SOCU probing Demerara River Bridge feasibility study contract

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…Govt Ministers expected to be called in for questioning

File photo- SOCU’s headquarters

The Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) has confirmed publicly that they have begun their probe into the award of the controversial feasibility study contract on the new Demerara River Bridge.

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 of Public Infrastructure David Patterson, that the company was sole-sourced and had not even bid for the project.

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo during his appearance at SOCU on Monday

In its report on the matter, the Commission flagged Minister Patterson for requesting from Cabinet that the contract be sole sourced, instead of being processed through the Procurement Board as the law says should be done. It was subsequently announced that SOCU would be investigating the contract award.

The matter was probed by Opposition Leader and former President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, who spoke to the media following his ‘interview’ at SOCU headquarters on Monday, where he was questioned by investigators probing the Pradoville land distribution matter.

Upon his arrival at the Unit’s head office, Jagdeo told the press his motive for appearing included setting a precedent for the current Government. He explained that the parliamentary Opposition has several matters involving the coalition it would like investigated.

After his meeting, the Opposition Leader informed the media that SOCU has committed to having current Ministers questioned for one of those very matters; the contract for a feasibility study of the new Demerara Harbour Bridge.

“One thing that is pleasing about the interview is that at the end of it, I asked whether SOCU will be proceeding with the case I filed against Patterson. The answer was yes. So I asked whether SOCU will interview him at his office or here and I was told he would be called here for an interview and other members of the Cabinet will be invited here. So we’re very pleased about that, that the same standard will be used.”

“So hopefully next week you’ll start seeing members of the Government coming to SOCU here to answer for the contract that was awarded illegally with the complicity of Cabinet. We also indicated to SOCU that we have five other cases to send to them. Because the [Director of Public Prosecutions] DPP had indicated we need to go through the Police first, when she nolle prossed the charges,” he explained.

In light of this, Jagdeo was expectant that over the next year and a half, Cabinet Ministers would make regular visits to SOCU to answer questions, providing that the Unit acts in a professional and impartial manner.

When contacted afterwards, however, SOCU head, Assistant Commissioner, Sydney James was reluctant to state exactly who the Unit would interview. Asked directly whether current Cabinet Ministers would be questioned, he would only venture to say that the Unit would question anyone it has to.

Besides the LievenseCSO contract, a probe has been requested by Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira; and another by Opposition parliamentarian Juan Edghill, had also written to the PPC to request probes into the D’Urban Park project and the Sussex Street drug bond. In a letter to the Commission’s Chairperson, Carol Corbin, Edghill had identified aspects of the project the party is most concerned about.

Edghill, a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), noted that despite promises to the contrary, no account of donations received between September 2015 and January 2016, was made public. It therefore queried the procurement process used for works on the project.

The scope a private company has to engage contractors and receive funding for a public project also came into question. The party queried the budgeted and actual cost throughout the project, as well as the final cost. In addition, the party demanded information on what payments were made to individuals and contractors up to June.

In the case of the Sussex Street, Albouystown bond, Edghill also approached the PPC to call for an investigation into the contract inked between the Public Health Ministry and a known financier of the coalition Administration.

The former Government Minister had wanted the Procurement Commission to investigate specifically how a contract for a bond for the storage of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies was sole-sourced from an entity that did not own and/or operate such a facility and further “how was the company’s primary Director, Larry Singh, made aware that a drug bond was needed”.

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