PM: Answers needed from UNC on OAS highway contract

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PM: Answers needed from UNC on OAS highway contract

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, said the United National Congress now have questions to answer in the NIDCO/Constructora OAS matter.

This after Justice Frank Seepersad ruled in favour of NIDCO and set aside a $850 million arbitration claim in favour of Brazilian contractors OAS. The judge also remitted the matter to the arbitrators and ordered OAS to pay costs.

OAS was contracted by the People’s Partnership government to build the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension from San Fernando to Point Fortin.

In a post to his Facebook page after the ruling, Rowley said, “Today, the taxpayers (NIDCO) won that appeal and a payment of 921 million that was to be paid to the contractor, has been stopped. Today, taxpayers’ money has been recovered. What is left outstanding are answers from the UNC government officials.”

He asked:

1. What was the reason for removing the clause that created this gift to a contractor?

2. Who authorised this removal of the clause?

3. Why has the UNC Minister of Works and the UNC Prime Minister never responded to these questions which I have been putting to them continuously since 2015?

Rowley added that in matters of this nature, silence is not an appropriate option for a population to accept.

He said to protect the Trinidad and Tobago taxpayer, there was a clause in the original contract that required that in the event of bankruptcy, on the part of the contractor, the insurance bonds securing the contract belong to the client (NIDCO).

“During the execution of the works, the contractor went bankrupt (judicial management) in Brazil amidst widespread allegations of corruption etc,” the PM said.

“Trinidad and Tobago taxpayers must take note that on the last working day before the General Elections of 2015 (September 4, 2015), the then-government secretly and mysteriously removed the relevant clause which protected the taxpayers’ interest in this billion-dollar project.

“The result of this removal of the bankruptcy clause in the contract is that the contractor was allowed to leave with almost $1 billion of taxpayers’ money. Had there not been a change of government, this secret gift to a foreign contractor would have gone unnoticed by the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”

He added, “Upon coming into office on September 9, 2015, the new PNM Government discovered this travesty and immediately took firm legal action in courts abroad to recover taxpayers’ money.”

Rowley recalled that NIDCO won the matter and $921 million were returned to the state company on condition that it be used on the project. He said this victory allowed the stalled highway to Point Fortin project to be restarted and is now close to completion.

“The contractor subsequently resorted to arbitration and after that process, the adjudicator ruled in favour of the contractor. It is interesting to note that when this happened, the UNC parliamentarians, some of whom are the same people who have questions to answer with respect to the removal of the clause to give the contractor taxpayers’ money, were loud in their demand that we pay back the money to the lucky contractor.

“They sang and danced with glee as they berated the Government’s effort to obtain and defend almost one billion dollars that they gave away. The former leader of Government Business in the Parliament, the member for Oropouche East, called for Rowley and Young to be held personally liable for the successful arbitration which favoured the contractor.”