Report: Relocate 400 from HDC's $187 million Debe development

Some 400 fam­i­lies need to be re­lo­cat­ed from the Hous­ing De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (HDC) project in Welling­ton, Debe. That di­rec­tive is con­tained in a 119-page re­port sub­mit­ted to the Gov­ern­ment since 2015. Three years lat­er, no move has been made to re­lo­cate res­i­dents who have been forced to live in un­safe struc­tures, some of them with gap­ing cracks in their walls.

Ac­cord­ing to the find­ings in that re­port, de­fi­cien­cies in the con­struc­tion was high­light­ed through­out the project. In its con­clu­sion, the re­port not­ed in cap­i­tal let­ters that the cold-form steel su­per­struc­ture is "UN-STA­BLE".

The hous­ing project which start­ed at $71 mil­lion bal­looned to $187. An­oth­er in­ter­nal HDC re­port stat­ed that the project, which be­gan un­der then hous­ing min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley in 2003 ac­crued $116 mil­lion in vari­a­tions. How­ev­er, just three years af­ter fam­i­lies were moved in, sub­stan­tial cracks and flaws start­ed show­ing in the hous­es.

The re­port, which clear­ly in­di­cates that there are se­ri­ous de­fi­cien­cies in the con­struc­tion prac­tices as adopt­ed, stat­ed, "The struc­tur­al analy­sis showed that the cold-formed steel fram­ing is in­ad­e­quate dur­ing lat­er­al load­ing, as ex­pe­ri­enced un­der seis­mic and wind load­ing," the re­port stat­ed.

The re­port al­so not­ed that the load of the roof struc­ture ex­ceed­ed that al­lowed by the code.

"The re­sult of this can be man­i­fest­ed in large de­flec­tion of the roof mem­bers, a loss of weath­er-tight­ness and ex­ces­sive move­ment or crack­ing of non-struc­tur­al el­e­ments."

Un­der the head­ing "Gen­er­al Build­ing Per­for­mance" the re­port gauged both the health and safe­ty is­sues of the oc­cu­pants, and the qual­i­ty of the ex­pe­ri­ence the oc­cu­pants have dur­ing the day-to-day oc­cu­pa­tion of the build­ing.

"In terms of ex­pe­ri­ence in day-to-day oc­cu­pan­cy of the build­ings, the build­ings gen­er­al­ly have not per­formed well as the gyp­sum joints keep open­ing, the roofs are gen­er­al­ly leak­ing and the bal­cony eaves are gen­er­al­ly falling," the re­port not­ed.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, T&T does not have a leg­is­lat­ed build­ing code, but build­ings are de­signed to in­ter­na­tion­al build­ing codes as di­rect­ed by the De­sign Branch of the Min­istry of Works and Trans­port (MOWT).

The re­port said that the Welling­ton Gar­dens su­per­struc­ture does not meet build­ing code re­quire­ments or nor­mal per­for­mance re­quire­ments.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors not­ed that in­ter­nal par­ti­tion walls for the kitchen, bed­room and mas­ter bed­room are non-struc­tur­al gyp­sum wall frames that do not con­nect di­rect­ly to the perime­ter struc­tur­al frames which var­ied from the MOWT ap­proved draw­ings in which the in­ter­nal par­ti­tion walls of kitchen, bed­room, and mas­ter bed­room are al­so struc­tur­al frames that are con­nect­ed di­rect­ly to the perime­ter struc­tur­al walls us­ing nut and bolt con­nec­tions, there­by cre­at­ing a struc­tur­al tie.

The con­struc­tion com­pa­ny al­so did not con­nect the ground lev­el con­crete slabs to the sus­pend­ed beams.

"The draw­ings are silent on the need for ties be­tween the con­tec floor and the sus­pend­ed floor beams. Typ­i­cal­ly, shear con­nec­tors are in­clud­ed to pro­vide the re­quired ty­ing of mem­bers. The lack of ties or shear con­nec­tion de­signs in the draw­ings were car­ried through to the con­struc­tion of the build­ings," the re­port stat­ed.

The in­ad­e­qua­cy of the shear ca­pac­i­ty can lead to crack­ing and beam fail­ure.

"It is not­ed that beam cracks are al­ready ev­i­dent in mul­ti­ple build­ings through­out the de­vel­op­ment," the re­port not­ed.

The HDC was en­gaged in ar­bi­tra­tion with the con­trac­tors, Agos­ti­ni's Ltd over its re­fusal to pay some of the vari­a­tion costs. The HDC even­tu­al­ly set­tled with the com­pa­ny in De­cem­ber 2015 and end­ed up pay­ing Agos­ti­ni's Ltd an­oth­er $24 mil­lion in 2016.

Agos­ti­ni's MD de­fends work on the project

Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Agos­ti­ni's, An­tho­ny Agos­ti­ni de­fend­ed the com­pa­ny's work on the HDC project. In re­sponse to ques­tions from Guardian Me­dia on Thurs­day, Agos­ti­ni said his com­pa­ny was con­tract­ed to con­struct some 320 homes at Welling­ton Gar­dens, Debe.

"The project was com­plet­ed about nine years ago. The HDC with­held monies at the end of the project for the last two val­u­a­tions and the re­ten­tion for which we thought they had no good rea­son," Agos­ti­ni said.

"We tried every­thing pos­si­ble to set­tle but the HDC at the time did not want to do so, so be­fore our claim be­came statute barred af­ter the four-year pe­ri­od, we in­voked the Ar­bi­tra­tion Clause," Agos­ti­ni said.

He said the ar­bi­tra­tion was com­plet­ed in 2015 and Agos­ti­ni's was award­ed $13 mil­lion plus a fur­ther $11 mil­lion in in­ter­ests and costs.

"The HDC then set­tled in the time­frame as di­rect­ed by the ar­bi­tra­tors," he said.

When asked about the re­port on the shod­dy con­struc­tion, Agos­ti­ni di­rect­ed blame to the res­i­dents.

"Many of the oc­cu­pants of the homes we built have made all sorts of ad­di­tions/ex­ten­sions to the homes we pro­vid­ed, by adding ad­di­tion­al rooms, garages etc," Agos­ti­ni said.

"We can­not say if these were done with prop­er per­mis­sion from the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties or tak­ing in­to con­sid­er­a­tion prop­er en­gi­neer­ing and build­ing prac­tices.

"We are very hap­py and sat­is­fied with the work done on the project," Agos­ti­ni said.

Agos­ti­ni has since part­ed ways with the HDC and does not ex­pect to work with them in the fu­ture.

"Af­ter we were left be­ing owed so much mon­ey by the HDC, we de­cid­ed we would not work for any gov­ern­ment agency in the hous­ing con­struc­tion area in the fu­ture. We, there­fore, de­cid­ed to sell our mod­u­lar home man­u­fac­tur­ing equip­ment/fac­to­ry and to dis­con­tin­ue low-cost hous­ing type projects," Agos­ti­ni said.

He con­firmed that the ar­bi­tra­tion was heard in May 2015 and the judg­ment was hand­ed down in De­cem­ber of that same year. Agos­ti­ni said the HDC paid the $24 mil­lion by 2016.

No re­sponse from HDC's MD

Guardian Me­dia sought con­tact with HDC's man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Brent Lyons re­gard­ing the project at Welling­ton, but he did not re­spond.

PM Row­ley: Mooni­lal bad talk­ing project be­yond facts and rea­son

Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley tossed back ques­tions re­lat­ed to the over­spend­ing on the Welling­ton Gar­dens, Debe project to for­mer hous­ing min­is­ter Dr Roodal Mooni­lal.

Row­ley said he be­lieved Mooni­lal was Guardian Me­dia's source of in­for­ma­tion on the re­port. He di­rect­ed the pa­per to ask Mooni­lal, the con­trac­tor Agos­ti­ni's Ltd, and the HDC all ques­tions per­tain­ing to the project and the amount spent.

"Did he (Mooni­lal) tell you about the amount of pay­ment tax­pay­ers had to pay Agos­ti­ni for this cru­sade of his?" he asked

When told that Guardian Me­dia had spo­ken to the con­trac­tor and that the pay­ment was made in 2016, he said Mooni­lal was "bad talk­ing" the Welling­ton project for years.

"HDC un­der Mooni­lal has been bad talk­ing that project way be­yond all fact and rea­son," Row­ley said in a What­sApp ex­change on Fri­day.

"They were tak­en to ar­bi­tra­tion and the HDC lost their point of re­pu­di­a­tion and had to pay for work done, work which Mooni­lal was bad-mouthing all along," he said.

Row­ley said the HDC "had to pay the con­trac­tor for sat­is­fac­to­ry work done".

"Even af­ter ped­dling mis­in­for­ma­tion with­out ex­pos­ing you to the his­to­ry and facts of the project," he said.

Guardian Me­dia asked the Prime Min­is­ter whether he knew of the 2015 re­port which de­tailed the poor work on the project.

"What do you think the ar­bi­tra­tion was about? What was the out­come of the ar­bi­tra­tion?" he asked.

- by Renuka Singh. Photo by Kristian De Silva.