Firm for Demerara crossing study not picked via tender

-PPP/C urges procurement body to probe

Minister within the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Annette Ferguson (left) and Ariel Mol of LievenseCSO following the handing over of the completed Feasibility Study and Design for the new Demerara River Bridge on August 30, 2017.

Following an opposition request for an investigation into the award of the contract for the feasibility study and design for the new Demerara River crossing to LievenseCSO, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure last night said that the Dutch firm was selected after the initial procurement process was annulled and it sought out consultants worldwide.

In response to a letter by PPP/C Chief Whip Gail Teixeira to the Public Procurement Commission requesting an investigation, the ministry said it acted with the knowledge of the National Procure-ment and Tender Admin-istration Board (NPTAB) and the bid that was received from the company was found to be the best, technically and fiscally, of all that had been received.

“…the Ministry of Public Infrastructure wishes to emphasise that we welcome the investigation by the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) since we are confident that the findings will reveal that our above statements are factual,” the ministry said in a statement, where it also accused the parliamentary opposition of “clutching at straws” in efforts to undermine the government. “Instead, we call for their support as we make strides to execute a project that will lend to significant development for our nation. We will not be deterred to deliver on our mandate to the people of Guyana,” it added.

Earlier, Teixeira had released to the media her letter to the PPC, dated September 18, 2017, and in which she detailed her concerns over the award of the contract to LievenseCSO, which was not among the 22 companies from around the world that bid for the contract. She charged that the selection of the firm lacked transparency and violated the procurement laws. She further urged the PPC to also examine the new tender posted for the prequalification of contractors for the finance, design, construction and maintenance of the new bridge and to monitor the process to ensure the procurement laws are followed.

“This project is of significant importance to our nation, and, one that will clearly come at a great cost to the Guyanese taxpayer now and in the future, therefore the public expects unflinching diligence by the PPC in order to protect the Guyanese people’s interests and uphold the constitutional provisions,” she wrote.

Calls by Stabroek News to the PPC Chairperson Carol Corbin were not returned.

It was Minister of State Joseph Harmon, who had announced LievenseCSO’s selection at the November 22, 2016, post-Cabinet press briefing.

Harmon had noted that Cabinet had that week approved a request by Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson for the feasibility study to be conducted. He reminded that a pre-feasibility study was done by the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation in collaboration with the Public Infrastructure Ministry in 2013. That study, he said, concluded that a new high level fixed bridge was the best option to be pursued.

And while then he did not state if LievenseCSO was one of the companies, Harmon informed the Ministry of Public Infrastructure had advertised for suitable consultants to conduct a feasibility study that would lead to the construction of the bridge through a private-public partnership model.

According to Harmon, the ministry had since received an offer from LievenseCSO, which is a recognized Dutch consultancy firm, to conduct the feasibility study and design for the new bridge as well as a detailed investigation for prospective financiers and the preparation of a private-public partnership tender document.

‘Highly suspect’

However, in her letter, Teixeira reminded that based on press reports, 22 companies had responded to a public advertisement seeking expressions of interest for the consultancy for the feasibility study and designs of the crossing.

The opening of those tenders were conducted on December 8, 2015 and publicised in the December 9, 2015 edition of the Stabroek News, under the headline ‘22 bid for new Demerara Bridge feasibility study, design.’

However, she highlighted the absence of LievenseCSO among the 22 companies.

Teixeira added that part of Guyana’s international obligations under the Inter-American Convention against Corruption is to ensure that there is transparency and accountability in order to enhance public trust and confidence, particularly in respect to the public procurement process. She noted that regulations for the procurement legislation provide for the posting on the NPTAB website information and minutes on the opening of the bids, the awards of tenders, and protests but there was no record on the site of the opening of bids/Expressions of Interest for the consultancy on December 8, 2015 or any other date. “Nor in fact, are there any minutes that reflect the submission of these 22 companies,” she further said.

NPTAB Head Berkeley Wickham had previously told Stabroek News, when queries were made, that the agency’s website was down as it was being rebuilt.

Teixeira did note, however, that the Finance Ministry’s website had indicated that one company was listed – MMM Group (Canada) in association with CEMCO with a bid of $848,950 – in the minutes for the April 26, 2016 opening of bids, for the consultancy.

“The fact that as of April 26, 2016 one company seemed to be in the running and then 7 months later another company that never tendered is awarded the contract is highly suspect. Therefore there has been no transparency with regard to this bid, the selection and award of the Consultancy for the Feasibility Study and Designs for the new Demerara River Crossing to LievenseCSO,” she argued.

Teixeira also bemoaned the fact that there is no public information pertaining to cost of the project and other pertinent information, which she called a violation of the Procurement Act.

“The denial of access to information with regard to the opening of the bids on December 8, 2015, or any other date, the Award of the Tender to a company that did not tender in December 2015, or any other date, and, the unavailability of the Award of Tender in November 2016 or any other date, for the value of GY$146.3M to the said company which requires the NPTA Board’s approval is alarming and a travesty. This lack of transparency on this award, its contents and costs, is in violation of the Procurement Act, in particular the S 11 (1) and (2), and its Regulations,” she stated.

Government’s recent announcement of the findings of the feasibility study was what brought attention to these violations, Teixeira said.

Additionally, she pointed out that the fact that the Ministry of Public Infrastructure had gone out to tender on August 21, 2017 for the prequalification of contractors for the financing, designing and building of the bridge and that the companies had only two weeks to supply their bids, further compounded and continued the violations of the Procurement Act. As a result, she urged the investigation.

‘Best bid’

In response, the Public Infrastructure Ministry statement that was issued last night noted that while 22 firms expressed their interest and 12 of these firms were subsequently shortlisted, only two submitted bids for the consultancy, which was advertised by the ministry with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank.

It said of the two submissions, only one firm had a valid bid but its bid price exceeded the US$800,000 budget. Additionally, it noted that concerns were also raised on the technical level.

“Subsequently, [the ministry] made the decision to annul the process in May, following permission from [NPTAB] and the Ministry of Finance,” it explained, while adding that it nevertheless continued to seek suitable consultants due to the significance of the project and the need for its realisation.

The ministry said it actively sought greatly qualified consultants worldwide and it was during engagements with various companies, including those in the Netherlands, the Dutch Risk Reduction (DRR) Team that had visited, and in England, LievenseCSO, was recommended.

It said a bid was later received from LievenseCSO and the ministry applied to NPTAB and received permission to engage the company. “Upon evaluation of the bid, it was determined that it was the best out of all that had been submitted, both on the technical level and in relation to price,” it added.

The ministry said that Cabinet was subsequently invited to consider the proposal and gave its No Objection to the award of the contract and the progression of the project.

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