IT HAS become rare for public construction projects to be delivered on time and within budget, but Udecott chairman Noel Garcia recently provided information suggesting this trend could soon be a thing of the past.
Whitehall, the former home of the Office of the Prime Minister, which has long been under renovation, was reopened by Udecott yesterday, while Garcia said the Red House renovation project is on target for next month.
Successful completion of both projects bodes well for the preservation of heritage sites in the country.
Whitehall, which was originally owned by a wealthy cocoa family and named after the coral stone from which it was built, is a building of immense cultural and historical importance.
It was commandeered to be used as security headquarters at the beginning of World War II and was later used as a cultural centre by the British Council. It housed the Trinidad Central Library, Regional Library, National Archives, the Trinidad Art Society and the Government Broadcasting Unit.
Sadly, over the decades, it grew to become emblematic of our neglect and disdain for the past.
Many would be tempted to say there was some degree of symbolism in the fact that former prime minister Patrick Manning had to pack up and leave the premises because of a leaky roof.
Similarly, citizens in the capital have for years looked with disenchantment at the crumbling edifice of the Red House. Its jinxed fate has at times seemed to mirror that of President’s House, condemned premises whose roof collapsed in 2010 during heavy rain.
According to Garcia, however, records show Udecott reduced the Red House restoration cost from about $1 billion to $441 million, and the cost of work on President’s House from almost $300 million to $97 million. This reversed the trend of public-project expenditure ballooning under previous incarnations of Udecott.
We hope the measures put in place to bring about these results will also be applied to other areas of government spending. Getting the balance right between delivery, value for money and quality is also something that should be paramount.
Until this balance is consistently achieved, agencies like Udecott, we observe, will always remain lightning rods for political platform rhetoric, and that much is clear from the semantic spat between Garcia and Oropouche East MP Roodal Moonilal over the “cost” of the Residence of the Prime Minister project in Tobago.
All of these developments point to the need for the newly established Office of Procurement Regulation. This independent agency has a key role to play in fostering a culture of ethical conduct in the public construction sector. It should be supported with the same degree of gusto as these two major renovation projects have been.