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Re: Move to block evidence in airport inquiry

$472 bifold door quoted at $98,000
Revelations of tender breaches, collusion attempts to hoodwink public


By Sunday Newsday Reporter

The Commission of Inquiry into the Piarco Airport Development Project began on Friday August 23 and continued daily last week with witnesses being called to give evidence.

The Commission comprises former Chief Justice Clinton Bernard Chairman, Peter Bynoe, Victor Hart, Keith Sirju and Marie Ange Knights.

Seventeen persons have been called to appear but only 11 have responded so far, leading Mr Bernard to state that summonses will be issued for those who ignore the Commission's call, describing such behaviour as an "insult to the President". Among the most prominent individuals who have not put in an appearance is former Minister of Works, Sadiq Baksh.


Evidence began when former acting corporate secretary of the Airports Authority, Robert Boodoosingh testified that normal tendering procedures were not used to identify a contractor for the Piarco Airport development project.

He said he was fired after he raised questions about the relationship between former Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago chairman Tyrone Gopee and Brisco Air Services, a tenant of the airport. He spoke of tensions among staff and the very rapid rise of Josi Mahabir from departure tax clerk to Acting General Manager.

Andre Lee Woo-Gabriel, secretary to the Cabinet, stated that in September 1996 Cabinet agreed to hire Birk Hillman as consultants and designers for the Piarco project.

She said that Cabinet approved a document for the tendering procedures and rules for the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago which allows for the authority to enter into contracts with persons once the line Minister approved.

Therefore AATT is not subject to the Tenders Board. She said at the time of the project Baksh approved contracts entered into by the AATT.

She said Cabinet appointed a task force in September 1996 for the project. The members were Ameer Edoo, Winston Millette, Ish Galbaransingh, then chairman of TIDCO, Maurice Clement of the Ministry of Finance and Sonia Francis of the Ministry of Works.

Later Baksh set up an administrative committee including Noor Mohammed, a member of AATT, Vishnu Ramlogan, chairman of TIDCO, and Justin Paul, PS in the Works Ministry. In September 1997 Cabinet agreed that NIPDEC would oversee the project.



Former Permanent Secretary in the Works Ministry, Justin Paul, identified Baksh as the person who bypassed procedures and his Permanent Secretary and instructed that TT$30 million be paid to Birk Hillman Consultants for work that had not been done.

Paul testified that a meeting to see the designs for the project, was attended by three ministers, Baksh, Brian Kuei Tung (Finance) and John Humphrey (Planning and Development).

The three ministers were present for the Birk Hillman presentation, but only Baksh remained to see designs by Scott and Associates who complained of being unfairly treated.

Also giving evidence was Dr Allison Williams, the first project manager for the project who said he was fired because he recommended that construction package CP6 be retendered.

Williams said his recommendations were resisted by Kuei Tung and Edward Bayley, chairman of NIPDEC who took over as manager of the project in December 1997.

He said he was insisting for retendering following the Deyalsingh report and because the then attorney-general, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj had said the CP6 contract was not properly awarded.



Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works at the time, Justin Paul, said that the UNC Cabinet and former Works Minister Sadiq Baksh in 1998 rejected the advice of NIPDEC to invite tenders for construction of package CP6 and awarded the contract to the NYC Consortium (Northern, York and Coosals) of which Ish Galbaransingh's Northern Construction Co was the lead member. This decision, he said also went against the advice of the then attorney general Mr Maharaj who thought the contract to be invalid. However, Cabinet he said breached NIPDEC's tender rules. Paul agreed with Guerra that he was the "puppet with Baksh pulling the strings".



According to Justin Paul, Birk Hillman lied on its resume in trying to get the contract as designers for the Piarco Airport. But even though the government appointed task force found that out, they still awarded the contract to BHC.

He said that following complaints Cabinet on March 26 stopped the project and appointed the Deyalsingh Committee to investigate. At 8 o'clock that same night however, despite the Cabinet decision, the Airports Authority awarded the CP 6 contract to the NYC Consortium, in which Ish Galbaransingh's Northern Construction company was the lead company. Chairman Bernard asked Paul whether it meant that Baksh had flouted a Cabinet decision, Paul answered yes.

Paul said that BHC had claimed to have designed and built airports in Florida, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, St Croix and Aruba. Investigations proved that BHC had not built the airports.



Former general manager of NIPDEC, Noel Garcia, stated that former prime minister Basdeo Panday did nothing to stop Birk Hillman Consultants duplicating the work of NIPDEC, although he promised to look into the matter.

He said he took the issue of the duplication of work to NIPDEC's board and wrote to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works requesting that certain aspects of the Birk Hillman contract be suspended. He said he got no reply from either the PS or prime minister.



Chairman of NIPDEC Edward Bayley was accused of changing the company's tender rules to facilitate the award of a contract to NYC of which Ish Galbaransingh's Northern Construction Company was the lead company.

Bayley also threatened to fire two company directors, Francis Mungroo and Ranjit Singh, who went to the then prime minister Basdeo Panday expressing displeasure over NYC getting the contract following a "cussout" at a NIPDEC board meeting where the two directors had voiced their objections.

Garcia said when Bayley heard that the directors had gone to Panday, he went "ballistic, enraged and summoned a meeting." Garcia said two directors Trevor Romano and David Hardy were the champions of NYC and were extremely aggressive using obscenities and shouting down Ranjit Singh.

Garcia said NIPDEC's management was accused of being "obstructionist" and Romano threatened to put a "cutarse" on him. Eventually Garcia was sent on leave.



General Manager of NIPDEC Margaret Thompson was accused of being an active collaborator with the NIPDEC board and other parties in trying to hoodwink the public into believing that all was well with the Piarco Airport project.

He said 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.

He said NIPDEC's management during his time thought it advisable to get legal advice before awarding the contract but that Romano told him that the contract had to be signed quickly because 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". He said in one of Thompson's releases she denied that any tender procedures had been broken and stated that she had attended all meetings.

However, Garcia put into evidence minutes of five meetings at which Thompson was recorded as not being present at all.

He accused her of acting in collusion with the board to hoodwink the public.

Quoting the great differences between the estimated figures and those bid by NYC Garcia stated that Northern Construction had bid $98,000 for a bifolding door, the price of which is estimated at $472.


Commission Chairman Clinton Bernard accused Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Leroy Mayers of "misconduct," criticising Mayers' handling of a request by the Commission to have former Comptroller of Custom and Excise, Kawanhar Doopan, provide the Commission with certain information.

Chairman Bernard's reprimand of Mayers was that he should have done more to ensure that Doopan replied to the Commission, and when he failed to do so, he should have reported him to the Public Service Commission. In defence, Mayers said he was unaware that Doopan did not respond to the Commission.

However, Acting Comptroller Ralph Newton agreed with the chairman's suggestion that Doopan's failure to reply to the Commission was gross insubordination and an insult to President Arthur NR Robinson.

Newton told the Commission that when he inspected the records he could not find any written response from Doopan to the Commission. Even when Doopan officially handed over duties to him, Doopan did not raise the issue.

Before the close of the day's hearing, Bernard gave Newton a list of questions for which he wanted answers.

Messages In This Thread

Ex-Nipdec GM took concerns to Panday
NIPDEC manager, Board tried to hoodwink public
Move to block evidence in airport inquiry
Re: Move to block evidence in airport inquiry
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