Nipdec instructed to halt award of $m contract

By Denyse Renne

Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan yesterday directed the National Insurance Property Development Company Ltd (Nipdec) to abort the awarding of a multi-million-dollar contract.
The directive was given to his permanent secretary, Christine Sookram, yesterday morning, on the ground there was a lack of confidentiality in the awarding of the contract.
Contacted for a comment, Khan refused to say anything about the directive.
Sources yesterday told the Express Nipdec was tasked with finding a suitable candidate for the design and consultancy services of several health facilities which are to be constructed.
Tenders were issued and three companies were short-listed, all of which are foreign entities.
One of the firms short-listed is a Canadian company known as IBI Group Inc.
Sources say the company submitted a bid for the $150-plus million consultancy and design services.
The company has been on a decline financially for the past three years.
A copy of IBI’s audited reports obtained by the Express showed that for the past three years there are rapidly mounting equity deficits, dwindling assets, soaring liabilities and ever-increasing end-of-year losses, all of which have required IBI, over the last two years, to seek funding from a variety of sources to stay afloat.
Chief executive officer of IBI Scott Stewart contacted the Express last night, stating the firm’s financial standing is an ongoing process.
Stewart, who was appointed CEO in September, said IBI is going through “a financial process... that’s cleaning up the balance sheets”.
He said prior to his assuming the post, IBI “wasn’t managed properly from a financial standpoint and that’s why I took over”.
Sources say representatives from IBI will present their plan next week to Nipdec officials.
Sources added that despite there being a committee in place to perform checks and balances for companies which tender, a directive was given for IBI to be the preferred bidder. Concerned officials are, however, questioning how could a firm “in this much trouble hope to adequately complete such a major project”.
Nipdec chairman Hamlyn Jailal, when contacted yesterday, told the Express the design and consultancy contract has not been awarded and he was unaware of a directive given for IBI to receive a favourable response .
“It’s an ongoing tender process and it’s a public tender opening. No tenders for this have been awarded as yet,” he said.
Adding that in terms of the evaluation there have been no recommendations, Jailal said: “I wouldn’t want to compromise the process. As a matter of fact, I am not privy to the information ’cause it was done by an evaluation committee who makes a recommendation with the tenders committee and the board, and that process is still ongoing.”
Asked whether he is aware of the financial woes plaguing IBI and whether it would be feasible for such a company to have been short-listed, Jailal said: “There’s something called due diligence which must be conducted. It’s a thorough background check and this is done because of the size and scope of a project of this magnitude. That’s a requirement and it must be done.”
Manager for IBI’s local office Gordon Wyke, in an interview with the Express yesterday afternoon, confirmed there will be a presentation next week.
Told financial statements from the company showed a reflection of heavy monetary losses, Wyke admitted the group is going through some financial challenges and this is being addressed.
Asked whether Nipdec was informed of these challenges, he said when IBI placed their bids “everything will be there, all our finances, etc”.
Stating the company is going through changes, Wyke said he was not in a position to say how badly the finances are affected.
“I can’t say, I’m not close to that aspect of things. You will need to contact someone else,” he said.
In 2011, IBI was awarded a $42 million contract for two years by the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) to organise and implement a programme on behalf of the Ministry of Works and Transport.
The programme, “Eyes in the Sky”, was intended to take the place of police officers to monitor errant motorists along the East-West Corridor.
This is not the first Canadian company to have red flags raised over contracts in T&T.
In September, the Government “slammed the brakes” on all contracts and negotiations between this country and SNC-Lavalin.
This included the $2.2 million contract the company was awarded earlier this year to design the Penal hospital.
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