MEMBER of Parliament for Oropouche East Dr Roodal Moonilal has called for an immediate investigation into the Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) executive, accusing the body of failure of to exercise its “fiduciary duty,” with respect to the condition of about 100 units at a major housing project in D’Abadie.
Specifically, Moonilal called for HDC chairman Noel Garcia and former chairman Newman George who left his post in 2019, along with all board members who sat through the design and construction phase of the project, to answer to an independent panel and be held accountable.
“Noel Garcia, wherever he is, he would resign forthwith if he had any part to play in this matter,” Moonilal said.
In his contribution to the budget debate in the Parliament on Wednesday, Moonilal referred to an extensive report prepared by CEP Ltd – an engineering consulting firm – presented to the HDC last year, raising alarming concerns about the structures’ foundation, insufficient or complete lack of reinforced beams, among other matters, contrary to international standards.
CEP was invited by the HDC to provide a structural engineering solution for defects observed on 11 townhouse blocks, during construction.
The report highlighted among many design and construction flaws, a high water table, which is the underground boundary between the soil surface and the area where groundwater saturates spaces between sediments and cracks in rock. Thorough testing is normally done on water tables prior to major construction projects.
Moonilal drew parallels between the Trestrail project and the $90 million Las Alturas project in Morvant, which was eventually scrapped and subject to a commission of enquiry.
The new allegations surround the Trestrail Development housing project on Arima Old Road, which was launched in June, 2017.
He lay the blame solely on the HDC and the line ministry, saying, “I am not today casting aspersions on any contractor or group of contractors; the HDC has the ultimate responsibility for this. They have a project engineer, a project manager, a department to monitor this, and they have a Minister of Housing, whose job it is to hold the HDC accountable.”
Moonilal estimated that the cost of the 100 units would be around $100 million if they were to be demolished, adding that he understands they will cost betwen $10-20 million to repair. It remains unclear whether the soil can be “injected” at the site to strengthen its integrity.
Speaking with Newsday after his contribution, Moonilal said he expected the promises made by Finance Minister Colm Imbert in last week’s budget presentation to fall flat, whether delivering finished projects or making significant progress with those under construction.
“I think that report suggests that the HDC is inherently incompetent, inefficient, and they have made a mess of that project, and probably other projects as well,” Moonilal said.
“So one cannot be too confident that they will deliver on the housing promises outlined by the Finance Minister.
“These houses in particular that I dealt with today were started six years ago, so one cannot be too confident that in one year they will be able to develop one housing site and distribute any significant amount of housing units.”
Moonilal said the matter needed to be addressed urgently by means of an immediate investigation, independent of the Ministry of Housing and HDC.
“That’s just a starter because (the Trestrail project) speaks to a serious, serious matter of mismanagement, waste and possibly corruption.”
The HDC in a statement on Wednesday, responded to Moonilal’s charges, saying it would not take possession of the Trestrail townhouses “or pay the contractor until these defects are remedied.”
The statement said the contract was awarded to Ricky Raghunanan Ltd in 2019 for the construction of 110 townhouse units under a Design Build Finance FIDIC Contract (PPP).
The HDC said, its board in 2021 “had certain concerns with structural issues on the project and as a result, the board commissioned CEP to conduct a study on the structural issues affecting the project.
“The study identified a number defects and in accordance with the contract, the board and management called on the contractor to rectify the defects in accordance with the methodology outlined in the CEP report.
The HDC said it had taken steps to rectify separate issued identified by Moonilal at Charford Court, a separate housing project in Port of Spain.
The Minister of Housing will address the matter on Thursday, the statement added.