The Archibald-DeLeon Highway in Point Fortin. Photo by Jeff K. Mayers
Former National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) head, Dr Carson Charles defended the $5.1 billion Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin in the Senate on Monday.
During his contribution to the budget debate, he called on the current administration to stop saying it overpaid for the project, because it paid only for the work that was done.
Charles was sworn in as a temporary opposition senator to replace opposition senator Damian Lyder, who was ill.
He said the People’s Partnership administration used the foundation laid by the PNM administration that preceded it, using Construtora OAS and US-based engineering firm AECOM, which were selected before it took office.
“They (Construtora OAS) had reached 61 per cent, and they had been paid 61 per cent because AECOM couldn’t do otherwise. They were the ones who had to certify the payment. If they certify more payment, then they could be taken to task for that. So stop saying that we overpaid. We paid exactly for the work that was done.”
On continued statements by the Prime Minister that the PP administration did not cancel the OAS contract when it went bankrupt, Charles said the company filed for judicial reorganisation.
“If, when you file for judicial reorganisation, all your contracts went away, then it has no purpose. But in countries where they value business entrepreneurship, they have the laws that allow for a company that is in difficulty not to just be sent into bankruptcy, and we will do well to introduce those laws in our country,” he said.
He said the cabinet decided to move forward with the project in 2008, with a “flurry” of activity taking place in 2010 preceding the May 24 general election.
His defence was rooted in a timeline he provided, showing the foundation for the entire project was laid by the previous PNM administration, in which Colm Imbert was Minister of Works and Transport.
He said the request for proposals went out on February 26, there was a pre-submission meeting on March 22, tenders closed on May 7 with three bidders, the tenders evaluation committee recommended Nidco begin negotiations with Construtora OAS on May 13, and the contract was awarded to the company on May 25.
“One day after the election, May 25. No government ain’t swear in yet. May 25,” he said.
He added that other contracts were also awarded on May 25.
“One for the highway to Point Fortin, but two others, for the one to Manzanilla, and the one to Mayaro through Princes Town. All in the same range of $5 billion. You send out awards to all three of them, a day after the election.”
In a direct response to the current administration’s continued statements against those at the helm of the project, he said: “You have glass house, but you pelting stone.”
He said the PNM administration sat on the plans for the highway for decades and was now attacking those who put it into action.
“When faced with a big challenge, the people who take on the challenge, all you have to say about this are dirty words. Dirty words. “The worst kinds of things, as though they are crooks and thieves.”
He said he never wanted to head Nidco and undertake the project, but did so on the basis of work already done by the previous PNM administration.
“You cannot be mature as a nation if you cannot take things and carry it from administration to administration. What you could do in five years? What problem you could solve in five years as a country, if you really care about the people in this country?
“Our small country decide to take on a project of this magnitude. You would not reach anywhere as a country if you didn’t learn how to take on projects of this magnitude.
“You will continue tinkering with big problems with little things all the time and never could get anywhere.”
The Prime Minister opened the highway extension on October 14.