Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Deyalsingh questions $71m contract awardee

“WHO is Andy Balgobin?”

This question was posed by People’s National Movement (PNM) MP Terrence Deyalsingh, when he stated in Parliament yesterday that one Andy Balgobin had been awarded a $71 million contract to outfit the controversial One Alexandra Street building in Port of Spain.

The building is leased by Government for close to $1 million a month.

Debating the Planning and Facilitation of Development Bill 2013, Deyalsingh said the Government is yet to outfit and occupy One Alexandra Street, not because the building lacks the relevant approvals, but because Local Government Minister Marlene Coudray “took exception” to the contract awarded to Balgobin.

The lease for the building, rented from NJ Nahous Investment Ltd, was acquired by the PNM and was taken over by the People’s Partnership when that party took office in 2010.

At a monthly bill of $866,000, the property is yet to be occupied by State offices.

Up to last week, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal stated in the House this was so because the relevant land and building authorities were yet to sanction the property and, as such, Government could not proceed with outfitting it appropriately.

Deyalsingh said yesterday the records show that approvals have, in fact, been granted and haggling between ministers over the Balgobin contract is the real reason behind the costly delay.

If the building was actually unfit for occupation, he said, Government should have returned it and sued the owners, who the State has had as landlords for various properties since 1972.

Weighing in on the current impasse at the passport offices in San Fernando and Port of Spain, Deyalsingh said there were other Government buildings the protesting civil servants could have been moved into but Government refuses to do so.

Deyalsingh continued to rip apart the bill, which the Opposition  has criticised for being too ambiguous and which the St Joseph MP yesterday called “unworkable”.

He said the success of the bill depends on having robust institutions behind it but many of those, like the Environmental Commission, are practically “dead”.

It is unclear whether the required number of commissioners has been appointed to that State body, which last year received a budget of $7 million but which last delivered a judgment in 2005.

The commissioners must be appointed by the sitting executive, for which Deyalsingh called out Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, under whose portfolio the commission sits.

The commission cannot meet until its slate is full and Deyalsingh called on Ramadhar to answer.