Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal says the T&T Government is working with the Canadian authorities to find out whether due-diligence procedures were followed when the Canadian engineering conglomerate SNC-Lavalin was selected to build the planned multimillion-dollar Penal hospital.SNC-Lavalin has been embroiled in allegations of corporate corruption since last year.Despite this, SNC-Lavalin has been chosen to build the Penal hospital and rehabilitation centre.
The T&T Guardian also sent an e-mail to T&T's high commissioner to Canada Philip Buxo, who worked for SNC-Lavalin up to the time of his appointment to the diplomatic post in 2010.His biography on the official Web site at http://ttcgtoronto.gov.tt/index.php/our-country/biographies/95-high-commissioner1 says for four years he was director of the company's Caricom Region Energy and Infrastructure Division.
No response was forthcoming from Buxo.Laurent Morel-�-l'Huissier, political counsellor at the High Commission of Canada in Port-of-Spain, said he would issue a statement in due course.The Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) is supervising the construction of the hospital, which is scheduled for construction at Clarke Road, Penal, under a government-to-government arrangement with the Canadian authorities.
Moonilal, under whose portfolio Udecott falls, said he was concerned about the allegations surrounding the company, but the selection and tendering were being handled by the Canadian government. He said Udecott has written to the Canadian mission about the matter."These matters are dealt with by the Canadian government, where they do their own procedures in selecting a company for design, project management and construction," Moonilal said.
He reiterated that in a government-to-government arrangement, the host government does not select the contractors.Asked whether government planned to veto the Canadian's decision to give SNC-Lavalin the contract now that the government has been made aware of the cloud over SNC, Moonilal said he could not answer at this point."We are making some investigations by trying to find out whether due diligence was followed," he said.
"There is no sealed deal. We are working through the embassy in Toronto to enquire whether they have done due diligence and then we will take it from there."Moonilal said the Canadian government was known for its transparency and good governance."As such we will enquire after they have done their investigations," he said.
"SNC-Lavalin is no stranger to T&T, because under the PNM it was hired to do projects. We cannot make a judgement, its a subsidiary of the company that was banned. We want to be assured that proper protocol was followed. We must also remember that these are matters of foreign relations so it is sensitive so we have to be cautious," Moonilal said.
But president of the Local Content Chamber Lennox Sirjusingh questioned why the Canadian government was given the opportunity to choose the contractor for the Penal hospital and rehabilitation centre.He said: "How is this decided? It is not beneficial to developing local content in the host country." Sirjusingh expressed disgust that the T&T Government would deprive locals of economic benefit by giving the Canadians permission to choose one of their own contractors.
He said: "This is a loan that we are taking from the Canadian government. We have to pay it back. It is not a grant, so why should they choose the contractor?"Sirjusingh said the Government had an obligation to develop its own people, yet foreign contractors were being given the job to build mega projects in T&T.
However, Moonilal said because it is a government-to-government arrangement, T&T gets low interest rates and other preferential conditions."We don't have domestic resources to sustain mega projects so government to government arrangements are made," Moonilal explained. President of the Joint Consultative Council of the construction industry Afra Raymond said his group had voiced strong objections over government-to-government arrangements.
"Our government in no circumstances should not be awarding contracts to companies which have been banned by the World Bank, because that means that we are failing to maintain proper standards in how we handle public money," Raymond said.He added that a vast amount of taxpayers' dollars were being committed to contracts and contractors who were not operating in the interest of the country.
Saying the Government was developing "reasonable suspicion of improper practices," Raymond said there was a need to review all government-to-government arrangements, especially since they did not serve T&T's economic interest.He also called on the Government to halt the present initiatives so as to have a broad-based consultation amongst stakeholders to establish a proper policy on government-to-government arrangements, as well as the use of foreign contractors and consultants.