THE Government-appointed Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) yesterday expressed disappointment with what it called "missteps" in the 360-megawatt project.
The committee's position was outlined in its fifth communiqué and explained further by EPOC chair Richard Byles at an afternoon news conference at his Sagicor headquarters in New Kingston.
"Something is wrong in the way we proceed that we could end up with a successful bidder that can't come up with the deposit," Byles said, adding that the project is one of the largest single investments in Jamaica.
Controversy has dogged the bid process ever since Contractor General Dirk Harrison accused Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell of intervening in the process after a bid from Hong Kong-based firm Energy World International (EWI) was accepted in late April, more than a month after the bid closed.
Harrison recommended that EWI be excluded from the bid process as the intervention was improper and the consequent acceptance of the proposal by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) was unfair and compromised the integrity of the process.
Paulwell, however, has said that the decision to admit EWI was that of the Cabinet and not his.
On September 18, the OUR announced United States firm Azurest-Cambridge as the preferred bidder and gave the company 15 days to deposit a bid security of one per cent of its proposed US$690-million investment in the energy facility.
But at midnight on October 3, when the deadline expired, Azurest was unable to produce the security and requested another 15 days, saying that its efforts to secure the funds were affected by a number of negative statements after its preferred bidder status
The OUR, however, rejected the request and promoted EWI as the new preferred bidder.
However, that decision has plunged the project deeper into controversy as the country's three main private sector groups have urged the prime minister to appoint an EPOC-type group to monitor the
Yesterday, Byles suggested that the developments
have raised eyebrows in his group.
"EPOC is saying, what's going on here? This should be a very slick, well-organised, well-run, well-managed process, because the investment is so crucial; and yet still we have these missteps," he said, being made by "the persons evaluating the bids and ranking them".
Added Byles: "For a project as important as this you'd expect that some of our best resources and our best analysts would be put to use in determining who are these bidders and how they are ranked.
"If you choose a bidder, and that bidder can't even come up with the deposit, what does it say about your evaluation of their capability? They may have put a good price on the table, but that can't be the only criterion, and I'm sure the OUR is smarter and also looked at capability, but it proved to be the Achilles heel of that bidder," he said.