The Opposition People's National Movement (PNM) is demanding answers from the Government on SNC-Lavalin's involvement with the Penal hospital contract after the disclosure that T&T's High Commissioner to Canada, Phillip Buxo, once worked for the controversial Canadian firm.
During yesterday's Parliament session, PNM MP Colm Imbert read information on Buxo's former involvement with SNC-Lavalin which was reported online in March 2011. In several stories over the past week, the T&T Guardian has also reported Buxo's previous postion and questions hanging over the company.SNC-Lavalin, which has been selected for construction of the $800 million hospital, has come under scrutiny and concern where its reputation is involved.
The hospital contract awarded to the Canadian company was one of several procurement issues Imbert raised in piloting a motion which expressed disapproval at the Government's "poor governance and poor procurement" for state agencies.
Describing the Penal hospital issue as a "brewing scandal," Imbert called on the Government to clear the air, since he noted the Canadian High Commission and the supervising agency, Udecott, had pointed fingers at each other over the company's involvement.
"We need a definitive statement on this scandal," he said.Imbert noted SNC-Lavalin was banned from projects in April by both the World Bank and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) over alleged bribery and company misconduct.
"Yet, somehow, Government didn't know SNC-Lavalin was banned by the World Bank and CIDA. What are they doing in T&T? We're entering a $1 billion-dollar contract with taxpayers' money and giving it to a company banned by these two agencies for bribery and corruption. Doesn't Government monitor anything?" Imbert asked.A senior SNC-Lavalin official was also reported in a Canadian news story to have said the company used the code letters "PCC" and "CC" for bribery and to denote hidden consultancy costs.
Questioning government officials' position that the State had no control over selection and tender for the hospital contract, Imbert read out information about Buxo, who was described as a southern former oil-rig worker who went on to own a multimillion-dollar logistics business.A Jyoti Communications article said, "It's also one of the reasons SNC-Lavalin made him a director, and why he has become his country's High Commissioner to Ottawa at age 40."
The article said Buxo moved to Canada in 2006 and "Eventually SNC-Lavalin came knocking, offering to make him director of the company's Caricom energy and infrastructure division."Buxo said this experience would be invaluable in his new role as high commissioner and he would like to see Canadian companies "get back into the game" in T&T.
The article also said, "Either way, Mr Buxo says his country is strongly in favour of a deal. That's part of a chain of activities that need to take place, he says. But perhaps more importantly, Mr Buxo plans to go directly to Canadian businesses themselves, to highlight the potential his country has and why they should encourage the government to make it a priority."
Buxo was quoted as saying, "We in T&T and Caricom need to go to your private sector–the SNC-Lavalins and the Suncors and the rest of your heavyweights, the blue chips–and be able to market a good story. Those are the guys who need to go to your ministers."Imbert took issue with Health Minister Fuad Khan's distancing himself from the SNCL controversy, saying the South West Regional Health Authority–to which Khan had referred queries from the T&T Guardian–reported to Khan.
Imbert also called on the Government to say how the cost of the children's hospital at Couva rose from $975 milion in early June, when the sod was turned, to $1.5 billion three weeks later when Health Minister Fuad Khan gave this figure in the Senate on Tuesday.Imbert questioned a $464 million sum for consultancy fees.
He took issue with former Airports Authority deputy chairman Kurt Ajodha–who resigned recently over questionable of credentials–saying Adjodha had also been adviser to the Transport Ministry.Imbert said Ajodha had written to the ministry's Permanent Secretary in October 2012 about work to be done at the Waterfront Complex and the letter listed many credentials for Adjodha but it was subsequently found he had none of them.
Deeming Ajodha a fraud, Imbert said, "Is it government policy to hire people with bogus qualifications and allow them to deal with a $232 million contract where the highest bidder gets the job?"