$38M ‘variations’ on PM’s Residence

The findings of the review, which has unearthed fresh contractual discrepancies in the Udecott project, will deepen concern over allegations that funds spent on the project could have been siphoned to pay for the construction of a controversial church at the Heights of Guanapo, Arima.

At a press conference on Saturday, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar released letters and plans for the church, linking it with the Prime Minister’s Residence at St Ann’s and appearing to link Prime Minister Patrick Manning to the project. One plan listed the client for the project as Udecott and appeared to label the plans for the church under the heading “outdoor stage project for Prime Minister House.”

According to a dossier on the Prime Minister’s Residence, disclosed by Udecott to the Uff Commission of Inquiry, which has been obtained by Newsday, there are variations amounting to a line total of $38,003,306, VAT exclusive, for the project between December 15, 2006 and December 31, 2008.

The Udecott document broke down the figure into several smaller heads, including a $6 million furniture bill and bill of almost $3 million for drapes, blinds and curtains. The $6 million bill submitted by contractor SCG International (Trinidad and Tobago) Limited, included a claim letter which attached a break-down for bedclothes, furniture supply and installation. Among the items were: fitted sheets that appeared to cost $3,400 a piece, a TV Cabinet that the document claimed cost $23,800, and a bed that cost $26,800 in one room identified as a “master bedroom”.

The documents were not discussed during the hearings of the Uff inquiries, but lawyers in the proceedings raised questions about Udecott’s documents management system. On September 29, 2006, Udecott wrote to Michael Zhang of SCG International (Trinidad and Tobago) Limited, a company incorporated on May 2, 2005, proposing a contract for the project. That proposal, obtained by Newsday, lists the project as breaking down into several components: unspecified “preliminaries” at a cost of $14.2 million; a “diplomatic centre” at a cost of $54.9 million, which includes a “provisional sum” of $8.7 million for “internal finishing”; a “residence” at a cost of $36.2 million, which includes another “provisional sum” for “internal finishing” amounting to $5.2 million; and “external works” totalling $31.9 million. The “external works” are specified as follows: “includes swimming pool, corridors, army post, police and security station and transformer rooms, etc”. There is also a “design fee” of $9.6 million. The document is signed by former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart.

But while invoices for the project were submitted by SCG International (Trinidad and Tobago) and the proposal was directed to that company, checks by Newsday reveal that the final FIDIC contract for the project was completed not with that company but rather with Shanghai Construction Group (General) Company, a company incorporated under the laws of China and located at 33 Fushan Road, Shanghai, China. Shanghai Construction Group (General) Company is listed as the project’s contractor in the FIDIC contract of November 5, 2006.

Checks also reveal that on December 15, the Office of the Prime Minister concluded an agreement with Udecott for the funding of the project. One of the terms of the agreement, signed by permanent secretary Ms Sandra Marchack, which has also been obtained by Newsday, discloses that funds from the IDF were to be channelled to Udecott for the project, as opposed to Udecott seeking financing for the project, which was said to have been financed by an inter-government loan from China.

“The Government has established a system for the approval and disbursement of public moneys from the Infrastructure Development Fund established under the Exchequer and Audit Act for the purpose of carrying out and completing the approved project,” the document, signed by Marchack and Hart, notes. Payments, according to a projected cash-flow chart attached to the agreement, were to follow a schedule, with a first tranche of $69.3 million due in January 2007, $52 million in February, 2007.

A tranche of $33 million from the IDF was planned for July 2007. Another tranche of $17.4 million was planned for August, 2007. July 2008 was to see another tranche of $8.4 million. Later payments for variations beyond 2008 were not ruled out.

The architect for the Prime Minister’s Residence was initially Nigel Thomas of Nigel R Thomas and Associates. He was reportedly later replaced.

The architect for the church at Guanapo, Stephen Mendes of Design Collaborative Associates Limited, could not be contacted yesterday. He was not at home when Newsday visited his townhouse at Westmoorings. He was reportedly asked by former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart to work on the church project and also worked on other Udecott projects such as the Government Campus Plaza in Port-of-Spain and the Chancery Lane project in San Fernando, all Udecott projects.

It has been reported by sources that Hart, when at Udecott, asked Mendes, then of Design Collaborative and the beneficiary of most of Udecott’s architectural design work, to design the church as a favour. Mendes, in turn, asked CEP Ltd to provide structural engineering design services and ENCO Engineering Consultants to provide electrical and mechanical engineering design services. ENCO has confirmed in the press that they did the work as requested by Mendes without charge. Sources yesterday said Mendes, who later left the church project, also later left DCA and is now employed with Udecott contractor Genivar.


"$38M ‘variations’ on PM’s Residence"

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