Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Clifton Yap | Chinese Heroes Park MOU outrageous

Published:Sunday | June 25, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Clifton Yap
Damian Graham
Work continues on the $151-million perimeter wall at National Heroes Park, which is expected to accommodate the new Parliament building which has stoked controversy.
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Dr Damian Graham, general manager of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), wrote an article published in The Gleaner on June 16, 2017, with the headline 'Gov't Oval - By Jamaicans, for Jamaicans'. In it, Dr Graham said, "Jamaican architects, urban planners, engineers, landscape architects, etc, in the appropriate time, will all have equal opportunity to either submit tenders, express their opinion on design and layout, or volunteer their skill to this landmark project."

If the project were truly intended to be 'by Jamaicans, for Jamaicans', the GOJ/UDC would have put out requests for proposals to the public before they signed an MOU with China Construction America - South America Division (CCASA), not three months afterwards!

For the UDC to be asking at this stage for local professionals to send in their names for consideration is quite meaningless as the MOU gives CCASA exclusivity in completing the final master plan and doing the concept designs for all buildings in the development programme. Against this background, it is insulting that the UDC is suggesting that local professionals be involved by submitting their own designs, or by "volunteering their skill, i.e., work for free!

That is not how development projects are supposed to be handled or how professional services are to be sought.

Beyond this insulting approach, however, the whole arrangement arising from the MOU is deeply disturbing.

 

UNSOLICITED OFFER

 

The signing of the MOU was announced by the prime minister on March 9, 2017. It was explained that it came from an "unsolicited offer" from CCASA to work with the UDC to finalise the master plan and provide design consultancy services for the new Parliament building and other government offices around National Heroes Park, as well as buildings in downtown Kingston. The prime minister said at the time that the MOU was justified because the Chinese construction company was going to provide its services for FREE - at no cost to the country. Dr Graham himself has repeated these assertions on multiple occasions in meetings and in the media.

A review of the MOU, only recently obtained, shows that rather than working for 'free', CCASA is, in fact, guaranteed a maximum payment of US$1 million, and the agreement with them is EXCLUSIVE, for the period of the MOU.

It is well known in the industry that companies that offer their initial services for free or at discounted rates do so only if they have been assured that they will have primary consideration to make back these costs at the back end when the projects go into construction. To demonstrate that CCASA has been given such assurances, the MOU includes clauses such as "the above consultancy costs should be included into the development phase of the project"; "the financing and contractual arrangement of the project will be communicated within 10 months of the date (signing date) hereof"; and "CCASA and the GOJ intend to explore definitive agreements with respect to the project subject to the receipt of all government approvals".

This clearly sole-source agreement from an "unsolicited offer" runs contrary to the GOJ's policy regarding public-private partnerships (PPP's), which stipulates that 'unsolicited offers' meet certain requirements - the services or product being offered should be unique to the company offering and should not relate to an idea that the Government was already contemplating.

The CCASA 'offer' is for services that are not unique, and it was widely known that the UDC had been working on the plans for a government oval for several years. Based on the Government's own policy, there was, therefore, no justification for this MOU!

The scope of the 'project' outlined in the MOU for CCASA to work on designing (and, it appears, ultimately developing) is astounding. It includes the Parliament building, approximately 17 ministries and agencies of Government, commercial and residential developments around the Government Campus, a multimodal transport centre, a cruise ship pier, and housing projects.

The UDC estimates that the total size of the construction contemplated is approximately 13 million square feet of buildings (12,913,000 square feet). If you use an average cost of US$120 per square foot, the estimated cost of construction would be approximately US$1.55 billion!

It is inconceivable that a unilateral decision could have been taken by any democratic government anywhere in the world, much less a small poor country like Jamaica, to agree for a single construction (not even architectural and planning) company to be simply handed ALL of this work at one time to do concept designs and development budgets!

The proper thing for the GOJ to do at this stage is to call a halt to this ill-conceived MOU. What needs to be done as a priority is to make the UDC's master plan widely and publicly available for review and input by other state agencies, local planning, design, engineering and environmental professionals, community interests in the affected areas, and civil society in general.

After the master plan has been agreed on by stakeholders, the individual components of buildings and infrastructure can be prioritised and put out for tender in smaller packages and done in phases. This would for orderly development and for the participation of local investors, financial institutions, pension funds, local construction industry professionals, contractors, subcontractors, etc.

 

WORK IN PHASES

 

There is no compelling reason to try to implement construction of all proposed buildings at one time and with one large company. Doing it in smaller and more manageable phases would ensure that maximum employment benefits accrue to a wide cross section of Jamaican businesses and the workforce at all levels.

Dr Graham's article is just a feeble attempt to try to offset the criticisms of the MOU. He does not understand that the issue here is not about local industry professionals 'looking a food'. It is about our Government doing things properly, transparently, and in a manner that clearly demonstrates that the best interests of Jamaica and Jamaicans are being prioritised.

The present state of the country, with its crippling debt, high taxation, and deteriorated public buildings and services, has arguably been largely contributed to by the practice of government administrations and their agencies ageing arrangements in secrecy to hastily spend large sums of money and incur large debt in carrying out megaconstruction projects - just like this current project with CCASA.

Let us not make the same mistakes again.

- Clifton Yap is chairman of the Jamaican Institute of Architects' College of Fellows. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and cliftonyap1@gmail.com.