Patterson, other ministers for questioning by SOCU

-as part of Demerara bridge feasibility probe

Bharrat Jagdeo speaking to the media shortly after his interview with SOCU investigators.

Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson along with other government ministers will soon be invited to the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) Headquarters to answer questions on Cabinet’s award of a contract to Dutch firm LievenseCSO for a feasibility study for a new bridge over the Demerara River, according to Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.

This was disclosed by Jagdeo shortly after his interview with SOCU investigators yesterday on the ‘Pradoville 2’ housing scheme probe.

SOCU officials later confirmed to Stabroek News that as part of an investigation, the minister and other members of the Cabinet will be questioned. It is unclear how soon this aspect of the investigation will be undertaken.

In a request made to SOCU Head Sydney James in August, Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira had urged that there be a comprehensive investigation, with a view to instituting criminal charges against Patterson.

The Public Procurement Commission (PPC) found that the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI) breached the country’s procurement laws in the single-sourcing of the contract to the Dutch company.

“So I asked whether SOCU will interview him at his office or here and I was told he would be called here for an interview and that other members of the Cabinet would be invited to SOCU. So, we are very pleased about that, that the same standard would be used,” Jagdeo told reporters shortly after engaging SOCU officers. He along with several other members of the former PPP Cabinet were invited to be questioned about a 2010 meeting where ‘Pradoville 2’ was discussed.

Just before entering the building, Jagdeo said that he was there for the “sole purpose of establishing a precedent.”

He reminded that the PPP had filed a matter with SOCU concerning Patterson “taking an unsolicited bid to Cabinet which gave its approval.”

Jagdeo, a former president, explained that Cabinet has no power or authority to approve any tender but rather can play a no objection role in keeping with the existing laws. “So I expect now that when that investigation is being pursued by SOCU, which we will insist upon, that every member of the Cabinet will come here to give a statement, including the president and that is one of the reasons why I came here because SOCU said they wanted me to come for an interview. I could have refused this but I did not because I want to come here so that there will be no exceptions when that matter comes up,” he said.

 

Double standard

He told reporters that as a current constitutional post holder, he is being questioned. “So that means Nagamootoo has to show up here, Granger has to show up here, all the ministers and we will be watching for the double standard. So, I am here for that sole purpose. I would have refused to come here but I did not want to because I am looking forward to the future investigations and there will be many of them because we have a ton of issues where this government at the level of Cabinet has acted illegally and once they establish this precedent then SOCU will be obligated to pursue it with others,” he added.

According to Jagdeo, he also wanted to determine on whose authority SOCU was questioning a constitutional office holder and former chair of Cabinet—whether it is the Attorney General or some other authority within the government.

Asked about the possibility of the current ministers not being called, he responded that this will show the duplicity of SOCU. “Then we will see that SOCU has double standards and this is what we have been pointing out all along… that this unit was established by the PPP to support the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), to go after money launderers and drug traffickers. They have not filed a single case against any money launderers or drug trafficker,” he charged. He expressed confidence that this failure is confirmation that SOCU takes political directions. “We will all be looking forward to see… how they will treat with Patterson and the others, the Cabinet members when they come to investigate the matters that we have before them,” he said.

Later after exiting the building, Jagdeo told reporters that from the very beginning he sought to establish whether the bridge contract will be investigated. He said he was pleased to learn that this will be done.

He added that he used the opportunity to inform SOCU that the party has five other cases it wishes to bring, given that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had earlier stated that such matters have to first be subjected to a police investigation. “So, we expect over the next year and a half that you would see regular visits to SOCU from members of the Cabinet if SOCU acts professionally,” he said.

The PPC, in its findings, said MPI did not place any advertisement for retendering the project, there was no evidence that any restricted procurement process was undertaken for the consultancy and there was no evidence in the records of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) of a request made by the MPI to approve a single-source award. 

The PPC said an examination of records relating to the tender and discussions with the relevant officials indicate that “the procurement procedure used to select LievenseCSO to execute the contract did not meet the requirements of any of the methods described in the Procurement Act.”

In her letter to James, Teixeira had noted that on September 18th, 2017, she wrote the PPC with regards to concerns that the procurement laws had been violated through the award of the contract and sought an investigation.

She noted that in a letter, dated August 2nd, 2018, the PPC sent her the report of its investigation with the findings, conclusions and recommendation, which she attached.

“Due to the seriousness of their findings and the gross violations of the Procurement Act, with particular reference to the role of the Minister of Public Infrastructure in violating the Procurement Act and the most recent Code of Conduct as outlined in the Integrity Commission, Act, I hereby call on the SOCU to take action as required under the law,” she stated.

There is no procedure that defines how a procuring entity should deal with “unsolicited proposals,” such as the one reportedly received from LievenseCSO, the PPC said.

While Cabinet has the right to review all procurements exceeding $15 million based on a streamlined tender evaluation report adopted by the NPTAB, the PPC said there is no evidence that the report to Cabinet was prepared by NPTAB but submitted by the Patterson directly to Cabinet, which was a breach of the Procurement Act.              

“The Procurement Act and Regulations make no provision for the Minister of Public Infrastructure to take a procurement request directly to Cabinet for approval of award of a contract,” the PPC said.   

MPI on August 13th defended the single-sourcing, citing what it said were time constraints surrounding the need to complete the new bridge and the fact that Cabinet had been fully involved in the decision to hire LievenseCSO.

“MPI reiterates that lengthy procurement procedures were faithfully followed which did not yield suitable results. Having thereafter received a proposal which satisfied the government’s requirements for this project of national importance and given the relevant time constraints, it was felt that it was in Guyana’s interest to take advantage of the proposal. It is for this and other stated reasons that Cabinet’s approval was sought,” it said in a statement.

In response to Teixeira’s letter of request, James had indicated that the matter was engaging the attention of the Guyana Police Force. He had said too that the Minister of Public Security, the then acting Commissioner of Police and the Police Legal Advisor have been informed of her request.

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