T&T state firm CEO quits over disputed contracts

(Trinidad Express) In the middle of the payout of more than TT$200 million in contracts, said to have been awarded without proper tendering, Seebalack Singh, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Estate Management Business Development Company (EMBDC), has tendered his resignation.

This was confirmed yesterday by Housing and Environment Minister Dr. Roodal Moonilal, under whose portfolio the EMBDC falls.

The Minister said that Singh was on “cumulative leave” and had indicated in a letter to the Ministry that he was resigning as CEO.

Moonilal also explained that the CEO’s contract comes to an end on May 6 and added that over the past six months Singh was forced to proceed on sick leave and to seek medical treatment because of ill health.

Moonilal added that shortly after the EMBDC was brought under the Housing Ministry (it was formerly under the Ministry of Food Production) following a Cabinet realignment, allegations and queries over the issuance of contracts ended up in the “public domain”.

As a result, he said, “we had temporarily stopped the further issuing of contracts pending investigations into several matters”.

Sources close to the outgoing 11-member board pointed the Express to two instances in which they were instructed to approve payments totalling more than TT$239 million in July 2012.

The two companies in question are the La Brea-based Namalco Construction Services and Freeport-based LCD Contractors Ltd, which had submitted claims for variations of work done on four sites in the Cedar Hill and Petite Morne areas in South Trinidad.

Correspondence reaching the Express revealed that a note was sent to the Board by a senior company official in July 2012, to approve TT$99,825,040.79 to Namalco Construction Services Ltd for variation works conducted on Petite Morne II and Roopsingh Road II Infrastructure Residential Projects.

The note recommended that the variations be approved and explained that in the Roopsingh Road project, “the land had to be raised, channels widened and land area graded thereby increasing the drainage capacity and decreasing if not eliminating the possibility of flooding”.

It further blamed the “inappropriate and inaccurate surveys on Petite Morne” as being responsible for the variations.

In another correspondence to the board, signed by Singh, the board was again asked to approve the sum of TT$139,403,161.50 in variation costs to the Cedar Hill Project and Petite Morne III and IIIA to LCB Contractors Limited.

In explaining the increased costs, Singh pointed out that “vast areas of unsuitable material had to be excavated for ponds and in the location of roadway in order to execute the work on Cedar Hill Residential Project”.

The note also made reference to a sewer treatment facility at a cost of TT$4.5 million at Cedar Hill II and another for Petite Morne III at a cost of TT$.1 million.

The Express learnt that things came to a head and there were threats of a “walkout” by members when the board met in a “special meeting” on July 17, last year.

Members felt that the variations were in excess of the normal financial limits and one director queried the fact that some of the supporting documents had been signed by a particular member who was also a member of the Audit Committee and Tenders Committee.

Another director, Marcus Ramdwar, reportedly asked to be excused and left the meeting, according to the minutes of the meeting.

EMBDC sources said that at the October 12 board meeting, while the two notes were not discussed, they were still referred to the Audit Committee.

“The board had to honour the payments…it found itself between a rock and a hard place since the contractors had started mobilising work and had to be paid.

“The EMBDC is in a mess…our system of procurement of contracts is a corrupted system,” one source said.

Employees have also raised concerns over the fact that EMBDC was paying exorbitant costs (TT$192 per m3) for imported sand when sand fill from a quarry was a mere TT$30 or less a m3, even worse, they said, since the EMBDC owns and leases sand quarries.

Several attempts to reach EMBDC chairman Joe Ramkissoon for comment proved futile.

Calls to Namalco and LCD Contractors yesterday, through phone numbers listed on the internet, were also unsuccessful.

Singh is currently in Miami, according to a relative, who spoke to the Express from his (Singh’s) Naparima/Mayaro home over the weekend.

The Housing Minister yesterday confirmed that the tenure of the existing board, which came into office in December 2010, comes to an end shortly and that the appointment committee of Cabinet was meeting on the matter.

“A new board is expected to take charge within a week or so and its first mandate is to look at some of these concerns with a view of bringing them within the established framework for the issuance of contracts and contract management,” said Moonilal.

According to Moonilal, the EMBDC has decelerated the work in other areas that are not required urgently.

The new board, he said, will be given the opportunity to “review the subsisting contracts and clarify any concerns they may have”.

Meanwhile, Kawal Sant has been appointed acting CEO.

Contacted last Saturday, Sant said he was not aware that Singh had resigned.

He added that he had only taken up the position “two days ago and cannot comment on anything to do with the company”.

 

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