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Questions raised about SNC-Lavalin project in Trinidad and Tobago

Mario Beauregard-Montreal Québec CanadaBy Laura Stone and Jacques Bourbeau, Global News

OTTAWA – Government officials in Trinidad and Tobago are questioning plans for Canadian company SNC-Lavalin to build a large hospital complex in the Caribbean country.

SNC-Lavalin is working with the Canadian Commercial Corporation, an arm’s-length agency of the federal government that helps private business win international contracts, to negotiate a deal to build a hospital in the town of Penal.

The Montreal-based company has been embroiled in a series of corruption scandals over the past two years; the World Bank has banned it from bidding on any bank-funded project for the next decade.

Trinidad’s housing minister told the Trinidad Guardian newspaper that he was concerned about the allegations surrounding the company.

“We are working through the embassy in Toronto to inquire about whether they have done due diligence and then we will take it from there,” Dr. Roodal Moonilal told the newspaper.

Kurt Ramlal, CEO of the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago, told the paper that Trinidad is not responsible for SNC-Lavalin’s involvement in the potential deal. He told the Guardian, “I think all questions that relate to the contract must be directed to the Canadian government because we had no control at all on the tendering or selection of this contract.”

Neither Moonilal nor Ramlal returned interview requests from Global News Tuesday.

Both CCC and SNC-Lavalin dispute these claims. They say no deal has been signed and if Trinidad does not want to do business with SNC-Lavalin it doesn’t have to sign the contract.

“It is important that the contract will not be signed until the CCC has completed its review on this company, as well as their commitments to ethical business practices,” Canadian High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago Gérard Latulippe told the Guardian in a subsequent article.

A former SNC-Lavalin executive, Philip Buxo, is serving as High Commissioner of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to Canada.  He was director of the CARICOM (an organization of 15 Caribbean nations) energy and infrastructure division of SNC-Lavalin until his diplomatic appointment in 2010.

His office said it’s up to Canadian agencies to decide who builds the hospital.

“The selection of Canadian suppliers is the sole jurisdiction of the Canadian authorities through the Canadian Commercial Corporation,” his office said in a statement.

“Our High Commission is not involved with it in any way. The High Commission keeps an arm’s length distance from all organisations seeking to do business with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.”

When asked by Global News if Buxo played any role in this potential deal, SNC-Lavalin said Buxo would know that his former employer is trying win a contract with his country.

“As High Commissioner to Canada, Mr. Buxo would be aware of all initiatives involving the Canadian government and to our knowledge, all parties respected their respective roles and responsibilities,” Leslie Quinton, senior vice-president of global corporate communications, said in an email.

Sources say the Canadian Commercial Corporation first got involved in this project in late 2010, before much of the controversy erupted about SNC-Lavalin’s international dealings. They also say before any contract is signed, the CCC will conduct a due diligence review of SNC-Lavalin’s corporate social responsibility capabilities and its commitment to ethical business practices.

The company is implicated in bribery and corruption scandals in Bangladesh, Libya, Cambodia, Algeria and Montreal. The company’s role in these scandals has not been proven in court.

Arthur Porter, the Conservative-appointed former head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, is accused of accepting bribes in connection with the awarding of a $1.3-billion contract to SNC-Lavalin to build a hospital in Montreal.

According to an Interpol report, Porter was en route to Trinidad and Tobago when he was arrested in Panama along with his wife and charged with fraud.

SNC-Lavalin said the company has made “extraordinary strides” to develop and implement an ethics and governance program that “we feel confident is one of the best (if not the best) in Canada.”

“It is important to stress that the issues of the past are being properly managed and our clients appear to be reassured that we are on the right path going forward,” Quinton said.

PHOTO: SNC Lavalin offices in downtown Montreal, Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mario Beauregard

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