Businessman Brian Tiwarie yesterday rejected claims that his company had taken possession of containers belonging to the fired Specialty Hospital contractor and he accused the Donald Ramotar administration of grossly mismanaging the project.
In a letter that appears on page seven of today’s edition, Tiwarie blasted former President Ramotar for stating that Tiwarie’s company BK Inc had taken possession of eight Surendra Engineering Company Limited containers valued at $800m. Tiwarie said that the containers held steel rods to the value of US$153,000 ($32m) and were sold at public auction held by the courts. BK had sued Surendra for $400m pertaining to foundation work that had been done on the Specialty Hospital site.
Tiwarie’s salvo at Ramotar was in response to a report in yesterday’s edition of Stabroek News reporting the former President as querying why the current administration had allowed BK to take possession of the containers to the detriment of the former PPP/C government’s $950m claim against Surendra.
Tiwarie in his response yesterday said that Surendra owed BK International approximately $400M for foundation work done and BK filed legal proceedings against it in local and Indian courts. He said BK International was granted judgment against Surendra by the High Court after the company conceded that it owed BK the sum claimed. Tiwarie charged that the Managing Director (MD) of Surendra was prevented by a court order from leaving Guyana pending the honouring of the judgment granted to BK but that the Ramotar administration on the advice of his Attorney General, Anil Nandlall allowed the MD to leave. Tiwarie said that the containers that were shipped into Guyana were sold by auction executed by the courts of Guyana.
“I am therefore publicly requesting that a thorough investigation be done into the issues relating to the award, periodic execution, failure and subsequent events following the suspension of Surendra Engineering from the Specialty Hospital contract.
“While I am not in a position to decide that the above investigations should be initiated with some immediacy, I truly hope that my missive serves enough notice in this regard. Ultimately, it would serve this nation well if a performance audit was to be conducted into the presidency of Donald Ramotar. Let the facts and the findings speak for themselves”, Tiwarie declared.
Tiwarie said that Ramotar’s claim that the eight containers were valued at $800m demonstrates his gross incompetence in dealing with the issue while he was President.
“All the containers had were mere steel rods and it was clear that contrary to what was told to the government, none of the expensive steel frames were in the containers. To refresh former President Ramotar on this issue, if he had researched it properly, he would have seen that the estimated cost of the cargo in the containers was approximately US$153,000 and that is consistent with the contents in the containers”, Tiwarie said.
Tiwarie added that BK having been granted an award against Surendra for works done at the site could have properly levied on the containers and on assets owned by Surendra but the government had taken possession of the containers and BK did not pursue that route. Instead, he said that the containers were taken to a public auction and were bought by an individual, not BK.
“The amazing omission of the former government was their failure to do elementary homework as to the contents being shipped and to monitor the expenses based on the massive amounts for mobilisation that were paid (by the government) to Surendra.
“The former government knew fully well that BK was subcontracted to do foundation work and had expended enormous amounts to do piling works and stock materials on site yet proper supervision and monitoring of the project by the government was absent. Huge sums of money were paid over to Surendra and they were allowed to walk away”, Tiwarie said.
The report in yesterday’s Stabroek News also prompted an intervention by the government which said an investigation would be done of Ramotar’s claims about the containers. Minister of State Joseph Harmon yesterday also denied that this arrangement took place under the present administration.
“You know of course that all of these things have been done under the PPP administration. The question of the steel, who got the steel, where the steel went and where it going and all of that, all happened under the PPP administration but because he (former President Ramotar) had raised certain matters, in my view security matters as to where this steel would have been and how it got to where it went to, we would have to certainly investigate that matter”, he said when asked to explain how the steel would have ended up in the hands of BK Inc.
At the time Harmon was speaking at the post-cabinet press briefing.
The steel and equipment were seized by the then PPP/C government in a bid to recover monies advanced to Surendra for mobilisation. It was later discovered that Surendra had breached contract stipulations and the Guyana Government then initiated court proceedings against the company to the tune of $965M. The company was later dismissed from the project.
Ramotar in his interview with Stabroek News said that eight containers of steel that the company had on the wharf were seized and were worth nearly double what BK was owed. Ramotar, after alleging that the seized goods were awarded to BK said that he wants the public to know that his government went to “great lengths” to recover the sums that were advanced to Surendra.
In response yesterday, Harmon said “It was not as if we gave this steel to anybody. We never did that, this is the information I have. There was never any situation where this steel was collected and then it was given to somebody. This was something done under the PPP administration…I will give a fuller statement on it because there is a certain permanent secretary who was in that ministry …that was sent on leave that might have been involved in that process”, he said.
Harmon told reporters that the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health has been asked to provide government with information on what might have transpired.
Ramotar had said that valuation of the steel and other items in the eight jumbo containers found that the items were worth nearly $800m. The plan, he said, was to then move to the courts and levy on the items as a means of recovering monies deemed lost to Surendra.
“We took it off the wharf and put it at the Ministry of Health…The whole idea was to start proceedings to levy on it so that we could collect back our money. While in that process, the elections came and the government changed and well, we know how that went,” Ramotar said.
“The onus was on the new government to take up where we left off because it was not much more effort that was needed. We did so much…so they should have made sure the process was followed through. Instead now I understand that they handed the containers over to Tiwarie…so our taxpayers have lost and they need to know why,” he insisted.
Meanwhile, Harmon stated that an exchange between the Foreign Affairs Ministries of Guyana and India would give a clear and definitive position on the Indian government’s stance on the project.
The Minister of State was asked how soon the specialty hospital contract would be re-tendered and whether there is any other obligation by the Indian government as it relates to the project.
Earlier this month, Harmon told reporters that the project is now on hold as government’s handpicked contractor, Fedders Lloyd has been barred by India from participating in such contracts until 2020.
Last November, Government and Fedders Lloyd signed a controversial Memorandum of Understanding that would have seen work resuming on the construction of the hospital, at Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara, using the remainder of a US$18 million line of credit that had been granted by the Government of India for the project. The remaining sum is approximately US$13.7 million.
The original contractor, Surendra, was selected in August 2012.
According to Harmon, he had previously said that the specialty hospital contract was being reviewed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Health. He informed that the commitment Cabinet gave was that the Minister of Foreign Affairs was to contact the Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs “so that we can get a clear position on the Indian government’s position on this matter”.