Colossal waste of $$
By CAROL MATROO (Newsday)
Sunday, June 19 2011
The Brian Lara Cricket Stadium was the first phase of what was supposed to serve as a billion-dollar multi-purpose complex in Tarouba, South Trinidad.
When it was conceptualised in 2003 by the former People’s National Movement regime under Prime Minister Patrick Manning, it was originally budgeted at $272 million.
To date, and after $1.1 billion in expenditure, the stadium has not been completed, and it is uncertain whether it will, or can reach the finished stage to accommodate spectators and cricketers alike.
Describing the construction of the seemingly ill-fated project as “a travesty and disgrace”, Sports and Youth Affairs Minister, Anil Roberts, a former sports co-ordinator/adviser to former Sport and Youth Affairs Minister Roger Boynes, told the Sunday Newsday that his Government has “no idea whatsoever” when or if the stadium will be completed.
“It all depends on the experts, after they’re finished with that analysis of the readiness, the safety, the structural content, they will dictate. If they say it could be finished in two months, well, all right, but we have to wait for that report. Based on the (John) Uff inquiry, report and analysis of forensic engineer Mr (Gerry) McCaffrey, I would say there is a possibility that it cannot be finished at all,” Roberts said.
“There is one possibility that it could be finished at X amount and there is another possibility, based on the poor workmanship, the poor design, the poor steel work, the poor wells, there is a distinct possibility that it may never be able to be made safe for people to utilise it. And if it is completed at over $1.3 billion, you, your grandchildren, my great grandchildren, would be dead and gone and you could never generate the revenue to pay back for that facility.”
He added, “Remember, it’s people’s lives we’re talking about. When people go to watch a cricket match, 12,000 people jumping and screaming, you have to ensure that the facility that they are in is structurally secure. No responsible government would put people in jeopardy like that.”
Roberts added that even if the stadium was completed there was no way that anybody could make it worth the while, as a stadium of that size would require some $500,000 to $900,000 a month to maintain. He claimed this was the reason he burned his PNM party card in 2005.
Professor John Uff, QC, from the United Kingdom, who was appointed chairman of the Commission of Inquiry that was set up to investigate the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (Udecott) and the construction sector, described the project as “nothing short of scandalous, a disaster, a national disgrace” and raised “serious alarm” during the inquiry proceedings.
McCaffrey was the Scottish construction expert hired to give evidence during the inquiry.
Hafeez Karamath Limited (HKL) meanwhile was at the centre of the questionable payment of millions worth of advances on the project, especially after issues of poor workmanship on the project arose.
In his final report handed in to President George Maxwell Richards, Uff detailed a litany of problems at the project, including the decision of Udecott: to award contracts to and pay HKL millions for the mobilisation of materials without checks as to the materials’ existence, to overpay HKL and the failure of Udecott to adequately explain discrepancies to the tens of millions in Udecott’s payment certificates unearthed by Mc Caffrey during his probe.
Uff’s was a scathing report, and after detailed information was supplied by forensics engineer McCaffrey, he was not rehired by the then PNM government. Former Planning Minister Colm Imbert was on record as saying then that it was too expensive.
The Uff report described the Tarouba Stadium as “an absolute disgrace from start to finish and the worst example of procurement, project management and conceptual design that they had ever seen”.
In addition to recommending a full investigation by law enforcement authorities into former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart and the entire Udecott board in relation to the project, Uff called for the contractor, HKL, to be fired immediately.
Udecott, a special purpose company set up by the Manning regime to oversee major government projects, is again under scrutiny, this time by Canadian forensic expert Bob Lindquist, who arrived in Trinidad on Tuesday.
Lindquist was contracted by the People’s Partnership Government to conduct a two-week forensic probe into the misappropriation of billions of funds from the State-owned Udecott.
Lindquist, a forensic accountant who investigates multi-million dollar white-collar crimes, has visited this country on several occasions to conduct forensic audits. This will be his second investigation of Udecott, as he had been hired by the previous PNM administration in 2009, a fact that was only made public in 2010 by former Attorney General John Jeremie.
Roberts claimed that the order for the construction of the stadium came “from on high”, and that his advice to Boynes that the concept could not work was ignored back then before work started. However, the project fell under the Ministry of Planning, which was headed by former Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis.
“I immediately advised Boynes that this was a concept that could not work. It was wrong, it was a waste of money and we should not go ahead with it. It was not only a cricket stadium, it was budgeted originally at $272 million. It included an aquatic centre, astro-turf hockey pitches, 400-metre running track, dormitories and a cycling track for a total budget of $850 million
“I advised him then that that was a waste of money. If you wanted to spend $850 million in sport we should do it in each and every community across Trinidad and Tobago. He could not listen because it (instruction to construct facility) came from well above,” Roberts said.
He added that his advice to Manning and former Public Administration minister Dr Lenny Saith, against forging ahead with the project, was also ignored back then.
“They concocted several different reasons why it must go ahead. You will then remember Patrick Manning saying first and foremost, the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium was a requirement for the Brown Package for Cricket World Cup 2007. The World Cup has come and gone, we hosted it so that was totally untrue,” Roberts said.
He said there were over 370 stop work orders on the project because of poor wells, poor steel, poor infrastructure and poor foundation, because the type of soil the stadium was built on was not suitable for a project of that size, adding that a feasibility study and soil survey were never done before the start of construction.
The minister said with people’s safety in mind, a full analysis and study of every piece of structure and steel had to be done, costing even more millions of dollars.
The stadium was supposed to be constructed in order for TT to acquire the “Brown Package” for the Cricket World Cup 2007. That package would have seen TT hosting at the Tarouba venue. However, due to the contractor’s failure to complete the venue on time, TT eventually hosted its Group B matches at the Queen’s Park Oval and University of the West Indies ground in St Augustine. Across the Caribbean, however, many Caricom governments – Guyana, Grenada, Antigua, St Kitts – built stadia where the average cost per seat was TT$5,000.
Roberts said at present, the cost per seat of the cricket stadium in Tarouba stood at a whopping $106,000 per seat, an average of $100,000 more than any where else in the Caribbean.
“Furthermore, as we are talking about seats, many people may or may not remember, a few years ago when I interviewed Calder Hart I asked him about the $31 million extra dollars that were requested for seats that had been purchased before. He promised to answer in 48 hours and it has now been three years.
“The people of TT paid, according to the PNM and Calder Hart, $31 million for seats. The Jamaicans were having problems with their stadium in preparation for 2007. Calder Hart admitted that our seats that we purchased were sent across to Jamaica. Nothing is wrong with that, we help out our Caribbean neighbours
“However, what happened after, former Minister of Sport Roger Boynes, in answering a question and accounting to the Parliament about the overruns at that time, said that an extra $31 million was needed to purchase seats,” he said.
Roberts said, however, that Hart had said then the same supplier for the seats had replaced them, and questioned why an extra $31 million was required.
“I would like to know into whose pocket that money went? It is quite a shame and I hope that at some point the people of TT can at least get some benefits from that stadium, because with $1.3 billion we could have built a full aquatic centre with three 50-metre pools, 25-metre pool, diving well and fun pool for kids
“Also we could have built the cycling velodrome – the 250-metre indoor wooden track. We could have built the tennis centre. We could have built 12 community sporting indoor regional centres for netball, volleyball, basketball and other sports. We could have fixed also within that $1.3 billion 164 recreation grounds with lighting pavilion, jogging track, play park and exercise equipment for the people of TT and still have $300 million change. There is absolutely no way we can recoup this money, none whatsoever, no way. Not even with all the blessings of the Supreme Being,” Roberts charged.
He said to try to recoup some of the monies spent on the stadium, Government would have to host other activities, including concerts, cultural and religious events, as well as develop a multi- purpose facility underneath the main stand with a gym, waiting rooms and gymnastics.
“You could try all of that and if you use all of that, a 100 years will pass and we will never be able to recoup that money. It is the most ridiculous investment in the history of TT. People want to talk about the airport, at least we could go in and out,” he claimed.
Roberts said he did not blame Boynes, as he “was not on the hierarchy of things”. He said Manning had, on seven different occasions, defended the project, saying that “any Tom, Dick or Harrilal could say what they want, the Tarouba Stadium will be built”. Manning had also suggested that the stadium would be used as a tsunami shelter.
“The other one, the all powerful one, the one who acted as prime minister, Lenny Saith, also defended it, saying that it was a requirement of the Brown Package and that it will be built. So I cannot in good conscience blame Roger Boynes. He was but a small fry, he had no choice when the big boys dictate ... so I cannot blame him at all. He was low on the pecking order.
“When a prime minister and an acting prime minister say that it must be built, a mere minister of sport has no choice, so it is not Roger Boynes’ fault in any way, although I would have suggested that he resign at that time before they got rid of him. When he agreed with me he should have packed up his bags and walked. He decided to stay quiet and later the two big men who made the terrible decision ended up getting rid of him and his political career was over,” Roberts said.
The minister also claimed the tendering process for the stadium was flawed from the start, alleging that former Udecott executive chairman Hart, who has since left the country, usurped the authority of the Tenders’ Committee.
“He did what he wanted. He fired the project engineers, then hired others to do it. They did not. They approved $124 million initial pay out. You give a mobilisation fee when a project is started. Maybe ten percent, at the highest 15 percent, so for that project at $272 million, maybe a mobilisation fee would have been $27 million.
“Udecott, under Calder Hart, before a tractor even moved, paid out $124 million to the contractor. Never in the history of any project in the world has that happened. So a company has done nothing and they pocket $124 million?
“And then they try to expedite because they said it was for World Cup 2007 and they put extra costs on in order to try and make the deadline. They did not make the deadline yet they continued to work at the accelerated extra cost pace.
“It is a travesty, it is a disgrace. That is why when I tell you forget politics and anything named PNM should never raise its head in this country whether to walk, to talk or to squawk. They have no shame,” Roberts declared.
Contacted on the issue, Boynes said if the Brian Lara Stadium had indeed incurred such high costs, then a forensic report should be done on the entire Tarouba project.
“I do not know that this is the actual figure because I don’t have a breakdown, and as former minister I wouldn’t like to comment on something from a factual perspective that may not be correct. What I have to say is that it is a project that I would like to see completed, but I am, however, concerned at the cost because I find that Udecott should have managed that project better so that cost would not have been where it is today.”
He added, “What has to be done is a forensic analysis into that entire project in the interest of the nation. All of us who are paying taxes and the entire country, that’s our money and we have to find out why it is that the cost has gone to that amount. After the analysis, deal with it and let the chips fall where they may.
“Whoever is culpable for wasting taxpayers’ money, let them be dealt with. The law is the law. This has always been my position on that.”
The former minister also denied that Roberts had advised him against building the stadium, saying if he (Roberts) did so, then it would be in writing and filed at the ministry.
“How would he have advised the prime minister? In what capacity? How would he have advised Dr Saith? I won’t know if he met with the then prime minister and Dr Saith and advised them about the stadium. I can’t remember if he had said anything negative about it. I remember in the beginning Anil was supporting the whole venture.
“Then after a while he started to complain about it. At one point the idea was good to have an academy relating to different sporting facilities and training and that sort of thing. I also recall some time on the media he (Roberts) was in fact talking against it, saying it was costing too much money and that we should focus on proper coaching and so on. I don’t know if it was in that regard he was talking about,” Boynes recalled.
He said he and Roberts did speak about coaching, which was why, during his (Boynes’) tenure, his ministry focused on bringing in coaches from different sporting disciplines.
“That is the one thing Anil and I had in common, so in a sense we did talk about Tarouba, but I don’t know if he had written to me, I cannot recall. I do recall Anil was supportive in the initial stages because the idea was a good one,” he said.
Boynes said during an interview on a radio talk show, on which he was one of the guests, he had indicated that he did not believe the stadium would be ready in time for the World Cup, which was why his ministry had a “Plan B”in place. That was to use the University of the West Indies, St Augustine as the warm up ground and the Queen’s Park Oval for World Cup Cricket.
Boynes was also quick to stress that the Tarouba Project fell under the direction of the Ministry of Planning
“I simply advised that from my ministry’s perspective, that it would not be ready in time for World Cup. Everything that fell under the Ministry of Sport to do, it did. I would not have any information about anything under the Ministry of Planning because the project was never really under Sport and Youth Affairs.
“Ask me anything else under sport and I’ll tell you exactly where it stood, where it is. It was under Udecott, the company that was chosen by the Parliament to construct the Brian Lara Stadium,” he said
Boynes added, “I think the concept is a very good one and I think at the time when the project started, we all bought into the project. The project was one of having a sporting academy that would service several sporting disciplines. In terms of where it is at this stage, I don’t know where it is at this stage.”
Several attempts to contact Saith were unsuccessful.
The "tracks" at the incomplete Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba are now overgrown with grass.