Opposition mounts pressure on Govt to take action against Minister Patterson
Breaching of procurement regulations
Guyana’s parliamentary Opposition, the People’s Progressive Party, is mounting pressure on Government to take action against one of its Ministers who was found guilty by the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) of breaching regulations.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo called out the Government on its failure to act, saying there seems to be a “pattern” of questionable decisions made in relation to multimillion-dollar contracts by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change Government Minister, David Patterson, who heads the Public Infrastructure Ministry.
Speaking at his weekly press conference at his Church Street, Georgetown office, Jagdeo said Patterson was taken before the Public Procurement Commission and they have unearthed adverse finding. “He is before the Police and they completed the investigation five months ago. Until now we have not seen any charges laid against him although he committed an illegal act according to the Public Procurement Commission,” the Opposition Leader said. Jagdeo added that as recent as Thursday last, he obtained information with regard to a road project contract involving the laying of asphalt in Lethem, Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo), where the Public Infrastructure Ministry is being accused for not following rules and regulations. He said the accusation of impropriety on the Region Nine project must be investigated. A similar accusation, he added, was also made about several other projects including the East Bank Berbice Road contract.
The Opposition Leader also called out Minister Patterson on the payment of US$9000 to his personal bank account from a Chinese company. According to Jagdeo, the Minister’s statements about this matter leave many unanswered questions and appears to be non-factual.
“He gave… an explanation that the Cabinet had approved the trip but the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) funded the trip, he took an advance from MARAD. Now I know if the Cabinet approves the trip then you get the advance from the Finance Ministry, why do you have to go to MARAD? But I suspect that when you get the advance from the Finance Ministry then you have to clear the advance, so why in the first place, in the first instance collect the money from MARAD and for the trip?”
According to the Opposition Leader, the contractors could have also simply reimbursed MARAD directly since the agency has its own bank account that it uses for business purposes.
“So all you had to do is give MARAD… it has a bank account. MARAD should have given their bank account [number] to the contractors and they would pay back MARAD directly. But how did the Association get his personal bank account details? Obviously the Minister had to give them his personal bank account details to deposit the money in,” Jagdeo further stated.
He noted that eight months after the money was expended, Minister Patterson stated that he had “promptly” reimbursed MARAD, but until now there has been no proof to support the Minister’s claims of such.
“We have not seen a cheque so how was it reimbursed? The Minister can easily show by cheque this was done. Did he encash it, draw out the cash and put it in a bag and went over to MARAD and give it back? So there are lots of questions that we have to get answers for,” Jagdeo added.
Minister Patterson came under fire after the probe into the award of a consultancy contract to Dutch firm LievenseCSO for the feasibility study and design of the new Demerara River crossing found that there was indeed breach in Procurement Act.
The Public Procurement Commission report outlined that after some 23 companies had expressed an interest in providing consultancy services, 12 were shortlisted and two managed to submit their proposals on time. However, Government failed to reach an agreement with either of the two companies in their negotiations and as such, the tender was annulled.
The National Tender and Procurement Administration Board (NPTAB) then recommended that the Public Infrastructure Ministry (MPI) re-tender but it did not, the PPC report said. It went on to note that the Permanent Secretary of the Public Infrastructure Ministry (MPI) then “informed the Public Procurement Commission that subsequent to annulment of the tender by MPI, [Dutch Company LievenseCSO] Engineering contracting BV submitted an unsolicited proposal to provide consultancy services for the Demerara River bridge project.”
As such, the Commission added that Minister Patterson approached Cabinet on November 18, 2016, seeking consideration and approval to use funds from the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation to fund the feasibility study and to commence a contractual engagement with LievenseCSO as of January 1, 2017.
The Commission found that there was a breach when this request to Cabinet was made by the Minister and not through the NPTA.