T&T gov’t under mounting pressure over corruption-tainted Canadian company

(Trinidad Guardian) The corruption scandal involving Canadian conglomerate SNC-Lavalin is now giving Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal sleepless nights. Moonilal’s predicament comes as the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) has given SNC-Lavalin the all-clear to build the TT$1 billion Penal hospital and rehabilitation centre at Clarke Road, based on the findings of a due diligence review.

This has already sparked public outcry from the Opposition, which has called for the immediate cancellation of the deal in the wake of the announcement on Thursday that more SNC-Lavalin executive are facing international corruption charges arising from activities in Bangladesh.

Moonilal, whose portfolio includes the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott), said yesterday that despite the findings of the CCC review, it was possible to terminate Government’s dealings with SNC-Lavalin because of the international bribery and bid-rigging scandal which continues to plague the Canadian conglomerate. “We are very concerned with each and every development on this matter,” Moonilal told the T&T Guardian.

“Thankfully, we are at phase one and the issue of change of contractor is very much alive. We are not pleased by what we are reading. In fact, this matter has caused me sleepless nights.” Asked whether the contract will go ahead, he added: “I will meet with Udecott early next week to take a decision.”The due diligence review was done by the CCC to determine whether SNC-Lavalin had the financial, managerial, technical and ethical business capabilities to execute the project.

SNC-Lavalin and 100 of its subsidiaries have been banned by the World Bank from bidding on contracts funded by the bank because of the current corruption scandal. However, in a letter obtained by the Guardian, CCC president Marc Whittington told Udecott’s chairman Jearlean John that everything was above board with the company.

“SNC-Lavalin has taken the necessary steps to prevent further illegal or unethical business practices, in line with international guidelines and best practices in the prevention of bribery and corruption,” Whittington wrote. Based on the review, Whittington said: “There is no evidence of any unethical business practices from SNC-Lavalin’s involvement in the Penal hospital project for phase one (the development portion) or phase two (execution).

“There is a high degree of confidence that SNC-Lavalin’s internal controls will ensure that the Penal hospital construction will be well managed.” Whittington said the CCC was “pleased to now be in a position to move the project to the next stage.” He added: “We provide the assurance that SNC-Lavalin has demonstrated to us their commitment to professional and highly ethical business practices.” Whittington said the CCC was prepared to present the results of the review and continue negotiations on the project.

On May 1, 2012, Udecott signed a framework agreement with the Canadian government to design the hospital at Clarke Road, Penal. Contacted yesterday, John said she had received the CCC report this week. She had written to the CCC twice before about the due diligence review. “I will have to see whether there is any merit to meet. If they completed the due diligence review all they have to do is send us their report,” John said.

Rowley wants contract stopped

Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley has called for an end to the contract. “SNC-Lavalin seems to have qualified in the eyes of this Government, as a corrupt company,” Rowley told reporters during a walkabout in Point Fortin on Thursday night. “We get the impression that Government is excited to deal with SNC-Lavalin because they have been told, and there is information that SNC-Lavalin pays bribes, so they are excited.”

Rowley said the people of T&T should insist that all dealings with SNC-Lavalin be terminated. “How could a company that is banned by its own government even be considered for doing a contract, far less a government-to-government contract?” Rowley asked. “Our Government should be ashamed of jumping into that arrangement rather than examining it carefully.” He said while Canada is T&T’s closest partner, T&T’s Government must be careful.

“We are very surprised that the Canadian government will allow its name to be called in such an arrangement. There is no way we will ever be comfortable that we got a good and honest deal with SNC-Lavalin,” Rowley said. “A company like Lavalin is cause for concern and we are demanding that the Government stop the project and start from scratch with proper arrangements in place.” Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert has filed a motion in Parliament to discuss the issue.

What is the CCC

Established in 1946, the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) is a federal crown corporation mandated to facilitate international trade on behalf of Canadian industry, particularly within government markets. According to the CCC’s Web site, the corporation’s business lines are structured to support Canadian companies contracting in a variety of industries and sectors. Under a government-to-government arrangement with Canada, the CCC has the authority to select any contractor based on a due diligence review.

In an earlier interview, Moonilal said the T&T Government will benefit from preferential rates and conditions and this was why it embarked on this project with the CCC’s approval.

SNC’s links in Trinidad

Checks by the T&T Guardian showed SNC-Lavalin has been previously involved in projects at state-owned Petrotrin. On its Web site, SNC-Lavalin said it was responsible for establishing a new ultra low sulphur diesel (ULSD) facility that forms a key part of Petrotrin’s clean fuels upgrade programme.

The unit was designed to process 40,000 barrels of diesel a day to meet stringent North American fuel specifications. SNC-Lavalin listed its scope of work as “management of engineering, procurement, construction, health and safety, quality and commissioning aspects of the project.”

Spotty 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. 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.

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