The Prime Minister has called on the Commissioner of Police to go into the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) to find out under whose authority its contract with Brazilian construction firm Construtora OAS SA (OAS) to build the San Fernando to Point Fortin highway was amended. He says the amendment was made three days before the general election in 2015 and ultimately cost the State $852 million after an arbitration loss to the contractor in March, this year.
Speaking at a national PNM meeting at the Calvary Community Centre in Arima on Tuesday, Dr Rowley said arbitration in the matter, which had been ongoing since 2015, had awarded the sum to the contractor, who went bankrupt while constructing the Point Fortin Highway. He said a sudden change in the contract with the contractor meant the country had lost the money, which it should have been able to retain.
"We had a contract with a clause that said if the company went bankrupt, the government could use the bonds put up by the contractor to complete the work.
"However, the government in power at the time, the UNC, did something that allowed them to take away the bonds – they removed that clause.
"We went to court and argued that that behaviour on the part of the government did not make good sense and we were awarded the bonds.
"However, the contractor took the matter to arbitration and because that clause was removed, we now owe the contractor $852 million."
The Prime Minister was responding to remarks by Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal during debate on the mid-year review of the budget in Parliament on May 16.
Moonilal claimed the government had lost against OAS at the London Court of International Arbitration a month before and now owed the firm $1 billion.
Referring to remarks by Minister of Finance Colm Imbert, who suggested that Trinidad and Tobago's public debt was decreasing, Moonilal asked if the arbitration ruling had been considered when calculating the State's existing debt.
"It cannot be part of a declining debt. It's $1 billion!
"In this arbitration, the Prime Minister in 2017 boasted, he described Minister Young as the Gary Sobers of the Cabinet. He negotiated and we got $1 billion back from the bond and they terminated the contracted of the OAS, claimed that the Partnership government had interfered with the contract.
"The Prime Minister boasted, we went to court under Minister Young's guidance, won every single case, got back $1 billion. Well, they lost $1 billion in an arbitration."
On Tuesday, Rowley read from the arbitration ruling to describe the circumstances under which the contract had been changed.
"On March 31, 2015, confirmed by arbitrator, OAS was insolvent under laws of TT and Brazil."
Rowley said, at the time, clause 15.2 allowed the government to legally terminate OAS as the contractor but for five months "UNC was in power, did nothing to protect public money."
Rowley said the clause was removed on September 4, 2015, the last day the UNC was in office before the general election, which it lost. He said the arbitrator noted the removal of the clause meant NIDCO could no longer defend itself in the matter.
"We now owe the contractor $852,969,825 or US $127 million."
Rowley said that could only have occurred because of what happened on September 4, 2015.
"I want to ask Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who removed that clause? If there was ever a case for misbehaving in public office, it is the person who authorised the removal of that clause! I call on the CoP to go into NIDCO to find out under whose authority that clause was removed.
I have been asking about this for years and nobody would respond when I raised it."
Rowley said he instructed Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan, who has responsibility for NIDCO, to co-operate with the police to determine "under whose hand this travesty had taken place."
The PM asked the country to imagine what could be done with $852 million.