by SAMPSON NANTON
Former judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Rolston Nelson, SC, has been appointed to investigate the circumstances surrounding a contract for immigration kiosks at the Piarco and ANR Robinson airports, that will cost the state US$43 million (approx TT$300M) over 7 years.
The contract is between Novo Technology Incorporation Limited and the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT) and caters for the provision of kiosks that allow passengers to scan their passports at the machines and reduce the time spent in immigration lines.
The contract was signed in December 2017 and Minister of National Security and Communications, Stuart Young said a supplemental contract was signed in March 2018.
According to Minister Young, both contracts were signed by the AATT and Novo without the Cabinet being aware of them.
Young said that a Cabinet sub-committee appointed to look into the matter - Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan and Young - found that the award of the contract did "not appear to have followed the usual tendering process".
"It appears at highest to have been procured as a result of a selective tendering process," he told Thursday's post-Cabinet news conference.
Young said the terms of the contract also raised a red flag.
He told the media that regardless of the number of passengers passing through Piarco on a monthly basis, the contract binds the AATT to a minimum flow of 100,000 passengers at US$5.10 per passenger.
That amounts to US$510,000 (approx TT$3 million) a month and the contract continues for seven years, amounting to roughly US$43 million.
"We have serious concerns with this type of spending of taxpayers' money," Young said.
The minister added that the AATT did not have anything in place to cover the financial payments and that the Ministry of Works and Transport only learned of the contract when the AATT approached the ministry for assistance in making the payments.
The Cabinet sub-committee recommended and the Cabinet approved the following:
(i) that the Ministry of Works and Transport seek and obtain independent legal advice on the contract and the obligations between the AATT and the state. That process has already started;
(ii) that the Ministry of Finance send in the Central Audit Committee to look at the contract. That report will come back to Cabinet sub-committee for further recommendations;
(iii) that the Cabinet considered that an appropriate investigation into the contract needs to be done urgently and with the greatest expediency. As a result, Justice Rolston Nelson, SC, has been appointed as the independent investigator into the procurement of the contract awarded to Novo and the circumstances leading up to the contract.
Justice Nelson has been asked to submit a report to Cabinet in two months.
The state will also supply him with a junior counsel of his choice and a secretariat from the Ministry of Works and Transport.
The automated passport system (kiosk system) was launched at the Piarco International Airport on July 16, 2018 as a pilot project.
At the time it featured 12 kiosks and was tested for two weeks before being unveiled fully to travellers on July 28.
The system required users to scan their machine-readable passports, have their fingerprints scanned and their photographs taken.
Users who were cleared for entry were then issued with a slip with their photograph which was collected by a designated immigration officer.
Travellers would then be permitted to proceed towards duty-free shopping or directly to the baggage claim area and the Customs and Excise checkpoint.
Those flagged for a secondary immigration check would receive a slip with a cross over their photograph and would then be directed to an interview with an immigration officer.
The entire process was expected to take a little over a minute from start to finish.
Asked about the cost of implementing the system, the then National Security Minister Edmund Dillion referred the question to the authority’s general manager Hayden Newton.
Newton did not give a figure, but said: “What I can tell you is that the benefits far outweigh the costs.”