Reports revealed that at about 4.30 pm, the man who is from the outskirts of Arima, along with others were removing clay blocks, steel and other materials left behind at the site when the steel roof of the church caved in causing steel blocks to fall to the ground injuring the man.
He was pulled from the rubble by an accomplice who took him to the Arima hospital where he was being treated up to late yesterday. The man has not been identified. A television report last night said a second person was injured.
A report was made to the Arima Police Station and a party of officers went to the site. When they arrived they found the dome of the church collapsed and a group of people from the Guanapo area gathered around. The officers viewed the damage and spoke briefly to a few persons at the church site, then telephoned their superiors and left.
Officers told Newsday that because they do not know who is the owner of the church they cannot take any action against any member of the public but will be interviewing the injured man who was taken to the Arima Hospital.
Their position is the same as the one taken by Acting Police Commissioner James Philbert, who has previously said the police could not secure the church site unless they knew who owned it.
When Newsday arrived at the collapsed church structure a woman, who preferred not to be named, said, “This thing brought tears to my eyes because we the taxpayers had been clamouring for Government to instruct the police and army to secure the church site but nothing was done. Even after reports surfaced of widespread looting the police took no action and now one man is injured and no one in authority, not even the Government, has shown any interest in the matter.”
She said based on her own information, within the past month several persons have been turning up at the church site removing steel, blocks, galvanise sheets, nails, cement and other materials and no one in authority tried to make the site a restricted area.
She believes that because the Chinese workmen, hired by Shanghai Construction Group (SCG), were forced to hurriedly leave the structure, shortly before the General Election in May, they did not properly construct the dome of the church. As looters picked apart the structure it became weak, collapsing yesterday.
Another man said the area around the church was prone to land slippage and a close view revealed several cracks in and around the site.
Despite yesterday’s collapse and after the police left the site members of the public continued to cart away clay blocks and other materials.
The church is reportedly owned by Rev Juliana Pena, the spiritual adviser of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, and was reportedly being built at a cost of $30 million.
The church became the centre of a controversy last year when then Opposition MP Jack Warner claimed it was being built with the use of taxpayers dollars.
This was strongly denied by Manning, who in a statement to the Parliament, insisted that the then PNM Government had nothing to do with the church and that no State funds were used in its construction.
The Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (Udecott) had also issued a statement distancing itself from the construction of the church.
However, no one could say how SCG, which also built the Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s for Manning, became involved in the church construction and why Chinese workmen were deployed there.
A week before the May 24 General Election, Warner and UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar disclosed copies of plans for the church and the Prime Minister’s Residence, as well as emails between architect Stephen Mendes and former Udecott chairman Calder Hart, alleging a link between the two projects. The correspondence indicated that Hart introduced Mendes to Pena, and gave her advice about the project for free.
Since then Mendes confirmed in a statement that he had met Manning about the church construction. Mendes has distanced himself from the project, saying he is not the owner of the church.
Warner and Persad-Bissessar, who are now respectively the Works and Transport Minister and the Prime Minister, had submitted their documents to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the police and the Office of the Attorney General. Also a complaint against Manning in relation to the church project has been filed with the Integrity Commission.
The Fraud Squad, which is investigating Warner and Persad-Bissessar’s complaint, went to SCG’s office in Port-of-Spain and seized plans for the church and the Prime Minister’s Residence. Fraud Squad officers said their investigation is continuing, but expressed surprise to learn the dome of the church had collapsed.
Late yesterday, Newsday tried to reach SCG managing director Michael Zhang, however, calls to his cellphone went unanswered.
Udecott chairman Jearlean John was also unavailable for comment and she was reported to be on a tour with Minister of Planning Mary King at the Tarouba stadium.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has criticised the Intergrity Commission for not taking action to secure the church site as it investigates the complaint of misconduct in public office against Manning. Ramlogan said the Integrity Commission could ask the police to take possession of the site as part of its investigation. Neither Ramlogan nor National Security Minister John Sandy could be reached for comment.
Via a press release yesterday, it was revealed that the Attorney General maintained his position that the Integrity Commission should have solicited the assistance of the police, or the Commissioner of Police should have intervened to prevent this “boldfaced theft” of what is alleged to be materials illegally purchased with State funds.