VIDEO: Morning Brew – 12 April 2016

CNC3 LogoThis is my 12th April 2016 ‘Morning Brew’ interview with CNC3’s Hema Ramkissoon on the Invaders’ Bay matter…it is also the first time I made public comments on the JCC imbroglio, albeit after a sneaky series of questions from Hema…I guess that’s what crafty interviewers do, eh? As it happens, the questions remain outstanding on both those issues.

Programme Date: 12 April 2016
Programme Length: 00:22:32

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AUDIO: “Facing The Issues” interview with Tony Fraser along with Derek Chin on the Invaders’ Bay development.

Power 102 FMThis is my interview with Tony Fraser on Power 102.1FM on Wednesday 7 December 2016 to discuss the Invaders’ Bay development. The MovieTowne principal, Derek Chin, was also in the studio.

  • Programme Date: Wednesday, 7 December 2016
  • Programme Length: 1:37:34

AUDIO: Interview on Sky 99.5 FM on the JCC’s Invaders’ Bay law suit

sky995fmThis is a short interview I did with SKY 99.5FM on Tuesday 22nd November 2016 with Jessie-May Ventour and Edison Carr to discuss the Invaders’ Bay developments. Audio courtesy Sky 99.5 FM

  • Programme Date: Tuesday, 22 November 2016
  • Programme Length: 10:51

Property Matters – Pay Day? Part Two

past-dueI previously estimated State debt to the construction industry in the $3.2-3.5 Billion range. I have since been reliably informed that construction industry claims against WASA are estimated to be in the $600M range, which of course would be subject to verification as discussed previously. My revised estimate (see table below) is now in excess of $3.8 Billion, compared to the JCC’s 27 July 2016 estimate of $2.3 Billion.

The size of my more recent estimate gives a severe picture of the State’s indebtedness to the construction industry, which is the sector that Central Bank research shows to be the largest employer in the national economy. Apart from that, the construction industry also has deep links to other important parts of the national economy such as quarrying; banking/finance/insurance; hardware stores; a range of manufacturers; transportation and so on. Continue reading “Property Matters – Pay Day? Part Two”

Property Matters – Pay Day?

JCC press conference with Dr. James Armstrong at left. Photo: AYANNA KINSALE. © 2016, Trinidad Express
JCC press conference with Dr. James Armstrong at left. Photo: AYANNA KINSALE. © 2016, Trinidad Express

The JCC has become dormant by today’s standards, with only two items posted to its website for 2016. I was therefore very interested in their 27th July 2016 Press Conference to protest the high levels of State debt to its members.

At a time of apparent crisis for the construction industry, one would think that the JCC would have been publicly lobbying on behalf of its membership since this had been so effective earlier. When Dr Armstrong became JCC President it was surprising that instead of applying continuous pressure to have the debts owed to members paid, the association’s first public action was an attack on me. Perhaps they thought this was a higher priority, but it’s hard to see how the industry benefited.

The JCC issued an ultimatum to the Government to pay the $2.3 Billion dollar debt owed to its members by 30th August or face litigation. Continue reading “Property Matters – Pay Day?”

Dismantling the Code of Silence

This letter was published in Sunday Express on 27th September 2015.

From: Afra Raymond <afraraymond@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 10:00 AM
Subject: Dismantling the Code of Silence
To:

The Editor,

lasalturas-signNoel Garcia served as General Manager of the Housing Development Corporation during the period in which critical decisions were made on the Las Alturas housing project. That project, in which two apartment buildings failed, is now the subject of a Commission of Enquiry. There have been several reports in the press (see below) that Mr Garcia was unwilling to testify to that Enquiry. We have been unable to locate any published responses from Mr Garcia to those reports.

Noel Garcia has now been appointed as Chairman of the UDECOTT Board. The JCC’s position is that the penalties for the failure or refusal to appear as a witness to a Commission of Enquiry must be increased sharply so as to discourage this deplorable behaviour. The present fine for non-attendance is only $2,000, which is why so many persons can show open disdain for a request to testify at a Commission of Enquiry.

The prospect of the Chairman of a State Enterprise declining to testify at a Commission of Enquiry is unacceptable and of course any continuing ambiguity can only feed suspicion.

The Las Alturas Enquiry resumes its evidence hearings on Monday 28th September 2015 and it would be a refreshing change from the ‘bad old days‘ if Mr Garcia, or his attorneys, were to promptly confirm his willingness to appear as a witness.

Afra Raymond
President
JCC


Noel Garcia responded via a media release, which was copied on social media on Sunday 27 September 2015 as follows:

Getting the Facts Right

I refer to a letter to the editor from Afra Raymond entitled “Dismantling the code of Silence” published in the September 27, 2015 edition of the Express Newspaper.
In his letter, Mr. Raymond, in reference to me and the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project, speaks disparagingly of “the prospect of the Chairman of a State Enterprise declining to testify at a Commission of Enquiry”.

I wish to categorically state that I have never refused to give evidence before the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project. Despite what Mr. Raymond claims to have read (and what he erroneously plainly believes), the Commission has never at any time contacted or subpoenaed me on the matter of the Las Alturas Project. This, although my postal address, email address and telephone number have remained unchanged for years.

For the record, I have never shirked my duty or my responsibility to give evidence before any court or any tribunal with respect to matters within my knowledge as a former employee of the HDC. I have previously given evidence in the High Court on behalf of the HDC and I have only recently filed an affidavit in support of the HDC’s position in another High Court matter. I am no stranger to and have given evidence repeatedly at Commissions of Enquiry including in the Piarco Airport Enquiry, the Landate Enquiry and the UFF Commission.

I wish to make my position abundantly clear that, were I to be subpoenaed or contacted to give evidence at the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project, I would have absolutely no difficulty in assisting the Commission.

In his self-appointed role as guardian of the public conscience, Mr. Raymond ought to be more careful about permitting his officious zeal to lead him into making what can be considered to be defamatory imputations about others. Mr. Raymond’s self-confessed inability to locate any published responses from me to press reports he has read is no licence for him to do so.

Noel Garcia.


This clarification was all we were seeking, so I responded later that night, on social media, as follows

“…Noel Garcia’s post ‘Getting the Facts Right’ is very helpful, it is the first public response I have seen to the several articles earlier on this issue – I thank him for it…as I said elsewhere on FB yesterday, one of the Officials in the Las Alturas Enquiry told me that they had been ‘unable to locate’ Mr Garcia, to which I responded that as he was the new UDECOTT Chairman, it was now impossible to sustain that claim…”


For ease of reference – these are the previous press reports

  1. Trinidad Guardian of 7th April 2015 – ‘Las Alturas Hearing resumes today
    …Singh also assured Ibrahim that efforts were being made to locate former executive chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of T&T Calder Hart, and former HDC general manager Noel Garcia, to have them appear before the Commission…” then “…Garcia is said to be living and working in Ghana. HDC’s attorney Vincent Nelson, QC, had previously indicated that Garcia had declined to provide a witness statement when asked, following which they lost contact with him. Seemingly dissatisfied with Mohammed’s answer that every effort was being made to have Hart present himself before the Commission, Ibrahim suggested that there were legal means which could be employed to compel him to appear.”Ibrahim has promised that accommodations would be made not to keep Hart unduly when he does appear, while there was also the recommendation that an offer be made to pay Garcia’s travel expenses back to T&T, in order for him to testify. Both Hart and Garcia have been deemed “important witnesses” in the enquiry. During the 13-day enquiry four witnesses have so far testified before the Commission…
  2. Trinidad Express – 20th March 2015 – ‘HDC lawyers ‘lost all contact with Garcia’‘ –
    …Attorneys representing the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) have lost all contact with former HDC managing director Noel Garcia. This was revealed yesterday during the sitting of the commission of enquiry into the Las Alturas housing project at the Caribbean Court of Justice in Port of Spain.Garcia, who was expected to be called as a witness in the enquiry, is said to be currently residing in Ghana.Junior counsel for the commission Jagdeo Singh told the commission all attempts by HDC’s legal team to locate Garcia had been unsuccessful. “Every effort has been made thus far to locate Mr Garcia and at some point in time Mr Garcia was in communication with the legal team for the HDC, but he has since ceased all communication with them,” Singh said.Nelson had said at a previous hearing that Garcia did not appear to be willing to testify in the proceedings.

    Chairman of the commission Mustapha Ibrahim noted Garcia’s participation in the enquiry was necessary, as he was a “very important witness”…

  3. CTNT News – 5th March 2015 – ‘QC: Garcia’s presence crucial to Las Alturas Enquiry‘ –
    …The absence of former HDC Managing Director Noel Garcia at the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Housing Project was raised by the company’s Attorney on Day Four of the proceedings. Mr. Garcia is one of the key persons who would be best able to add the pieces to the already puzzling situation which led to the partial demolition of two towers at the million dollar housing complex due to shifting soil.”At Thursday’s session, the Attorney representing the Housing Development Corporation, Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson, mentioned that Mr. Garcia currently works and lives outside T&T.”The position there is that Mr. Noel Garcia, who is a pivotal person in the project at the time, is someone who really, although it is difficult because he is outside the jurisdiction for the Commission to summon him, he is an important and pivotal person in terms of what occurred at the time.”Mr. Nelson was then asked by the Commission Chairman Mustapha Ibrahim if any efforts were made to bring him back to T&T for the Enquiry, including offering to pay his airfare.

    No. We haven’t done so but obviously that is something that I could take instructions on. I am told we lost communication with him at the moment. So that is the position but we will make further efforts but in the meantime, the position is the Commission may consider whether to call the Board at the time and/or see when Mr. Garcia is available.’…” There is also a TV clip here.

  4. Newsday of 6th March 2015 – ‘Noel Garcia not willing to testify‘ –
    …NOEL Garcia, former managing director of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), has indicated to lawyers for the HDC, that he is unwilling to testify at the Las Alturas Commission of Inquiry, attorney Vincent Nelson QC said yesterday…

I have not seen any responses from Noel Garcia before his response on Sunday 27th September 2015.

Facing the Facts on Invader’s Bay: INVADER’s BAY Corrective

JCC President Afra Raymond issues a corrective to the lead story in the Sunday Guardian of 9th August 2015. This ‘Letter to the Editor‘ was published in the T&T Guardian on Tuesday 11th August 2015.

The Editor,

guardian-story-invaders-bayThe cover story in Sunday’s Guardian on the Invader’s Bay development requires a response to dispel some of the carefully cultivated confusion around this important set of proposals.

The Public Property known as ‘Invader’s Bay’ comprises 70 acres of reclaimed land at the waterfront in west POS and it is proposed to be the largest development in our capital city in living memory. It is unacceptable that this large-scale development could be proceeding without any public consultation and in the seriously improper manner against which the JCC has protested. It is sobering that the very Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development (MPSD) has been leading this process for the last four years without seeking to engage in public consultation.

The Request for Proposals (RFP) process used in August 2011 by MPSD was improper and voidable, since, according to Minister Tewarie himself, the Assessment rules were published one month after the closing date. Any reputable organisation running a competition or tender would accept that the rules must be given to all the competitors at the same time and well in advance of the competition itself. That basic and inescapable breach has been pointed-out to MPSD several times by the JCC, but we are yet to see any response on that point.

After JCC specified its concerns that the RFP was in breach of the Central Tenders Board Act, the Minister repeatedly stated that the legal advice was that MPSD was in conformity with the law. Despite our several requests, that advice was never published, so the JCC sued under the Freedom of Information Act. The High Court ruled that the requested information be published and MPSD appealed. One can only wonder at this reluctance by politicians to publish legal advice which supposedly supports their actions. This type of official reticence is a first, so on this count at least, the Invader’s Bay project has a significant element of innovation.

The JCC has enquired as to the cost of the High Court case and the subsequent appeal, but that too has remained undisclosed, for whatever reason.

According to Ms Jearlean John of UDECOTT, a tender has been awarded for design of infrastructure on this 70-acre site, but we also know from MPSD that no planning applications have been made for these developments. That raises the serious question as to how an infrastructure layout can be designed in the absence of either public consultation or relevant approvals.

The carefully cultivated confusion can be seen in three glaring examples – firstly, the question of official responsibility – with Minister Tewarie referring detailed queries to UDECOTT, whose chairman refers those queries back to that Minister. Secondly, according to MPSD, the 10.2 acre parcel allocated to Derek Chin was valued at $204.5M, yet Chin is reported as saying that “…the price is $130M…”. Finally, the entire property is 70 acres and 23.2 acres have been allocated, so it seems that 46.8 acres are to be left undeveloped at this stage. So, how can UDECOTT be responsible for only 51 acres, with Minister Tewarie saying that “…there are about 40 acres of land at Invader’s Bay still open for development…”?

These are a few of the real concerns with this proposed Invaders’ Bay development.

Afra Raymond
JCCPresident

http://www.jcc.org.tt