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‘State bodies owe contractors $4b’
Government owes local contractors in excess of $4 billion and the major culprit, according to the T&T Contractors Association (TTCA), is the Estate Management and Business Development Company Limited (EMBD).
Other state agencies that owe hefty sums of monies to the members of the TTCA include: the Education Facilities Company Limited (EFCL), Housing Development Corporation (HDC), Ministry of Works and Transport, National Insurance Property Development Company (NIPDEC) and the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA). This was disclosed yesterday by TTCA’s president, Mikey Joseph at a news conference that was held at the Professional Centre Building, Fitzblackman Drive South, Port-of-Spain.
Joseph said that following the announcement the association made last August that they were owed $2.4 billion by the government and state-owned enterprises, two payments were made. The last one was in October, which totalled about $530 million, which reduced the debt to $1.9 billion.
He explained that the $2.4 billion figure did not include monies owed by WASA, EMBD and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA). He added that several other contractors approached them complaining that they were yet to be paid for various projects.
He said that another cause for major concern was that in most contracts now, state bodies are removing payment clauses which he said creates an even greater risk for contractors.
Joseph said he believes that the excuse of contractors having to have completion certificates to get paid “is an excuse for a con game so they play politics instead of trying to treat with the situation in an attempt to bring relief so that the country can move forward.”
“If you are a responsible government and you come in and meet a bad situation, I don’t think it should take you 18 months to find out where you are at because as the Minister of Finance you have to get the country’s finances in some kind of good order,” Joseph said.
“If you listen to the Minister of Education, Anthony Garcia, he admitted that EFCL owed $800 million. If you listen to the Minister of Works, his debt is in excess of $600 million, so clearly there must be some figures known,” he added.
On the issue of foreign contractors operating in T&T, Joseph said that they too owe local contractors and service providers millions of dollars and added that the local contractors have no redress in recovering the funds. He said more is needed to be done, maybe with legislation, to protect the contractors.
Joseph said that while contractors acknowledge that T&T is in a difficult place financially, they still do not believe that the industry is supposed to suffer. He added that the industry can be used to diversify the economy and to earn valuable foreign exchange.
Having been unable to meet with government officials and the head of state bodies over the last 17 months, Joseph said it was disheartening.
He advised local contractors to, in the future, take government jobs at their own risk.