….relating to feasibility study, design of new Demerara river crossing
By Richard Bhainie
GENERAL-Secretary of the Alliance For Change (AFC) and former Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson, along with the former General Manager of the Demerara Harbour Bridge (DHB) Corporation, Rawlston Adams, appeared at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court on Monday, slapped with a joint charge of conspiracy to defraud.
The charge stemmed from the controversial contract awarded for the feasibility study and design of a new Demerara River Crossing in 2016. The duo appeared before Magistrate Leron Daly and was not required to plead to the indictable charge, which alleged that, between November 18, 2016, and February 1, 2018, at Georgetown, they conspired with each other and with other persons unknown, to defraud the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC) of $162,635,015; this money belongs to the Asphalt Plant, which falls under the purview of the DHBC.
The particulars of the charge indicated that the funding of the feasibility study and design for a new Demerara Harbour Bridge, was not a function of the DHBC, hence the monies from the Asphalt Plant account could not have been used to fund the project.
The charge was brought by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU); both Patterson and Adams were released on $200,000 bail each and are expected to return to court on February 15, 2021.
Patterson’s defence team is led by attorney-at-law, Ronald Burch-Smith, who appeared in association with attorneys-at-law, Nigel Hughes and Khemraj Ramjattan; Adams is represented by attorney-at-law, Glen Hanoman.
Speaking to the media outside the court house on Monday, Hughes described the allegation as “malicious”, stating that a foreign government approached the Government of Guyana expressing interest to conduct the feasibility study, and that “this was not an activity initiated by Mr. Patterson and therefore in the circumstances we believe that this charge not only is unfounded but malevolent.”
A few supporters of the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition, led by Opposition Leader, Joseph Harmon, gathered outside the court to show support for Patterson.
In 2015, the then Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI) invited companies to submit Expressions of Interest (EoIs) to the Chairman of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) to undertake a feasibility study for the development of options for a new Demerara Harbour Bridge.
Some 23 foreign and local companies submitted EoIs, from which 12 were shortlisted. However, only two of the companies submitted proposals, and after negotiations with one of the companies, the ministry informed the NPTAB of its decision to annul the tender, with the intention of retendering at a later stage. The contract, however, was never retendered.
Subsequently, LievenseCSO Engineering Contracting BV – a company from the Netherlands – submitted an unsolicited proposal to provide consultancy services for the Demerara River Bridge project. Patterson, by memorandum dated November 18, 2016, made a request to the then David Granger Cabinet for consideration and approval to use funds from the Asphalt Plant account to fund the feasibility study, and “to commence a contractual engagement with LievenseCSO as of the 1st January, 2017”.
This request to Cabinet was not forwarded through the NPTAB, but submitted directly by Patterson, and on November 25, 2016, Cabinet approved a total sum of G$161,514,420 for the project. The Public Procurement Commission (PPC) had conducted an investigation into the matter, and concluded that the procurement procedure used to award the contract was in contravention of the Procurement Act.
Adams, who signed the contract with LievenseCSO Engineering Contracting, BV on December 9, 2016, had informed the PPC during investigations that the Board of the DHBC was not a party to the decision to use the funds for the stipulated purposes, and he did not sign the contract on behalf of the DHBC, but only because he was requested by Patterson to do so.
The PPC was also informed by Adams and then Permanent Secretary of the MPI, Kenneth Jordan, that even though the project was funded by the DHBC and signed by Adams, the project was still under the control of the ministry. However, the contract with LievenseCSO Engineering identified DHBC as the client.
The PPC, in its report, noted “the DHBC does not fall within the definition of a Procuring Entity, as provided in the Procurement Act Cap 73:05. Except for projects financed by funds provided from the Consolidated Fund of the Government, the DHBC can conduct its procurement in accordance with its own rules and procedures, once they do not conflict with the Procurement Act.”
The report further stated: “As advised by the General Manager, DHBC, this Corporation, however, in practice, executes procurement in accordance with the provisions of the Procurement Act. Mr. Adams confirmed to the PPC that this project was not included in the Work Programme and Budget of the DHBC for the financial year in which the consultant was contracted.”
The PPC’s investigation into the matter pointed out the fact that the DHBC was described as the “Client” in the contract and so the project has to be regarded as one of the DHBC’s. The PPC further concluded that as a result of Adams’ admission, the contract was a clear breach of Section 17 (1) of the Procurement Act.
“Section 17 subsection 1 of the Procurement Act states that NPTAB is responsible for exercising jurisdiction over tenders, which exceed the amounts prescribed in the procurement Regulations. The Regulations state that, for the MPI, Consultancy projects that cost in excess of five million Guyana dollars (GYD$5 million) must be administered by the NPTAB,” the PPC report noted.
Further, Section 54 (1) of the Act states that “Cabinet shall have the right to review all procurements the value of which exceeds $15,000,000. The Cabinet shall conduct its review on the basis of a streamlined tender evaluation report to be adopted by the Authority mentioned in Section 17(2).”
In June 2019, the Guyana Police Force cleared Patterson of any wrongdoing, stating that based on legal advice, “there was no misuse of funds; there is no evidence that a criminal offence has been committed, and there is no evidence of any collusion between Arie Mol/Lievense CSO and the personnel from the Ministry of Public Infrastructure.”