|The Udecott charges -
A commission with a mission?
Published Thursday 26th June, 2008
After the drama in
our House of Representatives on May 23, culminating in the Prime
Minister’s announcement of a Commission of Enquiry into the construction
sector, it seems that we are going to see some movement on that front
We have already
stated our opinion that the scope outlined for that Commission of
Enquiry is so wide as to make definitive solutions elusive.
hope that at the end of the day, truth will prevail and that Trinidad
and Tobago will have a new system of operation in the construction
sector,” Manning said, “and that we will move inexorably on to the
achievement of developed country status by the year 2020.”
The Prime Minister
also said on that day that, “Today for the first time, someone got up in
this House and made a clear and specific allegation, as a consequence of
which I am authorised by the Government to announce the establishment of
a Commission of Enquiry into the construction industry.” It is
interesting to note that, as serious as those allegations were, they
have not been repeated outside the cloak of Parliamentary immunity.
This seems to be a
useful point at which to start.
The late Lloyd
Best urged us, if we are serious about making progress, to have the
willpower to ignore things which were interesting or true and focus on
those aspects which are decisive.
There are other
aspects of the Udecott situation which would have formed a natural part
of this series at this stage. This week, however, we put those aside to
set out what are, in our opinion, the decisive aspects of this important
public question. We are doing so with neither cloak of immunity nor
party political agenda.
While we are sure
that the concerns of the Joint Consultative Council of the Construction
Industry (JCC), Transparency International and the other civic groups
are solid and deserving of full enquiry, the simple fact is that they
are secondary. What is the true order of things in the State-sponsored
large-scale construction arena?
The primary step
is the investment decision and notwithstanding the prime minister’s
statement on May 13, that remains a mystery. In my view, as outlined
last week, it is even more mysterious than before.
Let us be clear,
without an investment decision, there is no building to design, contract
to tender or anything. Despite all the talk, we are all unclear as to
what guides our major investment decisions. I am including myself in
this and it would seem, from the baseless and confused statements
emerging from it, that some key members of the Cabinet are equally
After the last
“oil boom” the late Jamaican prime minister, Michael Manley, was said to
have stated that “…the oil money pass through Trinidad like a dose of
salts.” To be sure, that remark cut deep into our national pride but we
are also aware that it carries some truth.
The benefit of a
set of investment guidelines is that it imposes a useful discipline on
all the participants in the development process. We must establish
required rates of return for commercial projects and approve only those
which surpass these. By so doing, we are given a series of thresholds
within which project costs, quality and timing can be weighed against
returns. Those are the tools of the professional project facilitator, as
Udecott claims to be.
yardsticks, we are in uncharted territory which no prudent banker could
As we have been
clearly stating for some time now, none of the Udecott-facilitated
office projects in our capital are viable. None. The sidebar deals again
with that sobering reality.
That, Mr PM, seems
to me to be a matter deserving of the most serious, public enquiry.
Insurance Board (NIB) owns a large site at Queen’s Park East, between
Belmont Circular and Cadiz Roads. We know that it has for some time been
considering various large-scale development options by conducting
studies of the market for and viability of those options. In our view
that is the right and proper process in cases of such large-scale,
As far as the
investment decision is concerned, I am comfortable with the manner in
which NIB funds, our national savings, are being handled.
question is: if the NIB knows the right and proper process, what is the
deficit in the Cabinet? Please remember that this is a Cabinet whose
Finance Committee reviewed the financial implications of projects. What,
if anything, have we learned from the errors of the 1970s? Sad to say,
but it appears that the highest councils of our republic are deeply
To repeat a point
we made earlier, the new Piarco airport terminal was a $1.6 billion
project but these office projects in our capital are costing in excess
of $5 billion.
Either the Cabinet
or its advisers are responsible. We are either dealing with a lack of
rectitude at the highest level of our republic or a sobering naivete.
Our Prime Minister and other ministers repeatedly told the public, as
justification, that we would be saving money with these ambitious office
projects. That statement is no longer heard. So what, if anything, is
the justification for these projects?
That too, Mr PM,
seems to me to be a matter deserving of the most serious, public
We close by
rededicating ourselves to the attainment of national development. We are
sure that there are no short-cuts. The nation does not need any Bob
Lindquist or foreign experts to settle these questions.
At this time, we
need leadership possessing the values and courage to focus on what is
decisive. I am including the JCC, Transparency International et al, in
that call for national leadership on this question.
Look beyond the
partisan interests of your membership. Either we possess the will and
the wit to do so for ourselves or is another “dose of salts” for
The viability gap
Last week, I
received a number of calls from concerned readers, one of whom pointed
out that a decision to stop renting offices and move into one’s own
architect-designed and high-quality space was a positive one.
Again, let us
reply by pointing out that if that were all, we would not be critical of
those moves. The inescapable fact is that if we use the figures set out
in our earlier columns, the State is doing these projects at a cost of
$30 per sq ft a month and the space can only be rented for $15 per sq ft
However, you spin
it, this is nothing less than a national scandal. All this from the
Udecott, whose core values are described on their Web site as being:
Value for money
Afra Raymond is a
director of Raymond & Pierre Limited. Feedback can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.