Regarding the questionable acquisition of eight containers of steel worth hundreds of millions of dollars by contractor, BK International Incorporated, Minister of State Joseph Harmon a few weeks ago had stated that the Ministry of Public Health is conducting an investigation.
Now six weeks later, there is no evidence that any probe is underway. The issue itself has been a sore one for Government.
Senior officials of the Public Health Ministry, contacted this week, are declaring that they are unaware of any such investigation.
Minister Harmon had said at a post-cabinet press briefing that the Minister of Public Health, Dr. George Norton, had indicated that an investigation is going on and a report is expected to be submitted soon.
However, contacted recently, Dr. Norton on two occasions did not disclose much detail. On August 8, 2016, he was asked in the corridor of Parliament Building for an update on the investigation to which he responded: “Not because an investigation is going on means that something is wrong,”
On the other occasion – which was two days ago – the embattled Minister said that his Ministry being involved in the investigation was not entirely true and that he “would not venture further” in the matter.
The Minister, instead, told this publication that contact should be made with the Permanent Secretary of his Ministry, Trevor Thomas, since he has a better understanding of the “misunderstanding”.
After Thomas was contacted yesterday, he stated that he was unaware of any investigation and asked for more details. After a synopsis of the matter was related to him, he said that he will attempt to find out about it. Asked if he could be contacted later in the day for an update, Thomas said that he should be given a day to comment on the issue since he needs ascertain if there is actually an investigation going on.
The questionable acquisition of the approximately $900M worth in steel was revealed earlier this year by Former President, Donald Ramotar who had stated that something was not right about the deal which had transpired mere weeks after the May 11, 2015 General Elections.
However, BK International claimed that it received the containers of steel based on a court judgment which was executed in July last year. That judgment – according to reports, came after BK sued Indian contractor, Surendra Engineering Company Limited (SECL), for works on the troubled Specialty Hospital at Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara. BK was claiming $180M in a lawsuit filed in mid-2014.
How BK International Inc. received the $900M worth in steel when its judgment was for $180M – which was making headlines in the country – is still a mystery, while Government officials are mum on the issue.
Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall had weighed in on the matter, when he had stated that the former administration had terminated Surendra Engineering’s hospital contract after that company failed to meet deadlines, among other things. A lawsuit was filed by Government claiming around $900M.
Earlier the same year, BK sued Surendra for outstanding monies for work done. The claims were for $180M plus interests and costs. In early 2015, months before the May elections, eight containers of steel for Surendra arrived in Guyana.
The Ramotar government immediately took possession of the steel, paying the Customs charges. It was placed in the custody of the then Ministry of Health. Both the former President and Nandlall made it clear it was the intention to levy on the containers.
However, in July last year, BK managed to acquire court orders to execute judgment on the containers. With a Court Marshal, the steel was handed over to BK.
Ramotar and BK International boss, Brian Tiwarie, had exchanged a number of scathing public letters on the issue. The case would be a hard one to swallow for citizens who have seen their taxpayer dollars squandered in poorly supervised projects without much action taken to recover the precious money spent. Surendra had hurriedly left the jurisdiction last year with not much in terms of assets left behind for Government to seize.
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