Retired judge heads CoE into Sando highway extension

Cab­i­net has ap­proved the ap­point­ment of a Com­mis­sion of En­quiry to ex­am­ine the ac­tions of and on be­half of the State in ac­quir­ing and tak­ing steps to ac­quire prop­er­ties and struc­tures in re­spect of the con­struc­tion of the ex­ten­sion of the Solomon Ho­choy High­way Ex­ten­sion to Point Fortin.

It will al­so ex­am­ine whether the cab­i­net ap­point­ed min­is­te­r­i­al over­sight com­mit­tee ful­filled its man­date.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Stu­art Young made the an­nounce­ment at the post-Cab­i­net me­dia con­fer­ence yes­ter­day.

He re­vealed that re­tired judge Se­bas­t­ian Ven­tour, as­sist­ed by at­tor­ney Gre­go­ry Delzin, will chair the com­mis­sion.

Se­nior Coun­sel Regi­nald Amour will al­so serve on the com­mis­sion, as­sist­ed by at­tor­neys Ve­nes­sa Gopaul and Rishi Dass.

He ex­plained that the cab­i­net’s de­ci­sion to ap­point the com­mit­tee was based on a pre­lim­i­nary re­port done by the Min­istry of Works and Trans­port dat­ed Ju­ly 7, 2019, which raised sev­er­al con­cerns.

“It is when we stud­ied that re­port, that re­port is what pro­voked Cab­i­net to say well look, we need to have a Com­mis­sion of En­quiry to get to the true facts in the pub­lic glare as to what it is tak­ing place here for the ex­pen­di­ture of tax­pay­er funds of over half a bil­lion dol­lars…and in many in­stances the prop­er­ties were not nec­es­sary and worse yet, in some in­stances, great over­val­ues was paid for these prop­er­ties that we be­lieve was un­jus­ti­fi­able.”

Young ex­plained that when con­struc­tion of the ex­ten­sion from San Fer­nan­do be­gan in 2011, the then Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship ad­min­is­tra­tion bud­get­ed $800 mil­lion for the ac­qui­si­tion of the nec­es­sary lands. But $500 mil­lion lat­er, on­ly 513 prop­er­ties were ac­quired.

And with some 495 prop­er­ties re­main­ing to be ac­quired, Young said ex­pen­di­ture is ex­pect­ed to ex­ceed the re­main­ing $300 mil­lion bud­get­ed.

He re­vealed that to date, there are some 291 parcels of land, which was served with land ac­qui­si­tion no­tices, how­ev­er, were no longer nec­es­sary be­cause of the de­sign change to the high­way.

Cit­ing cas­es from the Min­istry of Works and Trans­port’s re­port, Young ex­plained that they dis­cov­ered a pub­lic ser­vant was in­volved in sleight of hand with the val­u­a­tions and in­flat­ed the fig­ures.

“There is a par­tic­u­lar pub­lic ser­vant who did val­u­a­tions in his pri­vate ca­pac­i­ty and then, lo and be­hold, when the val­u­a­tions need­ed to be ap­proved by the Com­mis­sion­er of Val­u­a­tions de­part­ment, that same per­son came and ac­tu­al­ly in­creased in some in­stances the val­u­a­tion that he had pro­vid­ed as a pri­vate eval­u­a­tor.”

Al­so of spe­cial con­cern to the cab­i­net was whether the min­is­te­r­i­al com­mit­tee ap­point­ed to over­see the land ac­qui­si­tion stuck to its man­date. It was head­ed by then Prime Min­is­ter, Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar and com­prised sev­er­al se­nior min­is­ters in­clud­ing then Min­is­ter of Works and Trans­port Jack Warn­er. The com­mis­sion would al­so ex­am­ine this. Guardian Me­dia reached out to the for­mer Works and Trans­port Min­is­ter for com­ment, how­ev­er, was un­able to reach him.

BOX

The min­is­ters who served on the then cab­i­net ap­point­ed over­sight com­mit­tee are as fol­lows:

1. Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar – Prime Min­is­ter (Chair­man)

2. Stephen Cadiz – Min­is­ter of Trade and In­dus­try

3. Win­ston Dook­er­an- Min­is­ter of Fi­nance

4. Dr Roodal Mooni­lal – Min­is­ter of Hous­ing and En­vi­ron­ment

5. Chan­dresh Shar­ma- Min­is­ter of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment

6. Hon. Jack Warn­er- Min­is­ter of Works and Trans­port

7. Em­manuel George- Min­is­ter of Pub­lic Util­i­ties

8. Kevin Ram­nar­ine- Min­is­ter of En­er­gy and En­er­gy Af­fairs

9. Dr Bhoen­dra­datt Tewarie – Min­is­ter of Plan­ning and Econ­o­my

Reporter: Rishard Khan

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