Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says even improved and amended procurement legislation would not have helped the Government save over $200 million on the Curepe Interchange project, as even with such legislation there were ways for corrupt politicians to use more taxpayers’ money.
“If what passed for competition then was allowed to prevail, you could simply have said that the job was tendered and the lowest bidder was $440 million and therefore you gave the contract to that bidder and not the one for $500 million and nobody in T&T would have had a problem with that,” Rowley said during the official opening of the interchange.
“But somebody would have walked away with $200 million more than what was required. I am sure that the contractors involved in this project made a profit.”
Rowley said the project came in at a final cost of $221 million and while he was not an engineer or a quantity surveyor, he “knew” the project price was too high.
“I knew what was happening and I knew that if the contractors were told that you are not going to get the job at that price and we are going back out to tender, they will give you a price that is far better,” Rowley said.
He said when the Government wanted to build the swimming pool in Laventille, the initial project cost presented by the Urban Development Corporation of T&T was $24 million.
“I run UdeCoTT so fast from the Cabinet with one question, if you were going to build a swimming pool in your yard, with your money, will you spend $24 million on it?” he said.
He said the finished pool eventually cost less than $5 million.
He said he tried to ensure that in his time in Government, it was not a time for his Cabinet “to eat” but for the taxpayer to breathe.
“I don’t care what they say on Facebook, this Government has set the tone for honest government in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said to a smattering of applause.
Rowley said based on what they were able to negotiate with the Curepe project, the cost of every other interchange “going east” would be better.
“If we had to pay $440 million for this, the next five interchanges would have cost us over $2 billion, cause we would have set the tone,” he said.
He said Government also saved some $3 billion on the contract from Golconda to Point Fortin.
“We knew and we said that that contract could be broken up into sections, so as to allow our local contractors to be a part of the tendering process,” he said.
Giving the project to one contractor had “benefits” for some people, he noted. He said the initial budget for that highway expansion project was $4 billion on the eve of the 2010 general election but it went up to $7 billion after the election.
He reiterated information from 2015 that for some reason, the former administration removed the clause in the contract which held OAS Constutora, which eventually went bankrupt, liable and ensured that they forfeited their multi-million bond. He said removing that clause gave the bankrupted company a $921 million gift. But back in 2016, the Government took OAS Constutora to court and recovered that money.
Rowley also praised Claxton Bay-based contractor Junior Sammy, saying while he was not sure how much work it did, Junior Sammy was his friend and would remain his friend.
“I know him, I know his wife, I know his children, I know his grandchildren. But Junior knows that if you come to me with a project for $440 million and I think it is not value for money, I will tell you we are not having that and that is not what we told the Cabinet,” the PM said.
Rowley said people have also been “conditioned” to paying those types of prices and being overcharged and “ripped-off,” adding some politicians came into office with an “old used motor car” and by the time they are out of office “could loan money to the Treasury.”
“I make no apologies for this because I speak for those who have no voice in this country,” Rowley said.