Friday, February 23, 2018

Volney: Seetahal a hired political assassin

Ex-minister slams ex-senator over concerns of Karamath contract

Fired justice minister Herbert Volney yesterday launched a scathing attack against former independent senator Dana Seetahal after she raised concerns about contractor Hafeez Karamath Ltd (HKL) in her weekly column on Page 13 of yesterday's Express.

Seetahal raised concerns following a Sunday Express story on December 30 about HKL seeking the nod to construct the Ministry of Justice's multimillion-dollar judicial centre in Trincity.

HKL is the contractor at the heart of the unfinished Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba.

"If my memory serves me correctly, was this not the same company roundly condemned by Prof Uff in his 2010 report for what transpired in relation in the construction of the project? Is there a realistic chance that a company with such a track record would be contracted to construct State buildings?" wrote Seetahal.

In raising concern about the millions of dollars thrown behind the project, Seetahal qualified the project as a national disgrace.

"In the Uff Report, released in April 2010, Prof Uff recommended a full investigation by the police into Calder Hart and the entire UDeCOTT (Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago) board in relation to the $885 million project. He deemed the project as 'nothing short of scandalous' and 'a national disgrace', and also recommended that the contrac- tor, HKL, be fired immediately," Seetahal said.

Volney yesterday condemned her statements.

Volney has defended HKL's right to raise questions about the tendering of the estimated $200 million judicial complex.

The Sunday Express reported on December 30 that after allegations that another company was favoured for the project, HKL turned to Volney— who was once in charge of the project—for help.

Volney had told the Sunday Express he was seeking the interest of his constituent Yashid Ellis Karamath, whom he felt had been unfairly treated and had submitted the lowest construction bid.

In a public statement posted on blogs yesterday, in which he continued to defend Karamath, Volney said Seetahal got it wrong.

He linked her to a political party and described her as "no more than a hired political assassin who cleverly uses her pen to try to destroy anything and anyone at a price. Her staunch defence of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) in the Section 34 matter is not only from the mind of one who receives most of her well-paying briefs from the DPP himself but one who abused her then office as president of the Law Association to attack me as minister of justice on any occasion I had a difference of opinion with the DPP."

He described her statements on the Tarouba stadium as a "misinformed" attack "on the HKL group".

He dismissed the allegations as part of a People's National Movement (PNM) plot and said HKL was never given an opportunity to respond to statements made against the company.

The fired minister had told the Sunday Express that HKL was the only bidder within the Cabinet-approved ceiling for the Trincity judicial centre, but another company was favoured for the contract.

Volney has argued that HKL, which is the lowest bidder for the judicial centre, should have been allowed to present its plans to the procurement agency, the National Insurance and Property Development Company (Nipdec).

A senior Nipdec official told the Sunday Express yesterday that no contract has been awarded for the judicial centre.

The official noted that Nipdec's board, whose term ended in December, will meet again on Tuesday.

The official said he did not think the project would have to be retendered for a third time despite allegations being made about the transparency of the project.

The official pointed out it was at the board's discretion to make a decision on a project, even if it meant the lowest tendered company did not naturally get the nod for the project.

A Government official suggested to the Sunday Express yesterday that Volney should explain his public defence of HKL.