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Sat, Aug

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In the face of apparent unrelenting condemnation over the $2 million cost of the ’legacy’ flag hoisted in the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Sports Minister Gary Hunt yesterday dismissed reports that the flag was having the opposite effect of what it was meant to achieve - which is national pride.

’I disagree. You just have to go on Facebook and you would see some of the arguments and support that is there. It has huge support online,’ he said.

Told that there were some adverse comment in the media, Hunt replied: ’I haven’t heard any. From my walkabouts, I have heard no such comments... I have just come from the walk from Hutton Road, Cascade, in my constituency and I have had no such comments.’

He was speaking at a news conference at the Sport Company, at which the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (Sportt) confirmed that the erection of the controversial flag cost $2 million.

The breakdown provided by Sportt Chairman Kenneth Charles is as follows: flag and fabric-$18,112,15; foundation and installation works-TT$940,000; design and supply of the ’monster flag pole’ TT$932,400.

In addition, the ministry acquired three additional flags at a cost of TT$54,336. The flag, which is out of composite nylon and covers 2,160 square feet, will have to be replaced every four to six months, dependent on the weather condition, on a permanent basis.

Hunt said the flag was a ’worthy investment, especially for young people ’who need to look inward at our heroes ..., instead of the Paris Hiltons’.

Told that this was the second facility named after a national icon which has encountered controversy (the first being Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba), Hunt said: ’It is my opinion that every day that the flag flies it would do the damage control (necessary to blunt criticism), because it would reflect itself as a symbol of national pride every time we look at it, and it should.’

The Minister was flanked by Charles and Sportt Executive Director, Darren Millien. Charles said the company was aware of the possible costs at the start of the project.

’We knew that the stadium is built on reclaimed land. There was an expectation that when you went to a certain depth that you would encounter water, hence the need to do all the soil testing before you started the project ... So it was an engineering project and therefore it had a certain cost,’ Charles said.

He said the engineering works which took place in the ’swampy soil conditions where the stadium is located’, included a soil analysis and geotechnical survey, design of the foundation, excavation to a depth of 20 feet x 20 ft x 15 feet, 400 tonnes of reinforced concrete, two tonnes of steel, reinforcements, blue stone and granular backfill, and contracting the use of heavy lifting equipment such as cranes to hold the flag in position for several days while the concrete set.

Charles said people had to keep in mind that the pole, which is 165 feet high (15 feet below ground and 150 above), weighs 15,650 pounds, can withstand winds of 130 miles without the flag, 90 miles with the flag and has an earthquake rating of zone 5, ’just like in California’.

Asked why it took almost a week of controversy before coming forward to confirm the figures, Charles said the company had the information and it was up to the Minister to provide the guidance and instruction. Hunt said the ministry had to do a due diligence to ensure that the information given to the press was accurate.

’A question was asked on the cost of the flag, we answered that ... ($18,112.15),’ Hunt said, referring to the ministry’s release on Monday.

’And today, we are able to provide the data surrounding the structures that would support the flag,’ he added.

Was this being less than forthright with the public, the Minister was asked.

’You see people were associating the physical flag with a cost (of TT$ 2 million). And I think that it was only fair that the public know that the actual fact was $18,000 ...That is a different issue (from) - what it takes to erect the flag,’ he said.

Asked whether he believed he was damaged by this issue and that people would henceforth refer to him as the $2 million man, Hunt said: ’You can’t put a price on a person’s personality. I am who I am ... carrying out a mandate for the people of Trinidad and Tobago as Minister of Sport, which I am proud to do... I think in time people would understand the value of what we have done.’

Charles said the contract was the result of competitive tender from three suppliers-Phabha Sports International; Fire One Fire Works and Excellent Technologies. The successful bidder was Fire One Fire Works, which had installed the only other legacy flag in the country-the one at Macoya.