By Terry Joseph
Row over low-cost houses in high-class area
September 08, 2003
All indications are that Prime Minister Patrick Manning will today intervene in the ongoing row between the National Housing Authority and a construction company jointly run by the National Union of Government and Federated Workers and Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU), over a proposed Valsayn housing project.
The NUGFW/SWWTU consortium has prepared 22 acres in the area, planning to build 426 units, a mix of single homes, towers and townhouses.
For some three-and-a-half hours yesterday, leaders of both unions met Manning at his official residence at St Ann's to detail their plight.
NUGFW president-general Robert Giuseppi, who spoke to the Express after the marathon meeting, said he and SWWTU counterpart Michael Annisette responded to an invitation for discussions on the impasse.
Giuseppi said: "We apprised Mr Manning of the barriers, threats and other roadblocks that our construction company continues to face in mobilising this project. We also told him that we have been offered a $2.5 million bribe by an NHA official, to drop plans for our housing project in the upscale Valsayn area."
He said the union's plans were for finished homes for between $250,000 and $285,000 compared to similar houses being constructed by other developers for prices of up to $600,000.
"We are intent on showing working-class people that such homes are not really out of their reach," said Giuseppi, who is also president general of the National Trade Union Centre (Natuc).
The proposed Valsayn construction is the third phase of the Realspring project.The first was built 23 years ago. "We haven't squatted on the property or stolen the land from anyone and will not allow any agency to stop us from fulfilling this aspect of our social contract with our membership," Giuseppi said.
"But it has suddenly become all very strange. The NHA didn't make any attempt to stop us from spending over $2 million preparing the site but is now openly threatening to have us arrested if we proceed with the sod-turning ceremony scheduled for later this month.
"Well, we have not only invited Mr Manning to the sod-turning but also to deliver the feature address, so we can only hope that, if he accepts, they time the mass arrest for after he has left. In any event, we really would like to see them lock up the more than 500 guests that will be present.
"We are however heartened by Mr Manning's response," Giuseppi said. "He appeared surprised by some of the details coming from Annisette and myself and promised to give the matter urgent priority, saying he will address the matter first thing this Monday morning."
Saying the unions decided to collaborate on housing projects after being convinced by former Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams to get into the business of providing shelter, Giuseppi said from first approach, they had experienced problems. "At the time of phase one of the Realspring project, Granado tried to dissuade us, only on the basis that it would reduce the value of neighbouring upper-class properties.
"With phase three adjoining some of those long-existing properties and recently constructed mansions, those interests have sharpened to the point of threatening us and, when that approach failed, offering a hefty bribe for us to walk away from the project.
"This time around, it is a different kind of orchestrated objection.
We did not get this kind of pressure when we built units in Lopinot," he said.
"The NHA slapped a premium on the land, charging us $2.53 million, which we found exorbitant and way out of league. According to the original arrangements, we were to get relief from heavy commercial payments because were building for the working class.
"We argued with them for almost two years and when we saw they had no intention of budging, our membership nominated me to find a way to bring closure to the arrangement. We found willing partners in The State and some private sector interests but the NHA has been the stumbling block," Giuseppi said.
NHA officials could not be reached yesterday.