Sando property owners to get big payout for highway extension

Monday, October 14, 2019 - 06:30

The State would have to pay al­most $1 bil­lion to landown­ers whose prop­er­ties are in the di­rect path of the ex­ten­sion of the San Fer­nan­do to Point Fortin High­way.

The rev­e­la­tion was made by chair­man of the Na­tion­al In­fra­struc­ture De­vel­op­ment Com­pa­ny (Nid­co) Her­bert George in an in­ter­view with Guardian Me­dia at his of­fice in El So­cor­ro, San Juan.

This comes three months af­ter Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Stu­art Young said Cab­i­net will ini­ti­ate a com­mis­sion of en­quiry (CoE) to ex­am­ine the cir­cum­stances in which $500 mil­lion was paid to home­own­ers to ac­quire land for the ex­ten­sion of the high­way.

The com­mis­sion is to be chaired by re­tired judge Se­bas­t­ian Ven­tour.

Young re­vealed that over 520 prop­er­ties were ac­quired and paid for by the State while 459 prop­er­ties which are in the path of the 47 kilo­me­tre high­way still had to be ac­quired .

In April, Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley turned the sod for the con­tract at a cost of $1.89 bil­lion. Five lo­cal con­trac­tors were award­ed the con­tract.

The four-lane high­way will be com­plet­ed in the first quar­ter of 2021.

George said what was alarm­ing about the project un­der the Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship (PP) gov­ern­ment was “mega set­tle­ments. There were six or eight of them. There was one area that raised eye­brows.”

Un­der the PP ad­min­is­tra­tion the project’s bud­get was $7.5 bil­lion.

Con­struc­to­ra OAS was award­ed a $5.2 bil­lion con­tract for the project of which $3.8 bil­lion was paid.

In 2016, the Gov­ern­ment ter­mi­nat­ed OAS’ con­tract and was able to re­cov­er $1 bil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ mon­ey through the court.

The fol­low­ing year, Nid­co is­sued fresh con­tracts to five lo­cal con­trac­tors to restart the bil­lion-dol­lar high­way.

George said un­der the PP, the State ap­proached one landown­er who was able to get Town and Coun­try Plan­ning Di­vi­sion’s (TCPD) ap­proval for his prop­er­ty to be de­vel­oped in­to a com­mer­cial busi­ness.

George said the landown­er was treat­ed as though TCPD’s de­vel­op­men­tal ap­proval was go­ing to cost him mil­lions of dol­lars in dis­tur­bance cost and loss­es and sub­mit­ted a hefty claim.

“So at the end of the day a piece of swamp land that had ab­solute­ly noth­ing on it...the dis­tur­bances came up to twen­ty-some­thing mil­lion dol­lars.”

When the landown­ers’ claim was put for­ward George said, “Nid­co just de­cid­ed not to pay it...that we need­ed to have it re­viewed. So this was flagged.”

In an­oth­er case, George said a landown­er had put in a claim for his land and dis­tur­bance cost at $75 mil­lion.

He on­ly re­ceived “twen­ty-some­thing mil­lion dol­lars” for the land be­fore 2015.

When the dis­tur­bance cost came be­fore Nid­co for pay­ment, George said it was shut down.

“This was an up­per-tier ques­tion­able ac­tion. So we asked for that to be re­viewed again.”

George said the cost to these mega prop­er­ties “were just out­ra­geous. So that is one as­pect that has to be in­ves­ti­gat­ed.”

He said the Gov­ern­ment al­so gave out lands to peo­ple who had to be re­lo­cat­ed.

If an af­fect­ed house­hold had four mem­bers of a fam­i­ly each above the age of 18, George said the en­tire fam­i­ly was to be grant­ed a lot of land.

How­ev­er, each mem­ber in the fam­i­ly was giv­en land.

“That is what we found. It was just not sit­ting right with us. So we just flagged it.”

These mat­ters, George said will be dealt with in the CoE.

In go­ing for­ward, George said more cau­tion with pub­lic mon­ey need­ed to take place.

George said there was a cap of $800 mil­lion for “land ac­qui­si­tion and out­reach,” with the project.

He said $100 mil­lion went to­wards out­reach with the re­main­ing $700 mil­lion to be hand­ed out to prop­er­ty own­ers who sur­ren­dered their lands to the State.

“So far $527 mil­lion has al­ready been paid (in land ac­qui­si­tion),” George said.

How­ev­er, he said the Gov­ern­ment still has to ac­quire and pay for prop­er­ties “which was work­ing up to $400 and some­thing mil­lion. So we still have $400 and some­thing mil­lion to pay for new prop­er­ties. All the prop­er­ties were not ac­quired and paid for. We have not re­al­ly sat and set­tled with all own­ers.”

George said when one cal­cu­lates the to­tal bill that is ex­pect­ed to paid to landown­ers from San Fer­nan­do to Point Fortin the fig­ure would be “close to 1 bil­lion dol­lars” bear­ing in mind the $500 mil­lion that have al­ready been hand­ed out to pre­vi­ous landown­ers.

He said Nid­co has no in­ten­tion of pay­ing for agri­cul­tur­al and man­grove lands be­yond its val­ue.

“So how could the cost be so much? It is un­usu­al and at worst it was a reck­less ap­pli­ca­tion of the pub­lic funds and peo­ple need­ed to ex­er­cise greater care and cau­tion.”

When Gov­ern­ment de­cides to do a project, George said one would not as­sume scams and reck­less spenders to ex­e­cute the project.

“If that hap­pens you have to find them out and then deal with them.”

Min­is­ter in the Min­istry of the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al and Le­gal Af­fairs Fitzger­ald Hinds, in his bud­get con­tri­bu­tion in Par­lia­ment on Fri­day, spoke about the project, stat­ing “there was a tremen­dous amount of lit­i­ga­tion tak­ing place aris­ing out of land ac­qui­si­tion in those mat­ters. There are hun­dreds of prop­er­ties that were ac­quired that is not need­ed for the project.”

Hinds said prop­er­ties that the State paid for “the peo­ple stayed there...they get paid again.”



Image Flash Back: Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley and Government MPs Edmond Dillon and Nicole Olivierre turn the sod for the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway extension as NIDCO Chairman Herbert George left and Minister of Works Rohan Sinanan right looks on.