Trinidad PM: Corrupt engineers inflating State contracts

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, centre, with Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan, left, and Nidco chairman Hubert George turn the sod for Curepe Interchange Project, at Curepe yesterda. In background is Housing Minister Randall Mitchell.

(Trinidad Guardian) Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley has said over-in­flat­ed en­gi­neer es­ti­mates at gov­ern­ment min­istries have cost this coun­try mil­lions of dol­lars over the years.

Dur­ing his ad­dress at the sod-turn­ing cer­e­mo­ny in Val­sayn yester­day for the Curepe In­ter­change Project, the Prime Min­is­ter slammed the ini­tial in­flat­ed cost at­tached to the project un­der the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment.

In 2013, the project was es­ti­mat­ed to cost $513 m.

Af­ter that es­ti­mate, a bid of $522 m was ac­cept­ed for the con­struc­tion of the project in 2013. How­ev­er, due to the con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing the project, it was not start­ed.

“But how could we have ap­proved $530 m and to­day the same thing is be­ing built for $221 m? The ques­tion is where is that ex­tra $230 m go­ing? And who was get­ting that?” asked Row­ley.

“I can­not for the life of me un­der­stand what kind of tech­ni­cal in­put would have gone in­to the ap­proval of a project like this, to get an ap­proval for $500-odd mil­lion as the cost of the project. And that would have been the en­gi­neer’s es­ti­mate that was ap­proved.”

The Prime Min­is­ter said these en­gi­neer es­ti­mates have been a part of a cor­rupt process which has cost tax­pay­ers mil­lions of dol­lars.

“Rather than get the ben­e­fit of com­pe­ti­tion for the tax­pay­ers the in-house es­ti­mate be­comes the en­gine that pulls the price up­wards. Once these cor­rupt in­di­vid­u­als ei­ther seek and pay for that es­ti­mate or the in­di­vid­ual in the min­istries of­fer it to the con­trac­tors, the whole sys­tem breaks down. You don’t get the gen­uine ben­e­fit of com­pe­ti­tion,” said Row­ley. He said the Chi­nese had ma­jor ex­per­tise in the con­struc­tion of nu­mer­ous in­ter­changes in their coun­try, which he be­lieves helped re­duce costs.

The con­tract for the project was award­ed in three sec­tions han­dled by Chi­na Rail­way Con­struc­tion and Trinida­di­an con­trac­tors Pace Con­struc­tion Ser­vices and Chase En­gi­neer­ing Ltd.

The in­ter­changes, Row­ley said, are geared to­wards re­duc­tion of traf­fic con­ges­tion along the Churchill Roo­sevelt High­way.

Af­ter the Curepe In­ter­change is con­struct­ed, the Gov­ern­ment in­tends to build six more sim­i­lar struc­tures in­clud­ing over­pass­es at Ma­coya, Pi­ar­co and Waller­field. The Walle­field over­pass, Row­ley said was of ma­jor im­por­tance giv­en the grow­ing in­dus­tri­al es­tate at the eTeck park.

The Prime Min­is­ter said the over­all goal would be to re­move all the traf­fic lights along the Churchill Roo­sevelt High­way all the way to San­gre Grande.

He al­so an­nounced that there was a plan to build an over­pass along the West­ern Main Road to con­nect it to the Diego Mar­tin High­way, but there was some push­back to that plan from res­i­dents in the area.

Row­ley ad­mit­ted, the many is­sues which lead to the de­layed start of con­struc­tion of the Curepe In­ter­change “are not sto­ries we are proud of.”

He, how­ev­er, de­fend­ed the State’s ap­proach to ac­quir­ing land, as he felt they had prop­er­ly fol­lowed the Land Ac­qui­si­tion Act.

“Once we are us­ing the cur­rent Land Ac­qui­si­tion Act no per­son could re­al­ly truth­ful­ly say that they are dis­ad­van­taged or they are op­pressed es­pe­cial­ly when per­sons who should know bet­ter seek to in­clude in that con­ver­sa­tion con­sid­er­a­tions of dis­crim­i­na­tion against par­tic­u­lar per­sons who may be of one eth­nic­i­ty or the oth­er. This coun­try must move away from that, we are a coun­try of law. We are a civilised coun­try,” said Row­ley.

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