Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has called for two multi-million-dollar Tobago projects to be halted and has requested that a probe be conducted into questionable dealings of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) led by Chief Secretary Orville London.
In her contribution to the budget debate at yesterday's Parliament sitting, Persad-Bissessar raised questions with respect to the $250 million Bacolet aquatic centre and indoor sport complex and the $143 million Milshirv THA Administration Complex.
"I am suggesting first of all that the projects—Milshirv and the projects with respect to the aquatic centre—be halted, pending proper clarification and investigation. Secondly, the matters be referred to the Attorney General, the DPP and the Integrity Commission to be investigated," said Persad-Bissessar.
She also disclosed that she has asked that the Finance Minister conduct a central audit on these projects.
Persad-Bissessar spent most of her contribution on the THA, which she said negotiated arrangements for these projects through a Build, Own, Lease, Transfer (BOLT) process—in contravention of the THA Act.
She said the Act states that approvals must be granted by the Finance Minister before the THA borrows sums by way of term loans for the purpose of capital investment.
"At a minimum this would be against the spirit of the act, and at maximum a breach of the law," said Persad-Bissessar.
She then went into detail to show that companies which were recently incorporated were beneficiaries of multi-million-dollar contracts within months.
With respect to the aquatic centre, Persad-Bissessar noted that letters of proposal were sent to the THA in January 2012 from two companies—Adam's Project Management and Construction Ltd for $149,873,456; and Zoit Developers Ltd for $233,549,949.
The Prime Minister questioned how these companies came to know this aquatic centre was to be constructed and whether there were requests for proposals or a tendering process.
A search, she said, was conducted at the Companies Registry for Zoit Developers Ltd and it was found that it was incorporated on November 15, 2011, and by January 2012 it was making proposals for a multi-million-dollar project.
Persad-Bissessar said an evaluation was done by Project Specialist Ltd on Zoit's proposal, based on a request from the THA's chief administrator of the division of finance and enterprise development.
This report dated May 3, 2012, she said, raised serious concerns and advised the THA against going forward with Zoit and was also critical of BOLT financing.
The Prime Minister said even after this report, THA's secretary of finance and development Anselm London in July 2012 wrote to Zoit stating that a letter of interest will be issued to the company for the construction of the aquatic centre.
London's letter, she added, also stated, "It is therefore recommended that the revised proposal, amended to reflect comments, observations and recommendations from both project specialists and our internal THA working group be submitted for final consideration and approval of the executive council."
"How is that transparent?" asked Persad-Bissessar, as she questioned whether other companies were given the same opportunity to amend their proposal.
On the heels of this, she said London denied the contract was awarded and said a letter of intent was sent to Zoit.
However, Persad-Bissessar referred to an e-mail from THA programme coordinator Joel Jack, who stated in September 2012 that the project was indeed approved by the THA.
"What actually happened there?... why were these developers hand-picked?" asked Persad-Bissessar.
She said the same questionable practice happened with respect to the Shirvan Administration complex project—where a company was incorporated in one month and soon after was the beneficiary of a multi-million-dollar contract.
On October 3, 2011, Milshirv Ltd was incorporated and one month later, on November 15, 2011, the THA purchased three acres of land situated at the corner of Shirvan and Milford Roads, for $12 million, from Dankett Ltd.
On November 2011, the THA leased the same land to Milshirv Properties Ltd for 199 years at an annual rent of $10.
According to the lease document, Milshirv will construct an office building and facilities and, upon completion, would then rent to the THA for a term of 20 years at $1.3 million per month.
Persad-Bissessar said what is "frightening" is that a critical document from that lease is missing—an office lease that spells out the terms and conditions of the agreement.
Searches, she said, were done in the Lands Registry and there was no "annex B" document. "What is there to hide in there?"she questioned, as she pointed out that to date, some 11 months later after the lease was issued, that document is yet to be found.
"What are the real terms agreed to? This is highly irregular, Mr Speaker, and I want to know why that document was not registered as it should have been at the same time of this deed of lease between THA and Milshirv," said Persad-Bissessar.
She said these concerns and questions were no "election gimmick".
The Prime Minister concluded her contribution by saying her Government was committed to ensuring procurement legislation is laid in the Parliament.
Persad-Bissessar said she will continue to unearth more questionable practices as it relates to the THA and Tobago at the People's Partnership post-budget rally at Market Square, Scarborough, on Saturday.