Property Matters – Only a matter of time

whooshThe way the Ministry of Planning & the Economy (MPE) is persisting in their course of action on the Invader’s Bay development is perturbing in terms of the long term consequences of short-term decision-making.

At Section 2.0 of the Request for Proposals (RFP) for Invader’s Bay we read

…For Trinidad and Tobago this is a “major waterfront transformation” along the line of other signature waterfront developments such as Darling Habour (sic) in Sydney, Baltimore Inner Habour (sic), the Habour-front (sic) in Toronto, London Docklands and Teleport City in Tokyo. Although the genesis of the projects may vary, the result has generally been bold and dramatic. With the change in the manner in which ports operate and cargo is transported, waterfront property is now more valuable for its residential, retail and recreational function than simply for port activity with heavy industry, docks and fenced off warehouses, as is the case currently in Port of Spain…

We are being asked to consider the Invader’s Bay initiative ‘along the line’ of other leading international examples, which in itself is a good place to proceed from.  The reality is that those developments cited by the MPE all took decades to conceive and what is more, the authors of the RFP know that.  Yet we are also being asked to believe that a workable concept/s could be devised for Invader’s Bay in an RFP which is silent on the current strategic plans for the capital and only gives proposers 6 weeks to prepare.

Of course the lack of consultation will severely limit the participation of many important developers, not to mention the public.

The point is that in all those cities cited by the RFP, there is a serious commitment to consultation, which means that those large-scale transformations took considerable time to conceptualise.

In the city of New York, for example, there has been a long-standing commitment to community-based development.  Check this 6 October webcast from The New School – the introduction is instructive –

For decades, deliberations over land use in New York City have included developers, community boards, elected officials, the Department of City Planning and other city agencies. Do the people who live and work in city neighborhoods have a sufficient voice? Do residents improve the process, or impede progress? Who is best positioned to determine a neighborhood’s needs, and what are the best structures for public participation? New York has long been a leader in community-based development but as the city recovers from the Great Recession, what does the future hold?

And that is just one reference, readers can ‘Google’ to find the many other supportive examples.  In the very RFP, as well as in the recent budget, there is a clear commitment to consultation in national development.  Except in this case.

But there is more.

As I wrote in the opening of ‘Reflections on Republic Day’, on the Raymond & Pierre website on 27 September 2007 –

The best example I can think of for the kind of broad commitment to consultation is, of course, the site of the World Trade Centre in Lower Manhattan: Ground Zero. This is a very interesting example since the site is privately owned and the City of New York is controlled by the Democrats while the Republicans control the national government of the USA. Against this background of different players we have the fact that the destruction of the WTC was a most severe blow to US prestige and power. The entire defense apparatus was rendered useless by that attack. Arguably, there could be no site in the world with a more urgent claim to large-scale redevelopment.

Yet, the fact is that a sort of compact has been arrived at between the parties to the effect that no redevelopment will take place unless and until everyone has had their say. For example, there was a recently concluded international competition for the design of the 911 Memorial. There were over 5,000 entries from more than 60 countries and a winner was just selected.

As expected, the consultations have been controversial and emotional but the fact is that an environment existed in which such an understanding could work. Whatever one’s view of the American imperium, there is a potency to the existence of that huge crater at the heart of their main city while the necessary conversations go on. Time for us to think again.

At that time I was protesting the haste and waste of the then PNM regime, a consequence of their pattern of proceeding with huge developments without any consultation.

At Section 3.1 of the RFP –

TENURE ARRANGEMENT

The proposed Developer will be chosen via this RFP process and shall then enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (Ministry of Planning and the Economy) for an agreed lease rate. It is expected that this activity would be finalized within one (1) month of the submission of the said RFP.

Which means that we can expect the choice of the proposed Developer will be made and the lease agreements completed in one month from the closing date. Yes, Friday 4 November.

Sad to say, there is even more.  The RFP also specifies –

“…If financing has to be sourced from an external source, the Developer MUST submit a letter of guarantee from the financier as well as a profile of the financier. Failure to comply with this requirement will result in disqualification…”

When we raised the point that this is an impossible condition for new bidders to satisfy, given the sheer scale of the proposed development, both Ministers – Tewarie and Cadiz – attempted to indicate that this mandatory condition was flexible. Unbelievable, but true.

As leaders, whether in government or non-governmental organisations, we have an obligation to learn from the past. This is an effort to document the events in this episode, so that there will be a record, when the Invader’s Bay matter comes to be critically examined in the future.

The clear inconsistency of the position taken in the budget on urban planning was highlighted in last week’s column. With respect to this project, we noted the attempt to cast this development in the same light as other examples which all involved long-term consultation, the silence on the existing plans, the impossibly-short timetable to elicit fresh proposals, the even-shorter timetable for selection and agreement of lease terms, the wobbling on the financial requirements and incredibly, that the scoring criteria were to be finalized after the proposals were submitted.

It is literally impossible to determine which of these is worse than the others and it is beyond the imagination of any fiction writer I know to take a plot this far. But this is what is happening in our country today.

In my mind, all of these, taken together, show that the publication of the RFP is a form of sham dialogue and openness. If this is the genuine attempt by the MPE, to properly seek the public interest, then I am giving them an ‘F’ for effort.

What we are seeing here is a recipe for disaster, we already have all the ingredients of corruption, so what is next?

It really does make me wonder who runs this country and when, if ever, can we achieve consistent and equitable government. Who is the real power?

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6 thoughts on “Property Matters – Only a matter of time

  1. Things change and remain the same. As someone who has participated in numerous proposals – construction and otherwise, anyone reading the RFP would know that it was impossible to deliver a proposal of any quality in 6 weeks’ time given the magnitude of the project. Even advice from the JCC membership and other stakeholders are not deterring these Ministers from forging ahead. One wonders why the haste?

    1. Forging ahead indeed! Nice one, Damesam…is really the first word of the anthem and there is a short supply of shame…

      Just to cite one example, the London Docklands concept took over two decades to take shape…and that is something well-known to every single one of the authors of that scandalous RFP…

      Why it is scandalous is that the purpose of citing those prominent international examples was to ‘take a borrow’ of the hard-earned legitimacy of these respected projects, while at the same time fast-tracking the conceptual process in an atmosphere which lacks the basic strategic considerations, the strategic plans for the capital having been ‘shelved’…

      Even if no bribes have been paid – and I have no proof of any such corruption – this is the kind of short-sighted, ‘never-see-come-see’, ‘wash yuh foot and jump een’ nonsense with which we are beset from the very highest levels of our leadership class…

      We being told to ‘look at these big projects in foreign’…we trying to do the same thing here…the giveaway sentence from the particular extract where the transition is made is this one…”…Although the genesis of the projects may vary, the result has generally been bold and dramatic…“.

      The sad fact is that conceptualisation, which is the exact part of the development process that it is impossible to hurry, even in these advanced societies with their many effective institutions of learning and so on, is being hustled here. The very aspect with which we ought to be most concerned is being deliberately and deceptively cast aside in the rush to development.

      According to the RFP, we can expect to hear a new, ‘shiny’ project announced shortly…

  2. Afra
    It also brings to mind why we are constantly “over developing” Port of Spain and its environs. With the advent of the Water Taxi etc. should we not start to look at developing the suburban areas also. For eg. Point Fortin, San Fernando, Waterloo…just to name a few areas. This is a sheer case of “over bulling the cow” when it comes to developing Port of Spain. How many more ‘white elephants’ must I drive past on my way to work? What about Tobago and developing there towards a first class tourism island???!
    The burning question here begs to be answered….do we need this particular project?

    1. Good point. We keep coming back to the over crowding of POS and the associated problems of traffic, congestion, etc. Why does everything have to go in POS? Why not move some industries and ministries out of POS?

  3. Paulie
    I have too long heard about the Point Fortin Area Hospital which has not come to fruition as yet and athletes begging for a stadium in that area…and this is just one SAD example of the suburban areas being neglected. Yet this UNWANTED project is taking precedence over all others. Another good example of wanton spending for the good of a chosen few.

  4. Dear Afra,

    “A proper decision making process is lacking for Invader’s Bay Development”

    I read your articles every week and more recently the sensitive public concerns relating to the expected development of Invaders Bay – some 70 acres of the best land in the city environ.

    It seems to me that there is a lack of true democracy where the decision making processes and also our laws are determined by a selected few without active participation by the people, themselves.

    New laws are established for us, the people and our happiness , but the shortcoming is that there are no publications of intent and so the public is usually not invited to offer their views as the archaic present system is that the elected representative carries this responsibility. As a result, the laws of our country have been enacted and modified over the years without any significant contributions and active participation by the population – this, I find to be unacceptable for a true democracy.

    Some years ago, a previous Prime Minister, ANR Robinson, expressed the view that appointed politicians are placed there to govern, that is their purpose and the impression I formed was that once appointed, they are free to do what they want without consultation because they have been given a mandate to do so, as if to infer they are not accountable to anyone, once elected. This is not democracy but dictatorship as far as I could assess this position.

    Now let’s carry this further to the situation of a now nationally-sensitive Invaders Bay proposed development.

    The process that is now proffered does not include any input from the citizens. I have to ask why. So if all the citizens would like that area to be a recreation park, especially those who live in Woodbrook, then we now have a conflict between the wishes of the people and the wishes of the politicians. But remember that they are there for us !! What will they do then? Do they go ahead and do what they want? Is that the power that we have given to them? Surely not, I would have to say.

    Then what about the environmentalists who will surely have several opposing views for the use of the land, particularly that the mangrove that was removed for the land filling that took place (the jutting-out of the land looks very artificial and abnormal, I must say) was very essential for the spawning and growth of young fishes and much of this will be further destroyed.

    Then what about the main option, that is, that the profitability of the use of the land and even the businesses to be placed there should go directly to the people instead in some form or fashion, application for a lease from the state e.g. Tent City or in the form of other participation eg the stock market where a Company would be floated for the entire development.

    In this regard, I have to ask what is now the present state policy on such matters? Does the state have a policy? Is the intent to divest and return the assets and Companies of the State and escape the commanding heights as oil and gas is frittering away fast. Why should the State be in business anyway? ( ask Louis XVI)

    The Invaders situation now begs the further question as to why must the state continue to hold business assets and then have to later divest instead of avoiding this from the front end and allowing the population to participate from the very beginning.

    Admittedly, the state is not the best in management and so, why can’t offers be invited from big business, in collaboration with the Government and also the people to share, own and manage this valuable development of the land by an acceptable formula. I would imagine that Neal and Massy, McAl, Southern Sales, Movietowne, Agostinis and many others could be some of the majority shareholders owning a reasonable limitation of shares issued.

    As far as I could see, this is our land, the people’s land and this development should not be pursued whatsoever without first having consensus from the people on the many available options.

    This has to be a fair, transparent and better way to handle the development and will facilitate much needed democratic enhancement; but to award all that property to a single developer, whoever might be the successful bidder, well, I must say that I cannot agree with this at all, this would certainly not be representative of a Government of the people.

    You may include this communication in your next article if you so wish and even show my name, if necessary.

    Peter S Moralles

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