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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.

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