Carlos ignored JCC advice and did what he wanted
By Sunday Newsday Reporter
At his press conference of August 7, 2002 former UNC Minister for Infrastructure Development and Local Government Carlos John sought to extract himself from the hot, sticky mess of his road paving scandal, by claiming he had formulated his Cabinet-approved plan after meetings with "the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry, the Trinidad and Tobago Contractors Association and other stakeholders" in June 2000.
John did talk with the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) and other "stakeholders". However, documents obtained by Sunday Newsday demonstrate that the Minister ignored all the major JCC recommendations, advice whose objectives were, fostering competitive tendering; ensuring quality and quantity control; and devising an appropriate scheme for identifying the roads to be paved in the National Road Enhancement Programme (NREP).
The documents show that John met with JCC President Winston Riley on June 17, 2000 and informed Riley that he wanted to pave five roads in each constituency before the 2000 general election, but he desired the procurement process to be as "transparent as possible".
Riley took John seriously, and he and other JCC members held a meeting to discuss John's accelerated road works programme. They then held talks with the Director of Contracts of the Central Tenders Board, after which Riley penned a letter on June 26 to John, outlining the JCC's conclusions.
The JCC first said that as far as the award of contracts was concerned, the only option was "competitive tendering". Competitive tendering, it said, was preferable to the fixed unit price of $275 per metric tonne of asphalt, which John had reached with the support of the Trinidad and Tobago Contractors Association (TTCA). The then market price of the metric tonne ranged from $150 to $225.
The fixed price according to the JCC, was not the safest approach because "contractors were tendering in some instances at 50 percent of the cost and over invoicing for work done." The TTCA, it added, could also be accused of organising a contractors cartel to fix prices. Furthermore, the JCC warned; contractors with asphalt plants could be left out of the paving programme, as the charge per tonne included plant fees, which in their case would make their metric tonne cheaper than the fixed price.
The JCC further noted that the tenders for paving should use both the square meter format and the per tonne format to allow for speed as the Minister's objectives were to pave five roads in every constituency before the 2000 general election, which was an "extremely limited frametime".
The JCC also stated that after its meeting with the Director of Contracts for Roads, "it became clear that a team had been appointed by the CTB to establish specifications and evaluation criteria for procurement of bonded contractors for supply or placing of hotmix asphalt in paving". The CTB, it added, had asked for comment on the team report and after receiving these, the Tenders Board would invite tenders, which it would evaluate before making its recommendations. This process would take only one month so John's road repair programme could begin without undue delay. The Central Tenders Board and its tendering process should be used in the National Road Enhancement Programme, the JCC concluded.
But instead of heeding the JCC's recommendations, Carlos John began to implement his own haphazard method on July 1, 2000, a mere two weeks after discussing the road works with Riley and only a few days after receiving the JCC President's letter.
John opted to use the fixed unit price of $275 and furthermore, ignored the JCC advice to use the Central Tenders Board to choose contractors. His Ministry, without competitive tender and without using CTB criteria, selected eleven bonded contractors.
Indeed, even the Tourism and Industrial Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago (TIDCO) — with which John's Ministry had signed a Memorandum of Understanding to do the paving, on August 18, 2000 — was left out of the procurement process.
TIDCO, the MOU had stated, would be responsible for "project financing and procurement in order to facilitate and expedite" the road works. The same MOU also stated that the Ministry of Works and Transport was responsible for evaluating and recommending the award of contracts.
However, in her report on the NREP, Assistant Auditor General, Jennifer Frederick wrote that the TIDCO Board, informed of its role three months after the paving exercise began, said it was unaware of the exact role undertaken by its management. The Board, Frederick said, was later informed by its former chairman, Minister John in September 2000, that TIDCO's role would be limited to making payments to contractors based on payment certificates and certificates of completion, from his Ministry.
In other words, TIDCO would borrow money from the State owned First Citizens Bank and hand it over to contractors on the word of the Ministry and/or Minister.
There would be no Central Tenders Board involvement, no checks or balances.
Last week, John's successor, new Minister of Works, Arnold Piggott said there were $95 million in claims from contractors without tender or contract documents.
His PNM administration would not be paying one cent of this money, he swore.
Another PNM Minister told Newsday that a contractor wanted payment for three jobs, but had a contract for only the first. For the second, the man had delivery slips. As for the third job, he had been told by the Ministry to go and find a road that looked like it needed paving and pave it!
Carlos John also disregarded JCC advice that initial payments (80 percent of the job) to contractors should be made according to a specified thickness in the square meter format, which would allow work to start immediately. After the quality, thickness and density of the paving were determined, the consultative body said, the conversions could be made to tonnes and payments adjusted.
If the quality was bad, deductions could be based on a formula for the life cycle of the road. The tests would be done using the specifications and quality control methods of the CTB. No tests were done on the roads however, and many crumbled soon after being paved.
The JCC also warned the former Minister not to pay by the tonne because this "was a major source of corruption." It described the methodology of using asphalt delivery slips to determine payment due as "open to abuse".
Even the TCCA, which had recommended the fixed price method, also noted in a letter dated June 16, 2000 to the UNC Minister, that since Government did not have the resources to police all the roads being paved, to ensure every tonne of asphalt billed had in fact been delivered, one solution might be to pay by the square metre.
"This would stretch the taxpayer's dollar by so much it would surprise those in charge of the programme," the contractors said. John opted to pay by the tonne.
The JCC told John that attempts should not be made to break contracts down into $500,000 amounts, but where such did exist, the Ministerial Tenders Committee of the Ministry of Works could award such tenders, using proper specifications and contract award criteria of the CTB. The Ministry used no such specifications or criteria. The JCC also recommended to John that instead of having each MP hand pick five roads, a reconnaissance survey be conducted by an experienced professional engineer. Many roads in south and central Trinidad had expansive clays with water lines, which could deteriorate if paved.
These would leak and in turn cause further pavement failures. This advice also went unheeded.
In John's hands, the NREP ballooned in one year from a $200 million into a one billion-dollar job, where John awarded contracts for roads and other services verbally, approved allowances for public servants without ministry oversight and signed off on contracts without tender.
Asphalt was dumped in some places so high it surpassed the sidewalks in height. Other roads crumbled soon after being paved.
John told the JCC in June 2000 that his objective was to be as transparent as possible in the procurement process. In reply, the JCC cautiously underlined its concerns over the Government's haste. In an August letter, the JCC urged the Minister to recognise that accelerated programmes needed to adhere to the norms of transparency, equity and cost effective management. It specifically urged John to implement its recommendations.
John told the media and by extension the country, that he had formed his plan after meeting with the JCC. What he did not mention was that his scheme excluded every single JCC recommendation aimed at saving TT millions of dollars and preventing massive corruption and waste.
However, as John was at pains to point out at the press conference, he does "his business, his way," regardless of procedures, rules or regulations broken in the process. In the audited report of his ministry, John was said to have dismissed his Permanent Secretary's request for copies of contracts of officers employed by TIDCO and MTS and assigned to the Ministry without adherence to public service regulations.
John, in a curt reply, asked the PS: "Why is this necessary? Let's reduce the bureaucracy." John also made it clear to the media that if he had to do it again; he would do it the same way, despite the fact that the road paving has cost hundreds of millions of dollars more.
However, more frightening than John's bold assertion, is the fact that the former Prime Minister, his boss Basdeo Panday, says that he supports John's way of doing business, that is, road paving at any price and by any means necessary.
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