Affordable homes unaccountable
Old reports are still quite relevant
By: Brent Fuller | firstname.lastname@example.org May, 2013
By the time an auditor general’s office review of the Cayman Islands government’s Affordable Housing Initiative scheme was released to the general public – in September 2012 – buildings constructed by the programme were being torn down to make way for other projects.
Seven-year old reports into the housing scheme, which led to a criminal investigation, were discussed in the Legislature’s Public Accounts Committee last fall. The auditor who performed three separate reviews of the matter had long since left the Cayman Islands by then and the minister responsible for the housing scheme hadn’t held elected office since 2005.
Yet, current Cayman Islands Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick found the reports to be quite relevant.
“Most of the issues and concerns that are raised in these three reports bear a striking resemblance to issues that my office and others have identified over the last few years in respect to procurement, project management and governance, including issues recently identified at the National Housing Development Trust during 2011,” Mr. Swarbrick said.
He said it concerned him that issues highlighted in the 2005 reports continued to be significant today, “casting a shadow over effectiveness of accountability of government to their stakeholders”.
The Affordable Housing Initiative reports, which included two forensic reports requested and subsequently released by the then-Governor Bruce Dinwiddy and an auditor’s report, which was made public by the Caymanian Compass in 2005 after the newspaper received a leaked copy of it, were the oldest outstanding reports awaiting review by the Public Accounts Committee at the time.
The criminal investigation of Cayman’s Affordable Housing Initiative, ended in 2009 without criminal charges; a fact which former Auditor General Dan Duguay has previously expressed surprise about.
Former government housing Minister Frank McField waited years to give evidence on the issue.
“My reputation and character, I feel, was stained by the way in which the previous auditor general handled the publication of his findings,” said Mr. McField in September. “It was at a time when we were recovering from a very disastrous hurricane and most of us had undergone a very traumatic experience.”
He said that Mr. Duguay may not have been given the full information about what transpired at the National Housing and Community Development Trust, partly for political reasons, and that the former auditor general may not have been given access to “a certain type of unwritten information”.
The original affordable prefabricated homes were built under Mr. McField’s direction at Windsor Village and Eastern Avenue in George Town and in West Bay off Captains Joe and Osbert Road. Many of the homes were damaged in Hurricane Ivan, although Mr. McField said some stood up well to the storm.
He told the committee that the original houses were built by an Italian company called Vetromeccaniche Invest Ltd, the representatives of which he met in Cuba after hearing the company could build homes with prefabricated materials at a cost far cheaper than using bricks and mortar. He said the project was not publicly tendered as the price the company said it could build the homes for was very low – about $30,000 to $40,000 per home. The price was ultimately about twice that, due to changes to the original designs for aesthetic and architectural reasons.
Mr. McField said the company offered a 20-year written guarantee on the houses, but he did not know where the paperwork outlining that guarantee ended up because all documents are retained by the ministries when a minister leaves government.
When Hurricane Ivan struck in September 2004, building material set aside for 160 more homes was destroyed. Because Vetromeccaniche had not insured the material, Mr. McField said he was so upset with them, he did not want to work with them anymore, so he hired a different company called Staunch to repair damaged homes in the affordable housing scheme and to build homes for people whose homes were wrecked in Ivan. There was also a plan to build temporary housing for construction workers who had come to Grand Cayman to assist in the repair work.
He said Staunch was given about $150,000 to purchase housing materials in Mexico. “It was one of the particular points where people started to think money was missing,” he said.
In response to the assertion that Mr. Duguay had damaged Mr. McField’s reputation by publishing the reports, Mr. Swarbrick pointed out that the two forensic reports were released by the governor’s office and the third report had not yet been released.