Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley’s return to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is a disturbing throwback to an earlier and troubling period when this vital portfolio fell under his watch.
During his first incarnation under the Patrick Manning administration 2003-2007 Dr Rowley presided over the HDC approved board expenditure of $9 billion and $3 billion in unapproved variations at the Ministry of Housing. A staggering sum of $12 billion. Today there are over one dozen projects started at that time which cannot be properly completed as a result of poor designs, drawings, engineering, infrastructure and project management. The Las Alturas project, Wellington Heights, Victoria keys, Springvale Valsayn and the Edinburgh towers are a few that remain a sad testimony to Rowley’s sordid tenure in Housing. During that time Dr. Rowley was the subject of critical scrutiny, with then-Prime Minister Patrick Manning demanding to know “where the money gone?” with respect to certain dealings at the Cleaver Heights project.
That housing venture and other taxpayer-funded projects with cost and time overruns led to the historic Uff Commission of Enquiry, which produced stunning revelations and 94 recommendations. Many of those recommendations were implemented by the People’s Partnership Government. Interestingly, one of the recommendations was to have a complete investigation into the HDC and UDeCoTT.
As line Minister, Dr. Rowley also has great familiarity with the Las Alturas project at Morvant, about which an independent Commission of Enquiry uncovered major irregularities and questionable administrative decisions.
He was also associated with the Vieux Forte project, which was mothballed by his own administration, again because of suspect decisions, poor management and alleged irregularities.
In addition, Dr. Rowley’s tenure is remembered for shoddy work, which led to further costs of $100 m for remedial works.
In returning to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Rowley also reunites with Noel Garcia, former Managing Director of the HDC, who is currently Chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDECOTT). Dr. Rowley and Mr. Garcia were close colleagues who collaborated on several of the projects of a decade ago that came under review by his own PNM regime.
It is also a fact that the Housing Development Corporation Act (24 of 2005) had mandated that Tenders rules be implemented at the HDC. This was never done during Rowleys’ tenure. But was implemented and laid in Parliament under the Partnership government.
Mr Noel Garcia had also been fingered as taking money from the HDC’s coffers for personal expenses without any legal process. He later repaid the monies. One wonders whether Mr Garcia will now return to the HDC?
Given that the chairman of the HDC is a well known golfing friend of the Prime Minister, we now have an unhealthy triumvirate of Rowley, Garcia and George, the old firm is back in the saddle. As shadow Minister of Housing I will be keeping a vigilant eye on this trio and any attempt to return favored and disgraced contractors with poor capacity and track record to the construction sector will be exposed. I can serve notice on Housing Minister Rowley that he can expect more confrontation with me.
The return of Dr. Rowley to this vital Ministry does not inspire faith with respect to project decisions and accountability with the public’s purse. The critical Ministry of Housing has seen four Ministers, including a Prime Minister, in 3 years. Mr Randall Mitchell leaves the Ministry with serious questions to answer such as the distribution policy at Victoria Keys, the stalled PPP project at Mount Hope, the provision of Housing to the Vice President of the Senate and accusations of nepotism and favoritism. This move by Rowley is a clear demonstration of his inability to lead unless his plan was to lead us backwards.
DR. ROODAL MOONILAL,
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR OROPOUCHE EAST
AND FORMER MINISTER OF HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT