Dr. Frank wants his say on housing deal

After six years have passed, and a criminal investigation has ended, former Cayman Islands Housing Minister Dr. Frank McField may finally get his say over the collapse of an affordable housing scheme created during the previous United Democratic Party administration.

“I have waited almost seven years for the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislative Assembly to review the reports of the last auditor general on the affordable housing scheme,” Mr. McField wrote in a letter to the Caymanian Compass this week.

Dr. Frank may get his wish in the next few weeks.

Public Accounts Committee Chairman Moses Kirkconnell said Wednesday he recently asked for a list of outstanding audit reports and intends to bring all of those before the committee in the next two weeks, if a meeting time can be scheduled.

“[The Affordable Housing Initiative] is the oldest outstanding report,” Mr. Kirkconnell said. “That report will come up at the next meeting {of the PAC].”

A 2005 audit that eventually led to a criminal investigation of Cayman’s Affordable Housing Initiative has never been brought before the Public Accounts Committee even though the criminal probe ended nearly three years ago.

The initial special report on the government’s Affordable Housing Initiative was submitted to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on 3 March, 2005, under the previous rules governing the release of the auditor general’s special reports. Therefore, the report never became a public document – even though it was leaked to the Caymanian Compass the same year and the newspaper wrote two articles about it.

Former Public Accounts Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller has said that he though at least one of the three separate audits done on the Affordable Housing Initiative had been heard by the Public Accounts Committee at some point.

Audit General’s office manager Martin Ruben said earlier this year that two subsequent audits of the affordable housing scheme had been heard by the committee, but the initial special report of former Auditor General Dan Duguay has never been reviewed.

Although the initial audit that led to the criminal investigation was reported on in the Compass, Mr. Ruben said that the full text of the document was never released and has still not been heard in committee where policy makers could make recommendations to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future.

Earlier project

Dr. Frank said he intends to call witnesses – if given the opportunity by the Public Accounts Committee – to support his claims that the National Housing and Community Trust, which offered a majority of the affordable homes building under his administration, required a deposit of $1,500.

“How then could the present Minister of Housing destroy those poor people homes without compensation?” Mr. McField asked. “If the present UDP Minister of Housing wanted to improve the homes because he felt that the former UDP minister made a mistake in the choice of materials and construction, then his government must provide replacements to those owners.

“If those owners were not keeping their mortgages current, then the [National Housing Development] Trust should have taken them to court, if they were evicting them. If the homeowners have not been evicted from their properties, then what has been destroyed must be restored or an improvement thereon.”

Government’s affordable homes built in Windsor Park eight years ago were demolished earlier this year to make way for newer, better-constructed homes. After the process is complete, 26 newer homes will be built on the George Town site.

Housing Development Trust Janet James said earlier in the year that the new homes would be “1,000 per cent better quality” than the previous administration’s homes.

The original affordable homes were built by the United Democratic Government’s administration under the direction of then-Minister, Mr. McField. In addition the Windsor Village site, similar prefabricated homes were built on sites off Eastern Avenue in George Town and in West Bay off Captains Joe and Osbert Road.

Many of the old prefabricated homes were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and others began having serious maintenance issues such as rust and leaking.

The affordable housing initiative project came under scrutiny of the Auditor General’s office on several fronts, including the quality of the construction materials and work done on those homes.

The January 2005 report titled ‘Special Report on the Affordable Housing Initiative’ was completed by former Auditor General Duguay’s office. The report noted one concern in the former contract for the affordable homes that was “signed without any significant input from the Planning Department’s building control unit”.

Various non-compliance issues with Cayman’s building code included inadequate fire detection devices to improper foundations, according to the auditor general.

Attempts to correct those issues led to delays in the project completion and therefore possibilities of increased costs.

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