By Andre Bagoo Saturday, March 29 2014
OPPOSITION Leader Dr Keith Rowley yesterday in Parliament called on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to immediately halt the Beetham Wastewater Treatment Plant and on the Integrity Commission to probe the project, describing it as a billion-dollar “outrage and rape” of the Treasury and alleging a range of bobol in relation to it.
Opposition MPs cried, “Shame! Shame!” as Rowley gave figures which indicated the water project – being undertaken by the National Gas Company (NGC) — was almost six times the cost per gallon of similar facilities; said the project had gone ahead even though the Environment Management Authority (EMA) was yet to complete its approvals process in relation to it and said NGC chairman Indar Maharaj, an attorney, had once worked for the company that won the contract, Super Industrial Services Ltd (SIS), by giving advice.
The Diego Martin West MP said he would himself take steps to stop the project, saying it was “another Desalcott”, a reference to a WASA scandal which culminated with criminal charges under the UNC administration.
“I am calling on the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago today to stop this project and on the Integrity Commission to investigate this matter thoroughly,” Rowley said. “There is bid-rigging here and this is misconduct in public office on the part of persons seeking to pull the wool over our eyes.”
Saying he intends to “collaborate with the legal fraternity”, Rowley added, “This project is going to be stopped.” Rowley did not state whether Maharaj had recused himself from the contract process. Maharaj, a stranger to the Chamber, was not present to respond to the statements, nor were NGC officials.
Piloting a private motion on the issue at the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, Rowley criticised statements made by Minister of Energy Kevin Ramnarine on the project saying those statements raised more questions than answers.
Rowley said WASA, in an internal 2011 report, had placed the original project cost at US$101 million (TT$650 million). However, at that stage, WASA rejected the project as not being economically feasible.
“This was WASA’s position in 2011,” Rowley said. “But something happened between 2011 and 2012. They handed the project to NGC.” Rowley said NGC then awarded the contract at a price of about US$167 million (TT$1 billion) to the winning firm, understood to be SIS. This price, he said, was about US$67 million higher than the other bidder.
The Diego Martin West MP gave figures which indicated the project’s cost, per gallon of industrial-purpose water expected to be produced, was almost six times above the price of similar facilities. He said the country would be paying US$15.18 per gallon, while a similar facility in the United States has a cost per gallon of US$2.60.
“This is the same thing that happened with Desalcott,” Rowley said. Opposition Whip Marlene McDonald cried, “Shame! Shame!” There were only two bidders for the project, Rowley said, as 14 of the 16 firms which paid US$5,000 for tender documents did not submit bids. “Who is this lucky contractor?” he asked of SIS, stating it had received a total of $1.6 billion in contracts from State agencies as diverse as: Education Facilities Company Limited; National Gas Company; National Insurance Property Development Company; Programme for Upgrading Roads Efficiency (PURE); WASA; Public Transport Service Corporation; and a contract for construction of the Siparia Market. However, Rowley did not detail any violation of procurement procedures in relation to any of the contracts he listed or allege wrong-doing in relation to these other projects. He alleged SIS was at one stage poised to be awarded a contract for the construction of the NGC headquarters.
Rowley, however, stated the NGCchairman was a “close associate” of SIS.
“They have had a very close relationship,” he said, without providing details. “I am alleging collusion and conflict between the principal partners of WASA, NGC and others. The relationship between NGC’s chairman and SIS is enough to raise concerns of impropriety in the award of this contract.” He alluded to reports of links between the firm and construction work on the private homes of Persad-Bissessar and TOP political leader Ashworth Jack. Mc Donald remarked, “This is like a cobweb!” Point Fortin MP Paula Gopeescoon said, “Scandalous! Scandalous!”
The Diego Martin West MP also said the EMA is yet to determine if an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is needed for the plant and pipeline aspects of the project. Notwithstanding this, he said, the NGC has gone ahead with the project. He said up to Valentine’s Day (February 14) this year, the EMA was still asking WASA for further information in relation to the project and no Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) had been granted.
“Even as the EMA has not determined if an EIA is required, they have gone ahead and committed taxpayers to this billion-dollar project,” Rowley said. “It does not have the relevant approval. This is a repeat of the smelter.” The EMA’s standard rules and procedures were not spelt out.
Rowley expressed the view that even if the project is stopped, the State would have already paid out “hundreds of millions” in mobilisation fees.
“The Treasury of Trinidad and Tobago is being raped by elements of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said. Rowley criticised a statement made in Parliament during a late sitting by Ramnarine in which Ramnarine sought to defend the project. Ramnarine, Rowley said, had said the lower bidder was rejected because of problems with technical aspects of their bid. However, Rowley said, this could not have been possible as the contract was awarded using a two-envelope system. This meant any firm bidding would first be scrutinised on their technical submission and if they passed that stage only then would their price submission be examined.
“It is disingenuous ... to come here to try to tell us the bid failed for anything technical,” Rowley said. He said the bidders were informed of the outcome of the project on Carnival Wednesday (February 26), when “the country was partying”.
Rowley compared the project with the CP9 and CP13 Piarco International Airport projects, in addition to Desalcott.
“The more things change, the more they remain the same,” he said.