org.tt and Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited.