One of the five contractors named in the Government’s $200 million cartel claim, over contracts awarded in the run-up to the 2015 general election, is seeking to have the case against them struck out before it even goes to trial.
Lawyers representing Namalco on Thursday began presenting submissions in the lawsuit initiated by the Estate Management and Business Development Company Ltd (EMBD).
Four other contractors, three of the company’s former officials and former Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal are also named in the lawsuit.
In his submissions, British Queen’s Counsel Simon Hughes repeatedly described the case as speculative as he claimed that High Court judge James Aboud was being asked to infer impropriety by the parties in the absence of any concrete evidence.
“It is completely fanciful and lacks any sort of reality,” Hughes said.
Referring to the aspects of the lawsuit, which claims that the parties conspired to rig EMBD’s tendering process, Hughes said there was no evidence which pointed to the fact that his client was directly involved in the alleged plot including in the dozens of text messages which form part of the evidence in the case.
Dealing with the allegation that his client participated in a process to inflate bids, Hughes said it could be argued that they were engaged in cover pricing.
Hughes explained that with cover pricing, contractors would overbid on contracts which they did not want or expect to receive in an effort to prevent them from being de-registered as a preferred contractor.
“Our evidence indicates that there are other plausible and innocent reasons why this pricing occurs,” Hughes said, as he noted that all the contracts being analysed in the case were awarded to the lowest bidder.
Hughes also referred to the evidence of EMBD’s accounting expert who admitted that patterns in the bids submitted by the contractors could not directly prove collusion between them.
The cartel claim centres around 10 contracts for rehabilitation of roads on lands belonging to the former Caroni (1975) Ltd, which were granted to five contractors in September 2015.
Besides Namalco, the other contractors listed Fides, TN Ramnauth and Company Ltd (TN Ramnauth), Mootilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Ltd (Ramhit) and Kall Company Ltd (Kallco).
Moonilal, former EMBD CEO Gary Parmassar, former divisional managers Madhoo Balroop and Andrew Walker are listed as parties to the claim along with the contractors.
The claim was filed in October 2017, after Namalco sued EMBD over its failure to compensate the company for six contracts, valued at $1.3 bn, including two of which fell under cartel claim.
Namalco’s lawsuit was split in two—its claim over the two cartel contracts were stayed while its claims for payment for four other contracts continuing before Justice Ricky Rahim.
The substantive lawsuit of the cartel claim is expected to go to trial after Aboud determines Namalco’s preliminary application. EMBD’s lawyers are expected to respond to the application on Friday.
Namalco is one of the contractors who were recently awarded contracts for the completion of the Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin.
Namalco is also being represented Dereck Balliram and Raphael Morton-Gittens, while EMBD is being represented by David Phillips, QC, and Jason Mootoo.