Thursday AUGUST 8, Newsday
$95M in claims by contractors... Piggott: I am not paying one cent; and, Carlos John on paving:
‘I will do it all again’
Former Minister of Works Carlos John yesterday said that he got Cabinet approval for the decisions he took while he was in charge of the road paving exercise (National Road Enhancement Programme) and added that he would do it all again.
Responding to questions of financial irregularities in the programme in two Management Letters from the auditor-general, John said he could not say if his actions broke Public Service Regulations and tendering procedures.
"I did not go into all that legal framework. I went to Cabinet and got approval, Carlos John did not act on his own, contrary to what the Prime Minister and others are saying." John said if he was again Minister of Works he would do it all again.
John called a media briefing yesterday at the United National Congress Port-of-Spain office, Frederick Street to respond to the auditor-general's expressed criticisms of the way tendering procedures were breached and the hiring of additional staff, payment of special allowances to public servants without knowledge or approval of the Permanent Secretary.
The road paving exercise was carried out by the Tourism and Industrial Development Company (TIDCO).
John who was accompanied by Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar and St Augustine MP Gerald Yetming, answered all questions from reporters but at times appeared to be under stress, going into a lot of technical details avout paving.
Pressed to comment on Cabinet's authority to make decisions which affected the tendering process, and the terms and conditions of public servants, John quickly responed: "I am not sure, we had a concept in mind for this programme after consultation with stakeholders. The then Minister Carlos John took a note to Cabinet and Cabinet approved the proposal."
John defended the allowances, overtime payments and special allowances paid to the officers of the Works Ministry although in some cases these allowances were more than the officer's monthly salary.
He said "Admin fees"— cell phones, gas, and allowances —cost less than 0.05 percent of all the work done on the country's infrastructure.
The allowances were paid as "compensation" for "going beyond the call" of duty. John said the UNC goverment approved the payments.
John did not see the payments as a dangerous precedent and said all workers who worked long hours should be paid. He said in the private sector busineses paid for performance.
John admitted that some work began although contracts were not yet signed. "What may have happened was when a contract is being awarded and being signed on the dotted line (because it may have had to go to the attorneys) and we may say mobilise."
He refuted reports that payments were made to contractors before work was completed. Commenting on payments to contractors before jobs were totally completed, John said interim payments were made based on a Quantity Surveyor's report.
He gave the example of a contractor having 40 roads to work on, but after completing 20, John said a quantity surveyor/quality assurance "signed off on the job that it was completed to specs then you do a drawdown and pay on that."
Supporting John's statements Persad-Bissessar said: "The point is in law you can have an agreement for a contract and the contract is being finalised you can have part performance on the contract and part payment, it is an accepted in practice in law."
John also revealed that not all road paving work went out for tender. He said there was no tendering process for "straight paving" as the price would be "as a grade". However, strengthening and rehabilitative works went out for tender.
Asked about approval by the Finance Minister for contracts exceeding $5 million, John admitted that written approval may have come afterwards "in a few instances" as it was taking some time for the Ministry to write the Works Ministry and the agencies.
However, he stressed that "every single tendering procedure was adhered to."
John expressed frustration at what he sees as harassment and persecution in the run-up to the election. "This a build up we expected but it is going too far and I have had enough. I have reached the end of how much I can take."
$95M in claims by contractors... Piggott: I am not paying one cent
By Francis Joseph
WORKS Minister Arnold Piggott said yesterday that he does not intend to pay out $95 million in claims from contractors for paving works done without formal contracts under the National Road Enhancement Programme (NREP).
Piggott pointed out that of the claims submitted, $84 million have been claimed by contractors with no formal contracts. The other $11 million, he added, is being claimed by three or four contractors for work done in Princes Town with no contracts or approval from the Ministry of Works and Transport.
Piggott spoke yesterday with reporters at the sod-turning ceremony of the Diego Martin Highway Extension held at the Wendy Fitzwilliam Boulevard, Diamond Vale.
When questioned about the information coming out of the Auditor General's report, Piggott said, "I am aware that several contractors executed works without any award of contracts under the last programme.
"Many of them executed those contracts without any recommendation being made to anybody to have those works done. For those works which were executed without contracts, the jury is out on that.
"The Ministry has no legal obligation at this time to meet those commitments as they were contracts executed outside the Ministry. They were works done outside the Ministry with no documentation to support it," the Minister added.
When asked further about the $11 million claim by the contractors, Piggott said the Princes Town paving was certainly not works that his Ministry was aware of. The Ministry, he added, has no knowledge of work done in that area.
"I believe there is somebody who purported to have awarded those contracts, and that will be the subject of some other inquiry. It is the most scandalous situation to have existed in any Government Ministry.
"We have claims coming into the Ministry for $11 million. We can trace no tenders having been invited by the Ministry. We can trace no award of contracts being made, and no certification for the execution of the works, so in the circumstances, we cannot pay," the Minister declared.
Piggott said that after the investigations by the Auditor General and the deliberations of the Cabinet, if it becomes necessary, the matter will be forwarded to the police after advice from the Attorney General.
The Works Minister pointed out that all checks and balances for managing contracts under NREP seemed to have gone out of the window.
When asked for his personal opinion on the Auditor General's report, Piggott said he preferred to stay silent until Cabinet has deliberated on the matter.
Piggott pointed out that his Ministry must respond to the management letter sent to it by the Auditor General. "We have to do some inquiries; we have a pretty good idea of some of the things that went wrong, but a formal response has to go to the Auditor General. I can't give you a time frame but we will try to expedite it as soon as possible," he promised.
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