WENDELL Bobcombe, 55, sat among the rubble. A week prior, fire broke out at his home in Moruga. His wife Vindie and step-daughter Ayanna were trapped inside. They jumped out of a window in a bid to survive. Today, Mr Bobcombe will bury both of them.
His wife died last Tuesday, his step-daughter two days later. Both had suffered from burns, smoke inhalation and the impact of the jump. When Newsday visited him on Sunday, the grieving widower was living in a plastic tent put up among the ruins of the house.
“It’s at night when I feel it the most,” Mr Bobcombe said. “At nights, I am alone with no one to talk to.” Mr Bobcombe has been lucky to receive assistance from friends and relatives who have helped him with food, clothes and moral support. Some may not be as lucky.
This tragic case is a classic example of the kind of situation that merits the State having an emergency housing program for those in need. Such cases underline the shortfalls in the State’s housing program more generally.
Last week, the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) invited contractors to help it meet a target of providing 8,000 housing units over five years. But in the context of a situation where public finances are tight and regulation lax, the HDC’s invitation raises questions which may well have to be addressed by Finance Minister Colm Imbert in the budget.
While 8,000 new homes would be a start, there are over 180,000 people on the waiting list. Some have been waiting for years, others for decades.
The long-term factors that have shaped this situation do not appear to have abated since the days when the HDC and is precursor entity, the National Housing Authority, was set up to provide subsidised housing. There needs to be deeper reflection on the intersection of social and economic factors.
The Government should also confront the matter of procurement regulation. While the HDC envisions contractors operating in a public-private partnership, it remains unsatisfactory that it is pushing to engage builders directly amid the chorus of calls for the new procurement legislation to be fully proclaimed.
There is also a question of monies being still owed to contractors for work done in the previous administration's tenure. It is because finances are tight, as well as because the State intends to raise more money through enforcement of taxation promises, that Government must ensure funds will be protected by an appropriate regulatory regime.
In this regard, the United States State Department’s 2020 Investment Climate Statement on TT shows how failure to enforce the procurement laws has impacted our reputation. The report knocked stifling bureaucracy, opaque procedures, and perceived corruption.
While we have laws to counter conflicts of interest and bid-rigging, they remain under-enforced. Until that changes, housing will remain difficult for people like Mr Bobcombe and many more.