Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Tarouba stadium:a national disgrace


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I read in a newspaper last week that the contracting company at the heart of the as-yet-unfinished cricket academy at Tarouba, Hafeez Karamath Ltd, has been hoping to get the nod to construct the Ministry of Justice's multi-million-dollar judicial centre at Trincity. If my memory serves me correctly was this not the same company roundly condemned by Prof Uff in his 2010 report for what transpired in relation in the construction of the project? Is there a realistic chance that a company with such a track record would be contracted to construct state buildings?

As many of us may recall what is now a $1.3 billion unfinished project dates back to 2006 when it was estimated to be completed at a fraction of the cost for the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup. This did not materialise.

In November 2008—almost two years behind schedule—then UDeCOTT chairman Calder Hart gave the assurance that the Tarouba stadium would be completed soon. The then minister of sport, Mr Hart and former West Indies star batsman Brian Lara after whom the stadium was then named (before he withdrew his name from it) toured the incomplete facilities when Hart stated he was hoping that the project which was years behind schedule with the original cost of (he said) $500 million could be completed within budget.

This again did not materialise and in 2009, during the course of the Uff commission of enquiry into the construction sector one of its experts, Gerry McCaffrey, said that the structural steelwork on the project at Tarouba "is effectively condemned". In his initial report the expert stated that the main contractor for the project, Hafeez Karamath Limited (HKL) ignored 300 "stop orders" for work on the project. McCaffrey concluded that issues of "quality control" and of the inability of Udecott to enforce the terms of the contract contributed to delays on the project. At this time the cost of the project had gone up to $900 million.

Criticism did not stop there. In the Uff Report, released in April 2010, Prof Uff recommended a full investigation by the police into Calder Hart and the entire Udecott board in relation to the $885 million project. He deemed the project as "nothing short of scandalous" and "a national disgrace," and also recommended that the contractor, HKL, be fired immediately.

Uff listed numerous problems at the Tarouba project, including the decision of Udecott: to award contracts for the project to HKL; to pay HKL millions for the mobilisation of materials without checks as to the materials' existence; to overpay HKL and the failure of Udecott to adequately explain discrepancies to the tens of millions in Udecott's payment certificates unearthed by McCaffrey. "The faith shown by the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in placing this project in the hands of Udecott was misplaced," Uff concluded.

Noting that there had been a rush to get the project completed in time for the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, Uff pointed out that by May 2006 it was clear that the project would not be finished in time for that event.

Uff noted that the roof design for the project, contained in one contract which went to HKL, was "excessively costly". He questioned why advances were paid to HKL in circumstances which did not appear to have been governed by any ascertainable rules and amounted effectively to substantial loans to HKL. "It was accepted by Udecott that HKL had been overpaid for the work carried out." Uff expressed the hope that "the citizens of T&T, for whose benefit the project is being undertaken, should at some stage obtain some benefit from it."

In March 2010 the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs had reported that they had missed yet another deadline for the completion of the stadium.

Yet according to newspaper reports just ten days away from the May 24, 2010 general election, the then-prime minister promised to deliver on the stadium. At that time Mr Manning said the stadium was to be completed in the near future. It was at that time well known that construction work had ceased at the site.

in January 2011 under the People's Partnership government the then-minister of planning Mary King, said the new Cabinet-appointed Udecott board would soon be addressing final structural repairs to the stadium as a matter of priority. In February the new Udecott chairman Jearlean John announced she would be investigating whether contractors were liable to repair the defects in the stadium. What became of that is anyone's guess.

In June 2011 Dr Roodal Moonilal was observing that it may cost as much as $1.1 billion to complete the stadium which was said to be initially estimated to cost $275 million. He said the next step in the project was for Udecott to compile a report on the issues and a note would be taken to Cabinet to seek approval on the way forward for the stadium. The next we heard was in November 2011 when the Government was contemplating converting the stadium into a detention centre

From all accounts the stadium is still a long way from being completed. To date as far as I am aware no one has been held accountable for the waste of national resources and there appears to be no anxiety to do anything about fixing the problem, even after years of waiting. I repeat the words of Prof Uff: This is a national disgrace.

• Dana Seetahal is a former

independent senator