National Petroleum (NP) is off the hook.
The Integrity Commission has cleared the State-owned company NP of allegations of bid-rigging in the award of the $40 million contract to Gopaul and Company, a firm whose owners were friends of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The contract to the Gopauls had generated concerns about transparency, favouritism and bid-rigging as the Prime Minister had stayed at the residence of Ralph and Maureen Gopaul before and after the 2010 general election.
PNM Senator Fitzgerald Hinds had written to the Integrity Commission formally calling for an investigation.
The issue of the public tender for the transport contract was one of the first awards under the People’s Partnership Government which attracted public attention and controversy.
At the time, the Prime Minister asked then energy minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan for a report on the tendering process. The matter was then referred to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, who quashed the entire tender process, citing several deficiencies.
In a letter addressed to NP chairman Neil Gosine, dated September 19, 2013, the Integrity Commission stated: “Having examined all the evidence and legal submissions made by the concerned parties, the Commission has, in accordance with the provisions of Section 34 (6) of the Integrity in Public Life Act, determined that there are insufficient grounds for continuing this investigation and decided to terminate the same.”
Section 34 (6) of the Act states: “Where during the course of an investigation, the Commission is satisfied that there are insufficient grounds for continuing the investigations, or that the complaint is frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith, it may terminate the investigation.”
Hinds told the Express that he too received a letter from the Commission on Wednesday, stating that it had decided to discontinue the probe.
There were two aspects to the Integrity Commission investigation and on both counts the People’s Partnership administration has been exonerated..
Hinds had written to the Commission to ask whether the Prime Minister’s stay at the Gopaul house in Tunapuna could have been defined as a gift within the meaning of the Integrity Act.
He also asked the Commission to investigate whether there was any link between the Prime Minister’s stay at the Gopaul residence and the issuance of the NP contract to the company.
The Commission gave a finding that the Prime Minister did not breach the Integrity in Public Life Act when she stayed at the Gopauls.
The Commission found insufficient basis to continue any investigation into NP’s award of the contract. This brings an end to the entire affair.
AG Ramlogan said the Commission’s finding was vindication for the Prime Minister and her Government. And he called on Hinds to apologise.
“The hullabaloo over the Gopaul contract was malicious and unwarranted as there was never any evidence to suggest wrongdoing. But there is a tendency to pounce and pronounce on every stray allegation and to amplify it by repetition until it is concretised in the public psyche into fact, when it is pure fiction,” the Attorney General said.
Ramlogan said the Prime Minister was never involved in this matter and was not even aware that Gopaul and Company had submitted a bid for the contract.
“Yet her name was dragged through the mud by Mr Hinds, who up to earlier this week continued to refer to this matter.”
The Attorney General said the recent vindication follows a previous decision from the Commission in relation to the Prime Minister’s “innocent stay” at the Gopauls’ residence “for the sake of convenience, given that they were lifelong friends”.
Ramlogan said there was never any proof of the “wild and reckless allegations”.
Hinds, however, said he was not satisfied.
“I feel that there is far more to it. But as a public-spirited member of Parliament and one who understands the process, I have to accept the findings of the Commission. I am obliged to accept it. But I still in my heart believe that something went wrong.
“The fact that the Attorney General had intervened and cancelled the contract—you would not cancel the arrangement if all was above board. He scuttled the contract. Why did the AG, the Government’s legal adviser, do that?”
Hinds said he also wanted to know if the Integrity Commission interviewed the Attorney General or the former energy minister (Seepersad-Bachan) in relation to this issue.
“I don’t know the extent of their investigation, how thorough it was. But I am learned enough to know that they are the body authorised to do it (investigate) and if they find insufficient grounds to continue and choose to discontinue, I am obliged to abide by that.”
But he said he believed that “we have not heard all of this matter”.
Gosine, in a statement yesterday, said: “We wish to make it clear that we are deeply disappointed that this matter has wasted the country’s precious time and resources.
Unfortunately, allegations of this sort have become part of a disturbing pattern of behaviour by certain members of the population. More disturbing is that these unfounded allegations have brought into disrepute the character and good name of so many. Further, since no impropriety was discovered, we believe that the only decent thing for Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds to do is to issue an apology to all those affected by the events he set in motion.”