An opposition lawmaker says someone is “short of criminal liability” at the government’s housing project in Clare Valley, where a three-bedroom concrete house collapsed on Sept. 19.
Since the collapse of the house, residents have spoken about shaky structure, poor finish, poor drainage, and a range of other problems at the project. (Scroll for video)
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has said the house collapsed because of poor engineering, poor drainage, and the type of soil.
Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, speaking on radio on Monday, noted that the Housing and Land Development Corporation (HLDC), the state agency responsible for building the houses, has apologised.
But Leacock, also noted that agrarian Clive “Bishi-I” bishop has pointed to a 1958 study and another commissioned by the Government in 2006, which suggest that special engineering is necessary when constructing on soils of the type where the housing project is located in Clare Valley.
“… the people, on their own empirical, hard experience, determined that those lands are not to farm on, … those are not lands to build on and those are land to remain as they are – fallow, because they are vulnerable, they are susceptible to a number of conditions,” Leacock said, citing Bishop’s comments.
He said the Unity Labour Party government had the benefit of the 2006 study, “to say look, do not, absolutely don’t construct any housing on those [lands],” Leacock said.
“So, therefore, we have to ask the question, if you have that information, somebody is short of criminal liability. I say short of criminal liability because it is only the good luck and good fate that no one was in that house which collapsed recently…” he said.
No one was at home during the collapse of the house, which belonged to physician Katisha Douglas and was also occupied by her daughter.
Leacock said that if anyone were at home, it is highly likely that someone would have died during the house collapsed.
“So, that begs follow-up questions: Did the government have the report? Yes or no? Who in the government had the report? The Prime Minister? The Minister of Housing? The Housing Corporation? The Chairman? The Manager of Housing? The contractors? The builders? Did they know?” Leacock said.
“This is not one of those cases where you can recuse yourself by denial that you did not know.”
Sen. Julian Francis, who was Minister of Housing when the house that collapsed was built, said on Saturday that former manager of the HLDC, Morris Slater, who died in January 2013, did not follow the government’s practice of installing infrastructure before building the houses or doing both at the same time.
“… The late Morris Slater is a born and bread South Leeward resident. As I know and understand it, he knows perhaps about those lands perhaps more than very many people.
“Now, did he, Morris … not know that these lands are not to build houses on?” Leacock said, even as he pointed out that he has great respect for Slater.
“I don’t believe he didn’t know that. I am satisfied that he did. And who, in any event, own these lands. That’s something that we will like to know, because, perhaps, just as the government did in the Gibson Corner situation, … they perhaps need to impose on themselves their own Clare Valley investigation and commission of inquiry, starting with ‘Who own the lands?’,” Leacock said.
Francis said on Friday that the government had purchased the lands before they were sold to homeowners.
“Did they have historical reports and recent reports that they lands were not suitable for building houses? Who bought the lands? Where the lands bought by Housing and Land Development Corporation? Who gave authorisation to build on the lands? Who all knew that the lands were not suitable for construction? The Government? The Prime Minister? The Minister of Housing? The chairman of the Housing and Land Development Corporation? The contractor and the several contractors in the area all knew that? Did the potential house owners know? Were they told? Were they given statements to exonerate the contractors from any negligence of any kind when the houses were being built?” Leacock further questioned.
“Who did the conveyances for these lands? What did they know or not know? You see there are simply too many people and too many hurdles that one has to climb over to really let people off the hook. So it is not sufficient to go there Saturday and say, ‘Mea culpa; I accept blame; I am sorry; I am wrong.’ This is much more than that. This is a clear case that marks the way the government performs. Political expediency and they do not care who suffer in the process…” Leacock said.
Chair of the HLDC, Beresford Phillips, and Manager of the Corporation, Elvis Charles on Saturday responded to homeowners demand for an apology, saying they were sorry for the distress resulting from the collapse of the house and poor customer service at the HLDC’s office in Kingstown.
Leacock accused the government of using the housing projects as “housing colonies” to try to gain a leg up in the 2010 elections.