State telecoms company TSTT overcharged taxpayers by $300 million for providing cameras to the government, the Prime Minister said Monday. Dr Rowley did not specify what type of cameras, but in 2016 the Ministry of National Security partnered with TSTT to set up a pilot CCTV/surveillance project.
Rowley said TSTT claimed the arrangement it had with Government for providing these cameras had run up a debt of $750 million. The Prime Minister said he felt compelled to clarify after head of the Communication Workers’ Union Clyde Elder claimed Government owed TSTT at least $500 million and up to $1 billion.
“The spokesperson for the union from TSTT made some very definitive statements here which I need to address. One is that the government owes TSTT $1 billion dollars. As head of the Cabinet, I know of no such thing. What I do know is that we do owe TSTT some money.”
Rowley said the Government looked “very closely” at TSTT’s claim and came to the conclusion that there was no basis for the claim.
“You must remember TSTT is a company 51 per cent owned by the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and 49 per cent owned by a foreign company. TSTT was claiming that the arrangement we had with the government for providing cameras had run up a debt of $750 million. This government looked very closely at that and came to the conclusion that there was no basis for that claim.
”In fact, as far as the government is concerned, with our communication with and our relationship with TSTT, the government's understanding is that debt is of an order of approximately $200 million.”
He said recently, the government came up with a way for that $200 million to be paid to TSTT. He said as far as the government was concerned, “TSTT has been, in the context of an existing contract and an expired contract, grossly overbilling the taxpayers for the supply of those cameras.”
Instead of accepting TSTT 's claim and “after tremendous resistance from all sorts of underlings and imps in the system,” Rowley said the Government managed to draw out and have a public tender to supply the service.
“The bids came in with TSTT bidding $380 million for the service. Another able contractor that was pre-qualified bid $80 million. So, in fact, by tender process we have discovered that TSTT was (overcharging) the country by $300 million in that arrangement.” That was unacceptable, he said because it would mean “putting 49 per cent in Cable and Wireless’ pocket.”
Cable and Wireless is the minority owner of TSTT; the State owns the other 51 per cent.
“We didn’t want to do that at all. The Government awarded the contract to the best bid at $80 million, and that work is underway.” Government is now in negotiations with TSTT to settle the outstanding debt, on a quantum meruit basis (a reasonable sum for services rendered based on the contract) of government’s offer of an approximation of $4 million a month.
“So, it is not the final story, or accurate to say that the government is owing TSTT this $1 billion or $700 million, and is portraying it as though we are the cause of any demise of TSTT’s business as usual.”TSTT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.