August 23, 2019
Don’t mess with my government’s image – Gonsalves to CDB

“You don’t mess around with the image of the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines headed by Ralph Gonsalves. We are blameless in this matter.”

This is the position of the Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, which he made clear at a press conference on Tuesday, while speaking about the tendering process for the contract for river defense work at Yarabaqua river which was won by Reliable Construction Ltd.

Beyond this, the Prime Minister believes that an official from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) acted “precipitately” in declaring a mis-procurement to Reliable Construction. However, he has also stated that he is not “attacking” or “saying anything bad” about the CDB.

“This is a standing caution to all entities, regional or international dealing with our Government: [they] must deal with it with respect, and with our institutions. If we made a mistake, we will acknowledge it, and the President of the CDB says that they will acknowledge their mistakes too,” he noted.

According to the “facts” laid down by the Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves, who was also present at the press conference, the CDB had required the Government to hire an engineering consultant before any money could be disbursed for the river defense project, and therefore they did so by hiring the Canadian firm, IBI Investments Ltd.

He said there was an over 100-page document prepared by IBI for the Ministry of Works and the Government, which evaluated all the companies bidding for the river defense project. This report then went to the Chief Engineer, Alistair Campbell, and on to the CDB, who then issued a ‘No Objection’ to the report which recommended Reliable Construction. Then the Tenders Board tendered the contract to Reliable Construction.

Having issued a no objection, the Government is saying that the CDB could only override the no objection and declare a mis-procurement, if, according to the bank’s rules, the no objection was issued based on “incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading information” provided by the recipient.

The Minister of Finance interpreted this rule as, “If we have gone through the trouble to look at your document and say we have no objection, we’re only going to reverse that if you tricked us, if something new came along that we realize you tricked us.”

The Prime Minister indicated, “There was no new evidence, because when you look at the submission, the tender bid, as far as I can read in it, and I look at every page of it, they (Reliable) did not say anything which they were not.”

“I am not defending Reliable,” He added, noting that if he saw the manager, Magovan Toby or his wife on the street, he wouldn’t recognize them.

The government notes that on page four of the report prepared by IBI, it is outlined that Reliable does not have the record to show the required years of experience or financial statements.

Therefore, they said, this information was also not “new” to the CDB, despite the fact that these are the reasons they have given for declaring the mis-procurement.

In light of the absence of any new information, the Prime Minister is positing that the official from CDB acted “precipitately.”

“If there were any queries on the bid document of Reliable, he (the official from CDB) reasonably ought to have made a call to the Chairman of the Tenders Board Mr (Edmond) Jackson to say well, a query has arisen, what is the information about this, can you clarify anything here?,” the Prime Minister said, referring to the letter of objection send to the CDB by an unsuccessful bidder just before the bank declared the mis-procurement.

“So I raised the question to the President of the CDB (Dr Warren Smith), by acting so precipitately, did the official act deliberately or recklessly?,” the Prime Minister commented.

He says that he has yet to get an answer on this.

“I said do you think the official at CDB would have acted so precipitately and not even paid the courtesy to call the Tenders Board Chairman if the procurement was done by the Chairman of the Tenders Board of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago or Barbados?,” the Prime Minister continued. He said that the President answered that he does not believe this would have made a difference.

The Prime Minister contended that in some regional institutions there seems to be an anti small island bias, and that although he cannot prove it, “I feel it in my bones from my long years of experience.”

The Minister of Finance reiterated that of all the parties involved in the “saga”, “the two blameless, absolutely blameless parties in this are the winning bidder Reliable because they put everything up front, they didn’t tell any lies to anybody, and the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, because they followed every single process to the letter in going through this process.”