“A storm in a teacup and nothing to lose sleepover.”
That’s how Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday described the Government’s cancellation of a US$71.7 million contract to construct 5,000 apartment units at specific sites across Trinidad signed by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) with the Chinese construction company, Gezhouba Group International Engineering Company Ltd (CGGC).
At last Thursday’s Post Cabinet media briefing Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the cancellation of the contract following discrepancies with the project.
Rowley indicated that some parts of the contract did not meet Cabinet’s approval.
Speaking to reporters in Parliament during the tea break, Al-Rawi in giving more details said the contract came to Cabinet while the HDC had the latitude to consider its own affairs.
The AG was abroad when the cancellation was made.
“I don’t think this is anything to lose sleep over because ultimately it came down to whether we had the best deal on the table.”
Al-Rawi said if Cabinet through its processes has determined that a better deal can be had “then great.”
He said in a further competitive environment the price will go down and the country could get a better value for money.
“As MP for San Fernando West I am thrilled to hear the HDC tell me that the project is likely to be on time because they are using stock plans...stock plans with an open tendering environment... which means that the project can start this year...with fingers crossed on that basis.”
The housing units were supposed to be built in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando.
He said he was anxious to see the project get off the ground.
“I have been told that the project is on track....that is what I am interested in.”
The AG said as MP he would be constant and aggressive in asking for the project to be on a priority listing to go hand in hand with other projects in his constituency which has been neglected.
Al-Rawi said as far as he was aware no payments were made to CGGC by HDC.
The AG assured that the cancellation would no way strain the relationship between T&T and China.
“I think this is really a storm in a teacup and I am honestly not worried about it. At the end of the day as the businessman say if you are sharpening pencils to get a better value on the c’est la vie.”
Pressed by Guardian Media to outline the discrepancies in the contract, the AG could not say
“I have not been advised on the contract... I have not seen the contract ....the AG was not required to advise on the contract. I am a stranger to all of that. I am not familiar with your line of questioning.”
Asked if a Chinese team was already in Trinidad to begin work on the housing units, the AG suggested that we direct this question and all others to the HDC.
Meanwhile, Opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said the matter “may be more serious than we think.”
He said a framework agreement was signed in July 2018 and before this was done Government ministers had to be involved in this process.
Following this, Moonilal said Cabinet has to consider and approve the signing of the multi-million dollar contract.
“We are not sure at this stage if this was done that way....whether it was ever sent to Cabinet and they ever had oversight over this,” Moonilal said.
In May 2019, Moonilal said the contract was signed by HDC.
“What is troubling to us... we are told by persons, in the know, in this matter is that the advanced payment guaranteed had already been issued. HDC had already issued some payment guarantee...if that is breached now on termination that carries with it financial risks.”
Moonilal said a team to undertake the work had already arrived in Trinidad to start the project.
“Are there nationals of China in the country already here on this project and to what extent we have to pay for their work.”
In addition, Moonilal said the termination carries with it financial losses for CGGC “and those losses they would offset to HDC and the Government of T&T.”
As former housing minister, he questioned which minister/s negotiated the contract, stating that they must “be held accountable.”
He said when the matter first arose Rowley had the portfolio as housing minister.
“The question is whether or not this could have been renegotiated apart from being cancelled or terminated.”
Moonilal said CGGC has already reported that it have secured financing for the project with a guarantee from the HDC to pay.
“There is now a further risk that the China Banking and Regulatory Commission...a kind of oversight commission in China could issue industry risk to T&T warning other investors.”