-Forensic Audit Report cites numerous irregularities regarding Hotel contract
After examining the projects undertaken by the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, Chartered Accountant, Anand Goolsarran, said that the practices of the company were “lawless, illegal and reckless.”
His comments were based on his findings during a forensic audit on the company which he completed over a month ago.
Despite the size and complexity of its operations, the Chartered Accountant said that NICIL does not have its own procurement rules. He said that this is a key requirement of the Procurement Act, taking into account that NICIL has for several years, engaged in the award of contracts.
In the circumstances, Goolsarran said that it would have been more appropriate for NICIL to involve the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) in the assessment of tenders received for the award of contracts, as is the case of other State institutions that do not have their own procurement rules and regulations.
In NICIL’s defence, the entity’s Executive Director, Winston Brassington contended that the opening of all bids is normally done in the presence of the staff of the Auditor General’s office and that NICIL carries out internal assessments before contracts are awarded.
He further stated that NICIL staff would collect the bids received; review each bid submission for tender procedure compliance; and, where required, summarize key details of each bid. A paper is then prepared and presented to the various Boards and Cabinet for final decision.
But Goolsarran said that Brassington’s response did not address NICIL’s failure to follow the requirement of Section 24 of the Procurement Act. In addition, he said that the presence of the Audit Office at the opening of bids does not negate, or is not a substitute for, this requirement.
The Chartered Accountant said that internal assessments by the staff of NICIL lack the much-needed degree of independence to evaluate tenders received, especially for a large project such as the construction of the Marriott Hotel.
The former Auditor General spoke on the selection of the contractor for the construction of the Marriott Hotel. He said that of the 23 local and foreign firms that applied for prequalification, seven firms were shortlisted.
“However, it was noted that several reputable international firms were not shortlisted. According to NICIL, only two firms submitted bids. SCG International (Trinidad & Tobago) Ltd. was rated the lower evaluated tenderer with a bid price of US$65 million, some US$24 million higher than the estimated cost of US$41 million. NICIL indicated that SCG’s bid was considerably lower than the other bidder,” Goolsarran said.
He continued, “NICIL also indicated that both bidders were requested to submit alternative designs with a view to reducing their bid prices without compromising on the standards for a Marriott-type hotel. However, Section 41 of the Procurement Act states that there shall be no negotiation between the procuring entity and any of the bidders. In the absence of its own procurement rules, NICIL should have been guided by this requirement.”
Goolsarran added, “Up to the time of reporting, despite being reminded to do so, NICIL was yet to submit information as to who the other bidder was and what was the bid price, including his revised bid and other related information. In the absence of this information, the basis of the award of the contract to SCG International could not be properly determined.”
The Chartered Accountant said that NICIL further indicated that SCG’s revised tender was considerably lower than that of the other bidder. However, Goolsarran said that the size of the hotel was reduced from 274,032 square feet to 190,467 square feet, a 31 percent reduction in size. He noted that the LEED certification was excluded as well as other costs estimated at US$1.5 million.
“On 16 November 2011, AHI (represented by Mr. Brassington) entered into a contract with SCG for the design and construction of the hotel in the sum of US$50.918 million, a 22 percent reduction in price. This was a mere 12 days before the November 28, 2011 elections.
It is not normal practice for major contracts, such as the Marriott Hotel, to be awarded so close to National Elections, for obvious reasons. In addition, there was no approval from the NICIL Board nor from Cabinet at the time the contract was entered into.
“It was not until September 27, 2012, some eleven months later, that such approval was granted, with a retroactive effective date of 30 September 2011,” Goolsarran noted.
The Chartered Accountant recalled that it was in early July 2010, when news reports surfaced in Trinidad and Tobago of SCG International being investigated in connection with the award of contracts totaling TT$2 billion, relating to the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDECOTT) without any form of tendering. It was also awarded several other government contracts.
He said that the Police had raided SCG’s office and seized documents relating to UDECOTT. Goolsarran said that when this information was presented to Brassington, he commented that he was not aware that SCG was convicted for wrongdoing and that NICIL could not disqualify the contractor on the basis of allegations.
He added, “The selection of the Engineering Supervision Consultant also raises questions about integrity of NICIL’s internal assessments of tenders. The selected firm, M.A. Angeliades Inc., was charged with underpaying 300 workers it had employed at nearly one dozen New York substation construction projects.”
“It was disqualified from participating in the projects of the School Construction Authority until July 2015. On June 30, 2010, the firm’s head, M. A. Angeliades, pleaded guilty to felony and falsification of business records. He and his daughter were to have resigned from their positions in the firm which was to have been monitored by an independent private sector Inspector General through September 2013.
“Despite this, the contract between M. A. Angeliades Inc. and AHI was executed on August 6, 2012 and was signed in person by Mr. Angeliades.”
In response to the above, Brassington provided as evidence, a letter to Goolsarran dated March 30, 2011 from the lawyers of M. A. Angeliades Inc. indicating that the case was dismissed and that there were no pending litigations.
However, the letter made it clear that the period referred to was December 31, 2009, and that the case was People v. M.A. Angeliades Inc., Ind. No. 2686/2009.
“Suffice it to state that the charges against the company were set aside after a non-prosecution agreement was filed in the court, requiring the company to compensate the workers who were underpaid, failing which the criminal charges would be restored,” Goolsarran expressed.
He added, “One of the questions comprising the evaluation criteria was: “Has your organization’s licence ever been revoked in said jurisdiction or trade category?” However, this part of the evaluation worksheet was left blank for both bidders.”
The forensic auditor said that this raises the pertinent question as to whether the omission was an oversight or a deliberate act.
AHI commented that the information was not filled in because M.A. Angeliades Inc. did not have a revocation of licence.