Minority leader: THA mortgaging our future

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris, left, and Minority Councillor Petal Daniel-Benoit. FILE PHOTO –

MINORITY LEADER Kelvon Morris has accused the Farley-Augustine-led administration of “mortgaging” the future of Tobago.

Morris was speaking during the Minority Report programme on Tobago Updates on Tuesday night.

He said the decision by Augustine to utilise the design-build-finance method for development projects will cost the island dearly.

Last October, Augustine said Tobago’s development allocation from the national budget was insufficient.

He had said, “Design-build-finance means we are asking contractors to come with their own private money up front, do the work, and the THA takes its time to pay them back…That will mean, like with any good hire purchase, the THA will eventually pay more.”

Several road projects on the island, managed by Trinidad contractors, have begun using this method.

In July last year Augustine said a preliminary audit report showed “some extremely troubling signs” in the contracts given out by the previous PNM administration to some Tobago contractors.

In September, Augustine read a 90-page report by independent auditor Caribbean Institute of Forensic Auditing (CIFA), which noted several discrepancies in the PNM’s road resurfacing programme, including payments for no work, unsigned contracts and inflated costs.

But Morris said Augustine was being a hypocrite as he has condemned the previous PNM administration for paying “inflated” sums to Tobago contractors, yet the contracts given to Trinidad contractors were “scandalous.”

He said the deferred payment was being used to justify the size of the contracts.

“In some instances, the cost has been inflated by almost 300 per cent,” Morris claimed. “And it is not things that you would have to import such as steel or even bitumen – in some instances, you are talking about simple services such as bending steel, excavation, putting up signs, dusting the road.”

Morris added, “What is so disingenuous about this arrangement…When you look at the very cost that the Chief Secretary said was inflated and corrupt, and when you compare those cost to what is now (being paid), overall, there is a 34.4 per cent increase.”

The Darren Spring/Whim representative claimed the $54 million Milford Court-Pigeon Point connector road was $18.6 million more than what the THA would have paid under the PNM administration.

“Anybody who is big and have sense would understand the…motives. It is not by accident. It not by accident to sideline the Tobago contractors.”‘

Minority Councillor Petal Daniel-Benoit said there was an opportunity cost to paying more for these projects. She said THA employees are being paid late, the ex-gratia payment promised for Christmas 2021 was yet to paid, URP backpay was unpaid, and social services are not being met.

Morris said one of the consequences of using Trinidad contractors was the stagnation of the local construction sector.

He reminded James that prior to the election, he had said that money leaving Tobago was akin to “building an economy elsewhere.”

He said Tobago is “in a real serous financial position going forward if we allow this to continue.”

He wondered whether the Division of Settlements, Public Utilities and Rural Development would adopt the design-build-finance method in its goal to build 200 houses.

“What will be the cost?” he asked.

Morris said the THA continues to be claim that there is no money yet it is entering into financial agreements that are not prudent.