Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley looks at the Curepe Interchange after it was officially commissioned on Monday.

Renuka Singh

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has boasted that his Government saved billions of dollars on several projects since coming into office in 2015.

As he officially opened the Curepe Interchange on Monday, Rowley listed several projects that were already on the table before the 2015 general elections but which carried much higher costs, including the highway extension to Point Fortin and the Curepe Interchange.

On the highway extension to Point Fortin project alone, Rowley said the Government was able to save some $3 billion. On the Curepe Interchange, he said the Government saved $200 million.

When he took office, the Prime Minister said the initial cost of the Curepe Interchange project was pegged at $440 million. He said although he was not an engineer or a quantity surveyor, he “knew” that that cost was too high. He said Government was able to get that price down to $221 million.

Regarding the highway to Point Fortin project, Rowley said only one contractor was selected.

Although he did not name the company, it is public knowledge that Brazilian company Construtora OAS was awarded that contract. However, the company went bankrupt in 2015 and the Point Fortin project was stalled.

Rowley recalled that when his Government came into power, they found the protection clause in the contract that would give the country almost a billion-dollar insurance payout from terminating the deal was removed. He said removing that clause gave the bankrupt company a $921 million gift. However, he said in 2016, his Government took Construtora OAS to court and recovered that money.

The PM said giving the deal to one contractor had “benefits” for some people. He said the initial budget for the Point Fortin Highway extension project was $4 billion on the eve of the 2010 general election but it went up to $7 billion after the election. He said his Government eventually saved some $3 billion on the contract from Golconda to Point Fortin.

“We knew and we said that that contract could be broken up into sections, so as to allow our local contractors to be a part of the tendering process,” he said.

Rowley also disparaged the belief that governments “fed” themselves at the expense of taxpayers and said in the five years since he was Prime Minister, he held to the belief that it was not time for his Cabinet “to eat” but for the “taxpayers to breathe.”

“I don’t care what they say on Facebook, this Government has set the tone for honest Government in T&T,” he said.

He said the current cost-saving tone on projects meant that other interchanges, planned to ease traffic congestion in the east, would now cost much less than initially budgeted.

“If we had to pay $440 million for this (Curepe Interchange), the next five interchanges would have cost us over $2 billion, cause we would have set the tone,” he said.

Rowley said the improved and amended procurement legislation still would not have helped the Government save over $200 million on the Curepe Interchange project, which was completed by China Railway Construction.

“If what passed for competition then was allowed to prevail, you could simply have said that the job was tendered and the lowest bidder was $440 million and therefore you gave the contract to that bidder and not the one for $500 million and nobody in T&T would have had a problem with that,” he said.

“But somebody would have walked away with $200 million more than what was required. I am sure that the contractors involved in this project made a profit.”

The project, Rowley said came in at a final cost of $221 million. Rowley said that while he was not an engineer or a quantity surveyor he “knew” that the initial project price for the Curepe Interchange was too high.

“I knew what was happening and I knew that if the contractors were told that you are not going to get the job at that price and we are going back out to tender, they will give you a price that is far better,” he said.

He said when the Government wanted to build the swimming pool in Laventille, the initial project cost presented by the Urban Development Corporation of T&T was $24 million.

“I run UdeCott so fast from the Cabinet with one question, if you were going to build a swimming pool in your yard, with your money, will you spend $24 million on it?” he said.

Rowley said the finished pool cost less than $5 million.