The Government has “slammed the brakes” on all contracts and negotiations between this country and SNC-Lavalin, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal said yesterday.
This includes the $2.2 million contract the company was awarded earlier this year to design the Penal Hospital.
Moonilal told the Express in a telephone interview that the Government has asked the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) to “rethink and revise” their choice of contractor after it had been widely reported in the international media that the controversial Montreal-based construction company had been slapped with a ten-year ban by the World Bank from participating in any projects funded by that organisation.
SNC-Lavalin’s involvement in the construction of the Penal Hospital has become a heated political issue since it was reported in June that the company was awarded a $2.2 million contract to design the hospital.
Opposition MP Colm Imbert subsequently raised his concerns in Parliament, pointing out that the World Bank had banned SNC and over 100 of its affiliates over alleged corrupt practices. He also alleged that Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commissioner to Canada Phillip Buxo worked at SNC-Lavalin. Imbert also filed a motion in Parliament earlier this month calling on the government to terminate all its existing contracts with SNC.
Over the last few weeks, SNC-Lavalin has been making international headlines for allegations of bribery by former executives in Libya, Algeria and Bangladesh. In April, the World Bank blacklisted the company from bidding on any projects funded by the Bank for ten years.
Yesterday, Moonilal, chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCoTT) Jearlean John, as well as the company’s chief executive officer Kurt Ramlal, chief operating officer Greer Quan, and director Shankar Bidaisee, met with Canadian High Commissioner Gerard Latulippe, CCC official Mariette Fyfe-Fortin, and High Commission representative Christa Robinson to discuss SNC-Lavalin’s track record and challenged with the World Bank.
While the CCC has expressed its satisfaction that since the scandal at SNC-Lavalin the company has since enhanced its ethical and corporate governance structures, Moonilal said the government has recommended CCC rethink its choice.
Moonilal added he had received the CCC’s due diligence report on SNC-Lavalin and will review it and get back to the Canadians.
Asked whether he thought the fact that SNC-Lavalin had initially been awarded the contract would affect the country’s ability to obtain future World Bank funding, Moonilal said no.
“This project is being funded through the Government, not the World Bank. It will not affect the relationship with the Bank or the Canadian Government. The Government does however take into consideration the recommendations and findings of the World Bank,” he said.
Trinidad and Tobago has also embarked on government-to-government relations with China. In June 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced US$3 billion in concessional loans to Caricom. One of the criteria is the involvement of Chinese firms in the construction and development processes.
Trade Minister Vasant Bharath has told the Express in June that China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) would be coming to Trinidad to discuss and evaluate possibly setting up dry docking facilities in the La Brea area, through government-to-government facilitation.
CHEC is a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). The CCCC has also been debarred by the World Bank since January 2009 until January 2014, sanctioned under the Bank’s fraud and corruption policy.
Bharath told the Express yesterday in a brief telephone interview that the CHEC was one of the companies shortlisted to work in Trinidad, but EtecK was currently conducting a valuation of these companies and will take into consideration all these aspects.