'Sought MP's help': Yashid Ellis Karamath

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KARAMATH TURNS TO VOLNEY

Tarouba stadium contractor wants help from fired minister for million-dollar judicial centre

By Asha Javeed asha.javeed@trinidadexpress.com

The contractor at the heart of the unfinished Brian Lara Cricket Academy (BLCA) at Tarouba has been hoping to get the nod to construct the Ministry of Justice's multi-million-dollar judicial centre at Trincity.

Amid allegations that anther company has been favoured, Hafeez Karamath Ltd (HKL) has recently turned to fired justice minister Herbert Volney, who was once in charge of the project, for help.

HKL had done its homework.

It had put together a "competitive" bid and submitted it to the procurement agency, the National Maintenance, Training and Security Company Ltd (MTS), back in February.

By May, that procurement exercise was scrapped and removed from MTS. It was handed over to the National Insurance and Property Development Company (Nipdec).

Firms were re-invited to tender.

HKL and the other companies re-submitted their bids.

The former justice minister had identified four judicial complexes to be built to serve the growing needs of the judiciary—at Trincity, Sangre Grande, Penal and Carlsen Field.

HKL tendered for two projects—Trincity and Carlsen Field.

After running months behind schedule in the award of a contract, a decision was expected to be made by September. HKL was confident.

The oft-maligned construction company, now led by Yashid Ellis Karamath, the brother of deceased founder Hafeez Karamath, saw the "design, finance, construct" contract as within the firm's skill set.

Concurrent with that tender, the early proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act took place on August 30.

The proclamation, for which the judiciary was not prepared, allowed businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson to apply to the courts to be declared innocent.

In the debacle which touched all arms of government, Volney was sacked for misleading the Cabinet when he tabled a note for the early proclamation of Section 34.

He was fired in September.

That month, Karamath told the Sunday Express he had written to Nipdec to query the status of the contract, as his industry sources had indicated a contractor was selected.

Karamath told the Sunday Express it was an open tender and, having tendered the lowest for the two projects, he was at least confident of being able to present the company's construction plans to the procurement agency.

When no answer was forthcoming, Karamath said he sought the help of his Member of Parliament—Volney.

The fired minister is still the Member of Parliament for St Joseph.

Karamath said he had forwarded both the letter of concern to Nipdec and then one of complaint to Volney in hope of resolving the matter.

Volney is alleging Nipdec did not follow proper procedure and, instead, has favoured one contractor for the Trincity complex.

And he's alleging the procurement process for the Carlsen Field Judicial Centre is being aborted.

He said the Ministry of Justice had paid off farmers handsomely in order to secure the footprint area for the construction of the courts, and had been careful to have the Requests for Proposals perfected in order to avoid any procurement hiccups.

Acting of behalf of his constituent, Volney told the Sunday Express: "In the bid for the Trincity Complex, HKL, with experience in court construction and large construction projects, ran first with the lowest bid of $166,276,602, Contractors and Decorators $180,438,743, Adam's Project Management $211,860,775 and Thermal Impact with $265,860,097," he stated.

Volney is alleging that only one company was invited to present its technical bids "although it ran outside of the ministry's Cabinet-approved budget and was $45 million more than HKL, which was the only bidder within the Cabinet-approved ceiling".

The former justice minister is also alleging the company which was invited to present its bids "improperly" tried to communicate with him when he held the ministerial post.

Since he's been dismissed from the post, Volney said "deals were allegedly cut over Friday-evening drinks at (a Port of Spain hotel) between a ministry of justice official and Nipdec management-level operatives said to be partial" to one company.

In an interview at his St Joseph constituency office yesterday, Volney explained that in an open and transparent bidding process, the first-place bidder, which in this case was HKL, is usually invited to present its proposal.

He claims this has not happened and instead there is a lot of "hunky-dorying" going on at the Port of Spain hotel on Friday evenings.

He argued that if a company invited tenders then it must give companies which take the time to put together a document "an opportunity" to be heard.

Asked why he was championing Karamath's case, Volney said it fell on his sense of justice.

Asked by the Sunday Express to explain the relationship between himself and Karamath, Volney responded: "Mr Ellis Karamath is my constituent. He came to me to complain about unfair treatment and that is why I have taken up his case as an MP. He's being unfairly treated because he's not been given an opportunity to present his technical bid as (name called) company."

"I have to say that the conduct is justiciable and litigable. I would hate to see the courthouse project bogged down in litigation," he added.

Volney admitted he was aware of the allegations made during the Prof John Uff commission of enquiry about HKL, as well as the forensic work which was conducted by investigator Bob Lindquist on the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT) which had formed the basis of UDeCOTT's civil claim against former executive chairman Calder Hart.

As it relates to Uff's conclusion of the BLCA and HKL, Volney said: "HKL was never given nor were they invited to refute the allegations made against the company".

He's labelled the proposed award as irregular, likely to attract judicial review, and one that should be aborted and returned to a new panel of evaluators with instructions to consider all bids with due presentations.

Volney denied allegations that HKL was responsible for the construction completion at his Champs Fleurs residence.

In an telephone interview with the Sunday Express last week, Karamath said in his view "the process started in an open manner and should be concluded in an open manner".

Questioned on how his was the only company to come within the Cabinet-approved budget for the judicial centre, he said: "I don't know what the Cabinet-approved budget was."

He said his price was based on current rates and prices of goods and what the market was able to tolerate.

Asked why he sought Volney's help, Karamath said he wrote to him as his MP.

He said he shared a relationship with Volney in which they sought to help reduce the poverty in the constituency.

Asked if there could be a perception of a conflict of interest in his MP once being a minister for which he was seeking a contract, Karamath responded there was "no conflict".

"I submitted a tender to Nipdec. Not to Volney. Because I know him as my MP, should it have prevented me from applying?" he asked.

Karamath has also denied responsibility for the completion of construction works at Volney's residence at Champs Fleurs, as unconfirmed reports have suggested.

However, he told the Sunday Express he has helped in fixing up homes of other constituents in need.

Contacted on the matter, Justice Minister Christlyn Moore yesterday directed all questions to Nipdec. At the moment, Nipdec does not have a board.

The Sunday Express was told no contract has yet been awarded.

But on its website for ongoing public tenders, the only project listed is "New Outpatient Building with Colposcopy Suite and Family Planning".

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