Udecott chairman: Moonilal, Mark misleading public on $ for PM’s Tobago residence

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

UDeCOTT Chairman Noel Garcia press conference at UDeCOTT headoffice on Sackville Street Port of Spain. – Photo by Sureash Cholai

CHAIRMAN of the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) Noel Garcia says Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal and Opposition Senator Wade Mark are “intent on mischief,” and are spreading inaccurate financial information about the cost of the Prime Minister’s residence in Blenheim, Tobago.

He was speaking at a press conference in Port of Spain on Tuesday afternoon.

On November 6, Moonilal called for an independent investigation into the cost of construction of the residence.

He had said the cost, as stated in documents from Udecott, moved from a initial budget of $25 million to $63 million.

In addition, Mark said Dr Rowley was “dancing around” the topic of the residence’s refurbishment.

He said the budget for the residence moved from $17.5 million to $42 million.

Garcia said it is clear the men “are not getting their figures right,” adding that Moonilal made similar allegations in August 2019.

He said in 2019, Moonilal alleged the project’s budget jumped from $2 million to $20 million.

He said it does not seem as though Mark and Moonilal discussed this since they both gave differing costs.

“For some strange reason, they are intent on mischief…because I can only describe what is happening as mischief.

“Your numbers are not adding up.”

He said the project was never a refurbishment but was a construction project “from day one.

“…And this residence is not Keith Rowley’s residence – it is the residence of the Prime Minister of TT.

“The project budget was never $25 million, the project cost never moved from $25 million – $63million, (Udecott) never confirmed any cost overruns, (Udecott) never certified any payments of $48 million and there’s no $15.4 million left unpaid.”

He said it seems the source of the “mixup” is that in 2018, the estimated budget was $22,022,567 – a cost which included VAT.

The original contract’s budget, he said, was $20,305,020.18 and there was an additional cost of $8,150,131.86 to deal with “security issues.

There was also another fee of $8,679,290.53 to ensure the building was “fit for purpose.”

“As a result, the cost was revised to $37,134,000,” Garcia said.

He said it feels like deja-vu and that he’s not sure what Udecott has to do again to stop the Opposition members from spreading disinformation.

“They’re using different figurers and, as time rolls, the figures grow bigger and bigger and bigger.

“So I suspect in three years’ time, we may expect the project now to be a $250 million project with a cost overrun of $500 million.”

He said they’re trying to cause disquiet, mistrust and suspicion.

“We have nothing to hide…We keep our figures the same.

“My mother-in-law always said a liar needs to have good retention because if you don’t have good retention, you forget what you say.”

Asked if Udecott plans to take legal action, Garcia said that would be “a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.

“Let the public be the judge.

“We don’t need a court of law to judge him. He’ll be judged in the court of public opinion.”

He called on both men to apologise.

“Dig deep into your psyche and apologise to the people of TT for misleading them.

“Dig deep into your conscience, into your heart, and find the strength to apologise because we have demonstrated clearly that what you are saying is not true.”

In May 2020, former energy minister Franklin Khan, now deceased, revealed in Parliament that the total cost associated with the demolition and rebuilding of the residence was $17.5 million.

He was responding to a question from Mark.

He had said the building was in such a state of disrepair that it had to be demolished and rebuilt, and therefore the question of an “increase in cost of repairs” did not arise.

Speaking to Newsday on Wednesday afternoon, Moonilal said Garcia’s statements are in “utter contradiction to the information released to the Parliament by the Office of the Prime Minister.

“The Office of the Prime Minister confirms $48 million plus $15 million outstanding in response to questions during the standing finance committee of Parliament.

“(They) have made me out to be some mischief maker but I raise the issue of facts.”

In a press release issued hours later, Moonilal said Garcia’s press conference was an “unwarranted attack” on him.

He said Udecott is trying to “bamboozle taxpayers by fudging the facts and covering up the truth,” likening the company to a “runaway horse.

“…Spending recklessly on public projects without proper accountability and probity.

“I wish to advise (Garcia) that I earned the highest grades in mathematics studies.

“(He) must provide a full account to taxpayers and explain the difference in figures with that presented by Mr Khan.”