By Kenton X. Chance
The company that was awarded the contract for which the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) later declared mis-procurement has refused to comment on its qualifications to execute the project.
“I really can’t comment on it. The matter is before a lot of different people and I honestly can’t say much about it,” a man who said he is the manager of Reliable Construction Services Ltd, but declined, repeatedly, to give his name, told iWitness News via telephone last Wednesday.
“The people who are saying things about me and who I am what I am and what the company is and stuff like that, it’s — I don’t know. They are just saying what they are saying. It seems to me that they are the ones who registered the company,” said the man, whose name iWitness News later learnt is Magovan Toby.
Toby chose to remain tight-lipped amidst a scathing accusation by an unsuccessful bidder, which seems to be supported by the Caribbean Development Bank’s findings, that his company did not meet the basic requirement and should not have been awarded the contract.
The Tenders Board, having reviewed the seven bids for the “Yarabaqua River Defence” project and having received a letter of no objection from the CDB, awarded the contract to Reliable Construction Ltd., whose bid was $1,421,576.
The pre-bid engineering estimate for these works was EC $1,512,077.
Seven bids were received on April 23, 2018, in the following amounts
OB Sadoo Engineering Services Ltd.: $1,584,458.62
Hutchinson Construction Co. Ltd.: $2,169,272.00
Bailey Contractors Inc.: $1,310,772.00
Bally and Bally Investments Inc.: $1,478,029 (corrected $1,468,514.60)
Franco Construction Ltd: $1,574,797.00
Reliable Construction Services Ltd.: $1,421,567.00
Kelectric Co, Ltd.: $1,325,928.45
However, Cameron Balcombe, managing director of Bally and Bally Investments Ltd., complained that Reliable Construction did not meet the minimum experience requirements in the key activities of gabion wall construction, reinforced concrete construction, and river training.
The CDB conducted its own review and concluded that mis-procurement had occurred and ordered the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to repay the EC$142,000 that had been disbursed for the project.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has said that the Tenders Board acted on the advice of the IBI Group, the CDB’s consultants on the project.
He further announced that his government will finance the project and will keep Reliable Construction as the contractor.
Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday has called on the government to launch an inquiryinto the development, even as Member of Parliament for East Kingstown, Arnhim Eustace, a former senior CDB executive, said the development is shameful and damaging to the country’s reputation.
In our conversation with the manager of Reliable Construction on Wednesday, we pointed out that the tender document said that for a firm to qualify to bid for the contract, it must meet certain criteria, part of it being that they must have done a certain amount of river training work over a three-year period.
Toby said that he could not comment on the extent of his company’s training or experience in that regard.
He also said he could not comment on whether he was satisfied that his company was qualified to have been awarded the contract.
There was also no comment on whether he was surprised by the decision of the CDB to rescind the loan.
“I am not going to comment on that either,” Toby said.
iWitness News noted that Balcombe has said in public comments that Reliable Construction was essentially an equipment rental company that had evolved into a construction firm.
“And the suggestion is that the company did not have the extent of the experience to qualify them for the contract. What do you say about that?” iWitness News asked.
“Again, I am not commenting on that. The people who give you the information seem like they know more than the people who own and started the business. The people, who are talking, let them talk. I really can’t comment on it. They are the ones saying it so they may have known something that I don’t.”
Asked if he could tell iWitness News of one river training or one river defence project that his company has worked on, Toby said, “I am not going to comment on that, either.”
“Do you have any comments whatsoever about this?” iWitness News asked.
The manager responded:
“Well, the comments I have basically is to say that if the people that’s talking know exactly what they are talking about then I should not say anything because it seems like the people who are listening and who are reading and whatever they are saying is taking information and moving forward with it.” iWitness News noted that the prime minister spoke about the issue and had also said nothing about the experience of Reliable Construction.
“Well, I didn’t really listen to the prime minister. I am just going about my daily task and doing my work as I see fit. I don’t see a reason to start anywhere with the name like my business and people could justify what it is, nobody know what the intentions of that person who started the business is, I have no comment on that. They are the ones saying what it is; they are the ones who probably registered it.”
Asked how long his company has been registered, the manager said “a while”, but said he was not sure how long is “a while”.
“I guess you will have to check with CIPO for that,” he said, referring to the Commercial and Intellectual Property Office.
The company’s file at the Commercial and Intellectual Property Office in Kingstown, shows that Reliable Construction Services Ltd. came into existence on Nov. 1, 2018 with a name change from Caribbean Building Solution Ltd., a company incorporated on March 22, 2017.
As at December 31, 2018, the shareholders were Paula L. Toby and Magavon A. Toby of Queens Drive and NAC Management Services Ltd., a firm whose address is listed as Vancouver, Canada.
CIPO issued iWitness News a note saying that the Reliable Construction Services Ltd. annual return documents that iWitness News copied “have not been registered due to non-compliance with the formality and the substantive requirements of the Companies Act”.
Last Monday, July 22, speaking on Jerry S. George’s Facebook Live show, “Early in the Morning”, Balcombe and his wife and business partner, Ronnia Durham-Balcombe said they wrote to the CDB after the Ministry of Transport and Works in Kingstown were adamant about awarding the contract to Reliable Construction.
Durham-Balcombe said the project was put out to tender in 2018 and noted that the requirements were for gabion basket wall construction, reinforced concrete construction, as well as river training.
She said the bid document said that the tenderer must have completed one of those contracts within the previous three years.
“So it would be three years back from 2018, so from ‘15 to ‘18, those last three years, amounting to EC$1 million,” said Durham-Balcombe, who is also a lawyer.
“Now, we cannot tell you of the other parties’ financials or their other qualifications but this area of your experience is what stood out for us…” she said.
She said that while St. Vincent is a very small country, her company had not heard about Reliable Construction until recently “so we are not aware that Reliable had ever done such a contract, particularly in St. Vincent”.
Durham-Balcombe, however, noted that the bid document did not limit a bidding company’s work to what was done in SVG and could include work done anywhere in the world.
She said that her company inquired and when they found no information indicating that Reliable Construction had the requisite experience, they raised the issue with Ministry of Transport and Works in a Sept. 14, 2018 letter.
The ministry responded on March 8, 2019 saying they had commissioned the IBI Group to conduct a further review of Reliable Construction’s experience, in the areas of gabion basket works and river training.
The letter, which was signed by the acting chief engineer, Alistair Campbell, said the results of this further investigation “confirmed the previous conclusion of the consultant … and by extension the MTW.
“The decision of the MTW to award a contract to Reliable Construction Services Ltd. therefore remains unchanged,” the letter said.
Regarding Bally and Bally’s request for “debriefing” of the reasons for eliminating the other tenderers, the ministry said, among other things, that the contract was recommended to be awarded to the lowest responsive and qualified tenderer.
Campbell said that the only tenderer eliminated was that of the lowest tenderer, Bailey Construction Inc., as his tender was deemed non-compliant.
“The next lowest tender but compliant tender, that of RCSL, was recommended for the award,” the letter said.
Durham-Balcombe said that the response of the Ministry of Transport and Works did not sit well with her company because of the timeframe of the complaint and the response.
“It did not seem as if any further investigation was carried out,” she said, adding that although the river training works at Yarabaqua had begun, the situation still did not sit well with her company.
“And had we allowed this to continue, we never know what else might have slipped through the cracks over the years or in the future, as the case may be,” she said, adding that he company decided to contact the CDB, which, after its own review, declared mis-procurement.
“Now, this is a particular area where contractors take the matter to court. This is an area of public procurement law,” Durham Balcombe said.
“It is not well developed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines but there are other countries across the world where contractors — it is not because you feel you should have gotten the contract and you didn’t — you basically fight for what you believe because at the end of the day, it is a business and it must be done fairly,” she said.