Saturday, February 17, 2018

Local firm Raldon tipped to take over from Sunway

Part VI of an investigation into National Quarries 

Raldon Construction Ltd, part of the Gopaul Group of Companies, is tipped to operate Scott’s Quarry in Blanchisseuse when the five-year, $300 million contract to Malaysian-based Sunway Construction (Caribbean) Ltd ends tomorrow.

The operatorship could be worth $100 million a year, Sunday Express calculations have indicated.

The Sunday Express understands that Sunway was paid $85-$90 a tonne for aggregate produced and was contracted to provide about 4,000 tonnes a day.

Sunday Express calculations put the daily figure at an estimated $360,000 a day, an estimated $9 million a month with an annual payout projection of about $100 million a year.

The Sunday Express was told the value of the quarry is $1.2 billion based on 12 million tonnes of proven mineral reserves.

But what makes the operatorship of the quarry lucrative at this point is the built-in market to the Brazilian firm Construtora OAS, which is constructing the $7.2 billion highway extension from Golconda to Point Fortin.

One of the terms of the highway contract is that OAS is required to use at least 40 per cent local material—if it can be supplied—before importing. 

NQ is contracted to provide 100 loads a day of crusher run, a limestone aggregate derived from Scott’s Quarry, but that can vary depending on weather conditions.

NQ’s chairman Mitra Ramkhelawan had told the Sunday Express that NQ is expected to take over Scott’s Quarry after Sunway exited.

However, NQ does not have the equipment to mine the quarry to meet its obligations and had embarked on a plan to tender for the services within the quarry, confirmed a board member who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Sunday Express understands that while NQ will own the rights to the quarry, it will farm out the operations.

“For two years, Raldon has run a parallel operation in Scott’s Quarry when NQ decided to open it up after it was dissatisfied with the quality of aggregate from Sunway. Raldon has all the equipment required. They have five or six crushing plants, excavators, bulldozers and quarry trucks,” a quarry source explained.

“The company was set up to be a full-fledged construction company. Quarrying is one part of its operations. So until NQ could invest in its own equipment, it already has a company to manage its operations,” the source explained. 

The source noted that when Sunway stops work tomorrow, NQ will have to seek the services of Raldon to meet its daily demand of aggregate to OAS.

“It would not have made financial sense for us, as a company, to invest in equipment because it would require maintenance and would be subject to sabotage,” a director told the Sunday Express.

Raldon has been a contractor at NQ since it was established.

The Sunday Express obtained invoices and cheques paid monthly to Raldon, which ranged from $250,000 to $500,000, for its work out of Scott’s .

The Sunday Express understands that NQ has opted not to renew Sunway’s contract because, according to chairman Mitra Ramkhelawan, the quality of aggregate provided was poor and did not meet specifications.

The agreement between Sunway and NQ, instituted under the previous People’s National Movement (PNM) government, was a take-or-pay contract to assist in the delivery of quarrying materials for building projects.

Gopaul & Company came under scrutiny after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is a personal friend of the company’s principals, Ralph and Maureen Gopaul, became their house guest in the lead-up to and after the May 2010 general election, shortly after which the company was the preferred bidder for a $40 million contract at State-owned National Petroleum Marketing Company Ltd (NP).

The Integrity Commission rejected a complaint by Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds that Persad-Bissessar was in breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act for her stay at the Gopaul’s Tunapuna residence, and it also recently cleared NP of allegations of bid-rigging in the execution of the $40 million contract. 

In 2011, Gopaul & Company set up a construction outfit—Raldon Construction—a combination of the names of Ralph and Donald Gopaul, two directors of the company. 

Raldon’s address, as listed in the registry, is Watts Street, St Augustine, but its website address is Pasea Main Road, Tunapuna.

For his part, Ramkhelawan has previously defended the use of Raldon as a contractor saying that: “Contractors who want to work are given an opportunity. Many contractors do not want to work.” 

He had said while there was no written contract, work was given out on an ad hoc arrangement as was needed by the company.

The Sunday Express tried multiple times to reach Ryan, Ralph or Donald Gopaul for comment through their office lines, cellphones and text messages.