The first article in this series set out the background to these proposed bonds and the implications of the HDC’s perennial problem with bad property titles. The second drew parallels between these proposals and the roots of the 2008 Wall Street crash, with some references to Jamaica’s National Housing Trust and its contribution system as an alternative for financing affordable housing. This week I conclude by delving into the heart of the matter, the HDC’s finances and its performance in terms of its existing bond portfolio.
One of my persistent complaints against many of our State Agencies, including the HDC, is the long-term failure or refusal to publish proper audited accounts as required by laws and regulations. I am pleased to report that my requests for NHA/HDC financial statements from 2003 to 2018 were satisfied in April this year. Once again, I thank the exemplary officers at the HDC for their assistance. Even if this time I had to engage my attorney to send HDC a pre-action protocol letter before the financial statements were released and what is more, they have not refunded my legal fees.
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.
“...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…”
“…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…”
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.
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?
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).
The Contract Agreement of 17 May 2019 was signed by HDC’s Chairman, Newman George (pg 6).
The barrage of stories on this issue in the last week has left one phrase ringing in my mind, VS Naipaul’s sardonic wit in his ‘independence novel’, A House for Mr Biswas – “…amazing scenes were witnessed when…”.
Two essential elements of the Season of Reflection are shown in the addenda –
On Thursday, 5 September 2019, the PM announced at the post-Cabinet media briefing that the large-scale HDC contract with China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGC) for 5,000 new apartments was now ‘cancelled’-
…That contract was reviewed extensively by the Cabinet and it has been stopped. HDC has been instructed to go back out to tender because there were some parts of that contract that did not meet Cabinet’s acceptance and approval, both structurally and legalistically. That contract has been stopped.
So, Cabinet has reviewed this contract (after its execution!) and has now cancelled it so as to re-tender and proceed in accordance with proper standards. Sad to say, a straight reading does not count for much in these matters. This is where we are, that is all.
Hema Ramkissoon spoke with former JCC President Afra Raymond on The Morning Brew on the cancellation of the Housing Development Company (HDC) contract with the China Gezhouba Group (CGGC). He laments the costs of public housing saying the average family cannot afford housing from HDC.
The previous article continued my Season of Reflection by exposing yet another counterfactual, the myth that the Trinidad and Tobago Housing Development Corporation (HDC) builds affordable housing as required by our Housing Policy (2002) and the HDC Act (2005).
Any basic examination of the facts reveals that the majority of the HDC’s output of new homes are not affordable. I estimated that un-affordable majority as being virtually 80% of the new homes produced for HDC.
The official silence is eloquent and damning. Except that officials are not always silent, so let me share a short social encounter last week with a high-ranking housing official. That official took the astonishing step of telling me that I did not know what I was writing about and that even the information I was relying on was incorrect. When I pointed out that my work is all based on the HDC’s data, checked and supplied by its authorised officers, the conversation took an even more bizarre turn, well beyond the scope of this article. Continue reading “Property Matters – Affordability and Legality part two”→
The previous three articles, I, II and III exposed counterfactuals, those being baseless claims, hypotheses or beliefs. In those cases, I dealt with large-scale toxic untruths, shamelessly promoted by those who know better. All that is in it.
This week I continue my Season of Reflection, turning to T&T’s Housing Policy and Program. The Housing Policy (2002) was implemented via the National Housing Authority (NHA), which was succeeded in 2005 by the Housing Development Corporation – established by the HDC Act. This week’s counterfactual is that our housing policy and the HDC are dedicated to producing affordable housing.
The Rotary Club of Penal invited me to speak at their handing-over ceremony on Saturday 29th June 2019. My presentation summarised recent findings of my research into national policies and programs for social housing. I started that research in 2004 and the officials at the Housing Ministry and the NHA/HDC have always been supportive of my work over that period. I again thank them publicly – it is important to say that.
The national housing policy (18th September 2002) states the provision of affordable housing for low and middle income applicants as its main objective. Having carefully examined the housing market and the details provided from the public officials, it is clear that the national program for social housing is not proceeding in conformity with the actual housing policy. I have closely examined the 16 years in which the housing policy was in effect 2003 to 2018.
“…Whereas the People of Trinidad and Tobago—…(b) respect the principles of social justice and therefore believe that the operation of the economic system should result in the material resources of the community being so distributed as to subserve the common good…”
In this, my Season of Reflection, I return to my constant concern with our national housing polices and the outcomes of the State’s housing program for our neediest citizens. The quality of discourse and understanding is in my view rooted in the quality of the questions one poses. How we define the problem allows us to improve our chances of seeing and solving.
The inescapable challenge for our national housing program is to provide sufficient affordable housing options of a decent quality. The HDC’s waiting-list is now in excess of 176,000 individual applicants, which excludes co-applicants or dependents. Over 90% of those applicants cannot afford a mortgage or to ever buy their own homes. They are just too poor to do so.
So this is the big question which our Housing program must answer.