The 17th recommendation of the Uff Report states –
“…User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made…” (emphasis is mine)
On 27th July 2018, UDECOTT advertised for Expressions of Interest for development of the controversial Invaders’ Bay lands, in West POS.
During the Mid-Year Budget Review on Friday 8th April 2016 by the Minister of Finance and the Economy, Colm Imbert, it was disclosed that a set of integrated projects comprising an expanded international financial centre, a five star hotel and a convention centre (located in Invaders Bay) was being negotiated with Chinese investors. (pgs 30-31) How do those proposals fit into the Conceptual Development Plan for Invaders’ Bay?
Invaders’ Bay is a 70-acre parcel of State-owned reclaimed land south of the Movietowne/ Pricesmart/ Marriott complex near to the National Stadium in west POS. In August 2011, the Ministry of Planning and the Economy published a Request for Proposals (RFP) inviting offers to develop those lands by design, finance and construct proposals.
A number of groups made strong protests at that time, along three lines –
- Legality – The process was clearly an illegal one, being conducted in breach of the Central Tenders Board Act. In addition, the entire process was voidable because the assessment rules were published a month after the closing date for submissions. The Planning Minister, Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie, claimed to have legal advice confirming that the Ministry’s RFP process conformed to the law. When the JCC requested that those legal advices be published, the Ministry refused, so we sued to obtain those papers. The JCC won in both the High Court and Appeal Court, but the Ministry has sought a further appeal at the Privy Council. The key issue at stake in that litigation is the concept of legal professional privilege which protects against anyone being forced to disclose their legal advice. The questions arising were pregnant – ‘Who is the real client?’ ‘On whose behalf was the State obtaining that advice?‘;
- Planning – Those proposals were being advanced, by the Planning Ministry, with no reference to existing strategic plans for the area which had been prepared at public expense;
- Consultation – There was no attempt whatsoever to engage in any public or stakeholder consultation. That approach does violence to the reality that those are public lands being developed at public expense, supposedly for public benefit.
The prior concerns can be compared with UDECOTT’s current EOI invitation as follows –
- Legality – The current process conforms to the Central Tenders Board Act, since UDECOTT has issued the invitation for EoIs. UDECOTT is a State Enterprise and those are exempt from the CTB Act. The questions arising as to the legality of suppressing the legal opinions are still live, given the two Court orders for disclosure. In particular, despite a search of the Privy Council website, I am unable to locate the details of this case. Which raises reasonable questions of whether an appeal has really been filed, on what grounds and of course, in whose interest.;
- Planning – UDECOTT set a charge of $25,000 for copies of the full invitation to submit the EoI. The proposed development was stated to be in accordance with a Conceptual Development Plan for Invaders’ Bay. I requested those documents from UDECOTT so that my intended commentary could be better informed, but that was refused, thus far. Once again proposals are being advanced, this time by an agency of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, with no reference to existing strategic plans for the area which were prepared at public expense. My colleagues at the T&T Society of Planners published (in these pages, on 22nd August 2018) a strong statement to examine the many concerns arising in a proposal of this scale. It is entirely unacceptable that a development on this scale could be advanced, on public land and funded by Public Money, with no public information, apart from the sketchy diagram shown in the UDECOTT advertisement. The Invaders’ Bay site is the largest undeveloped parcel of land in our capital city and its prospects are therefore of real importance to every citizen, especially the unborn ones who will have to live with our development choices. All of which leads to the next point.;
- Consultation – There has as yet been no attempt whatsoever to engage in any public or stakeholder consultation. That cannot be a legitimate approach to national development. The largest developments in our country are conceived and decided in secret, with the public being the last to know the details. That happens “irregardless” of which political party is in power. Like a bad marriage, in which the husband or wife is the last to know. The Uff Enquiry (2008-2010) into the public sector construction industry was appointed amidst broiling controversy and widespread concerns over alleged large-scale corruption. Dr Keith Rowley was among the prominent persons calling for that enquiry, together with my colleagues at the JCC and the T&T Transparency Institute. That report was published in April 2010 and there is no doubt that its damning findings hastened the demise of that PNM administration, led by the late Patrick Manning. The 17th recommendation of the Uff Report is at the start of this article, specifying that public and stakeholder consultation is essential before decisions are made. Those 91 beneficial recommendations remain unimplemented, to our collective detriment.
Finally, we have to consider the implications of sea-level rise, which is scientifically- accepted, for the proposed development of these waterfront lands.