This rise in costs was stated in documents being submitted to the Uff Commission of Inquiry, and published in yesterday’s Newsday and in Sunday Newsday.
The extra costs are largely attributable to $38 million in “variations” to the original design, plus previously-unstated sums such as $23 million in VAT, $7 million in consultancy fees paid to Udecott and $1.3 million in miscellaneous items. Many questions arise.
Firstly, isn’t anyone keeping an eye on these costs? This is especially of concern in light of the Government’s boast of fixed-fee contracts. Further, is this sum of $244 million now the final cost, or can we expect to learn of further hidden costs?
Secondly, we lament that even beyond a merely passive lack of accountability over the life of this project, the Government repeatedly refused to tell Parliament of the costs even as they mounted from year to year. For example, by last July the Government had repeatedly — on no less than 13 occasions — refused to answer questions posed by the Opposition about these costs.
Thirdly, we ask how can the Government in the first place legally (and in fact legislatively) be allowed to get away with what seems to be uncontrolled and uncapped spending?
Our information is that the Opposition in Parliament has not approved these ever-increasing expenditures in any National Budget debate, but rather that these sums are just spent by the Government, who then retroactively seek Parliament’s nod.
Fourthly, we are disturbed by the cost of many of the individual items, which in fact recall the vastly-inflated prices of the Piarco Airport expansion project under the former UNC administration so roundly condemned by the PNM when in Opposition. The Sunday Newsday story reports a bed costing $26,000.
Taking the prize were the “fitted sheets” which were said to cost $3,400 each.
Other amenities provided to the master bedroom were listed as two night-stands costing nearly $13,000 in total amidst furniture items totalling $121,000 in that bedroom. The family television room contained a $23,800 television cabinet. The documents also noted other fittings in the residence included a $3,270 massage bed in the residence’s gym, some $21,900 worth of furnishings in a hairdressing salon, and a games room containing $56,890 in furniture including 12 armchairs that each cost $2,850. A door in an undisclosed location was said to cost $47,616. Our concern upon hearing this large expenses is firstly whether they represent a true market cost or whether they are over-priced, and secondly whether it is legally and morally correct for such expenditure to actually be made for a facility that will largely be excluded from public use but used primarily by the Prime Minister and those close to him. A huge amount of taxpayers money has been spent on the Prime Minister’s Residence (and the Diplomatic Centre), just as the country can look forward to tough times due to contagion from the global economic slowdown. Is it right that these premises contain bed-sheets each costing $3,400, while patients have had to suffer to obtain a bed at San Fernando General Hospital?
Should $56,890 be spent outfitting a games room, or $47,616 be spent on a door, when children die because their families can’t afford the comparatively small sums to get medical attention. Hopefully the Commission of Inquiry will be able to shed more light on these expenditures, and suggest guidelines to ensure full propriety in the future.