THE firm chosen to build the La Brea dry dock, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), came under sharp scrutiny yesterday from commentator and surveyor Afra Raymond. He alleged the company was once debarred by the World Bank and he asked how much (if any) local content the project would entail.
Newsday was unable to contact the company, with sources at the Tatil Building unable to say where the firm, their former tenants, had since moved to. We were unable to contact the Prime Minister nor NIDCO head Herbert George who were both present at the recent signing ceremony, while one top official told Newsday they knew of nothing untoward about the firm. Raymond said TT’s procurement laws have procedures to disbar corrupt companies.
“China Harbour Engineering did have a World Bank ban, that ended in January 2017,” Raymond said. He urged caution towards the firm.
“They were found to have committed improper acts in the past. It is now quite reasonable to pay special attention.”
Raymond also made the point that the project is not any gift from the Chinese to TT, but a deal which also benefits the Chinese.
“This is not an act of charity.
“We are borrowing money to build this complex, that must be re-paid, with terms of reference and rates of interest.” Raymond asked whether the deal was the best arrangement TT could have made, or whether better terms existed in a contract made with the likes of the World Bank, Inter American Development Bank or Caribbean Development Bank. “If you are borrowing money, what are the returns to the population?” Saying the project had phases of designing and constructing the complex, he asked how many TT nationals would be employed in these phases. Pointing to other projects by Chinese firms, Raymond said, “It has been a pattern: all the work is done by Chinese people. We are borrowing all this money and must pay it back, but what percentage of locals will work there? What are the benefits to TT? Will welding and electrical jobs be open to local people, or just Chinese?” He said the agreement signed between TT and China should state quotas for local content.
“We are told US$500 million will be generated by the project each year, but how do we arrive at that conclusion?” He hoped the dry dock would not be so all-inclusive as Sandals Reports where someone in the USA who books a room in the Caribbean swipes their debit card such that no money every reaches the TT.
Of the dry-dock, Raymond said, “It’s a substantial investment. I’m asking the question. We need to know the details.”