The Central Water and Sewerage Authority (CWSA) has defended itself against a suggestion by the Housing and Land Development Corporation (HLDC) that the CWSA is partly to be blamed for the HLDC’s inability to deliver houses at Green Hill to its clients more than three months after they are contractually due.
Manager of the CWSA, Garth Saunders told I-Witness News on Friday that the development “is clear evidence of a lack of proper design planning and execution of these housing projects”.
In a closed-door meeting on Nov. 6, the HLDC told homeowners that the CWSA has said that it will not be able to connect water to the houses until January.
The houses, which form part of the government’s low-income housing project, are at various stages of construction, and some would-be homeowners are still paying rent while they service mortgages long after they should have moved into their own houses.
In the meeting, a recording of which was obtained by I-Witness News, hopeful homeowners outlined to HLDC chair Beresford Phillips and manager, Elvis Charles, their difficulties in meeting their financial obligations, as a result of the incomplete houses.
At the meeting, Charles, who ran for the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) in Central Kingstown in the 2010 general elections and lost, then became manager of the HLDC in September 2013 after two years as a senator, responded to accusations that the HLDC did not care about the welfare of its clients.
Phillips, chair of the HLDC, and the ruling Unity Labour Party’s prospective candidate for Central Kingstown, where Green Hill is located, told the meeting that he is “upset” with the CWSA, adding that while the HLDC has no control over the situation, it is accountable to the homeowners.
But Saunders showed, to I-Witness News, a document dating back to 2012, showing that the HLDC failed to respond to communications by the CWSA outlining the steps that the HLDC should have taken to ensure timely connection of water to the area.
In an April 16, 2012 letter, while Morris Slater (now deceased) was manager of the HLDC, the state-owned housing agency informed the CWSA, also a state company, of the Green Hill housing project.
The letter asked that the CWSA provide a cost estimate for supplying the new area with water, saying that the HLDC would prefer it to be broken into three phases; because the project was to be completed in four years.
“As far as the CWSA is concerned, the project was to be completed in 2016. That’s the first thing we have to understand,” Saunders told I-Witness News.
He said the CWSA did engineering studies, cost studies and design, and replied to HLDC on May 16, 2012.
In their response, the CWSA told HLDC that because of the scope of the work involved, the pipes would be installed in two phases.
It further said that the overall cost of the project was EC$72,000, with the first phase being EC$ 43,000, and that implementation of works would commence upon payment of the cost of the first phase.
“The next time CWSA heard from the Housing and Land Development Corporation was in November of 2013. Since then, there was not even an acknowledgement of receipt of our letter, there was not an indication of how they are going to pay, when they are going to pay, how much they are going to pay,” Saunders said.
In its November 2013 letter to the CWSA, the HLDC said it was constructing 15 houses at Green Hill and was applying for “a temporary connection to facilitate construction”.
“That’s the only communication we had from Housing in over a year,” Saunders said.
He told I-Witness News that the CWSA heard from the HLDC again in October of this year, requesting a meeting.
Saunders said he told the HLDC that a meeting was not necessary at that point, and that the HLDC should write to CWSA outlining its request.
“Because we have a way sometimes we say things verbally, and we throw things around, and words change. So I like to document everything,” Saunders said.
The HLDC wrote CWSA on Oct. 16 saying, HLDC has extended the development at Green Hill, where there are 26 houses at various stages of construction.
“We hereby request an extension of the supply water lines to facilitate this development, as we are scheduled to hand over these houses soon,” the HLDC said.
The HLDC further indicated to the CWSA that that as a result of their involvement in the rehabilitation after the Christmas 2013 disaster, their financial position did not allow them to meet the full cost of the proposed extension.
“So, this is the first time we are hearing from Housing about the quotation that we sent in 2012,” Saunders said, adding that the CWSA had no problem with the HLDC’s request for deferred payment.
“But you came in October to tell us that you want to move in soon when you have a meeting and you give the impression to whoever that the CWSA is suddenly holding up a project,” Saunders said.
He said that to execute the project at Green Hill, the CWSA will have to install four-inch ductile iron piped from a new intake.
“This was told to them over two years ago. Nobody made any arrangements to pay or to say we can’t pay or we will pay some or we need it by X or T. But you’re coming now at the last minute to ask us to execute a project,” he said.
Saunders told I-Witness News that the CWSA has two teams working on a project on the leeward (western) side of St. Vincent and at the Argyle International Airport, adding that the CWSA has been working along with the International Airport Development Company all the time.
He said that the CWSA has low stocks of 4-inch pipe and its new shipment should arrive in December.
“You can’t just come without giving us a plan, a work schedule, to tell us you’re ready for your pipes now, without any communication,” Saunders said, referring to the HLDC.
He said that the CWSA responded, on Oct. 30, to the HLDC communication of that month, and attached the response that the CWSA had sent in May 2012 pointing out that the HLDC had not responded to the earlier May 2012 communication.
In the May 2012 letter, the CWSA had explained to the HLDC that because of the high elevation in Green Hill, the source used to supply the lower area of the housing development, could not be used in the higher area, and that the new supply will include extending the transmission main from new source at Mamoon, near Mount St. Andrew.
Additionally, the CWSA told the HLDC that although it considers the request for deferred payment, the CWSA will not be able to install the required pipelines before January 2015.
“So, it is not [that] the pipelines will be in in January 2015. We will start the work in January 2015. It will definitely not be finished before the end of February, because we have to install the pipes, we have to test them,” Saunders explained, adding that he had gotten the impression from the I-Witness News report, that the HLDC was telling its clients that the pipes will be installed in January.
But while the HLDC was telling would-be homeowners that their houses will be delivered by the end of this month, Saunders told I-Witness News that the HLDC had not, as of last Friday, responded to the CWSA’s letter of Oct. 30.
“… not even an acknowledgement of this letter,” Saunders said.
“I just want you to understand how the HLDC functions,” he said.
Saunders agreed that the HLDC might be taking that approach because the CWSA is also a state company.
“But it should not be, because, to me, it is clear evidence of a lack of proper design planning and execution of these housing projects. We have to improve, because the co-ordination with the various utilities has to improve,” he said.
“We are willing to work along with the HLDC and any government agency, but what we need is co-ordination and communication. Nobody wants to do things the right way. They want to pick up the phone and call now for now. We don’t function that way. We function that way when there is a leak, when there is an emergency,” Saunders said of the CWSA, which is reputed for its efficiency.
Saunders said that whenever the CWSA is informed of a new development, be it private or public sector, it immediately sends the information to its engineering department to assess the technical feasibility.
“We are gravity fed, so we have to be cognizant of elevations when we do housing settlements. Before you do that, you should come to the CWSA and determine what is required. With any housing development in St. Vincent — government or private — you come to the CWSA and say we want to do a housing development here, what will it entail?” he told I-Witness News.
“When we go into areas like that (Green Hill), marginal areas, we put people in homes and they only get water during the week and on weekends they get no water, because everybody is using, and what happens? They flood our lines and go on Facebook and complain ‘We can’t get water.’
“Well, we are not going to be operating that way. We have a pledge, a commitment to quality and service,” Saunders said.
“If you are going to plan and develop a housing area, first of all, let us agree that you can be supplied with water and light and you have proper roads. And that is the problem that we have. Because any housing development that is being planned should go to Planning [Division] and Planning should send it to us, which they do. VINLEC, can you supply?
“Similarly, Housing. I don’t know if they went to Planning. They probably don’t, but they should. And then we will say what is required,” Saunders said, adding that GECCU and NIS are doing a housing development and wrote to the CWSA about it “very early”.
“Housing has to do that. But it goes beyond that. The cost of this infrastructure development has to be put into the cost of the homes. You cannot say it is a low-income home and artificially keep the cost low to be more attractive. We are going forth into a new century and we have to do things the right way. We have to be more resilient in our housing, and development infrastructure has to cater, has to take into account we have more frequent storms, floods and so on, so we have to have retaining walls, drains, proper roads; the drainage, the retaining walls have to be done prior to any construction; not after,” said Saunders, an engineer.
“If in all the housing areas, Clare Valley, Peter’s Hope, Green Hill, wherever, if we go in an build retaining walls and drains first, we will be much better off,” Saunders said, adding that as a homeowner he would prefer to move into a house that has a proper retaining wall ad roadside drains, but no tiles and ceiling.
“That, to me, is how the Housing and Land [Development Corporation] should sell the projects. … In projects like these, if you are not an engineer, you must have a strong engineering team who will advice you properly.
“In other words, engineers are not supposed to take politics into account or political expediency. That decision must be taken by other persons, but the engineers and the technicians must give solid technical, unbiased information.
“The person they are sending it to might not want to hear it, but discharge your responsibility and say what is required. You have a professional obligation to say ‘These houses require a 200-foot retaining wall that is 15 feet high before we even start construction.’ Because [otherwise], you create anxiety in the prospective homeowners.
“… Retaining walls and drains, that’s foundation work. You can’t rush them into a house and there is no retaining wall. It will get washed away. It’s not the way that we should do engineering infrastructure. Foundations must be paramount. And once you build the foundations, you have to protect them. So, rushing people into their houses, we have to stop that, and understand that we have to do it properly. We have to plan for VINLEC. Plan for CWSA,” Saunders said
“Let people know the real cost of this thing. Add another 20,000 and tell them that is for your retaining wall, that is for your drainage. Otherwise, you will feel vulnerable. When it rains, you will wonder. … And the worst thing is to invest 100,000 dollars, 120,000 dollars in a house and know it can just wash away,” Saunders said.
He said that he spoke to the board of directors of the CWSA and told them that the CWSA will have to assist the HLDC because it was hit hard by the Christmas disaster.
“That’s no problem at all. But don’t come at the last minute to accuse CWSA of mismanagement really. … You are accusing us of that when you have not communicated to us a schedule or how you are going to pay…” Saunders said.
i must commend Mr. Saunders for his professional input here, sadly this is a problem that plagues many operations here in SVG and we must overcome this in-order for us to develop and grow. we need to be much more proactive as a people.
So money is the problem with HDLC thats what I thought. So what does the mortgage cover, just the salaries of HDLC executives? There is definitely a planning and execution problem with HDLC. They get people to obtain a mortgage from the bank. Then the money is forwarded to HDLC who is responsible to build the home. However the money runs out or disappears and construction stops. There is more in the mortar than the pestle and HDLC should be investigated to see what happened to the mortgage money.
By the way how come doctors and lawyers own these low income homes? People in these two professions are not low income earners. This entire thing is a farce and doesnt help the ordinary Vincentian who cannot get a mortgage from the bank any bank.
This RUSH to have things done must stop. People are now more educated, they should know better or suffer the consequences. Mr. Saunders you are right 100%…
Beresford Phillips and Elvis Charles are two incompetent JOKERS. It may be a blessing that Charles was replaced in the constituency which he ran.The PM should consider this housing fiasco as clear indication that Phillips is not fit to hold political office. If all these blunders are made at HLDC under Phillips’ chairmanship, what do you think will happen in his Ministry if he ends up with one? If it swims like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, then it can be nothing else.
Amen and thank you Mr. Saunders. Your trend will cause the organization you run to be well respected by the country. When you keep party politics out of it, you will have a healthy and productively run establishment, your employees and clients alike will be happy and you will prosper profitably. I am not an economist, I am an administrator, specializing in HR, and I am well rounded in common sense. How can you put 2 men that is so politically charged to run an establishment such as the HLDC, an establishment that has to serve the masses of the country in an unbiased way, their minds and hearts are so clouded with party politics…that will soon kill the institution. The planning department is not functioning and so is the environmental and communication and works ministry, the health ministry is also in that category. Everything STATE in SVG is so politically charged that they have all become dormant.
Mr. Saunders, thank you, thank you, thank you! for setting a standard, please, the country will depend on you for keeping it that way – [free of any politics].
Kudos to Mr. Saunders who is a qualified and trained engineer for setting the records straight. Mr. Phillips and his absentee manager, Mr. Charles, should be “upset” with themselves not the CWSA. I guess the absentee manager does not spend enough time in this office doing what he was hired to do so he doesnt have a clue as to what is really happening with these housing projects.
I am urging the Honourable Prime Minister to mandate an investigation into the affairs of the HLDC. Sir, remember elections is soon due and an investigation may very well prove to be useful.
Hahaha. Murdoooouuuu. I can’t stop laughing, What I really want to know is, who is Ridge, Eric, Brook and Taylor, because this sound just like an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful (yes I use to watch bold we only had one tv when I was growing up and my sisters killed me with soap opera). Sometimes life is so funny that it has to get funnier. These HLDC guys are real jokers, they come up with the silliest excuses. They already blame the tile layers for the houses falling down, Now they want to blame CWSA for schedule could you believe this?
“The houses, which form part of the governments low-income housing project, are at various stages of construction”
And these houses are considered “low income”? Hahahha, I can’t stop laughing, which world can a person afford to pay a thousand dollars a month mortgage for low income in vincy? So that means the HLDC is making a lot of money, those middle income houses must cost 250-350 thousand and don’t even talk about the no income houses they must be over half of a million. This is real sickening stuff. Kenton please make correction because I refuse to believe these houses are low income. Like I said someone has to go to jail for this mess.
OWN THE JAIL.
I commend you Mr Saunders for you expertise and advice. It is clear from you that we have the professionals right here in SVG who can make such a difference. However advice from those who are fearless such as the CWSA Manager will not be adhere to. It also brave of you Mr Saunders. Let s see what will happen to him now.
More evidence of why government should get out of the house-building business as well as other areas in which they have no real expertise only party political goals.
Two points should be made here.
First off, thanks to my friend and colleague Garth, for his clear statement on this matter. It is essential for the present and future of our country that professionals (especially those who, like Garth, are inside the establishment) should be prepared to speak clearly, truthfully and professionally about matters such as this.
Hacks who have no business being in charge of anything important (the well-known square pegs in round holes) will make a mess of those things, handed to them by politicians as rewards for their loyalty to person or party. And when they inevitably make a mess of those things, they will inevitably try to find someone else to blame. But knowledgeable and capable professionals must be prepared to set the record straight, which Garth has done in this case.
The second point is this: Garth has pointed out that the specific situation provides clear evidence of a lack of proper design, planning and execution of these housing projects. The same statement equally applies to the other HLDC housing fiasco at Clare Valley.
The problem is, we now have good evidence to suggest that this shoddy, incompetent approach is systemic to the people who are in charge of designing, planning and implementing important projects in this country at all levels and across the board. Based on the evidence that is now mounting practically on a monthly basis, one could reasonably conclude that this is just how things are done in SVG: from Clare Valley, to Green Hill, to Argyle. Big talk and lofty promises, but poor planning, inadequate organisation, non-existent project management and shoddy implementation followed by excuses, evasions and outright lies when things inevitably go downhill.
Our country deserves better, and thanks again to Garth for helping us see the light.
Thanks Garth for comments from a manager who is also a pragmatist and a scientist.We have a systemic management problem in this country. Persons are thrust into positions without any type of training and what is even more disturbing is that these persons feel obliged to speak authority not evidentially but politically that is without much substance. Why is government involved in building houses in the first place? can we expect to divert the attention of the few engineering experts that we have to give attention to construction? GArth also raised the pertinent question, why is the hldC not subjected to the scrutiny of the housing and land developement/ who gives oversight to these projects are they subject to any building codes? thanks again GArth you should not only repsond to negative comments about your organisation but you can also lend your technical expertise to other issues affecting the country, you will not speak like a politician, empty words ,but with scientific clarity that avoids the chase around the mulberry bush
I am happy to see Garth Saunders big up at last, I just hope that his forwardness in this subject doesn’t bring the Marxist wrath upon him. I hope he will be able to keep his job.
BIG YOUTH your duck analogy is spot on. How about if it sounds like a Ponzi scheme, looks like a Ponzi scheme and is administered like a Ponzi scheme, is it a Ponzi scheme?
I salute you Mr. Saunders! Stand your ground – you are a true professional!
St.Vincent can be a far better place if persons who claim they are professionals share same values in work place as Mr Saunders.Keep up good work Sir, 5 Stars all the way
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