Both the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) said yesterday they did not know who owned a local company awarded a multi-million-dollar hardboard contract.
They only did so after being pressed by the media.
They, however, confirmed the local company was being paid millions more for hardboard than the usual supplier—an international company in Brazil.
In his budget contribution this week, Opposition La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey said there was a scandal at Lake Asphalt where local company Fastec—which he claimed was owned by a relative of a senior Cabinet Minister—was awarded a contract to supply hardboard to LATT at a higher cost that from the original supplier, Pegasus from Brazil.
Jeffrey also claimed the quality of the hardboard from Fastec was inferior to that of Pegasus.
Hardboard is a type of material used to make drums to store and export asphalt.
LATT chairman Kuarlal Rampersad and CEO Leary Hosein yesterday held a media conference at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad hotel, in Port of Spain, to deny there was a family link in the award of the contract.
Both said they did not know who the owners of the company are who were awarded the million-dollar contract. And only at the end of the news conference, and after the media asked whether they could make a phone call and enquire as to the owners, was that information divulged.
Hosein, after making the phone call at the media's request, disclosed that Fastec was owned by Balvant Nathu-Hari and Angeline Nathu-Hari.
Both Rampersad and Hosein denied they were related to any Cabinet Minister.
Rampersad said the process was above-board, as suppliers were presented with Lake Asphalt's hardboard specification sheet, which detailed the necessary requirements.
He said both Fastec and Pegasus provided hardboard which not only passed the initial control checks, but also displayed good workability in the manufacturing of drums.
So then why was Fastec, which is charging almost 50 per cent more for the product, given preference?
Rampersad said Pegasus had a problem with delivering on time and cost LATT US$3 million in sales in one instance in May/June this year.
Another consequence of later delivery, said Rampersad, was that LATT had to approve overtime and manpower to meet the demands of its customers, or the company faced penalties for not meeting its obligations.
LATT, he said, also had problems with Pegasus breaching payment terms and there were concerns about the company's stability.
Rampersad said a decision was taken to de-register Pegasus because of "breach of payments and questionable activities".
An internal audit, he said, was conducted, which found that Pegasus was not a timely supplier.
Rampersad said Fastec delivers in eight to ten weeks, while Pegasus takes eight to ten months.
With respect to the family link, Rampersad said neither the CEO nor any board member was related to Cabinet ministers.
"Let me state for the record that I am not a relative with any senior member of the Cabinet. People have told me that my line Minister Senator the Honourable Kevin Ramnarine and myself do share a similar resemblance, but that is all. I have never seen him at a family function," said Rampersad.
Questioned on who owned Fastec, Rampersad replied, "I think there is the Freedom of Information Act where you can get that information."
Asked whether he could provide the information as LATT is a State enterprise and taxpayers' money was being expended, Rampersad again referred the media to the Freedom of Information Act.
Questioned as to why a company that was charging almost 50 per cent more was selected and whether there weren't other companies with lower costs and faster delivery times, Hosein said the decision was based on the Tenders Committee's "evaluation matrix".
When questioned, neither men could provide the cost of the contract or the duration.
Rampersad said it all depended on the request for supplies from its clients.
Asked how they could be certain of no family link if neither of them knew the names of the owners of Fastec, Rampersad said he did not know and again referred the media to the Freedom of Information Act.
Questioned on whether it was not curious that a due diligence was conducted on Fastec and still they did not know the owners, Rampersad repeated, "As I said, the information, you can apply for that information, you can go through the process... I don't have the information, it's not my responsibility to look into these things."
Asked whether or not either of them could make a phone call to LATT to get the information, both Rampersad and Hosein appeared surprised.
However, at the end of the news conference, just before the media left, Hosein made a phone call and provided the names of the directors of Fastec to the media.
Earlier this week, the Express had contacted Fastec with regard to the company's ownership, but a woman refused to divulge the information.
A search on the Companies Registry found that the directors of the company were the very names which Hosein provided yesterday only after the media persisted.