Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Govt’s zig-zag on Kall Co

Public bewilderment over the State’s recent award of a $400 million highway contract to Kall Company Ltd (Kall Co) has now escalated to rank disbelief with the Government’s announcement of legal action against Kall Co and four other private contractors on allegations of bid-rigging, bribery, conspiracy and a host of other crimes.

The announcement three weeks ago that the plum highway contract was to be awarded to Kall Co stunned a public that had repeatedly heard senior figures of the People’s National Movement, led by Dr Keith Rowley, levelling loud allegations of corruption against the company during the campaign of 2015.

That news was still being digested on Monday, when along came Stuart Young, Minister in the Office of the Attorney General, to inform the country that the AG’s office was working with State-owned Estate Management Development Company (EMBD) to take legal action against Kall Co, TN Ramnauth and Company Ltd, Mootilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Ltd, Namalco Construction Services Ltd and Fides Ltd, as well as former minister of housing Dr Roodal Moonilal.

In making his statement, Mr Young made much of the Government’s stance against white-collar crime, boasting that its “meticulous approach to holding people accountable for white-collar crime and to protect the public purse and interests have never been undertaken in Trinidad and Tobago”.

All of this, and yet, the Government, of which Mr Young is a senior member, had only weeks before approved the award of a $400 million contract to one of the very companies on his hit list.

As much as it might appear to be so, this cannot be dismissed as an extreme case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing, which, in this case, would be the Ministry of Works, on the one hand, and the Office of the Attorney General, on the other.
The investigation against the contractors has been public knowledge for months, ever since the police raided several offices belonging to the contractors.

The question that arises, therefore, is what exactly were the evaluation criteria on which the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) recommended Kall Co for the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway extension to Manzanilla contract?

when Works Minister Rohan Sinanan accepted Nidco’s recommendation and took it to the Cabinet for approval, was there any discussion at all about the implications of handing such a contract to a firm that was in the AG’s line of fire for bid-rigging, among other things?

In turning the sod to launch the highway project, Prime Minister Dr Rowley took ownership of the Government’s decision to award the contract to Kall Co by emphasising the $100 million cost difference between its bid and the next lowest bidder and insisting that the tendering process had been “robust and rigid”.

Given the illogic of the State accusing a company of a multitude of white-collar crimes while handing it a prized contract, the public needs more than Dr Rowley’s assertion about a “robust and rigid” process. It need the facts.

Without prejudice to any bidder’s proprietary information, the evaluation criteria and the basis of Kall Co’s selection must be made public. Transparency requires no less.