An official high-level report into state-run Housing Development Corporation (HDC) has revealed graphic details of fraud, "silent" projects, inefficient accounting and a sea of other financial and management bungling. The study tells of payments being made without approval of the Tenders Committee of the Board of Directors, of poor supervision of projects and of certain financial decisions being carried out by "word of mouth," instead of proper invoicing and support documents. "A project manager can go to a hardware store and simply order material on the account of the HDC without approval of project justification," said the report. The study was said to be authored by Louis Nurse, who served last year as HDC managing director. The report bears no date.
The Nurse report tells of "silent" projects, "to which payments are being made but they are not on any official listing of the company."
He explained: "A silent project is an activity that is not officially listed by the projects department and is not supervised or acknowledged." Nurse identified an example as Almond Court Apartments in Morvant. "Although these projects are not acknowledged, costs are still being fully incurred and payments are made through the finance function," he said. Nurse classified the "silent" projects as "another factor" which "invalidates the budgeting process." He uncovered that some contractors have direct relationships with employees of HDC "and it is reflected in the payment priorities for invoices..."
The former MD said: "The HDC has shown a disregard for compliance requirements, including statutory approvals, adherence, with regulations and infrastructure construction standards." The "lack of statutory approvals also affects the issuance of completion certificates, which affects the sale and mortgages on the properties to citizens," said Nurse. He questioned the project governance model and said "it means that projects will always be over-budget." The Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company Ltd has "difficulty in managing and executing mortgages on behalf of HDC," because of "improper documentation and project completion certificates," the report stated. Nurse advocated: "The Government should consider providing a proper valuation for the projects and the delivery cost of the houses."
This approach, he explained, "allows for better accounting..." He stated that HDC has not shown that risk management and mitigation represent "an underpinning activity in the project execution procedures." As a result, changes in material costs, environmental standards, availability of human resources and approaches to project supervision "have not been reflected in their project leadership strategies." Nurse added: "This omission creates an atmosphere of crisis management and many decisions are not properly considered before execution, creating more cost increases." The report also revealed that "a lot of responsibility has been placed on the contractors hired by the HDC, who use the opportunity to increase cost and extract as much as possible from the corporation."
He said that "once a client is committed and a project begins, the contractors are able to change the scope and, without a process of authorisation, create liabilities for HDC." Nurse argued that because of "the overall inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the performance of the projects, the selection process for contractors at HDC requires review." The former MD said that the expertise, experience and education of "these individuals and their companies" in many cases "have not been validated." He said: "As a result, the capacity of these firms to produce quality work and execute the responsibility of project delivery through all the phases are weak and, in some cases, non-existent." This is "particularly evident" in the estate management of HDC, "where many small contractors operate without proper documentation and management systems."
Nurse said it was difficult for contractors to be accountable for the lack of progress or flaws because, "in many instances, proper documented contracts do not exist or there are no agreements with clauses that are legally binding." He revealed that for the period under review, more than 500 contracts had not been signed off. Further, he said, "Many large venture contracts, worth millions of dollars," were being executed "without proper documentation." Nurse said many small HDC contractors were untrained. As a result, the quality of some work, such as tiling and plumbing, "is not up to standard." He added, "These persons are weak in the management of their projects, creating problems with the eventual delivery." Nurse stated that HDC has no system that supports the justification, verification, validation and authorisation of payments regarding earned value.