NIPDEC manager, Board tried to hoodwink public
By Charleen Thomas
General Manager of NIPDEC, Margaret Thompson, was yesterday accused of being an active collaborator with the NIPDEC board and other parties in trying to "hood-wink" the public into believing that all was well with the Piarco Airport project.
Making the allegation was her predecessor in the post, Noel Garcia, who also stated that based on NIPDEC's paid advertisements, newspaper reports and television appearances, she was also trying to mislead the public by distorting facts to tarnish his reputation after he had left the company.
Garcia said that NIPDEC management thought it advisable to await the advice of their attorneys before signing the contract with NYC, but Trevor Romano, a NIPDEC director had told him that the contract to NYC had to be signed quickly as Hindu priests had told him (Romano) that the "planets were aligned and not to sign the contract at that time would be a bad omen".
Garcia said he found that laughable and wondered what the alignment of planets had to do with the Piarco project.
Garcia made the accusations during his third day of evidence at the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the airport project at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) building, Richmond Street, Port-of-Spain.
Garcia read into the records a series of advertisements from NIPDEC's Board and news stories published in the daily newspapers, after he was asked to go on vacation in late 1998.
One report quoted then Finance Minister Brian Keui Tung as denying that Cabinet had instructed NIPDEC to award the contract for Construction Package 6 (CP6) to NYC (Northern, Yorke and Coosals).
Garcia said in his opinion the advertisements and stories twisted and cleverly distorted the facts to mislead the public and attack his integrity and probity. He said the ads made him look as though he had breached NIPDEC's tender procedures and flouted the rules.
He said he was at a loss about the contents of some of the ads. Garcia said he was told that the ads were written by NIPDEC director, Trevor Romano and Thompson and in once case, public relations consultant Lloyd Cartar.
Garcia read a statement from NIPDEC which indicated the company's files showed no billings for the "ghost" payment of US$1.6 million (TT$10 million) to Oversees Communications Investment Company (OCIC). But he said when the OCIC matter came to his attention, he requested an explanation from Birk Hillman Consultants (BHC) but he never got any. He said members of the NIPDEC technical team went to Bruce Procope, BHC's local agent, where a work effort detail was obtained. It listed the payment to be made to OCIC and a copy of the document was placed on the GM's file.
He described another article which stated NIPDEC had lost $27 million, as trying to put blame on him for the loss. He said the story damaged his reputation and caused him public ridicule. He said the article implied he was a "one man show" on the project, and it was a deliberate attempt to take away from his credibility.
In one of Thompson's releases she denied that the tender procedures were broken in the awarding of contracts for the project, saying she was present at all meetings in the tender room and followed the procedure at all times.
However Garcia read into the records, minutes of five meetings at which Thompson was recorded as not being present at all.
He said he had seen her and Romano on television and read about her at a town meeting seeking to justify the project. Garcia said assuming the news reports were correct, Thompson was "acting in collusion with the Board to hoodwink the public to believe all was well with the project". He said the allegations against him were groundless and without foundation.
As Garcia was giving his opinion, NIPDEC's attorney Christopher Hamel-Smith objected strenuously to the line of questioning by Theodore Guerra, SC, lead attorney for the Commission. Hamel-Smith said Garcia would be speculating. But he was assured by Chairman Clinton Bernard, that Thompson would have the opportunity to defend herself.
Garcia also recalled that on one occasion when Romano had cursed him over his refusal to sign the contract with NYC, Romano had explained the haste to get the contract signed was because the "Hindu pundits had said the planets were aligned and if the contract was not signed it was a bad omen." Garcia said he found that laughable and as a technical person wondered what the alignment of planets had to do with the Airport project.
He further said NIPDEC's Chairman Edward Bayley, in a bid to avoid conflict of interest, because he was a Director at Maritime, had asked that he (Bayley) withdraw from any matters with the project, because Maritime had interests in the airport. But Garcia said Bayley called him after Board meetings for updates, and he (Bayley) wanted to be at all external meetings, especially those with the Attorney General. He said Bayley pursued him to see the project executed.
The other commissioners are Peter Bynoe, Keith Sirju, Victor Hart and Marie Ange Knights.
Garcia will continue to give evidence today when the hearing resumes at 9.30 am.
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