A fraud charge was yesterday read against former General Manager of the Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) Nizam Hassan and four others, including a former Agriculture Ministry project engineer, for allegedly approving payments for substandard work on the rehabilitation of the company’s Robb Street headquarters.
According to the charge, which was laid after a Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) probe of the findings in a forensic audit, the former ministry engineer, Hanniel Madramootoo, conspired with Hassan and others to approve payments to Constantine Engineering and Construction Services, in which his brother was a director, although the works were “incompetently and incorrectly” done.
Only Hassan, who is the current head of the Guyana Rice Development Board, and Madramootoo’s wife, Felicia De Souza-Madramootoo, were present for the reading of the charge by Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan in Georgetown yesterday. They were not required to plead to the charge and were subsequently granted their release on $250,000 bail each.
The others, who are jointly charged, are Hanniel Madramootoo, his brother Philp Madramootoo, and his friend Nizam Ramkissoon, both Directors of Constantine Engineering and Construction Services Limited, which is said to be based in Trinidad and Tobago.
When asked by the Chief Magistrate whether contact was made with the other defendants, Prosecutor Neville Jeffers stated that the police had made attempts to contact the defendants via the Trinidad and Tobago police but these attempts were in vain.
The charge states that Hanniel Madramootoo, who was the Project Engineer within the Ministry of Agriculture, conspired to commit a misdemeanour of procuring money to be paid by false pretence with intent to defraud, together with the others between October 28, 2010 and April 25, 2012, by continuously approving payments which were made to Constantine Engineering and Construction Services Limited for works that were “incompetently and incorrectly” done with inferior materials to rehabilitate the GMC building at Robb and Alexander streets, Bourda, fully knowing that such works should not have been approved for payments.
The audit, which was one of several commissioned under the new APNU+AFC administration last year, had recommended a police investigation into the substandard work done during the construction of the GMC headquarters by the Trinidad-based contracting company. It also recommended that its principals be charged and barred from executing projects for the new government.
It found that the company won the bid for a contract, worth almost $24 million, for the construction of a new building for GMC’s head office and the Guyana Shop. Later, on February 10, 2012, the contract was amended to include an additional $7,620,984, for which there was no tender.
Shortly after the contract was amended, the contractor announced to GMC that it would be unable to complete the project. As a result, the auditor said it was unclear how much funds were given to Constantine Engineering.
The report said that within months of the handover of the building, the roof was leaking and a contractor had to be brought in to effect repairs. It was also discovered that “old lumber and old zinc sheets with euroband were used to construct the roof of the building,” the report said. It noted that the Bill of Quantities of the contract for the construction of the office building stipulated that Greenheart lumber was to be used for the floors, walls and frame and PVC for the two ceilings of the building.
However it was later observed that mixed hardwood, including “second quality lumber” were used for the walls and though much cheaper plywood was used for constructing the ceiling, the same $2,000 per square metre rate as that of PVC panels was charged.
It was stated that it was the ministry engineer who certified the payment vouchers for the plywood and the report noted that there was no amendment for this material to be used in the construction.
As a result, the auditor recommended that the police be called in “to investigate the fraud of using incorrect materials and fraudulent billing for the construction of the building.”
It was recommended that since it was the engineer who certified the payments, “he should be charged criminally and brought before the courts for his participation in conducting fraud against the Government of Guyana.”
Auditors had also said they could find no trace of the existence of the company, whose address was given as #55 Calcutta Road #2 Freeport, Carapichaima, Trinidad.
Hassan was represented yesterday by attorney Marcel Bobb, who objected to his client having been handcuffed.
While seeking bail, he stated that Hassan was working with GMC since 1991 before he was transferred to the rice board.
De Souza-Madramootoo, 34, a math teacher at St George’s High School, was represented by attorney Glenn Hanoman, who also requested bail.
He said his client is the only teacher who teaches CXC math at the school and that it would be of a great misfortune if the students were denied her presence.
Prosecutor Jeffers made no objection to bail for the defendants but requested that they lodge their passports and report to SOCU once a week.
The Chief Magistrate subsequently set bail at $250,000 for each defendant and also ordered that they lodge their passports and report to SOCU once a week until the completion of the trial.
The case was adjourned until December 7.