EDITORIAL: Another $5 million

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There is just something about the number “5” and the government’s national housing project. The entire idea was born out of the Prime Minister’s impossible idea of 500 homes in 500 days and most recently, there was a request for $5 million from Cabinet to complete works at Paynters and Denfields.  We are not familiar with the mystical ‘art’ of numerology but we are sure that there are a few numerologists that are doing all sorts of calculations to explain the relationship between the recurring number “5” and the housing projects. Like any good conspiracy theory, we would be interested in hearing the numerical theories, so if there is any numerologist working on the mystical links, please share your theories and findings with us. Now, back to the topic at hand …
According the post Cabinet briefing notes, seven officials from the National Housing and Urban Renewal Company were invited to Cabinet to explain the company’s express need for more than $5 million dollars. The request for the millions was made “in order to complete the 160 houses at Paynters and 150 homes at Denfields.” Apparently, the two projects have been slowed by “infrastructural shortcomings.”  What exactly does that mean? Well, it refers to things like, “paved roads, piped water,  street lights, underground electricity, and fibre optic cables for telephones and Internet.”  Yup!  All the things you would think would be in the initial approved budget for the housing projects.
As usual, that leads to an obvious question … how do you reach this far in the construction phase of 310 homes, at two sites, and the need for money for such essentials only now surfaces? The cabinet notes make mention that all the necessary supplies have been  purchased, but ”the demand on the government agencies from other customers has been unrelenting.” What exactly does that mean? Are private contractors going to be called to do the work of APUA and Public Works? Is that what the more than $5 million is for?
One might be inclined to think that and jump to the conclusion that is the reason for the unexpected request but the cabinet notes go on to say, “in the weeks ahead, 
the APUA and Public Works will intensify their work at these two sites so that the houses can be turned-over to their buyers.”  So, it would appear that the scope of work is not the responsibility of APUA and Public Works and the monetary deficiencies for the infrastructure works have now come to light. Hence the reason, the Cabinet asked the company to explain (as they should).
This brings us full circle to the question posed earlier. How did we get to this point and we are short the tidy sum of $5 million for essential infrastructure?  Who 
did the budget?  Who did the planning? And who is project managing? This reminds us of the ADOMS Headquarters saga where unexpected cost overruns plagued the project and eventually caused a big ruckus with Prime Minister Gaston Browne taking on the Project Manager and publicly calling for his firing. We doubt that will happen in this scenario since this is the PM’s signature pet project and he would not want to taint it in a similar manner.  By the way, whatever happened to the forensic audit of the ADOMS Headquarters that was promised? Is that still in the works or has it been completed? Or, was it just garbaged and will never see the light of day?
And speaking of audits and the like, can we get a report on the millions spent on theses subsidised homes so that the public can assess whether it is good money spent? We hear all of the political rhetoric regarding providing affordable homes, etc., but we also hear the rumours that allege cronyism, multiple-home ownership, etc.  It would be good to have an audited report of the housing projects so as to dispel the rumour mill that swirls around like a tornado.
For example, it is rumoured that tens of millions have been spent to date but the company has received very little in terms of revenue. That could simply be because the infrastructure is not there to support occupancy but the problem is, the public does not know. And telling everyone that they should not worry does not give any comfort to their concerns.  
Much of the money spent on this housing project will come from taxpayers’ pockets so they are owed a report of how their money is being spent and what benefits they derive from subsidising affordable housing. This is especially important to those who have scrimped and scraped to own their own houses without any subsidised assistance from government. So, before we part with another $5 million, can we get an accounting of the money that has been spent already?
There was also a discussion about productivity, and managers assured Cabinet that more will be achieved.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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