The State is saddled with $345 million in claims for properties that were acquired to make way for the construction of the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension to Point Fortin.
And over 100 properties were acquired that are no longer in the way of the proposed road development.
This was revealed by Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan on Wednesday during an event in Guapo, where Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley turned the sod for packages, 5D, 6C and 3A of the highway extension project.
With $1.9 billion spent by the Nidco for the 12 packages to complete the highway from Dumfries Road, La Romaine to the Dunlop Roundabout in Point Fortin, Sinanan said that the land acquisition that was budgeted at $400 million in 2010 when the project was conceptualised by a former PNM administration skyrocketed to $800 million by the time the UNC government awarded the contract to the embattled Brazilian firm, Construtora OAS in 2012.
With the claims mounting, the figure is projected to cross $1 billion. Already, $500 million has been spent on land acquisition with $345 million in claims to the State.
Sinanan said that 50 per cent of the property which need to be acquired are still outstanding.
He said that a note will be presented to the Cabinet today to decide on how the government will deal with land acquisition going forward. Sinanan said the majority of land previously acquired for the construction of the highway were done outside of the protection of the Land Acquisition Act but through private treaty. This means that negotiations for compensation were done outside of the Commissioner of Valuations Department.
“Unfortunately, this situation has placed Nidco and the State in a perilous situation, having now to expend significant financial resources in legal fees to defend those claims where claimants are arguing that they now have a legitimate expectation to be paid what was agreed to under these private treaty arrangements.
“To compound the situation, the previous government took the unprecedented decision to serve land acquisition notice to all occupants and owners of properties that were located along the entire Right of Way of the highway, inclusive of Section 4 legal orders which authorised the State to take possession of the lands within a stipulated six months period,” Sinanan said.
While construction was ongoing, the Right of Way was changed to reduce the cost of the highway project, with an estimated 11 km of the roadway being omitted from the plan. This meant that 200 people whose lands were in the original design for the construction, were removed from the list of acquisitions.
But during the process, property owners were required to retain private valuators and legal representatives to submit claims on their behalf. Sinanan said that over 100 properties that we acquired and paid for by Nidco were no longer required. “To date, those persons’ lives remain in limbo because even though there was a realignment of the highway in many parts, the necessary notices were not served under the Land Acquisition Act to discontinue the land acquisition process and remove this prolonged veil of uncertainty over the lives of these citizens.”
Rowley recalled a property that was valued at $20 million but by the time additional cost were made for disturbance and other factors, the price rose to $84 million. He said if the government did not change, money would have been paid.
- by Kevon Felmine