By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE award of a major contract to upgrade two runways at Lynden Pindling International Airport to a firm with family ties to a Cabinet minister has renewed long standing opposition claims of conflict of interest.
Bahamas Hot Mix beat five other companies for the rehabilitation work to Runway 09/27 and Taxiway India at LPIA, according to the Nassau Airport Development Company, which stated the capital project was valued at just under $20m.
Hot Mix has long been linked to Immigration Minister and St Anne’s MP Brent Symonette, and Progressive Liberal Party chairman Fred Mitchell yesterday called on the minister to choose between his public role and private interests.
When faced with similar accusations in 2009, Mr Symonette explained that his children’s trust may have a small investment in the company, but he did not. At the time, Mr Symonette, who was a Cabinet minister in the Ingraham administration, said he played absolutely no part in any of the competitive processes or negotiations of contracts related to Hot Mix.
The St Anne’s MP did not respond to calls placed yesterday.
Mr Mitchell said: “This government is the most cynical, hypocritical, irresponsible and greedy group of people this country has ever come across. They are blatant with their abuse of the public purse. They lie like a rug, at the drop of a hat and keep telling us that what we see is not what we see.
“Hard on the heels of a five million dollar contract to Brent Symonette’s company for the use of the Town Centre Mall as a post office, we now have 20 million dollars in contract money from the Public Treasury being handed to another (company his family is tied to),” he continued.
According to NAD, the request for tenders (RFT) for asphalt paving services was initiated in April and was sent to four international and two Bahamian firms.
“The rehabilitation exercise will result in required upgrades to asphalt, extending the life of the runways at LPIA. Runway end safety areas (RESAs) will also be added to reduce the risk of damage to aircraft that overrun the runways and new LED approach lights will be installed to assist pilots during low visibility operations,” according to NAD, which announced the project’s start over the weekend.
“A total of four bids were received and submitted to the independent pavement consultant for evaluation including three international companies (United States, Canada and Costa Rica) and one Bahamian firm,” the statement read.
Hot Mix was selected by consultants Golder Associates Ltd, which was brought on to conduct pre-engineering, design, tender preparation and contract administration services for the runway rehabilitation project.
The NAD statement continued: “Golder determined that the company submitted the most competitive bid and met all of the specifications required to complete the project in the most efficient, cost effective and timely manner. In recent years BHM has successfully delivered runway projects at the following airports: Marsh Harbour -2006, Norman’s Cay – 2013, Bimini -2015, Staniel Cay -2015, Hog Cay -2016, and Grand Bahama International Airport -2016. In addition, in 2009, BHM would have successfully remediated significant paving works on LPIA’s main runway (14/32) after its reconstruction from 2004-2006.
“Its team of 150 staff has repeatedly delivered Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) compliant projects, utilising the BHM International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) accredited operating procedures for 9001 Quality Assurance and Control, 14001 – Environment, 17001 – Compliance Testing and 18001 – Safety. It is NAD’s expectation that the LPIA airside pavement rehabilitation project will be delivered safely, to specification, on time and on budget.”
In 2009, former Minister of Works Neko Grant tabled a listing of all government contracts issued to Bahamas Hot Mix in the House of Assembly. Mr Grant was responding to questions by Golden Gates MP Shane Gibson, and he revealed that Hot Mix been awarded at least $77 million in contracts over the last 10 years. At the time, Mr Symonette strongly denied conflict of interest claims.
The runway upgrades began yesterday, and LPIA will operate as a single runway facility over the next four to six months.
“NAD officials are advising members of the travelling public to exercise patience when arriving or departing from LPIA, as there will likely be delays resulting from the runway rehabilitation project,” its statement said. “Motorists using the intersection of Windsor Field Rd and Rock Plant Rd are asked to approach the area with caution, pay particular attention to signage in the area and be aware of heavy equipment movement in the area starting this week. Crews will conduct work between sunrise and sunset.
“Based on the projected timeline, NAD anticipates works being completed before the busy Thanksgiving travel period,” it added.