Shaw Park project a big test for THA

 Revelations this week about the Shaw Park Cultural Complex confirms how much Tobago, like Trinidad, shares in the contagion of under-planning and overspending on public projects, such as made infamous by the Tarouba Sporting complex. 

 Shaw Park, now projected to cost $634 million by a new 2014 completion date, falls far short of the $1 billion plus Tarouba costing, but the Complex nonetheless identifies as a Tobago version of a vanity project limited only by scale of the ambition of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA). Originally budgeted at $196 million in 2006, the final estimate has ballooned by over 200 per cent.

 However, the THA is disclaiming any responsibility for this massive increase for a project now in the works for seven years. According to Chief Secretary Orville London, it is the National Insurance Property Development Company Ltd (Nipdec), which had control of the Shaw Park construction, that was at fault. “When anything goes wrong, x would blame y, and y would blame z, and the THA has to pick up the tab,” said Mr London. Nipdec, as par for the course in these situations, has asserted that the overruns were caused by expansionary THA demands such as an increase in seating from 1,500 to 5,000. The THA’s opponents in the persons of Tobago Organisation of the People’s Ashworth Jack and Government Minister Vernella Alleyne-Toppin have in turn alleged that the Complex is being built on shifting land which incurred additional foundation costs.

The THA thus has several details to clarify or rebut with respect to this matter. Nipdec has now taken a backseat and a private construction company has been contracted to complete the complex, reportedly on a fixed contract which penalises them for failure to meet both budget and deadline. Mr London and the THA should therefore have no further excuses, and will suffer a further loss of credibility if 2014 ends and the complex is either not completed or completed with further cost overruns.

 Indeed, the PNM-run Assembly has continually complained of insufficient People’s Partnership administration support for the Shaw Park development. The project dates, however, from the PNM years in national office during an energy boom, and the THA now concedes that continuing frustrations over the “process”  have “undermined its credibility”. Even so, the London-led Assembly retained sufficient credibility to deliver a sweeping 12-0 electoral victory last January, so the Shaw Park failures have so far incurred no political cost comparable to that suffered by the Manning administration over similar projects. 

 Public opinion in Tobago may shift drastically, however, if the THA fails to bring earliest closure to the national scandal that the Shaw Park project could become.

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