By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER executives at the Bahamas Electricity Corporation were probed yesterday on their knowledge of the Inter-American Development Bank’s role in the bidding process concerning a French company’s tender for the New Providence Expansion Phase Three contract with BEC.
Former BEC General Manager Bradley Roberts was called to the witness stand to give evidence on how Alstom SA, formerly ABB Generacion, was awarded the multi-million dollar project in 2001.
Crown prosecutor Garvin Gaskin asked Mr Roberts if the bidders of the DA-12 contract paid BEC executives to reverse the decision against Korean rival-firm Hanjung.
“That is forbidden, I don’t know anything about that,” Mr Roberts said.
“My attitude is to do the right thing for the Bahamian people. I don’t tolerate that. There are times when dealing with international contracts, companies attempt to get close but that’s to the people with the maximum influence. We (the BEC board) have limited influence. In my experience we are professional,” he said.
Wayne Munroe, QC, asked Mr Roberts if there were any dissenting views on the recommendation to award Hanjung the contract. Mr Roberts said “no.”
He did confirm the prior testimony of former BEC Chairman J Barrie Farrington that board members were called to a Cabinet meeting to defend the recommendation.
“Would it be correct that Hanjung delivered on time and within budget?” the lawyer asked.
“That was the main consideration,” Mr Roberts said.
Mr Munroe asked the witness if he agreed that Cabinet was the ultimate decision maker to award the contract. Mr Roberts agreed.
“Do you recall the Bahamas, in 1999-2000, being blacklisted by OECD countries?” the lawyer asked.
“That was something that was known,” Mr Roberts said.
“Spain had a country representative on the IDB, as did France?” Mr Munroe asked.
“Yes,” Mr Roberts said.
When asked about the reason for the Cabinet meeting, Mr Roberts said the government wanted the BEC board to explain the reason for their recommendation.
“It’s not unusual to be called to Cabinet to defend a recommendation, we were there before,” Mr Roberts added.
Freddie Solomon Ramsey, 79, is currently on trial before Justice Bernard Turner on four counts of conspiracy to commit bribery and 14 counts of bribery allegedly committed between 1999 and 2003. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The allegations are related to a widespread scheme involving tens of millions of dollars in bribes to countries around the world. They were brought to light in 2014 in a US Department of Justice report, which said that French company Alstom SA allegedly paid more than $300,000 to a BEC board member to influence contracts between 1999 and 2003.
Ramsey is on $40,000 bail and is represented by attorneys Mr Munroe, Tommel Roker and Bridgette Ward.
Mr Gaskin, acting director of public prosecutions, is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Cordell Frazier.
The jury previously heard from Mark Smith, an admitted bribe taker who received immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving testimony. It was revealed in court that Alstom SA had written letters intended for then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and then Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson as the company wanted BEC officials to reconsider the bid it felt was going to be rejected.
The letter to Mr Ingraham made mention of Alstom SA’s gratitude for its bid being in contention for the project. However, the company also expressed reservation about the evaluation process given that its bid met international standards with which their consultants were satisfied.
The letter further noted that the IDB’s opinion had been sought on the matter and urged that their proposal was more convincing than Hanjung’s, which was not likely to meet the 18-month deadline for completing the project.
Similar sentiments were expressed in the letter to Mr Watson where Alstom SA asked for a reconsideration of its bid before a decision was made.
The French company then sent another letter, via facsimile, addressed directly to Patrick Hanna, BEC’s assistant general manager at the time, noting that it had received information from “various sources” that Hanjung was “openly alleging being awarded the contract.”
The French company feared that Hanjung may have been influencing the bidding process and in its letter, indicated that an IDB representative in the Bahamas was sent a copy of the same concerning Alstom SA’s reservations.
The jury also saw a letter Alstom SA received from Mr Hanna in December 2000, who took issue with the French company’s attempt to discredit another bidder or the evaluation process and noted that the letters “are in direct contravention of the tender process.”
Mr Hanna was called to the witness stand yesterday and spoke of his role at BEC.
He said he was responsible for all major projects costing more than $100,000. He also said he was involved in the tender evaluation for the DA-12 contract
Mr Hanna was asked if Abel Santamaria, Marco Contin, Jose Rodriguez or Mark Smith were consultants to BEC for that contract or any other capacity.
Mr Hanna said no and said he did not provide any information to a company called M Smith Inc for Alstom concerning DA-12.
“They (Alstom) were trying to influence the evaluation of the tenders,” the witness said. “They’re not supposed to do that. They were told that it’s against all the rules.”
“Did Mr Ramsey ever approach you outside of a formal construct?” the prosecutor asked.
“No. I met with Mr Ramsey on two occasions because he was a part of a technical committee. I think he invited me to his office for lunch to ask for updates on the project,” Mr Hanna said.
“Did you take it as anything sinister?” Mr Gaskin asked. Mr Hanna said no.
In cross-examination, Mr Munroe asked the witness if he was involved in the acquisition of the two engines for BEC. Hanna said yes.
“You said Fred Ramsey had discussions on technical matters,” the lawyer asked.
“We spoke about engines,” Mr Hanna said, adding that these occurrences were not unusual because he had met with others in BEC for similar discussions during his tenure.
He also said he attended a meeting with the then deputy prime minister where an IDB representative was present.
Mr Munroe asked: “In February 2001, do you remember attending a meeting with (then general manager) Bradley Roberts, and Barrie Farrington?”
Mr Hanna said yes.
Mr Munroe added: “At that meeting, the prime minister asked specific questions - was there any difference between the two bids?”
Mr Hanna said yes, adding that the then prime minister was told while there was no difference in what was being offered, Hanjung had the edge over rival ABB/Alstom on performance.
Mr Munroe asked if this was due to Alstom’s delay on the first contract. The former assistant general manager said yes.
He also accepted Mr Munroe’s suggestion that a report by consultant Mott McDonald tipped the scale in Hanjung’s favour.
“Mr Ramsey never tried to badger you or offered you any money to take a certain position?” the lawyer suggested. Mr Hanna agreed.
When asked if he could remember who was present at the Cabinet meeting in question, Mr Hanna said he could not as they “sat at one end of the room.”
Mr Munroe asked the witness if the meeting with the IDB representative was standard, to which Mr Hanna replied: “It’s an IDB contract” before noting that the IDB got copies of BEC’s monthly reports to show that the utility company was complying with IDB standards.
“So the meeting at DPM’s office with IDB wasn’t unusual?” Mr Munroe asked.
“No...I don’t think so,” the witness said.
When asked if he recalled any “unusual inquiries” from the IDB or Mr Watson, Mr Hanna said he did not.
“Would it have been one of those ‘tick the box’ meetings?” Ramsey’s lawyer asked.
“I can’t remember. To my mind, they were all somewhat general meetings,” the witness said.
The jury also heard testimony from ex-BEC board member Sharon Brown.
The retired banker and former director at Barclay’s Bank gave testimony concerning her capacity as a board member at BEC during the evaluations of the DA-12 contract.
The jury heard that Ms Brown served as a board member from 1997 and 2002 where she chaired the audits and finance committee because of her background.
She was asked by Cordell Frazier if she recalled a recommendation being made with respect DA-12 contract.
“Two recommendations. Following a recommendation by the contract sub committee, it was reconfirmed by the board,” the witness said.
Ms Brown was asked if board members were paid for their work. She said they received monthly stipends averaging $750 per month.
She was asked if Mark Smith was present or made privy to the meetings of the board.
The witness said no.
Ms Frazier asked the witness if she was aware of Ramsey receiving payments from ABB/Alstom.
She said no and further denied receiving bribes.
Mr Munroe asked the retired banker if she was aware “of the circumstances that caused the country to be blacklisted.”
Ms Brown said she was.
“Do you remember the government’s efforts to be removed?” the lawyer asked.
“Not specifically but I know there were discussions and meetings. The nature of those discussions and who were involved in them I don’t know,” the witness said.
Mr Munroe asked if she was aware that France and Spain were among the OECD countries that blacklisted The Bahamas. The former board member said yes.
Mr Munroe suggested to the witness that Cabinet would sometimes take political positions over recommended courses of action. Ms Brown agreed.
She also testified that she was aware that Cabinet had sent a message to the board asking them to reconsider their proposal to award the DA-12 to Hanjung but the board affirmed its position not to award the contract to Alstom.
“In the reconsideration meeting, did Mr Ramsey attempt to influence anyone of voting a different way?” Mr Munroe asked.
Ms Brown said the vote was unanimous on both occasions.
The jury, with the permission of the judge and respective counsel, asked Brown: “Do you know why the position went the other way?”
She said she did not.
The trial resumes on Tuesday at 10.30am.