Housing Minister Randall Mitchell has confirmed that another contractor, this time at the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) River-Runs-Through project in Arima, has been threatened by persons attempting to extort money.
And he is now questioning whether, in the past, provision was made in the contractual arrangements which contributed to the inflated cost of housing construction thereby increasing the cost of housing units.
Mitchell made it clear that the Government would not negotiate with or fund any criminal element.
Mitchell was responding to reports that a man entered the worksite in Arima and ordered that the contractor hand over a large sum of money on Tuesday.
He said, “I can confirm that there have been several instances of threats, intimidation and robberies experienced by contractors on our worksites in addition to the one in “River runs Through it”, Arima. I can confirm that smaller contractors are specifically targeted. There is enough anecdotal evidence that the criminal element in the past has become accustomed to benefitting from this type extortion. And I wonder whether, in the past, provision was made in the contractual arrangements which contributed to the inflated cost of housing construction thereby increasing the cost of housing units.”
Mitchell said in light of the unjustified increases to housing construction in the recent past, as well as the country's present economic circumstances, the HDC has been instructed to reduce the construction costs.
This means, he said, that the contractors margins have been curtailed in alignment with current market prices. “There is absolutely no provision included in any contract given by the HDC under this administration to account for paying off of the criminal element or a coward tax,” he said.
Mitchell said the HDC would not negotiate with the criminal element, nor will it be seen to be funding the criminal element in the hope that they will lessen their criminal behaviour.
He said National Security Minister Edmund Dillon had been notified. “And I am calling on the Police to assist in protecting these developmental works so that the contractors can continue to engage employees towards the completion of these works and that applicants for affordable housing can be allocated as soon as possible,” he said.
The incident at River-Runs-Through housing project was also confirmed by HDC managing director Brent Lyons.
“There are conflicting reports as to whether or not anything was taken from the workers. The matter has been reported to the police, investigations are ongoing,” he stated.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley turned the sod to begin construction of the 116 units at the River-Runs-Through housing project, Arima By-Pass road, Arima in July 2016.
The incident occurred just days after contractors carrying out multi-million-dollar culvert works at the Beetham Highway were threatened by persons who tried to extort money from them.
The Works and Transport Ministry said one Lutchmeesingh Transport Contractors employee, who was at the site when the incident occurred, is at Port of Spain General Hospital after suffering a gunshot wound to his leg.
The contractors returned to the site under a heightened police presence on Saturday.
Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan visited the site and made it clear that Government would not tolerate any incidents of extortion.
“There are a lot of areas in Trinidad that once you start a project there are people coming to the contractor and demanding sums of money. The Government will not be tolerating that,” he said.