Sunday 9th September, 2007


Rowley rejects new Integrity Commission allegations

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By Anthony Wilson

Just two months after it quashed its own report into the Landate affair, the Integrity Commission has launched a new attack on Housing Minister Keith Rowley, firing off letters on June 25 and July 27 that accuse the minister of misconduct in the award of a contract to construct the Customs and Excise building.

But in a 35-page, 98-point response dated August 16, Rowley launched a stinging counter-attack, accusing the Commission of allowing “itself to be used as a tool” to tarnish his reputation and describing the new allegations by the Integrity Commission against him as “action amounting to oppressive conduct” and “reckless.”

The Integrity Commission alleged Rowley influenced, procured or otherwise directed the decision to quash certain evaluations, which recommended Hafeez Karamath Ltd be awarded the contract for the Customs building.

Hafeez Karamath, who runs the company, was charged with three counts of fraud in relation to the Desalcott case last year and was granted $1 million bail.

The Integrity Commission alleged Rowley used his influence to award the contract for the building to NH International (Caribbean) Ltd, a privately-owned company run by Emile Elias. In the document, Rowley admits Elias is his “personal friend.”

Rowley categorically denied all of the allegations in his lengthy response, to which is added numerous appendices of letters and documents.

Rowley stated that, as Minister of Planning, he was responsible for the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott), the state-owned development company that was undertaking much of the construction of buildings in Port-of-Spain.

According to the Rowley document, he was advised in early 2003 by Udecott chairman Calder Hart that the company would have been in a position to award a contract for the Customs building, which was estimated to cost about $100 million, by March 2003.

Rowley stated that in April 2003 he began to receive reports “from several persons” that Udecott was engaging in “favouritism, manipulation and conflicts of interest” in its award of the contract for the Customs building.

“In particular, it was alleged Udecott was actively attempting to violate its own published tender requirements to award the contract to Hafeez Karamath Ltd, a contractor that did not meet several of the requirements set out by Udecott itself in its “Invitation to Tender” document,” according to the Rowley response.

As a result of his concern, Rowley stated, he scheduled a meeting with the leadership of the Udecott board “to bring these allegations to their attention and to obtain a better understanding of the evaluation and award process which was being used in respect of this particular contract (the details of which I was unaware of at the time).”

Rowley wrote to the Udecott chairman on August 5, 2003, outlining concerns that the “process and procedures being pursued by the company are faulty.”

The Udecott chairman responded on August 27 confirming, according to Rowley’s response, that the tender process was faulty.

The Udecott chairman’s letter stated, “The mistake, as I have identified for everyone, was in my attempt to correct the system on the run, so to speak, as opposed to aborting the tender when the process was discovered to be flawed.”

In his response, Rowley appended the Calder Hart letter, as well as minutes of the Udecott board meeting of August 19, 2003, which stated: “The chairman indicated the whole tender process was flawed from the beginning and that a decision had been taken to re-tender the project.”

Rowley concluded, therefore, that the initial tendering process was quashed as a result of “shared concerns” and not as a result of his influence.

He also stated that as a result of a Cabinet reshuffle on November 7, he was no longer in a position to review the evaluation and award process of Udecott in respect of the Customs building.

When Udecott re-tendered the contract, in January 2004, Rowley was Housing Minister and “had absolutely nothing to do with any aspect of Udecott’s business with respect to its invitation to tender, its evaluation of bids or the award of any contract.”

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