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Howai: $1.3B to fix Campus Plaza

Friday, May 16 2014

AFTER four years of sitting idle, Campus Plaza will completed to a status to be occupied at a cost of $1.3 billion, Finance Minister Larry Howai said at yesterday’s post-Cabinet news briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), St Clair.

The premises include two distinctly hexagonal towers on Richmond Street, Port-of-Spain. Howai said Cabinet approved funds for work to be done over the next 12 to 15 months.

Requests for proposals (RFPs) have been sent out for the buildings to house the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Inland Revenue Division (IRD), and Customs and Excise Division, the latter which he says will be occupied in the last quarter of this year.

Under the former Patrick Manning Administration, the former Udecott head, Calder Hart, awarded a $367 million construction contract to a firm two of whose directors were allegedly his wife’s relatives, and even amid the resulting public outcry, that firm claimed to have also got a $313 million outfitting contract (although refuted by later Udecott administrators). The matter was probed by the Uff Commission of Inquiry and was even sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the TT Police Service to mull possible action. Tragedy once struck the site when a worker fell to his death.

In the question session, Howai said the work would address repair works, sewer configuration and site deterioration.

What took so long for Cabinet’s nod for funds to fix the buildings?

Howai replied, “To a large extent it had to do with priority for funding. As you know we have a Budget deficit and it does impact overall on our ability to fund all the things we want to fund. So there was a question of some prioritisation. There was also an issue of the diagnostics that we need to do on the building to determine what was exactly the estimated cost that we would incur to have it completed, prior to determining how we proceed. It’s included in the Budget for this year, so the approvals were in place from October of last year. There were issues then of preparing packages to go out with the RFPs (Requests for Proposals) and so on, before it got completed.” Udecott chairman, Jearlean John, said her firm is the project manager on the buildings whose clients are the respective line ministries.

She yesterday told Newsday that Udecott has been given “notice to proceed” for two buildings — the Customs and Excise Building, and the Legal Affairs Tower — which are now being outfitted.

“Udecott cannot just go and tender out the work. We have to get a ‘user-brief’. The people who intend to use it must give us some clear directions as to what they are going to use it for, who they’re going to put where, the definition of the room, what kind of ceiling, what kind of doors, what kind of desks, that kind of thing. Coming out of the user-brief we develop a scope of work and then we go out to open tender,” she said.

She said Udecott had just got the IRD’s user-brief two days ago and is about to go out to tender, that process due to take about ten weeks. “So I think we’ve started to pick up momentum. So its not only a matter of remedial work but is also about outfitting,” she said.

Yesterday, Howai used the topic of the Customs Division to address recent complaints about occupational safety and health (OSH) problems at certain government offices, and resulting industrial action, particularly the Immigration Department.

He said Minister of National Security Gary Griffith is addressing these OSH concerns at Immigration on a phased basis including a workday of 8 am to 1 pm to let remedial work start earlier.

He said Cabinet approved funds to upgrade the facilities of the IRD which has 1,200 staff across 20 offices nationwide.

“We moved officers from the VAT Administration Building into the Ministry of Finance Building,” he said. Howai expects works at the Treasury Building to be completed within two weeks, even as work is done at Victoria Court.

“At Trinidad House, we expect work to be completed by the first week in June, and get all relevant approvals in at that time, from Fire Services, Occupational Health and Safety, and so on,” he said. All these Finance Ministry upgrades would be completed within the next three weeks on a phased basis.

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