Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 10th 2017 Contents news A5
Wednesday, May 10, 2017 guardian.co.tt
PM opens show piece Campus Plaza
$18m in rent
Prime Minister Dr Keith
Rowley yesterday issued a call
for business owners in Port-
of-Spain to use properties pre-
viously rented by Government
to provide houses to middle
He made the comment during
yesterday's formal opening of the
Government Campus Plaza on
Richmond Street, Port-of-Spain,
as he pointed out the Housing De-
velopment Corporation (HDC)
cannot provide the estimated
120,000 units for citizens annually.
Rowley noted that the HDC had
moved from its original mandate,
but would be reverting to it to
ensure low income housing was
provided for citizens. He said all
the infrastructure was already
existing in Port-of-Spain and
the business community should
make the required investment to
provide housing for the middle
Rowley said the invitation was
being extended in the wake of the
Government's discontinuation of
rental of facilities owned by private
individuals. The plaza is expected
to reduce Government's annual
rental bill by more than $18 million.
Rowley said the property owners
who lost business to the Govern-
ment should "look towards hous-
ing in the city of Port-of-Spain."
The PM said Port-of-Spain has
been depopulated for a long time
"and now is a good time for own-
ers of property in Port-of-Spain
to look towards housing."
He said he felt over the past years
the government had taken the re-
sponsibility to provide housing for
those people who were least able
to face the housing market. He
said there was a time when HDC
housing (formerly NHA) was
unattractive to the middle and
upper-middle class citizens. But
Rowley said the quality of those
units were improved in recent
years to please the wider national
As a result of this shift, Rowley
said tens of thousands of people
have moved their interest from
the private sector to the HDC to
get their housing needs satisfied.
"That in no way can be satisfied
and that ought not to be public
policy, where the Government
undertakes to house everybody
who wants a house," the PM said.
He said the private sector had
now virtually disappeared from
providing houses for middle class
citizens, who are now getting qual-
ity housing from the HDC.
Rowley said: "Having done that,
the HDC has lost its mandate, lost
He said while it was housing
people, it was "not providing the
quantity of houses that is required
to supply the needs of persons at
the base who really need housing
and who really should get that from
affordable rentals provided by the
Rowley said"the HDC's pendu-
lum has swungtoo far from one end
to the other," adding that private
sector involvement was now being
encouraged. He then told the busi-
ness sector to "stop looking to rent
buildings to the Government,look
towards satisfying the needs of the
lower and upper middle income,
cater for those who want housing
in the city."
He said two weeks ago, Cabinet
rejected a request "for a Govern-
ment department that was seeking
accommodation in St Clair." He
said the managers in the public
service were told "that they had
to be crazy," as there can be no
satisfactory explanation for such
a request based on the fact that new
officers were available at the plaza.
brings new fuel
Further clarifications on Government's Proper-
ty Tax are expected to be amongFinance Minister
Colm Imbert's mid- year review and his update on
the economy beingdelivered today in Parliament.
The review - scheduled for 1.30 pm - is also expected
to provide answers to a number of queries on Govern-
ment's economic management which the Opposition
sought answers for last Friday.
The Opposition raised questions when Government
presented a financial motion to vary the 2017 Budget of
$52 billion by $1.3 billion, shifting funds around in vari-
ous ministries to meet expenditure in certain divisions.
During debate on the variations, Imbert promised
to reply on or before today to the Opposition's various
queries. One of these queries had come from Opposition
MP Suruj Rambachan, who asked if Imbert would be
announcing any gas price hike in today's review.
Imbert had not confirmed or denied that he would,
but had noted that at the start of the term, he'd said
the fuel subsidy would be removed over the next three
years. He didn't fully promise to address any position
on this today, but only indicated he "may" speak about
the matter today.
Yesterday,Finance Ministry officials couldn't confirm
any price hike in the offing, though Rambachan contin-
ued speculating about possible "tampering" with diesel
or gasoline prices. But a senior Government official last
said said a fuel hike was unlikely.
Today's review, which is expected to include a status
report on the local economy following the delivery of
the Budget six months ago, may also involve updates
on debt/loan profile since 2016 and Government's pro-
jections regarding borrowings.
The Opposition sought answers on these issues last
Friday and Imbert promised to reply. The Opposition
also sought information on T&T's income, including
revenue obtained from VAT and online taxes.
The review is also expected to include the latest de-
velopments on the Property Tax exercise. Last week,
Imbert was mum when asked ifhis review may announce
an extension of the May 22 deadline for submission of
residential Valuation forms.
Government is also yet to fully detail the position re-
garding squatters and tax payment. Last week, Imbert
and the Attorney General, who gave various positions
on the matter, said advice was being sought from the
Solicitor General on the matter.
The review may also give updates on aspects of the
2017Budget which have not yet been launched.
CL Financial shareholders are also hoping Imbert will
deliver a position on the resolution of the long pending
Clico matter. Those shareholders, who've been seeking
to get back their companies since last year, have been
awaiting word from Government on their proposal to
repay the debt owed by Government's 2009 bailout of
the former insurance giant.
Government last year estimated the debt at approx-
imately $23 billion, but Clico shareholders currently
estimate it at around $14 billion.
Imbert's review takes place against a backdrop of a
latest oil price of US$49.34 a barrel, up from last week's
US$45 - a five-month low. The 2017 Budget was based
on an oil price of US$48 per barrel.
Yesterday in the Senate, Imbert underscored T&T's
continuing tight financial position when he spoke on a
motion concerning an $85,000 monthly remuneration
package for the proposed Procurement Regulator and
other procurement office members.
Pointing to a $20 billion loss in revenue, Imbert
said,"In these difficult financial times, big salaries like
$200,000 and $180,000 - they have to come down.
T&T cannot afford such CEO salary levels. We have to
cut back on everything - we have to, we can't continue
Imbert saidwhen oilmoney was flowingandawarding
$1 billion contracts was "nothing", the past government
had seen $100,000 as the small end of the scale.
Rowley wary PoS Hospital's integrity
Director at the University of
the West Indies' Seismic Re-
search Centre at St Augustine,
Richard Robertson, says not
enough is being done in T&T
and the region to prepare for a
large magnitude earthquake.
He made the comment hours af-
ter Prime Minister Dr Keith Row-
ley said the Port-of-Spain General
Hospital was likely to face adverse
consequences if a major earthquake
were to strike.
Speaking during yesterday's for-
mal opening of the multi-million
dollar Government Campus Plaza
Rowley said the hospital was being
retrofitted because is has "some se-
rious engineering difficulties."
The plaza houses the Office of
the Attorney General and Minis-
try of Legal Affairs, Immigration
Department, Ministry of National
Security, Customs and Excise De-
partment and the Board of Inland
Revenue in the Ministry of Finance.
Rowley said the plaza was the
vision of the late prime minister
Patrick Manning. He said it was
also Manning's vision to construct
a new Port-of-Spain General Hos-
pital,but the State does not have the
financial resources to do so and it
was instead being retrofitted.
According to Rowley, the earth-
quake threat was "very real"for the
Contacted for comment after-
wards, Robertson said the threat
of a seismic hazard and seismic
risks to T&T "is quite real," adding
that "we live in a region,particular-
ly T&T, where we could have large
Robertson added that T&T needs
to take the threats from earthquake
hazards seriously and we need to
move to a place (position) where
we're more resilient. He reiterated
that there should be no surprise
if the country were to be hit by a
large magnitude earthquake in
the not too distant future. He said
because of public information on
building construction practices in
this country and on "how things are
done in T&T, we are worried that
the impact will be quite great (and)
we would not be surprised that if we
have a big earthquake that it could
case significant damage to lots of
structures in T&T."
Robertson did not comment
specifically on the PM's comments
about the Port-of-Spain general
Hospital. However, he said there is
need to look at critical buildings,in-
cluding schools,hospitals and gov-
ernment buildings, to determine if
they were structurally sound for a
large earthquake. - RL
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley during a tour of the Government
Campus in Port-of-Spain following it's official opening yesterday.
PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ
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