Moonilal: EMBD could owe Namalco $800m

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal at a news conference at the Office of the Opposition Leader in Port of Spain on Thursday. – JEFF K MAYERS

OROPOUCHE East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal reckoned the amount payable by the Estate Management Business Development Company (EMBD) to contractor Namalco could grow from the $427 million awarded by a judge to about $800 million, if add-ons such as interest are also considered. He spoke at a news conference at the Opposition Leader’s office in Port of Spain on Thursday.

Namalco had claimed $1.2 billion for its work in developing several sites holding plots of land awarded to ex-sugar workers of Caroni (1975) Ltd.

On Tuesday, Justice Ricky Rahim ordered the EMBD to pay Namalco $427 million in damages, but otherwise rejected claims for millions of dollars in supplementary contracts, citing unlawful conspiracy between Namalco and former EMBD officials. He considered only four locations, as two other locations of work form part of separate court proceedings.

The $427 million represents damages for breach of contract regarding three sites, while a fourth site will be assessed separately for work done.

Moonilal emphasised that a contractor (Namalco) had sued the Government, not vice versa, due to the Government’s failure to meet and treat with contractors and build an agreement on debt.

He said that on taking office in 2010, the former People’s Partnership (PP) government had met a $5 billion debt at the EMBD owed to contractors, and had later given out 5,000 two-acre agricultural lots and 3,000 residential lots, among 12,000 acres of ex-Caroni land being developed.

Alluding to the Government’s decision elsewhere to close state company Educational Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL), Moonilal said, “We didn’t close down companies.

“We did not take everybody to court. What we did is that we met and we treated with the contracting community. We had an understanding that we cannot pay everything we owe you but we will pay in piece and we will negotiate and as we go along.”

Moonilal said most of the locations dealt with in the court judgement related to contracts entered into under the former Patrick Manning administration. He said supplementary agreements on contracts were nothing unusual.

Scoffing at an EMBD statement which said they had won the case, Moonilal said, “I can’t understand how people don’t know how much they have to pay but they say, ‘We win.’

“What they’ve been doing in this country is lighting a $100 bill to search for five cents.” He explained that many professionals involved in this process were linked to top PNM members. “Their policy is court forever, because they do not want to pay. It is better to stay in court and make money for their friends and relatives.

“In addition to this $427 million, they have to pay interest, on the $427 million and other outstanding fees, interest which may be dated back to 2013.”

He said the EMBD must also pay money owed to develop the Petit Morne site, as to be assessed by a court would determine the payments to be made. Legal fees must also be paid, he said.

“You (EMBD) do not even how much you have to pay yet but you declare victory.

“This is typical PNM incompetence, typical PNM arrogance, that you can declare that you win something and you don’t know how much you might have to pay.”

Moonilal reckoned the total liability to Namalco could end up at $700-800 million.

“These are not matters of politics as far as the court is concerned but what I am raising here is a matter of politics – the role of Keith Rowley and his Government in undermining the business community by a pattern of behaviour to litigate against every business and every contractor, court forever, so their friends and family could get money.” He said contractors smaller than Namalco might not have enough money to take the Government to court over their claims. He urged the Government not shut the EMBD to avoid paying debts, as he said was happening to EFCL.