Contractors want answers

On 14 March, Government’s Affordable Housing Initiative made the front page of the newspaper, where significant sections of the Auditor- Generals report were highlighted.

The report was very critical in the way this initiative was handled by the present Government and, in particular, the Minister responsible for Housing, Mr. Frank McField.

In February 2003, the Cayman Contractors Association wrote a letter to the Minister expressing disappointment that local contractors were not invited to offer alternate proposals for the Affordable Housing Initiative that Government had negotiated with the Italian foreign firm Vetromecchaniche.

In that letter, the CCA acknowledged the need for affordable housing (and still does so) and offered to assist the Ministry with the remaining infrastructure, project management and sub-structure works. The CCA never received the courtesy of a reply to this letter.

The CCA is pleased to see that this administration is finally being held accountable for its inappropriate and sometimes headstrong decisions.

Although the Auditor-General’s findings hold no surprise, we are saddened by the total contempt and disregard of the local economy displayed by the Minister and would like to shed further light on this issue that has not previously been made public.

It is now known that the Minister did not put the project that was awarded to Vetromecchaniche out to tender. What is not generally known is that this was not an oversight.

Amidst rumours that it was already a done deal between Minister McField and Vetromecchaniche, the CCA was told repeatedly that Caymanians could not compete for this project, as they couldn’t possibly provide as low a price as the foreigners.

Dr. McField’s Ministry claimed the project was not put out to tender because he had received little interest in that type of development.

The truth, however, is that Caymanians were repeatedly denied their right to tender on this Government project. We call on our next Government to put in place legislation that requires all Government Projects (including Authorities and Government Companies) over $1million to be bid in competition and not negotiated.

Unfair comparisons

In discussions with Minister McField, members of the CCA were advised of the contract sum proposed by Vetromeccaniche.

This sum raised eyebrows with CCA members as they knew that the project, as it had been described to them, could not be built for the price quoted. It was only later that it was learned that the Minister had given concessions to the foreign company that had never been offered to Caymanians.

These concessions included waivers for Customs fees, Planning fees, Lands & Survey fees and Port Authority fees. Even more incredibly, they were offered Crown land.

Had these concessions been offered to Caymanian companies, local contractors could have provided a superior product at a much reduced cost.

Quality

The Auditor-General’s report went on to criticize the quality of the homes.

To suggest that the buildings were below standard would be an understatement. Exterior walls less than 2 ½-inches thick fell far below Caymanian standards.

As for the cost of the project, which the public had been told was the reason for excluding Caymanians, the project finished up $1.22 million over budget – an amount that, had it been invested in Cayman, would have fed many families and provided job security for many of the people that these houses were designed to accommodate.

Instead, our hard-earned money is now gone offshore with no apparent benefit to Caymanians and these units, incredibly, cost more than the price they have been sold for.

By comparison, the CI$1.22 million overrun could have purchased 18 concrete homes locally, which also would have included air-conditioning.

The project lacked detailed analysis from its inception and the results are now evident.

Affordable housing is desirable and could have been a successful venture if properly undertaken, but the Minister’s handling of this project has failed to accomplish the task of bringing affordable, quality housing to the people of the Cayman Islands and we will all have to pay for this failure.

Now, following Hurricane Ivan, Dr. Frank is moving ahead again with another project. He has given a mere three week period for local contractors to provide the planning and implementation of a complete Design/Build project and to provide his Ministry with a bid for such a project.

This task to be accomplished properly would normally require approximately three months.

Many, including CCA members, are now asking if the entire fiasco of the original affordable housing indicative contract given to Vetromeccaniche is going to repeat itself as a result of similar mistakes and inadequate planning.

Answers and clarification to the following questions are necessary:-

Has the NHCDT already received from Staunch Construction an advance proposal for the future works contemplated by Dr McField?

If so has a contract been awarded to Staunch Construction?

What is the history and track record for performance of Staunch Construction?

Is Staunch Construction a Cayman Islands Company?

Who are the directors and shareholders of Staunch Construction?

What if any expertise and experience in the field of low income housing construction do the directors and shareholders of Staunch Construction have?

The Cayman People have a right to know the answers to these simple questions and to be given these answers now.

Cayman Contractors Association