Calling for answers: Keith Rowley

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Rowley writes Carmona on water plant contract

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley has made good on his promise to write to President Anthony Carmona on the billion-dollar water recycling plant contract awarded to a consortium led by Super Industrial Services (SIS).
In a letter dated March 10, Rowley urged Carmona to “investigate and call upon the Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to explain the circumstances and award by the National Gas Company/WASA of a contract for the Design and Build, Operation and Maintenance of the Beetham Water Recycling Plant together with the associated pipelines and water storage facilities to SIS on Carnival Friday, February 28, 2014”.
In the letter to the President, Rowley said the NGC board would have been advised by the NGC Tenders Committee to accept the SIS award. “The chairman of NGC Mr Chan Chadeesingh is an attorney-at-law and I am advised that he has served as the chairman of SIS, and as one of its attorneys-at-law,” Rowley stated.
Rowley detailed the process, noting 15 contractors attended the pre-tender project briefing and site visit at the Kapok Hotel, St Clair, on September 25.
He said only two contractors returned bids—Atlatec and SIS.
Rowley said he was advised the contract award to SIS was in the amount of US$167 million or TT$1,068,800,000. He said he was advised the engineer’s estimate was originally set at US$130 million, but was raised to US$137 million or TT$876,800,000.
He said he was advised Atlatec SA de CV’s bid was US$95 million or TT$608 million.
Rowley said he was advised significant issues, which affect the ultimate cost of the project, remain undetermined, including the geotechnical and land title issues.
Rowley said the NGC board would have submitted its recommendation to give the award to SIS to the Cabinet, which would have approved the project award.
He said he was advised Environment Minister Ganga Singh was “integrally involved in the entire bid process (firstly) in his capacity as the CEO of WASA and (then) as the line minister with responsibility for WASA”.
Rowley said he was aware a board of directors was not obliged to accept the lowest tender.
“The issue would have been which bidder met the criteria on the whole. From an appreciation of i. the construction of the requirements of the Request for Proposals and ii. the impossibility of the time frame for submission of meaningful bids—it seems that the entire bid was designed and weighted in favour of SIS’s own background. In other words the bid seems to have been engineered to produce the desired outcome of an award to SIS,” Rowley stated.
“SIS is a known financier of the United National Congress and is the beneficiary of numerous awards for very lucrative contracts from the People’s Partnership Government. SIS was also involved in the construction works carried out on the home of a senior Government official (whom he named in the letter) as well as the home of Ashworth Jack, leader of the Tobago Organi­sation of the People,” the letter stated.
Noting the project was designed as a long-term contract in similar fashion to the Desalcott arrangement, Rowley noted the tenderer who is awarded the Beetham contract would have long-term benefits just as in the Desalcott arrangement and WASA would have to have a water sale agreement in place.
“At the end of the day, WASA would become another purchaser,” he said.
Rowley said one of the questions which had to be asked was why NGC was involved in this arrangement insofar as it is not the owner of the Point Lisas Industrial Estate and is not engaged in the water-distribution business.
“Why a proper period for the tender was not allowed originally so as to ensure the proper participation of the broadest cross-section of bidders in a competitive environment—particularly when there was no urgency for the project,” he asked.
Rowley noted the last PNM government had advice from a consultant in relation to the establishment of a wastewater treatment plant at the Beetham site in 2009.
He said the original concept was a submarine line from Beetham to Point Lisas. “This project is now a land line. The project was not pursued (by the PNM government) because the PNM was informed by Desalcott that it could easily expand and double its operations to meet the demands for the industrial estate in Point Lisas and the new estate to be built in La Brea. Furthermore the expansion of Desalcott to meet additional water needs could be achieved without capital investment,” Rowley stated.
The Opposition Leader said the issue of tender went out on September 2. He said in the period September 4, 2013, to October 18, 2014, he was advised requests were made for the extension of the deadline date for tender, but those requests were denied by NGC.
“I am further advised that the vast majority of bidders had fallen out of the contest due to the impossibilities of the time frame for the submission of meaningful bids and that an extension of time for the submission of bids was eventually granted.”
Rowley stated it was the view of the Opposition that all due alacrity was required in respect of the investigation required into the issues arising in this matter, particularly insofar as the entire construct of this tender and the cloaking of its ostensible award reeks of bid-rigging and exposes the taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago to the worst form of odium and contempt.
He added the Opposition was heartened by the President’s promise on his inauguration and remained comforted his insistence upon transparency from this Government would prevail.
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