Sunday, January 21, 2018

Country Club wall ‘stalemate’

There has been a two-year impasse between Government and the Trinidad and Tobago Country Club over the construction of the Country Club wall, which was part of the Maracas Access project.

The wall collapsed in November 2011, six months after it was constructed. 

Diego Martin North East MP Colm Imbert yesterday in Parliament, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, asked Minister of Works Suruj Rambachan why the wall had not been rebuilt up to now. 

Rambachan said despite several meetings from November 2011 to the present, the Ministry of Works and the Country Club have been unable to arrive at a consensus on the design and budget for the reconstruction of the wall. 

Rambachan gave a chronology of the events. He said in December 2011 the ministry commissioned Earth Investigation System Limited to do a forensic investigation and recommend a strategy for sustainable restoration of the retaining wall and fence wall. 

In March 2012 the consultant (Earth Investigation) submitted the report to the ministry’s PURE Unit. He said during that time and up to the present the owner of the property, Joseph Fernandes continues to take objections to the designs done by the ministry’s engineers with respect to the rebuilding of the wall. Rambachan said Fernandes had lodged several complaints through his attorney to the ministry. 

“So it is not a matter that is as simple as meets the eye,” Rambachan said.

He said the ministry had chosen to collaborate with the property owner in an attempt to achieve consensus. 

“As a Government we do not bully our way, we try to engage in negotiations because we want to have the best neighbourly relations,” he said.

Rambachan said in June 2012 a meeting was held between the ministry and the Country Club to discuss the matter. He said preliminary drawings were prepared by the ministry on the design concept to be sent to the Country Club. In August an e-mail was sent by Fernandes’ lawyer to the ministry containing his comments on the drawings prepared by PURE. In October Fernandes sent a letter to PURE expressing disagreement with some of the design concepts. In November 2012, PURE sent it to the senior legal officer addressing Fernandes’ comments on the drawings. It was suggested that Fernandes provide his own designs for approval and a budget for the wall construction was given to him in this regard. The wall foundation drawings were requested by Fernandes and provided to him. By April 2013, during a meeting of PURE, CEP Ltd and Fernandes, Fernandes indicated that he would submit his own designs for the reconstruction of the wall through his consultant CEP Ltd.

In July a proposal from CEP to Fernandes was submitted to PURE for design services. The consultant quoted a fee of $190,000 VAT inclusive to Fernandes who then forwarded the quotation to the ministry for payment. “In September 2013, a letter was sent from the senior legal officer of the Ministry of Works to Mr Fernandes attorney, advising that if Mr Fernandes wishes to provide his own independent design to the ministry the cost of the design must be to his own account and the cost of the new wall must not exceed the budget that was given to him,” Rambachan said.   

Rambachan said the ministry’s teams and Fernandes’ attorney met and the ministry urged that Fernandes allow it to proceed with the reconstruction of the wall. 

“It is anxious to do so but cannot proceed given the position of Mr Fernandes on this matter,” he said. He said the ministry is awaiting a response from Mr Fernandes. 

Imbert asked in the light of his “tale of woe” over a simple wall, when would the eyesore at the intersection of the Saddle Road and Long Circular Road would be dealt with. “Who is running this country?” Imbert asked. Rambachan said the Prime Minister with the Cabinet, in partnership with the citizens was running the country. He said if Mr Fernandes were to give the ministry permission to build the wall, it would be done as soon as his permission is granted.

Meanwhile Justice Minister Emmanuel George revealed that Government had paid $28.3 million to the property owners, Wala Wala Ltd from September 1, 2011 to January 2014 for rental of the two buildings at Santa Rosa for housing the Eastern Correctional and Rehabiliation Centre. He was replying to a question in the House of Representatives, filed by Arouca/Maloney MP Alicia Hospedales. The monthly breakdown of prisoners there from September 2011 was zero, October 2011-111, November 111, December 126; For the year 2012 it was as follows January-105, February-87, March- 94, April-114, May-111, June-100, July 126, August-125, September-110, October 105, November 102, December 54; For 2013: January 140, February-123, March- 131, April-147, May-121, June 110, July-174, August-173, September-166, October-131, November-140, December-113. In January 2014 there were 149 prisoners.

Rambachan, in response to another question, stated that none of the 57 contractors hired to do work (on access roads, drainage and irrigation projects taken under URP Agriculture) have been paid. He said however payment was recommended for four contractors. He said the total sum owed to contractors was $111.3 million. He said the reason for the delay was because the ministry was undertaking a verification process for the settlement of the claims made by the contractors.