A stadium roof that miraculously “grew” of its own accord, eight interns awarded jobs for which none had ever applied, and a $2 million flag-pole, was just some of the “madness” revealed by Roberts.
Using his saucy “Spalk” talk-show style of wit, Roberts had the House in stitches, even one or two Opposition Members, as he then reined in the mirth with the reminder that this was all about taxpayers’ dollars.
Roberts questioned the award of a $2 million contract to build a 150-foot flagpole at the Hasely Crawford National Stadium in Mucurapo. He could not fathom how a company he dubbed, the Fortunate One, could have said in a letter that they had accepted the contract on April 29, 2009, while the contract had in fact been awarded on May 4, 2009. “Prophetess Pena would have been proud of that company,” he quipped.
Roberts said the flagpole contract had been awarded to the Fortunate One (Fire One Fireworks), despite another firm, Prabha Sports, bidding to do the job for $1 million less.
He said the Sport Company had dubiously rejected Prabha or wanting to be paid in US dollars and wanting a 50 percent down payment, the latter also required by the Fortunate One.
He expressed outrage that while the Fortunate One bid had claimed they would be using 200 cubic metres of concrete, they had in fact used only 30 cubic metres.
“Three truckloads! They should have used 20 truckloads, they used three. Did the price come down, Mr Speaker? No, the elevator stuck at the top — the same two million.” He said the firm had used just 15 percent of the concrete promised but charged the same price. Pointing to the Opposition PNM, he hit, “Only on that side could this happen. I tell you, Calder Hart is not the only one.”
Roberts spoke of the flagpole’s base or butt.
“Twenty feet by twenty feet estimated budget, alright that’s a big butt,” he quipped, evoking laughter. “But how big you feel they built the butt? Ten foot by ten foot! They cut the butt in half and charged the same price.”
Alleging the company’s original estimate had claimed six piles were needed, he said none in fact had been used. “Guess what, Mr Speaker? No piles! So no butt, no piles!”. Members just couldn’t restrain themselves at Roberts’ quip. “No butt, no piles, no Preparation H,” he added for good measure.
Roberts then said that while the roof of the Hasely Crawford Stadium is known to be 2,055 square metres. “The Sport Company had to fix the roof. Mr Speaker, now if your roof is 2,055square metres, I think you should fix 2,055 square metres, but suddenly, miraculously, Mr Speaker, the Hasely Crawford roof started to ‘grow’. It grew, Mr Speaker, eating veggies and pork, getting protein, the roof ‘grew’ from 2,055 square metres to 3,147 square metres.
“But do you know something, Mr Speaker? The original single quotation that was in before, when the roof grew it somehow brought the value to exactly what the single quote was, Mr Speaker. Coincidence? I think not.”
He said the Ministry of Finance auditors have concluded that there was collusion between the contractor and the Sport Company. “I’m going to call Hasely Crawford when I finish here and tell him ‘congratulations’. His stadium has grown.”
Roberts then lamented that the Sport Company had some 37 persons apply to be interns, then hired eight persons, but none of whom had been an applicant.
He then hit the perks enjoyed by executives of the Sport Company, jocularly advising Speaker Wade Mark to resign his exalted post and work for them instead.
“Despite the compensation packages of the executive chairman and the executive director, including a monthly transportation allowance, these goodly gentlemen, aided and abetted by the former Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, accepted their transportation allowances while leasing two BMW X5s at a cost of $18,000 plus VAT for one, at $40,055 per month (for two vehicles total), while cyclists couldn’t get a $300 track-suit to go to the Pan Am Junior Games last year, Mr Speaker, (and) when Mr Darren Ganga could not get one red cent to feed some poor children in rural Trinidad and Tobago on a cricket camp.”
Roberts put the icing on the cake of his presentation by noting the irony that despite all these dubious dealings, the Sport Company actually employed a procurement specialist at a $16,800 per month salary, and a procurement consultant at a monthly cost of $35,000.
Earlier, he had said the former Cabinet had asked the Sport Company to do $55 million in upgrades to local sport facilities to prepare for the Caribbean Games, but this sum ended up as $65 million in contracts most of which were improperly awarded. See page 8
“The Caribbean Games,” said Roberts, “were cancelled due to the H1N1 epidemic.”
He lamented that of the $55 million in proposed contracts, some $30 million were awarded without tender, of which $20 million in contracts were awarded by the use of single quotations.
“So, Mr Speaker, for the Caribbean Games alone, a period which spanned mere months, over 379 transactions were conducted by the Sport Company to the tune of $65,376,946.” He gave a breakdown of these transactions done by single quotation. He said in the range of $500 to $20,000, the Sport Company had likewise done 123 transactions worth some $976,353. Some 127 deals were in the range of $20,000 to $50,000, totalling $6.9 million. In the range of 100,000-plus, some 129 transactions were done worth a total of $57 million using a single quotation.Roberts then said even for the $25 million in works awarded through a tendering process, none had actually been approved by a tenders committee, as he said a Ministry of Finance audit had found that no tenders committee even existed before the start of the audit exercise. “Despite not having a tenders committee, these appointees of the PNM had the audacity to send 62 notes relative to the award of those contracts to a ghost (tenders) committee,” said Roberts, apparently hinting at a cover-up. “Mr Speaker, I distinctly remember the Member for San Fernando East in a different capacity seated a little closer to your exalted chair, I distinctly remember him saying, ‘Jail ain’t nice. It ain’t nice’.”
Roberts then alleged that the Sport Company executive director had “approved” one of the notes, while the executive chairman “approved” 62 notes.
“Mr Speaker, when men eating a food they must follow it up with a dessert: Less than $2.5 million, or five percent of the $55 million in works, were noted in the board minutes as being approved by the board.” He punned that the board was clearly “bored” in having nothing to do.
At the end of his speech, Roberts turned to former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, Roberts leaned forward held open his arms, to ask, “The Member for San Fernando East, we just have to ask him, where the money gone?”
Roberts’ expose was based on a systems audit of the Sport Company by the Ministry of Finance as requested by his predecessor Gary Hunt, even as he quipped Hunt may have been prompted to act based on his commentaries as a talk show host.
“It is recommended by the auditors that all breaches of good governance by further investigated for possible breaches of the law,” Roberts concluded.