LOCAL Government Minister Kazim Hosein joined leaders of municipal corporations to condemn corrupt building inspectors who insist on personally drafting people’s building applications, for a hefty fee.
He told Newsday the inspectors would pass or fail a building application based on whether they had personally been paid to draft it, as he reiterated the disgust he had expressed minutes earlier.
He was speaking at yesterday’s sitting of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Local Government Reform) Bill 2019. The committee met mayors and CEOs of the corporations of Arima, Chaguanas, Point Fortin, Port of Spain and San Fernando.
JSC member Deoroop Teemal had raised the issue. He said many allegations of corruption were made, amid lengthy waits for building approvals and completion certificates.
“The impact on citizens, builders and developers is tremendous, because your bridging interest is running at that time at maximum, and to get completion it is adding months and months of interest that has to be paid.”
Inspectors offer services to citizens desperate to get their approvals as fast as possible, Teemal said.
“We have building inspectors themselves undertaking to do plans for fees outside of their working arrangement.”
JSC member Paul Richards chimed in, “Senator Teemal is being kind. It is corruption seeping into the system.”
While Richards said the bill would correct such corruption, Teemal said the bill gave the inspectors more work, in a system so overwhelmed it shut down whenever an inspector went on vacation.
Hosein asked corporation heads and CEOs if they knew if such corruption had been taking place in their corporations.
He said the inspectors “are drawing the plan, passing the plan, sometimes they fail the plan.
“It’s not right to the citizens of this country. I experienced it in San Fernando – that people have to pay the building inspectors to get their plan drawn, and they will fail it for a simple reason.”
Teemal said rather than endure all the hardship of an application, people instead go to the inspectors directly.
Hosein lamented, “The system is designed like that. So you must come there to draw the plans, you must deal with them, or they fail the plan and give you trouble. It is happening in the 14 corporations. Nobody can deny that.”
Arima mayor Lisa Morris-Julian said her corporation had such problems in the past, but they dropped significantly when a certain person retired.
She said now, rather than one inspector signing off on a building plan, every application was seen by a committee of politicians and technocrats.
“It has made a tremendous difference. We tailored that based on local-government reform.”
San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello said his corporation had a similar approach, although somewhat stymied by staff shortages. He said it had received written complaints about specific inspectors.
“We investigate them, but it is very ambiguous, and there are loopholes for them to escape.”
Pressed, Regrello said that case was dealt with under the former mayor and has not recurred.
Chaguanas mayor Gopaul Boodhan said, “I get that complaint every single day. Even on weekends when I go to functions, it’s always an issue. ‘We have a plan there a year and a half, two years, and we don’t know what’s happening.’
“My comment on this is, when you want to control a system, make it disorganised.”
He said councillors could now accompany inspectors to different sites to help remedy those problems.
“But it hasn’t stopped the problem. A lot of persons keep complaining all the time. But for one reason or the other they would not have a letter written with a name of a person, but would tell you verbally.”
Chaguanas Borough Corporation engineering and survey officer Boniface Ogoma hoped the new bill could standardise certain procedures and set timelines for corporations to approve plans.
JSC member Rudy Indarsingh said nothing he heard at the sitting had given him any comfort.
He then complained of municipal vehicles being out of order for months or years due to a missing spare part, which should be fixed within a day.
JSC member Khadijah Ameen did not think the bill’s provisions would fix pervasive corruption in various corporations.
She also urged a measure to resolve the electoral tie in corporations such as had occurred at Sangre Grande in the last local government.
JSC member Anthony Garcia, who is Education Minister, asked how ready corporations were for their new role in the bill to repair schools.
On food safety, Boodhan admitted Chaguanas has no pubic health inspectors but instead relies on the Ministry of Health’s public health officers.
JSC member Dr Suruj Rambachan said, “We were appalled at the unhygienic conditions under which food was sold in Chaguanas.”
JSC member Clarence Rambharath said food vendors must have food badges, although Port of Spain public health inspector Mitra Sooklal said many don’t apply for one.