Appearing before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, a team from the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development was unable to provide documentation relating to the $1.8 billion settlement paid to the contracting firm, BK International.
The payments were negotiated in 2017 as part of an out-of-court settlement between the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the company, which in 2015 filed a lawsuit claiming it was wrongfully terminated from the Haags Bosch Landfill development project.
The project was funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and supplemented by state funds.
The then Donald Ramotar-led government had terminated BK International’s contract in February 2015 on the grounds that the company had missed deadlines and committed other breaches.
However, once the matter reached the court, Chief Justice (ag), the late Ian Chang, ruled in favour of the company.
Even though the settlement payments were reportedly paid in full, the Permanent Secretary (PS), Prema Roopnarine said that she could not locate any documents relating to the settlement.
The PAC members sought answers from the former PS of the then Ministry of Communities, Emil McGarrell, who indicated that the payments were made by the Legal Affairs Ministry and that the documents could perhaps be sourced from there. McGarrell said that he too had never seen the documents.
Government member of the PAC and Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill lamented the fact that even years after the payments were made, the settlement document has yet to reach the PAC. He also questioned the regulations that provide for payments to be made by the Legal Affairs Ministry.
“Under whose authority was it done?” Edghill queried.
His line of questioning was picked up by Opposition member of the PAC, David Patterson, but officers of the Audit Office confirmed that the payments could have been made by the Legal Affairs Ministry and that it would have been in keeping with financial regulations.
Further inquires into the transaction left more lingering questions than answers. Ultimately, PS Roopnarine was tasked with furnishing the PAC with several documents within the next two weeks.
These include the initial application filed in the court, evidence of the court hearing on the issue and evidence of negotiated settlement, as requested by minister Edghill.
Recognizing that the project is one that benefits from both state and foreign funding, PAC government member, Gail Teixeira requested that there be a distinction between the two sets of investments into the Haags Bosch project, and documents outlining why the IDB suspended funds for the project.
Further, Teixeira asked that the committee is in receipt of the Cabinet decision which paved the way for a request for supplementary funding to compensate the company. Her colleague, attorney Sanjeev Datadin also asked for the minutes of the settlement meeting, as well as the settlement contract.
Recognising that the project commenced under the Ramotar administration, Patterson went even further to request details of the contract signed in 2009.
Referencing an August 2013 dispute between BK and the then government, Patterson also wants to be supplied with a copy of the Cabinet’s decision on the matter.
The PS was also asked to supply details of the 2015 legal proceedings, as well as the amount of settlement proposed to the company.
PS Roopnarine was asked to submit any additional documents that may be relevant to the issue and can help to be “closure” to PAC’s concerns.