Trinidad and Tobago
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AG: My ministry did not pay Nidco attorneys in highway matter

Clint Chan Tack Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC. -
Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC. -

ATTORNEY General Reginald Armour, SC, told the Senate on Tuesday that his ministry did not pay legal fees to attorneys hired by the National Infrasructure Development Company (Nidco) in a legal matter between Nidco and Brazilian construction company Construtora OAS.

Construtora OAS is the former lead contractor on the Solomon Highway Extension Project.

Responding to a question from Opposition Senator Wade Mark, Armour said his ministry "did not retain the attorneys on record for this matter, to represent Nidco's interests."

The Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs has no record of any invoices being submitted by Nidco's attorneys for any legal matter against OAS.

Armour said, "I can confirm that the ministry has not paid any legal fees to the attorneys on record for this matter."

He added, "Notwithstanding this, it is a matter of public record that based on the advice of its attorneys, Nidco has to date recovered $922 million of taxpayers' money in the OAS matter."

Nidco, Armour continued, has been successful in court in maintaining possession of those funds.

Referring to Mark's question, Armour said, "Any legal fees to its attorneys in respect of this matter therefore would be a small fraction of the amount recovered."

Armour hinted that fees paid to other attorneys to Nidco on other matters could draw the attention of the commission of enquiry (CoE) into the land-acquisition process for the highway extension project.

Mark repeated his question, asking Armour if he knew about any legal fees paid to Nidco attorneys in the company's matter.

Armour reiterated his earlier answers.

On March 11, 2011, Nidco contracted OAS, under the former People’s Partnership (PP) administration, to build 43.5 kilometres of dual highway from San Fernando to Point Fortin for $5.3 billion.

On July 6, 2016, the contract was terminated. Nidco was able to recover $670 million in 2016 in letters of credit and bonds from a number of banks that had provided guarantees for OAS in previous litigation.

On May 24, 2022 the Prime Minister told a PNM meeting that three days before the 2015 general election, an addendum had been added to the OAS contract which led to the country's losing millions of dollars.

"We had a contract with a clause that said if the company went bankrupt, the government could use the bonds put up by the contractor to complete the work.

"We went to court and argued that that behaviour on the part of the government did not make good sense and we were awarded the bonds."

Dr Rowley recalled that OAS took the matter to arbitration and because that clause had been removed, claimed it was owed $852 million.

He also said the contract for the project had one clause which said if OAS became insolvent or bankrupt the bonds would go to the state.

Last December, Rowley gave a history of the matter through the courts.

"Nidco won the matter and $921 million were returned to the state company on condition that it be used on the project. This victory allowed the stalled highway to Point Fortin project to be restarted and is now close to completion."

In July 2019, Cabinet announced a CoE to investigate aspects of the project, including whether a ministerial oversight committee under the former PP government had fulfilled its mandate.

The CoE is yet to start work. It will be chaired by retired judge Sebastian Ventour, with attorney Gregory Delzin serving as a commissioner.