Publication:Jamaica Observer; Date:May 13, 2007; Section:Agenda; Page Number:2A

How did Pihl &Son get the Yallahs bridge contract?

    HE dresses like the guy he is supposed to be; that is, Mr Nice Guy, the one in the expensively cut suit, tall and carrying it all well as he extends a hand for a firm shake, smiles with a complete stranger he is meeting for the first time while being totally at home with the old acquaintances.

    After 18 years of the PNP’s time in power, Bobby Pickersgill doesn’t look as tired and jaded as the rest of his colleagues. He is the consummate super minister in so far as it relates to the ‘presence’ he carries. The humility could be sheer pretence, but its dosage is easy on the other guy and just enough to counter the weighty title Pickersgill carries; minister of transport, housing, water, and works.

    As chairman of the PNP, Mr Nice Guy was needed in October 2006 when it was revealed by Opposition Leader Bruce Golding that a Dutch transnational, Trafigura Beheer, had donated euro465,000 to the PNP through an account held by a person in the PNP (namely Colin Campbell, the general-secretary of the PNP and minister of information) while the company was doing business (lifting/sale of Nigerian oil on Jamaica’s behalf) with the Government of Jamaica.

    In October of last year, we either sat in front of our television sets and watched or listened on radio while three PNP heavyweights — Bobby Pickersgill, Colin Campbell and AJ Nicholson, attorney general and legal advisor to the PNP — reduced themselves to Lilliputians. As we listened and watched, we felt for them the burdens of the wasted years; that is, our years wasted in their times of plenty.

    Men who had taken oaths which implied the protection of the sanctity of the revised and rerevised relationships between the governed and the governors were staring at us through the other side of principle and truth while asking us to buy into the PNP’s fairy tale. All this with the arrogance of tribal chiefs in some sub-Saharan settings.

    In October of last year, Bobby Pickersgill didn’t look too good as he stuttered his way through the hazards of PNP spin, the force of Golding’s presentation and the need to hold on to an electorate which had already begun to move away from the party from as early as July that same year.

    “Thirty-one million is not money,” said Pickersgill to reporters as he openly demonstrated the gulf between his understanding of life and ours. Thirty-one million dollars may have been ‘money’ to the PNP when it came into power in 1989. Eighteen years later, it is mere fluff, quite probably because the floodgates of fluff have been opened to the limit in that time.

    As AJ Nicholson allowed his allegiance to the PNP to get the better of his constitutional responsibilities to the people, what marvelled most of us was the ease with which he slipped into the role of chief inquisitor, all the better to condemn us to the fire. We who questioned had adopted satanic zeal in daring to suggest that Trafigura giving the PNP a ‘gift’ while doing business with the Government could be considered an act of corruption.

    Short of a rack and a table to draw and quarter us, the lord high inquisitor declared us purveyors of ‘hanky-panky,’ tainted and evil while the PNP remained steadfast in its allegiance to goodness — PNP style.

    Colin Campbell was made the guy at the fair who sits over the water looking stupid. On cue they threw the ball, and as Campbell fell, the PNP returned to business as usual.

    Tenders for the Yallahs bridge

    Sometime in March 2007, tenders were invited for the construction of the large bridge at the troublesome Yallahs ford. To the best of my understanding, three firms entered bids.

    Bougyes, the French firm which had completed its leg of Highway 2000, came in at J$305 million, Ashtrom tendered J$375 million, while Tankweld entered a bid of J$600 million. On April 3, 2007 Minister Pickersgill announced that he would be signing a contract on April 11, 2007 in furtherance of the process.

    All three companies that tendered have established their track records on the Jamaican landscape. On the announcement of the minister, the bidders quite naturally wanted to know the status of the tendering process. Have the bids been opened? Had one of them been chosen?

    As I understand it, their contacts with the ministry were met with words designed to quell their doubts and fears. In other words, there is a process, wait on it, all is well. After that, all three companies received letters on April 10 (dated April 3) indicating that they had not been chosen. Two were rejected outright while one was considered a ‘nonresponsive’ bid, meaning that it was not even anywhere near what was required.

    None of the three companies had a monopoly on bridge building. My understanding is that one of the lower bidder companies with international experience in civil engineering had also presented a design with its bid.

    It is no secret that what was seen as a love affair between Bougyes and the respective ministry has cooled to freezing point. Some persons close to the action were saying that Bouyges was finding doing business in Jamaica increasingly more difficult.

    All that aside, on April 11, 2007 Minister Bobby Pickersgill signed a J$400 million contract with Danish firm Pihl and Son. The Danish company specialises in marine facilities and in 2005 the firm was ranked No 6 in the “TOP 10 INTERNATIONAL CONTRACTORS IN MARINE AND PORT FACILITIES”.

    Pihl and Son has done much work in Jamaica at our airports and ports. I haven’t heard any complaints from the Port Authority of Jamaica, so it must be assumed that Pihl is quite competent at what it does best, that is development of marine and port facilities.

    Pihl has yet to explain to this nation what occurred with the erection of the Otrum bridge in Port Maria, even as the company is in the process of building another one with the same specifications and similar distance between the base of the bridge and the water level. Last year, even though the company was warned by locals about the history of the river and rising waters, Pihl went ahead and, working from a bridge design which had been presented to it erected the bridge across the Otrum river.

    As the rains came, the bridge became a dam and the town of Port Maria was flooded, with damage done to housing and business.

    St Thomas people waiting

    six years on bridge

    At the signing of the EU-funded J$400 million contract between the respective ministry and Pihl & Son, the PNP MP for Eastern St Thomas, Dr Fenton Ferguson, and JLP MP for Western St Thomas, James Robertson, were both present. The question to be asked is, why is James Robertson hopping mad.

    It is normal that at the signing of contracts, all the parties involved be given copies of the contract. “At the time of the signing, I was told I could not get a copy Why is that? I am entitled to a copy. What is the reason for the delay? said Robertson when we spoke last Thursday.

    “I waited two weeks to get a copy, then I wrote the minister on April 25 requesting a copy. That’s an additional three weeks. What is it about that contract that is making it so difficult for me to get a copy?” asked Robertson

    Quite apart from questioning the ability of Pihl to erect bridges, what must also be questioned is its route to securing the $400-million contract. I am not imputing that there was anything corrupt in awarding Pihl a contract in circumstances where, from what is known publicly, Pihl was not among the bidders who had originally tendered.

    One source has suggested that the funding agency, the EU, would have the final say on who secured the contract. If indeed that was so, it must be remembered that the EU has recorded its disappointment at the pace of the construction of the North Coast Highway another project being constructed by Pihl and Son.

    The minister must open up the bids, so to speak, and inform the nation by what process did Pihl arrive at its securing of the contract to build the Yallahs bridge. The people of St Thomas care little about who will build the bridge. It could be Pihl, Bouyges, Ashtrom or Tankweld; it matters little to them. Those of us who value transparency would like a little bit more.

    Minister Pickersgill must answer

    Minister, can you confirm that Pihl was not among the original companies which had tendered for the contract?

    Minister, can you confirm that two of the bids made were lower than the amount Pihl accepted the contract for?

    Minister, can you inform us of the process by which Pihl secured the $400-million contract?

    Minister, are you satisfied that Pihl, a European company, is better at erecting bridges than say, Bouyges, another European outfit with much more experience than Pihl?

    Minister, can you confirm that among those in the PNP who have expressed displeasure at the process involved in the granting of the Yallahs bridge contract to Pihl, are the prime minister and the minister of finance?

    UWI Professor gave students

    math paper before exam

    A former professor of math at the UWI has taken me to task for what he has seen as an unfair attack on the student body in the Math Department of the Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences at UWI, Mona.

    “I agree that in responding to you he should have taken cognisance that he would be conveying valid (or invalid) information to a well-known, respected member of the journalism community. In that respect, he should have come prepared. To my way of seeing it, he should have collaborated with other students, on the assumption that he was even partly aware of his limitations in expressing himself,” said the professor who requested anonymity.

    “My experience with the students is different to what your expose implies,” he said. “I have found that there is a direct relationship between teacher input and student output. The fact is, and none of the present set of math lecturers/professors at UWI Mona will admit, that math professors are usually very poor teachers.

    “The most successful section head in the Math Department in my view was Professor Curtis. If my memory serves me right, I believe that at the time he was hounded out by those who write policy at the UWI, he had produced 23 PhD students. I will bet you that not one of the present set can even boast of having produced two PhD students.”

    In recent times the UWI Mona campus has succeeded in ridding itself of a man who could have carried much to the math section of the Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences — Jonathan Farley, internationally rated as one of the best in the world.

    The present head of the Math Department at UWI Mona is Dr Raymond McEachin, an American national as Farley is. When I spoke with Dr McEachin last Thursday he told me that he has been associated with the UWI Mona campus from January 1992.

    McEachin was named as section head in January 2004.

    In light of complaints from sources that some math lecturers had been watering down exams for the purpose of securing more favourable rates of passes, I stumbled across information that Dr McEachin was once drawn up on a charge of misconduct which involved presenting a class with an exam paper one month before the exam was held.

    As far as I was concerned, with the Math Department mired in problems, it had to have been a gross error on the part of administrators to have retained whoever it was that had perpetrated such an act.

    Dr McEachin answered only the questions relating to the dates involved in his tenure, but as I questioned him about the matter of misconduct he refused to be interviewed any further, saying the matter was “confidential”.

    Paper deliberately leaked

    It’s well over 11 years ago, but in April 1996 Dr McEachin presented to his M32A –Numerical Analysis class a paper titled, ‘Guidelines For Final Exam’.

    The paper begins, “The following information applies to the exam of May 1996 and only to this exam. It is two hours long and contains five questions. You must answer each question... Problem 1 on the exam is stated below. You should prepare your response to it in advance, and you should plan on spending no more than 20 minutes on it during the exam ...

    “Four theorems are given below. They may be used without further proof in solving any examination question. They will be printed on the first page of the test, so there is no need to swat them....”

    One of the major parts of the exam regulations, 57 (i) reads as follows: “All examiners are required to preserve the secrecy of examination material (question papers, scripts, marks or otherwise) at all stages until final results are published.”

    Prior to the holding of the May exam, the document addressed to the students was discovered. When Dr McEachin was informed of the matter, he admitted that he was the author, claimed that he was unaware of the regulations and agreed to set another paper.

    In a letter dated June 17, 1996 to Dr Leighton Henry, head of the department of Maths, UWI Mona, from the director of administration, the following, among other things, was stated: “Please be advised that the vice-chancellor has approved the convening of a Professional Committee to hear the allegations and adjudicate in the matter.”

    On October 9, 1996 another communication from the director of administration to the head of the Math Department said: “Please be informed that based on a request from Dr McEachin, and his reported admission of guilt which was conveyed by WIGUT, the vicechancellor has agreed to forego the convening of a Professional Committee, subject to written submission from Dr McEachin. Instead he has appointed a three-man panel to advise him regarding a penalty.”

    In early December, Dr McEachin wrote to the director of administration and that letter is titled RE: Charge of Misconduct.

    Among that stated was, “... I acknowledge that I circulated a certain document to my students on 24 April, 1996. This document was labelled “Guidelines for Final Exam”, it was addressed to my then students of M32A (Numerical Analysis), and it was marked with an ‘A’ in the letter from Dr Henry to yourself of 1 May, 1996. I further acknowledge that it contained one question verbatim and in full from the intended Final Examination for that course. It also contained parts of two more questions on a separate list of six potential questions in the document.... I further acknowledge that this document was circulated openly, and with the intention that each student receive a copy in a timely manner in order to prepare their responses in advance.”

    Dr McEachin then ends the letter by saying he was unaware of the respective regulations.

    A few years later, in mid-1998 Dr McEachin was again in the ‘news’ so to speak after a paper he had prepared was judged by examiners in the region and as far afield as external examiners in Manchester, England to be too easy for the students.

    Some of the quotes from the examiners: “The questions in several instances are too superficial and do not test at the appropriate level the principles outlined in the course. Indeed, most questions do not require significant knowledge of the course material to obtain correct solutions.”

    “I must report that the standard of the paper is such that one should declare the examination at Mona void. The paper is trivially easy and less than 25% of the syllabus is covered.”

    “Conclusion. The paper is too easy for a level 2 course, and does not properly cover the syllabus. I am, therefore, not satisfied with the standard of this examination paper. Steps must be taken to remedy this situation for next year.”

    One assumes of course that Dr McEachin, as head of the Math Department in 2007, is a much better equipped teacher of math than he was in the 1990s. Having survived a charge that would have resulted in dismissal for lesser mortals, he must consider himself a lucky man.

    Is it drugs or guns

    Two Mondays ago, she called to say that at about 9:30 that morning a single engine plane flew low, close to where she lives high in the St Andrew hills near to the border of St Thomas and Portland, circled even lower, then as she watched in curiosity a number of packages began dropping from it.

    Last Monday, she called again to say that the same plane, or one resembling it, did the exact same thing but this time around the packages dropped slower as if they were supported by mini chutes.

    She said she was afraid to call the police. I understand her concerns.

    If the drop is legitimate, that is, if we are to believe that St Andrew, St Thomas or Portland coffee farmers have chosen to receive pesticides and fertiliser directly by aeroplane, as highly unusual as that would be, all this column would be doing is creating false alarms for an already overburdened police force.

    But then again, it could be something else.