VIDEO: Post-budget 2020 discussion – Morning Edition, 11 October 2019

tv6_logoAfra Raymond is interviewed on TV6 Morning Edition by Fazeer Mohammed on the affordable housing proposals in the 2020 budget. Video courtesy CCN TV6

Programme Length: 00:27:18
Programme Date: 11 October 2019

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VIDEO: ISTT Caribbean Land Conference 2019

VIDEO: ISTT Caribbean Land Conference 2019

istt-conferenceAfra Raymond’s presentation on “State-owned hotels as a development option for T&T: Lessons for Small Islands Developing States” at the ISTT Caribbean Land Conference 2019 – Surveying best practices towards the sustainable development of Caribbean SIDS, at Hilton Trinidad Friday October 11, 2019.

Programme Length: 00:25:20
Programme Date: 11 October 2019

Property Matters – HDC Housing Bonds, part 2

According to the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee 2015 Report into TTMF

“…In 2008 we had established what we called an HDC Unit in anticipation of 3500 mortgages from HDC within three years. Three years later we had to disband that Unit because the HDC did not have the titles that would afford mortgages…”
—testimony of TTMF’s then Managing Director, Ms. Ingrid Lashley, at pg. 126)

The most frequent question arising from last week’s article was in relation to this issue of bad titles on homes built by NHA and HDC, which made it impossible to finance sales via the traditional mortgage lenders. This requires an explanation before getting to the root of my concerns over the parallels with the US financial collapse in 2008 – the Wall Street meltdown which extended to have global consequences. Beyond that, I will draw on Jamaica’s National Housing Trust as an example of an alternative system of housing finance, less dependent on the agents of financialization now looming in the current T&T proposals.
Continue reading “Property Matters – HDC Housing Bonds, part 2”

Property Matters – HDC Housing Bonds

This article will examine the proposed HDC Housing Bonds announced by Finance Minister Imbert in Parliament on Friday, 20 September 2019.  The proposal is to borrow $1.0 Billion via bonds in various tenors offering investors tax-free returns of 4.5%.  The funds raised are to be used for purchasing HDC homes, which was stated to be of importance in addressing critical financial challenges in that State Agency.

Continue reading “Property Matters – HDC Housing Bonds”

Property Matters: In-Dependence? Part 4

cancelled-hdc-contractThe previous article opened with news of the unexpected and welcome cancellation of the huge HDC/CGGC contract to design and build 5,000 new apartments.

Sad to say, but this bitter, bizarre HDC/CGGC contract and its reported cancellation requires that my Season of Reflection closes with further, more blatant, counterfactuals.  Last week I quipped about the amazing scenes we were witnessing in this episode, but the more recent statements denote a sharp descent.

This recent barrage was an epic of Carefully Crafted Confusion.

For example, the important issue of whether the Attorney General advised on the contract has been serially evaded.

Here are Acting PM Imbert’s replies to Parliament on Friday 13th September 2019

“...Mr. Indarsingh: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can the Acting Prime Minister state whether this contract for over half a billion dollars was vetted by the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I will not entertain that question at this time, Member…”

(pg 10)

“…Mr. Rodney Charles (Naparima): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can the Acting Prime Minister state whether any due diligence by the Office of the Attorney General was undertaken prior to the signing of the Framework Agreement between the China Gezhouba Group International Engineering Company and the Housing Development Corporation on July 13, 2018?

The Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Finance (Hon. Colm Imbert): Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am advised that the framework agreement did not require the Attorney General to give an opinion on the contract.

Mr. Charles: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it the norm for state enterprises to enter into contracts in the order of this magnitude without reference to oversight by either Cabinet or the Attorney General?…

Hon. C. Imbert: Mr. Deputy Speaker, firstly, the Housing Development Corporation is a statutory authority, it is not a state enterprise. It has its own rules according to statute, and the Housing Development Corporation does have the authority to determine its own contractual affairs…”

(pg 15)

In the first case, the Deputy Speaker refused the question and in the second, the Acting PM simply said that the AG’s advice was not required.  As yet, we have no idea if that advice was sought and provided.  Did the AG advise?  Yes or no?

Another aspect of this is that, as a Statutory Corporation, HDC is governed by its Act, which states at clause 12  –

“…12. The Minister may give to the Board directions in writing of a specific or general nature to be followed in the performance of its functions or the exercise of its powers under this Act, with which the Board shall comply…”

Clearly, HDC is legally bound to comply with any lawful instructions from its line Minister, so any statement to imply its independence is simply false and misleading.

Then PM Rowley’s statements on Monday 16th September 2019 were intended to shield HDC Chairman, Newman George.

…We didn’t put Newman George to run the HDC…” is a perfect counterfactual, since the HDC Board is appointed by Cabinet, of which the PM is Chairman.

On 3 December 2015, the government news service advised that ‘Housing Minister appoints new HDC Board’, inclusive of its Chairman, Newman George.

I was intrigued by these parts of Dr Rowley’s statement –

“…The PM said Cabinet was unhappy with some aspects of the contract, including a conflict between the plan to sell apartments (which people may not be able to afford) and Cabinet’s desire to build rental units. He also lamented the old deal would have required the HDC to get help from several ministries and may have been too accommodating to a foreign entity…”

Could it be that we will see a move towards affordability and rental units?

Dispute Resolution

At pg 17, clause 1.4 states that –

…The contract shall be governed by Law of Republic of Trinidad and Tobago…

Apart from the awkward phrasing, that is sound.

At pg 34, sub-clause 20.6 states that –

“…Any dispute, controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this contract…shall be referred to and finally resolved by Arbitration under the rules of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce…the arbitration award shall be final and binding upon both Parties…the place of Arbitration shall be London, England…the arbitration shall be conducted in British English…”

So far so good, but there is more.

The contract contained two payment guarantees.  The first, in which the HDC guaranteed the full sum due to CGGC, and in the second of which HDC guarantees the retention held in respect of defects etc.  Both those guarantees specify –

“…This guarantee shall be governed by the laws of the People’s Republic of China and shall be subject to the Uniform Rules for Demand Guarantees, published as No 758 by the International Chamber of Commerce…”

Given that our Public Money was to fund this huge project and support these guarantees, it is  unacceptable that the governing law was not our own. Quite apart from the issue of the governing law, it is striking that these solid guarantees are seldom, if ever, enjoyed by local contractors.

ADDENDUM: Who signed what?

The Framework Agreement of 13 July 2018 was signed by HDC’s Managing Director, Brent Lyons (pg 11).

brent lyons sign

The Contract Agreement of 17 May 2019 was signed by HDC’s Chairman, Newman George (pg 6).

newman-george-sign