THE Office of the Contractor General (OCG) yesterday painted a picture of ministerial missteps and regulatory lethargy in relation to the roles played by Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell and the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) in the now controversial 360 Megawatt Project.
In a 74-page report tabled in Parliament, the OCG also recommended that one of the bidders for the project -- Energy World International (EWI) -- be excluded from the current process as its proposal was not submitted "within the timeframe as publicly established by the OUR", and because representatives of the Hong Kong firm met with Paulwell during the "ongoing process".
The OCG also said that the meeting, which it described as "irregular and improper intervention" by Paulwell, was "unfair to other prospective investors who submitted their proposals within and by the established deadline" of March 15, 2013.
Other prospective investors, the OCG added, "did not have a similar opportunity to submit a proposal, given that there was no notice of the extension of the previously stated deadline.
But in a swift response, Paulwell "strongly rejected" the OCG's conclusions, arguing that they were "not grounded in fact, but instead, are based on an egregious lack of understanding of the process which the OUR had embarked on to recommend a preferred bidder".
The OCG explained that it undertook its probe into the project, designed to provide 360 Megawatts of power to the national grid, after media reports regarding the bid process.
The media reports had stated that three entities had joined the Jamaica Public Service Company in submitting bids for the project in response to a request for proposals from the OUR.
But the OUR, in responding to a request from the OCG for information on that matter, had said that the media reports were wrong as it was not engaged in a tender process for the right to supply the electricity.
The OCG said further that on April 29 -- four days after the media quoted Paulwell as saying that the OUR had indicated a preferred bidder for the project -- it sought clarification from the OUR and was told that the Cabinet had endorsed a recommendation to evaluate proposals from three shortlisted entities, as well as from a fourth bidder, EWI, received by Paulwell's ministry.
But in its response to the OUR, the OCG said it recommended that no other bids should be considered, given the OUR's March 15 deadline, the fact that the evaluation of bids received before the deadline had already been concluded, and that consideration and/or evaluation of any bids, at that stage, may compromise the integrity of the process and would be unfair to other bidders, unless the current process was aborted and a new tender process was undertaken.
The OCG also expressed "concern that the current process for a project of this nature, and which is of such significant national importance, was not better structured with adequate prior disclosures as to all the OUR's specific requirements and the basis upon which proposals would have been evaluated".
But according to the OCG, the OUR did not accept its recommendation and instead "continued to seek the counsel of the National Contracts Commission to guide its actions".
The OCG described as "inaccurate and misleading" Paulwell's use of the words "in this order" as he announced in his 2013/2014 Budget presentation that three proposals were worth pursuing, naming Armorview/Tankweld as number one.
That, the OCG said, gave Armorview/Tankweld the impression that it was ranked number one in the process undertaken by the OUR.
Following on that, a company named Wartsila, an affiliate of Armorview/Tankweld, published 11 advertisements declaring their number one ranking.
The OCG said that while the OUR maintained that no preferred bidder was identified, the regulator "made no attempt to correct the inaccuracy which was published by Armorview's affiliate in the print media".
But in his response, Paulwell pointed out that he read the list "in the exact order of presentation as submitted in a brief from the OUR dated April 18, 2013".
Added Paulwell: "In any event, the statement of 'ranking' is irrelevant, since it has no bearing on this most recent evaluation process. The proposals accepted in this process are not being evaluated by the OUR, but instead, by Mott McDonald, an independent international evaluator, with a proven track record."
He also labelled as "nonsense" the OCG's conclusion that his meeting with EWI representatives was "inappropriate and irregular", adding that all other investors who requested meetings "were accorded such meetings and referred to the OUR".
In its report to Parliament, the OCG said the OUR should "move to commence immediate negotiations with the prospective investors that submitted proposals" by the March 15, 2013 deadline.
The OCG also recommended that "public officials should be careful when making public pronouncements which have the ability to potentially undermine legitimate processes concerning a Government of Jamaica opportunity, while these processes are ongoing".
In addition, the OCG said the OUR "needs to exercise the discretion accorded to it, in the decision-making process as a regulator".