New Demerara River Bridge Fiasco: Jagdeo concerned about fairness in SOCU’s investigation into breach of procurement law

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An artist’s impression of what the new Demerara River bridge will look like

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo has dismissed the Public Infrastructure Minister’s promise to provide an explanation to Cabinet regarding the procurement breach in contracting a consultancy firm for the establishment of the new Demerara Harbour Bridge, asserting that “there is nothing to explain.”

“The Constitutional body that has been put in place through bi-partisan corporations has investigated this matter. They have pronounced on the matter that there was a breach of our Procurement laws by the Minister and a blatant breach of the procurement laws. The by-passing the NPTAB [National Procurement and Tender Administration Board], the Cabinet itself being apart of the breach of the laws by giving approval to a contract when it has no authority under our laws to approve contracts and now we’re gonna hear about some explanation that Patterson is going to give to the cabal of his friends in the Cabinet and then they will say he acted properly,” he told media operatives during a press conference on Thursday.

Moreover, Jagdeo expressed that he has “grave misgivings” about whether the matter, which has been reported to the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) will be treated fairly, given the demonstrations of major corruption “in the upper leadership” of the Guyana Police Force.

Back in September, Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira had written the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), asking that that body investigate the selection and award of a $146 million contract to Dutch consulting firm LievenseCSO for the feasibility study of the new Demerara River Bridge after it was revealed, and later confirmed by Minister Patterson, that the company was sole-sourced and had not even bid for the project.

In the Commission’s report to the Opposition, it highlighted the breaches in the Procurement Act.

According to the PPC report, seen by INews, some 23 companies had expressed an interest in providing consultancy services; 12 were shortlisted, and two managed to submit their proposals on time. However, Government failed to reach an agreement with either of the two companies in their negotiations, and as such, the tender was annulled.

The National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) then recommended that the Public Infrastructure Ministry (MPI) re-tender, but it did not, the PPC report said. It went on to note that the Permanent Secretary of the MPI then “informed the Public Procurement Commission that subsequent to annulment of the tender by MPI, [Dutch Company LievenseCSO] Engineering contracting BV submitted an unsolicited proposal to provide consultancy services for the Demerara River Bridge project.”

As such, the Commission added, Minister Patterson approached Cabinet on November 18, 2016, seeking consideration and approval to use funds from the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC) to fund the feasibility study and to commence a contractual engagement with LievenseCSO as of January 1, 2017.

The Commission found that there was a breach when this request to Cabinet was made by the Minister and not through the NPTAB. The PPC also noted that Cabinet considered the memorandum submitted by the Minister, and in November 2016 approved a total sum of $161,514,420 to be used from the DHBC to cover cost for the feasibility study for a new bridge across the Demerara River.

According to the PPC, General Manager of the Demerara Harbour Bridge, Rawlston Adams, indicated that the DHBC Board was not a party to the decision to use these funds for this purpose as approved by Cabinet, and further stated that he had not signed the contract on behalf of the DHBC, but only because he was requested to do so by the Public Infrastructure Minister.

In response to the findings, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, had said Patterson would have to justify his actions before Cabinet.

However, Jagdeo has called for Minister Patterson and his Cabinet by extension to be charged with corruption.

To this end, the PPP wrote the SOCU asking that the procurement breaches be investigated. The entity promptly responded, informing that the issue is engaging the attention of the Guyana Police Force.

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