Court rules dozens of URP contracts worth $100m unenforceable

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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A HIGH COURT judge has voided contracts awarded to seven contractors amounting to over $100 million for work done under the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) in 2013.

Delivering a 201-page decision, Justice Devindra Rampersad held the contracts were unenforceable, as they did not follow the legal guidelines of the Central Tenders Board Act (CTBA).

He also held that the URP personnel at the time had no authority to formulate or grant any of the contracts.

“This court’s finding is that the defendant has been successful in proving that the process for formulating a contract with the State under the CTBA was not established and the parties that engaged the services with the claimants did not have the necessary authority to formulate and or grant such contracts.”

Before the judge were over five dozen claims from the seven contractors. One contractor had 23 claims, while the others had between one and 19.

The cases were consolidated and witnesses testified over a period of months.

Leading the State’s legal team were Seenath Jairam, SC, and Jagdeo Singh. The contractors were represented by Lemuel Murphy, Ronald Simon, and Jai Narine.

Although the contractors were unsuccessful in their claims, the judge said they were entitled to be compensated for the work they did on aquantum meruit basis, which, in law, is the reasonable sum to be paid for work done when the amount due is not stipulated in a legally enforceable contract.

The parties are to agree on a quantity surveyor to prepare a report on the scope of works of each contractor and do the necessary verification of records to submit to the court.

If none of the work can be verified, the court will consider whether an award for nominal damages is appropriate.

This assessment exercise will only be done for four of the seven contractors, as three of them had their claims dismissed. None of them could prove they had an effective contract, and those three did not pursue compensation for their work.

Rampersad’s ruling said, “The whole contract process before this court has been wrapped up in such a web of bureaucracy that it is difficult for a layperson to extract the essentials for the contract.

“The contractors were all contacted and were verbally told what they had to do and that what they had to do was emergency work.

“As a result, they said that they did the work but there were no records maintained by the relevant ministry that was produced to the court if even to maintain a safeguard of the funds that belong to taxpayers.

“The claimants, therefore, cannot be faulted for the defendant’s failure to maintain records.”

“However,” the judge said, “having performed work for the benefit of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and, by extension, the State, the latter ought not to stand by and refuse to pay a fair price for the same.”

He said part of the loss borne by the contractors was because of the State’s administrative failures and lack of proper procedure.

Rampersad said the court “saw evidence of inefficiencies, ineptitude, failure to follow procedure, failure to be aware of the procedure and downright shoddy processes which caused the claimants to be placed in the predicament that they are in relation to the contract.”

He said although invoices were made out after the work was done, no one checked them.

He was also critical of the State’s failure to present certain witnesses – including key URP personnel and the ministry’s permanent secretary at the time.

“The State is no ordinary litigant before the court. This is not a pure commercial enterprise between pure commercial private parties.

“This was a commercial enterprise involving the State as the trustee of the citizens of TT for the benefit of the citizens of TTand therefore, to my mind, the State ought to have been more forthright in presenting the main players under its purview and control, or who would have been, at the material time.

Despite his criticisms, he did, however, commend Jairam and Singh for their advocacy.

“Notwithstanding the comments made by this court in relation to the defendant’s case, the court recognises that counsels would have had to have worked with the material that they received and the court is convinced that they put their best foot forward using the information that they got.”

Contractors involved:

Junior Fabian Creighton

Cleophas Alexander Orr and Associates Services

K & A Holdings Ltd

JDR Construction Ltd

R & S Boodoo Equipment Rental & Transport Ltd

Hypolite General Contractors Company

Rev’s Mechanical & Engineering Services Ltd.