Thursday, October 11, 2012

PM orders probe into 2 multi-million-dollar THA projects

PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Parliament Wednesday
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar told Parliament on Wednesday she wants the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Integrity Commission to investigate two controversial multi-million dollar construction projects in Tobago - the $250 million Tobago Aquatic Centre and Indoor Sporting Complex and the $143 million THA Administrative Complex.

She also asked the PNM-controlled Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to halt the projects immediately.

Persad-Bissessar raised the issues during her contribution to the debate on the 2013 national budget in the House of Representatives, stating that the THA should stop the projects "pending proper clarification" to determine if there was any "breach of the law." 

She also said Finance Minister Larry Howai would conduct a central audit of the two projects. 

With respect to to the Aquatic Centre at Bacelot the PM said an unsolicited tender offer of $149.8 million for the project was submitted by letter dated January 16, 2012 from Adam’s Project Management and Construction Ltd. That letter was not directed to anyone in particular.

She stated that another letter, dated January 25, 2012, addressed to Chief Secretary Orville London, Zoit Developers Ltd submitted an unsolicited proposal of $223.5 million for the same project with a provision to lease the facilities to the THA for an 18-year term after which the THA would get full title to the property.

Persad-Bissessar wants to know how these companies learned that the THA was planning to build a centre. She asked, "Was this project put out to tender, advertised or in any way made known to the public? If not, why not?”

She said the THA negotiated arrangements for these projects through a Build, Own, Lease, Transfer (BOLT) process—in contravention of the THA Act, which states that approvals must be granted by the Finance Minister before the THA can borrows for the purpose of capital investment.

The PM noted that Zoit Developers Ltd was incorporated on November 15, just weeks before it was making proposals for a multi-million-dollar project in January this year.

Persad-Bissessar said an evaluation by Project Specialist Ltd on Zoit's proposal raised serious concerns and advised the THA against going forward with Zoit and was also critical of BOLT financing. 

She said despite such advice THA's finance chief Anselm London wrote Zoit in July 2012 stating that the THA would issue a letter of interest to the company for build the centre.

She questioned the transparency in the matter. She noted that although London denied that a deal was finalised she produced an e-mail from THA programme coordinator Joel Jack, that stated in September 2012 that the project was indeed approved by the THA.

She the same questionable practice happened with respect to the Shirvan project, noting that a company was incorporated in one month then handed 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., she explained. On November 2011, the THA leased the same land to Milshirv Properties Ltd for 199 years at an annual rent of $10.

Milshirv will build an office building and facilities and rent the complex to the THA for a term of 20 years at $1.3 million per month. Persad-Bissessar described as "frightening" the fact that the terms and conditions of the agreement have not been included in the paperwork.

"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 called the it "a sweetheart deal" noting that the two firms Milshirv Properties Limited and Dankett Limited list “a Mr Rahael” as a director. The directors are Joseph Rahael, son of former PNM minister John Rahael, and Anthony Rahael, brother of the former minister.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai