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Trinidad to hold inquiry into $500M acquisition for highway

By Trinidad Guardian

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The extension of the highway from San Fernando to Point Fortin.

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — Cab­i­net will ini­ti­ate a com­mis­sion of en­quiry to ex­am­ine the cir­cum­stances in which over $500 mil­lion was paid to home­own­ers to ac­quire land for the ex­ten­sion of the high­way from San Fer­nan­do to Point Fortin.

The an­nounce­ment was made by Min­is­ter of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty and Min­is­ter in the Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter, Stu­art Young at yester­day’s post-Cab­i­net news con­fer­ence.

The com­mis­sion will be asked to de­ter­mine whether crim­i­nal or civ­il pro­ceed­ings should be brought against those in­volved, in­clud­ing a Cab­i­net com­mit­tee head­ed by for­mer prime min­is­ter Ka­mla Per­sad-Bisses­sar.

Young told the me­dia that a re­port was re­quest­ed by the Min­istry of Works fol­low­ing a study it con­duct­ed in­to com­pen­sa­tion for the high­way ex­ten­sion project and found that while $800 mil­lion was al­lo­cat­ed for land ac­qui­si­tion, over $500 mil­lion had al­ready been spent.

Yet, he said, the process of land ac­qui­si­tion is not near com­ple­tion.

Over 520 prop­er­ties were ac­quired and paid for by state and there are still 459 prop­er­ties to be ac­quired

The com­mis­sion is to be chaired by re­tired judge Se­bas­t­ian Ven­tour as­sist­ed by at­tor­ney-at-law Gre­go­ry Delzin.

Se­nior Coun­sel Regi­nald Amour will al­so serve on the com­mis­sion, as­sist­ed by at­tor­neys Ve­nes­sa Gopaul and Rishi Dass.

Young said Cab­i­net was con­cerned about the func­tions of a min­is­te­r­i­al over­sight com­mit­tee ap­point­ed in 2011, chaired by the then prime min­is­ter.

It was to, among oth­er things, over­see the project’s fund­ing and time-de­liv­ery and to en­sure that prop­er mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion were un­der­tak­en for the coun­try to re­ceive val­ue for mon­ey.

He said the study found that the com­mit­tee hired pri­vate en­ti­ties, in­clud­ing lawyers, to do the ne­go­ti­a­tions for com­pen­sa­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Young, they too seemed to have been paid ex­ces­sive­ly.

With re­gard to the com­pen­sa­tion to landown­ers, he said the re­port found that some peo­ple were paid for land that was no longer need­ed for the con­struc­tion of the high­way.

In one case, one per­son re­ceived $50 mil­lion and then made a claim for an ad­di­tion­al $30 mil­lion.

In an­oth­er case, he said four per­sons in a house­hold were com­pen­sat­ed of the same prop­er­ty.

He said one of the per­sons do­ing the val­u­a­tion of land, lat­er “un­jus­ti­fi­ably” in­creased the val­ue of land that he had al­ready sub­mit­ted.

He said the gov­ern­ment put a pause on any fur­ther monies for the ac­qui­si­tion of land and asked for the tech­ni­cal team at the Works Min­istry to do a re­port.

The terms of the Com­mis­sion of En­quiry are ex­ten­sive and among them is to in­quire whether the min­is­te­r­i­al com­mit­tee ful­filled its man­date, to look at the cir­cum­stances in which the state ac­quire or has tak­en steps to ac­quire prop­er­ties that are no longer re­quired and the process by which the state and or the Na­tion­al In­fra­struc­ture De­vel­op­ment Com­pa­ny (Nid­co) ap­proved the ac­qui­si­tions and com­pen­sa­tion.

He said the com­mis­sion will look for any breach of du­ties and whether any crim­i­nal, civ­il pro­ceed­ings should be ini­ti­at­ed.

It will al­so rec­om­mend a process to be utilised as the stan­dard go­ing for­ward so that tax­pay­ers would not be sub­ject­ed to any abuse of of­fice.

This article was posted in its entirety as received by stlucianewsonline.com. This media house does not correct any spelling or grammatical error within press releases and commentaries. The views expressed therein are not necessarily those of stlucianewsonline.com, its sponsors or advertisers.

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