...UDeCOTT’s Jearlean John to meet Canadian envoy today
Chairman of the Urban Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCoTT) Jearlean John will meet today with Canadian High Commissioner Gerard Latulippe to discuss the further involvement of Montreal-based construction firm SNC-Lavalin in the development of the Penal Hospital.
The meeting will take place at John’s offices at the Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) headquarters at South Quay, Port of Spain. John is also managing director of the HDC.
“The High Commissioner requested a meeting; I believed it was proper to accede to that request. I will give him the opportunity to say what he has to say. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has a position and I will seek to articulate that position (when we meet),” John told the Express in a brief telephone interview yesterday.
SNC-Lavalin’s involvement in the construction of the Penal Hospital has become a heated political issue since it was reported in June that the company was awarded a $2.2 million contract to design the hospital.
Opposition MP Colm Imbert first raised his concerns in Parliament, pointing out that the World Bank had banned SNC and more than 100 of its affiliates over alleged corrupt practices. He also alleged that T&T’s High Commissioner to Canada, Phillip Buxo, worked at SNC-Lavalin.
Imbert subsequently filed a motion in Parliament earlier this month, calling on the Government to terminate all its existing contracts with SNC.
Over the last few weeks, SNC-Lavalin has been making international headlines for allegations of bribery by former executives in Libya, Algeria and Bangladesh.
In April, the World Bank blacklisted the company from bidding on any projects funded by the bank for ten years.
But SNC-Lavalin has since said it has enhanced its corporate governance and ethics structures, and the Canadian government seems to have agreed with its new positions.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird last week defended the controversial construction company, saying it had “new leadership and a new way of doing business, focused on ethics”.
Last Monday, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, UDeCoTT’s line minister, said he had requested a due-diligence report from the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), a Canadian government agency that facilitates government-to-government arrangements, which was responsible for selecting SNC-Lavalin. Moonilal had earlier stated that the Government can veto SNC’s involvement in the Penal contracts at any time.
John said she had written to the CCC on September 12, raising several issues, including the due-diligence report.
“There are many questions in the public domain; we are waiting on the due-diligence report. The Canadian government has (indicated it will do a due diligence report), but we do not know the parameters,” she said.
She said she had not yet received a report from the CCC.
The Express was informed, however, that the CCC had sent a letter to John, dated September 16, indicating that a due-diligence report had been completed and the CCC was satisfied with SNC-Lavalin’s ability to meet ethical standards.
The letter, from CCC president Marc Whittington, had also requested a meeting with John, possibly today, to present the report and discuss further negotiations for the project.
The letter was also copied to several ministers, including Moonilal, Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie and Finance Minister Larry Howai.
John told the Express after the meeting with Latulippe, UDeCoTT will meet with Moonilal and a conclusion to the matter and a way forward should be determined by the end of the week. She said while she was not informed if Moonilal will attend today’s meeting, she, the company’s chief executive officer, Kurt Ramlal, chief operating officer, Greer Quan, and director, Shankar Bidaisee, will be present.