Need for stringent checks
The Government’s refusal, albeit belated, to do business with Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin calls attention again to the vulnerabilities entailed in government-to-government deals, in which Trinidad and Tobago has had unhappy experiences.
Presumably to the end of delivering the Penal hospital on time and within budget, an arrangement with the Canadian government resulted in its selection of SNC-Lavalin.
But the company, as a result of earlier damnable international dealings, had already been blacklisted by the World Bank. Upon later disclosures that further disgraced the reputation of SNC-Lavalin—the embarrassment and political fall-out inside T&T—little troubled Ottawa officials single-mindedly concerned with securing business opportunities for Canadian firms.
The precedent of the Scarborough Hospital project, unsuccessfully started by a local contractor but finally completed by a Chinese one, may have influenced the option pursued for Penal.
The SNC-Lavalin case, however, teaches the need for hard-nosed safeguards to be insisted upon in arrangements with foreign governments, whose commitment to advancing their nationals’ business interests predictably overrides concerns over relations even with friendly countries. It confirms that there are, indeed, no friends in business and that stringent checks should be carried out on all international firms to ensure that they are above board and have a proven track record when it comes to sound, ethical practices.
For, using this current scenario as a perfect example, red flags should have been hoisted very early in any dealings with SNC-Lavalin, the company having been slapped with a ten-year ban in April by the World Bank. This was after its former chief executive was charged in February with fraud in the construction of McGill University Health Centre in Canada. Then just last week, a former vice-president was arrested on allegations of bribery.
Despite all this trouble swirling around SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), a government agency that facilitates government-to-government arrangements, recommended the tainted company to the Trinidad and Tobago Government for the Penal project.
And it is that recommendation which was being used as a sort of diversion by Government ministers to dodge the original controversy when SNC-Lavalin’s troubled reputation first came to light in the local media. But it seems only because the story would not go away that Government officials—whose “naivete” in this instance is very debatable—could no longer sidestep the issue by referring to CCC’s recommendation.
Checks and balances have to be more thorough before opening negotiations with any company, no matter what country they may be from, and despite the seemingly well-intentioned recommendation of another government agency.
And those put in charge of the public purse should show a lot more concern and care about how they spend taxpayers’ dollars and not simply seek to brush off any questions by passing the buck.