Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 2

In Part 1 spoke about some of the things which made me convinced that I couldn't vote UPP in the election this week. Most of them had to do with hundreds of millions of tax dollars squandered in UPP led government decisions. Why they made those decisions is beyond me. People will have to make their own conclusions, but whatever were the reasons, the wasting of our tax dollars didn't end there.
Here are a few more ways money was thrown away.

EC $47 million was spent on fencing and bathrooms for schools and sports facilities. In Parliament and during budget debates it came to light that some of the facilites that had been fenced according to the records still had no fences at all. Light was never shed on what happened with the EC $47 million and there is little doubt that we didn't get 47 million worth of fencing and bathroom facilities. The media tried to find out more and covered the story for a short while without being able to get more specifics from government.

Then there was the massive multi million dollar car park contracted by the UPP for St. Johns. The first problem with this car park if people care to remember is the spot the UPP chose to erect it was a very controversial one.  Some of the long time PLM and UPP supporters were outraged because the area was supposed to be left as a public park. Most cities have "green areas" or parks which remain free from development. This comment was taken from a Caribarena article: "To those of you who wish for the completion of the car park or "monstrosity" as the late ET Henry would say, be reminded that the area had been bequeathed to the People of Antigua as Green Space, never to be fenced, which is now owned by a TNT Corporation." Needless to say the UPP didn't listen to the people and went with the project which has now been sitting half finished for over five years. We will be paying for that EC $40 million dollar mistake for a years and years to come. Hopefully one day the crazy structure will be finished.

Staying in St. Johns we can remember the sidewalk scandal where an Israeli/Antiguan group got a nice deal to fix up sidewalks in St Johns. The cost reported in the media was EC $42 million. I won't go into it anymore than asking you to take a walk around the city. "Where d money gorn?" Pissed down the drain? Well I dunno but it wasn't value for money.

Staying in the city we can talk about the money wasted on the Food City building. Government purchased the ailing supermarket for EC $15 million dollars. Not only was the business crumbling when they purchased it, but the building was in almost as bad a condition. Many people were shocked at the unusual purchase but as the government had no immediate plans for the building, it sat abandoned for years until it was rented by a group that had to completely rennovate the property after doing a proper survey. The survey was done by my neighbor and he says the building had been neglected for years and years and was in very bad shape.

Before 2004 the ALP government decided to build a new hospital. Equipment was purchased and on the verge of the election the hospital was nearly finished. The UPP got into power and threw all ALP ideas out the window as bad ones and decided to stop trying to open the hospital. Instead they had the bright idea of fixing up Holberton which by that time had earned the horrible nickname of "Killberton Hospital". While we accumulated interest on the loans for the almost finished MSJ Hospital, it remained dark while they waited until people forgot it was there. Then almost 5 years after they shut down the project, they finished it farmed out the management of it In February 2009 to the American Hospital Management Company (AHMC). They get 3 million a year to manage it and to do all the purchasing for it. Many complained that this was too much money to be spent on managing it. In fact, even the former health minister of St Lucia, Dr Keith Mondesir was critical of our government's contract. (Source) Needless to say, the hospital isn't being financed properly and even as we speak there is no CT Scan machine working there. It's a terrible shame to hear about all the millions spent and wasted and to know that basics are not available at our only hospital.

More to come in Part 3.

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 1.

There are going to be hard core UPP supporters reading this who will vote for them whatever they read here. To those people I say, please don't waste your time reading this. What I am writing here is for people who want more info than they have been reading in the media reports as of late. Here goes. I am going to highlight some of the United Progressive Party's biggest failures as the leading party over the past ten years.  Failures which have set us back in so many ways.

First I will go over some massive wastes of money.

Prior to the 2004 election when the Antigua Labour Party were still leading the government, they made the decision to get involved with the Half Moon Bay saga. The hotel sitting on our most amazing beach had been closed since the hurricane season of 1995. Remember that most hotels are built on land that was sold at concessionary rates by the crown with the hope of helping the economy. A closed hotel does nothing positive for the economy. The government met with the new owner who was no longer part of a group and negotiated with her offering huge concessions to further encourage her to rebuild. The government met all her demands and requests and despite promise after promise no move was made to get the hotel running again. After much more dialogue a decision was made to compulsory purchase the hotel in an act of parliament where fair market value would be paid. This was in 2000. A legal battle started immediately which ultimately ended in 2007 at the highest appeal court giving the government the win. What cost the tax payers tens of millions of dollars however, was the decision by the UPP just after they got into power in 2004 to stop legal proceedings and to give the owner of Half Moon Bay "another chance". It took them a few years to understand that she had no intention on rebuilding and sadly the UPP finally decided to do exactly what the ALP government had done years before. In 2007 they won possession of the lands BUT fair market value had shot through the roof during the years in between 2000 and 07 and when a valuation was finally done, the taxpayers would have to find US $45.5 million (over double the original valuation). (source) Second guessing the ALP decision from 2000 will have us tax payers paying for years and years to come. Their decision was not based on sound thinking but on bad politics. 

Another bad financial move early in the UPP administration that the tax payers will be paying for was the Antigua Power Company fiasco. Prior to the general election in 2004 the family that owns APC were accused by Prime Minister Lester Bird of switching allegance to the ALP and putting their money and support behind the opposition UPP. Lester was clearly outraged on the platform. The UPP won the election and very shortly after signed a joint venture deal with the APC where they would set up a 50.9 megawatt electrical power plant. This joint venture or partnership with APUA would be for 22 years. The deal saw 55% of profits going for APC and 45% for APUA. It would be maintained by the people who built the engines. After 22 years the entire plant and all ownership and profits were to go to apua. Tax payeres would invest nothing at all. The APC investment was 47 million US dollars. After the deal was made and when plant facility was constructed armed police with automatic weapons stopped the generators from being off loaded at the plant. Why? The government had made another deal to buy a smaller 30 megawatt plant from the Chinese government for 52 million US dollars in a loan agreement where we also have to pay interest on the loan of that 52 million. That's five million US dollars more for a plant that produces a little more than half the electricity. How and why would they agree to buy another plant when they were already contractual partners with APC for a larger plant that they would own fully within 22 years and had no money to spend up front? Nobody will ever know. What we may also never know is why this new Chinese power plant using Mann diesel generators no longer legal in Europe due to emmissions standards isn't producing the 30 megawatts. Many people in the media have questioned if these Chinese generators were new ones. The late Winston Derrick had many questions about the plant which remained unanswered by the UPP up to his premature death. He said many times that whether they were new engines or not, there was real doubt if tax payers received "value for money".
(Read more) I would post some articles from Caribarena but they have been cyberattacked again it seems are are down. (since then someone posted this on facebook)

They had great photos comparing the two plants including interior shots. The new Chinese plant was a mess with leaky rusty engines and the APC one cleaner than a hotel kitchen. There have been many reports online and on radio talk shows recently describing only one of six generators working at the Chinese plant. I think that Winston Derrick was clearly correct about the lack of value for money. What is worse is that since his passing APC has won their final case against the government and the judgment has said that they are entitled to be paid for their share of what would have been 55% of production on the 50+ megawatt plant. The actual award hasn't come out yet but legal minds say it will be over 100 million EC dollars. Take that bad value for money and add another hundred million to it and you have something that we will never pay back for in our lifetimes.

More on the Antigua Public Utilities Authority and wastes of money in this story to do with their water production planning and management. In 2004 when the UPP got into power, APUA had several power plants. One of them was called TANGO and at the time there were two new turbines at the facility. One was in the process of being installed and the other would have been installed after the first one was finished. TANGO produced electricity and water. In fact from the day TANGO was opened Antigua never experienced water shortages. Prior to that there was times when water had to be barged in. A decision was made by the UPP government to stop spending money on Tango despite the millions of dollars already paid for the new turbines. They actually scrapped the plant ending water production there. We started relying on ponds once again for water. Then at the start of 2011 the APUA commissioned a new reverse osmosis water production plant financed by Venezuela. After building the plant they started searching for water drilling test wells. They drilled hole after hole over acres and acres of land adjacent to the plant failing to find water. Eventually they had to put pipes into the ocean to suck up sediment laden water...... something almost never done with reverse osmosis plants due to problems with sedimentation. The plant is one of the biggest failures in engineering and again poor value for money. To learn way more about it please check this link here

headquarters building. In 2002/03 government at the time contracted architectual firm OBM to design a building and facility which would house all of the departments of the APUA. The contract with OBM cost approximately EC $150,000. The largest holder of land in Antigua is The Crown and the plan was to construct this facility on government land. After the government change in 2004 the plans were scrapped. Eventually a plan was announced by the UPP government to bring the headquarters into St. Johns to an old building which had been known as BENCORP. This building was purchased for EC $12 million and then years of renovations took place to get it to an acceptable state so that it could be used. The problems with this was that it was way too small to accommodate all of APUA and in fact not even all the office departments could fit within in. It opened about a year ago, and the cassada gardens place where APUA was supposed to move from is still being rented by APUA. The technical part of telecoms is still up there. The OBM plans would have accommodated all of APUA outside of town to avoid congestion and all the issues you would expect in St. Johns with parking and traffic. The estimated finished cost of construction for that facility according to OBM was EC $12 million. Remember that before ripping apart the Bencorp building a rebuilding it, APUA spent the same 12 million on buying it. A year after opening it they are still renting the place they moved from. Tens of millions of dollars wasted once again. Why? Try and figure out why they would buy an old building that's too small to accommodate them. I can't.

Example after example will follow on crazy wastes of money due to incompetence, greed, ego and possibly corruption if you believe some of the articles you read in CaribArena or the Daily Observer.

Click here for Part 2 which was written later.