Property Matters

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…

Property Matters – The Needs Assessment

The Ministry of Planning & the Economy (MPE) announced last week that 10 proposals had been received in response to its RFP for Invader’s Bay.

Given that MPE has not carried out a Needs Assessment for this prime property, for whatever reason, I will continue to outline the relevant elements for the Invader’s Bay property.  This is not intended to be complete, just a list of what I consider to be the critical items a proper Needs Assessment would include –

  • Investment – This is a parcel of land estimated to be worth at least $1.0Bn, so any attempt to describe this process as ‘not being an investment’ would be completely wrong.  In the literal sense, it might not involve any expenditure of State money, but, in every other sense, the disposal of this $1.0Bn asset would constitute a major State investment in Invader’s Bay.
  • The National Interest – At this moment the imperative is to diversify our economy so as to find sustainable replacements for our declining energy revenues, so this is an apt point.  Following on last week’s column, it seems reckless that such an attractive State-owned property would be developed without consideration of the strategic issue.  Even on the conventional basis of announcements of construction jobs and permanent jobs etc., it is difficult on purely financial grounds to justify most types of development on that site, especially given the generally depressed market.  The decisive factor, given the level of interest such a unique offering is likely to attract, would be to have as an identified ‘Need’ that only projects which were net earners of foreign exchange would be considered.  Such a condition would eliminate any offices, apartments, foreign franchise restaurants or shopping malls and set the stage for a different development discussion.  A necessary discussion at this point in our country.  Please note that the RFP does state that the project should generate foreign exchange, but that is only expressed as an ‘expectation’, which is far too flexible, given the influence of the traditional property developers.  If the intention is genuinely to break with the past and set off in a new direction, the conditions need to be strong enough to break the grip of the past…

Property Matters – Proper Procurement Practice

My last column addressed the imperative of controlling State expenditure as an element in the national budgeting process. I made the point that a new Public Procurement system needs to come into effect to give us the tools to control these huge expenditures.

The Ministry of Planning & the Economy (MPE) published a Request for Proposals (RFP) at the end of August for the development of Invader’s Bay, a 70-acre parcel of State-owned reclaimed land – shown in this plan  below: invadersbay-sml

The Invader’s Bay lands are absolutely prime property – flat, waterfront land with easy access to highways and all the urban infrastructure of water, electricity and sewers. These are valuable public lands, with an estimated value of at least $1.0Bn.

That RFP invited proposals with a closing-date of 4 October, which is an entirely inadequate 6 weeks. The Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC) has taken a strong position against that RFP process, including writing the MPE and meeting with the Minister, Sen. Dr. Bhoendradatt  Tewarie and Minister of Trade and Industry Stephen Cadiz, MP…

Property Matters – Taking Stock

As part of this pre-budget series, I am going to ‘take stock’ of some recent, significant happenings in relevant areas.

Given the unstable situation in relation to the State and its operations, many examples of which have been set out in previous ‘Property Matters’ columns, it is very important that a critical stance be maintained.  That said, it is also important that any progress be properly recorded and acknowledged.

The notable items were –

Housing Development Corporation (HDC)

I was very pleased to read of the success HDC was having in collecting the serious rent arrears owed by its tenants, reportedly in excess of $240M.  Of course this is not the first time there has been an effort to rectify this situation, so hopefully this will be a sustained program as it is vital that housing be treated with proper responsibility.  That responsibility would extend from the quality of the designs and construction, the treatment of contractors and suppliers all the way to housing policies which respond to the needs of the needy…

Property Matters – State Enterprise Accounts

State Enterprise Performance Monitoring Manual
In the next few weeks, this column will cover some of the issues which are likely to have a bearing on the 2012 Budget.

In my view the State and its Agencies must perform in an exemplary fashion if we are to progress.  A good example is worth a thousand words.

At page 22 of the 2010-2011 budget statement, the Minister of Finance said –

…Mr. Speaker, no coherent, co-ordinated planning or strategy for state enterprises exists.  As a result we have begun to rationalise the state enterprises, including the special purpose companies, which will incorporate a new accountability system that goes beyond the presently operating company ordinances. It is these loopholes in public accountability that resulted in the UdeCOTT scandal. This must never again happen in Trinidad and Tobago…

The Ministry of Finance has now published a new State Enterprises Performance Monitoring Manual 2011, it is over three times longer than the previous edition, so it will be something to consider in weeks to come.

Healing our capital’s Heritage buildings

President's House
President's House

I had intended to write on the Heritage Buildings in our capital for some time, but the UDeCOTT scandal and other public concerns kept me occupied. The recent shocking collapse of a major part of President’s House eventually acted as a trigger for this article. As I said at the time, that was a shame and a natural result of seriously misplaced priorities.

“The failure to repair or maintain so many essential buildings is a tragic symbol of our disdain for history and the simple sense of proper maintenance.”

The present position of the Heritage Buildings is one we can only make sense of by adding some context. In my view, the background to the present situation is…

Preparing for the worst – Some implications of a major earthquake on Trinidad & Tobago

Earthquake damage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo courtesy BBC.
Earthquake damage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo courtesy BBC.

We have all looked on in horror at the scenes of destruction and human suffering, experienced by our Caribbean neighbours in Haiti as a result of the strong earthquake on 12th January. Coming after the horror and attempts to assist, my mind shifted to the possibility of such a disaster in our country. That prompted me to attend the seminar organized by the Association of Professional Engineers of T&T (APETT) and the T&T Contractors’ Association (TTCA) at Crowne Plaza on Wednesday 3rd February. The seminar was excellent and such was the content that this week I am setting aside the other important matters with which I have been dealing.

The Structural situation

We heard several presentations from engineers and the President of the TTCA which set out the structural situation. Some of the main points emerging there were that we are at significant risk because –

  • “An approved national building code does not exist at this time, designers use building codes with which they are familiar,” Darryl Thomson, a standards officer at the Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS), said during his presentation.
  • “I would think generally we are not (prepared) and we need to seriously look at what we are doing and change the way we do business where the built environment is concerned,” President of TTCA, Mikey Joseph said…


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