Blacklisted Canadian company picked for T&T hospital project

(Trinidad Guardian) Canadian-based engineering and construction conglomerate SNC-Lavalin, whose former boss Pierre Duhaime was arrested for fraud and corruption, has been given the nod to build the state-of-the art Penal hospital and rehabilitation centre.

The hospital project is being managed by special-purpose company Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott), which falls under the portfolio of Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal. In response to a text message, Moonilal said he was unaware that the Canadian firm had been hired to build the hospital. Asked who would be building the hospital, Moonilal responded, “Udecott.”  Asked whether Udecott had subcontracted the project to SNC-Lavalin, Moonilal wrote: “Ask Kurt Ramlal (Udecott’s CEO).”

Ramlal, in response to an e-mail, confirmed that construction of the hospital is being funded via a government-to-government loan arrangement between Canada and T&T. “The government of Canada has nominated construction firm SNC-Lavalin to design and construct the hospital and rehab centre. Payment terms have not been finalised, as tenets are still being negotiated,” Ramlal said.  Another source at Udecott said the T&T Government had no choice in the hiring of the contractor. Canadian High Commissioner Gérard Latulippe is out of the country and was not available for comment on why SNC-Lavalin was chosen to build the hospital, despite a World Bank ban. However, an official from the embassy said the T&T Guardian’s queries had been received and a response would be issued in due course. A text message was also sent to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday but no response was forthcoming.

SNC-Lavalin’s troubled track record

In April this year, the World Bank slapped a ten-year ban on SNC-Lavalin Inc, a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin and its affiliates, from bidding on projects funded by the bank because of a scandal over bribes. An article in the online Huffington Post in May reported that a joint investigation by CBC News and Toronto’s Globe and Mail found a division of SNC-Lavalin had been using a secret internal accounting code for bribes on projects across Africa and Asia for years, according to former employees. Duhaime and another former top executive, Riadh Ben Aissa, are both facing charges stemming from a contract involving the building of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) in Canada. (Editor’s note: SNC-Lavalin has worked on various projects in Guyana.)

Duhaime stepped down in March 2012 after an independent review showed he signed off on Can$56 million in payments to undisclosed agents. Ben Aissa was arrested in April 2012 in Switzerland and is also facing charges relating to alleged corruption, fraud and money laundering in North Africa.SNC-Lavalin signed a deal with Sierra Asset Managements of the Bahamas to help secure the lucrative MUHC superhospital contract in 2009. Sierra, which has alleged ties to Arthur Porter, was paid Can$22.5 million in consulting fees from SNC over the years. Porter, from Sierra Leone, lives in the Bahamas. Police allege the consulting fees were actually kickbacks.

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