Concerned about the possibility of bid-rigging and the use of insider information by the former Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) chairman, Ian Moore, the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) yesterday launched an investigation into the government's selection of a consortium, led by Belgium firm Exmar, as preferred bidder for development of a regasifcation terminal at Port Esquivel.
Moore is listed as a director in Caribbean LNG Jamaica Limited, one of the three consortium partners.
Contractor General Greg Christie on Tuesday sent investigators to the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica as well as the energy ministry to confiscate files and other documents related to the LNG deal. He has also requested that a number of present and former officials of the two agencies provide electronic and computer files, as well as emails on the project.
"The OCG's concerns, inter alia, are about the possibility of bid-rigging, the use of proprietary insider information and, or, other consequential potential for a prima facie finding of impropriety in respect of the processes which informed the bids which were submitted in response to the PCJ's request," Christie said in a statement.
He said he has advised PCJ acting managing director Nigel Logan and Permanent Secretary Hillary Alexander of the probe, which would focus on the tender and contract-award process.
The PCJ, the state-owned energy company, is the vehicle being used by the Jamaican Government to convert a large portion of energy needs, now based 90 per cent on imported oil, to LNG.
James Robertson, the energy minister, announced on Friday that the Exmar consortium was the preferred bidder for a 1.5 million-tonnes-a-year floating regasification facility to be developed at Port Esquivel in the parish of St Catherine, west of the capital, Kingston.
The consortium, which also includes the Colombian firm, Promigas, would own and operate the regasification plant, as well as supply the liquefied natural gas required for the facility.
They would raise the estimated US$600 required to build out the plant and distribution pipelines.
The final details of the project are still subject to negotiation between the PCJ and the consortium.
CLNG Jamaica is expected, however, to at least contribute land to the project from a 1,700-acre holding it said was acquired for the project.
Christie's concerns — triggered by an anonymous complaint alleging "impropriety irregularity in the selection of Exmar consortium as the preferred bidder" who appeared to be conversant with the issues - rests primarily on the role of Caribbean LNG in which Moore is listed as a director but not as a shareholder.
Moore was chairman of the PCJ until early 2008, and Caribbean LNG was registered seven months after he demitted office over differences with former Energy Minister Clive Mullings.
Approximately 80 per cent of the company's 6,541,307 shares is held by a British Virgin Islands-registered company, Caribbean LNG (BVI) Limited, whose shareholders are unknown.
Three other listed Jamaican directors of CLNG, Andrew Bogle, Paul East and American Al Kerr, are named in Company House documents as having small stakes in the company.
At last week's announcement of the deal, Kerr was identified as managing director of CLNG Jamaica.
At the time, he told Wednes-day Business: "These types of projects require a lot of work.
"You need in-country experts to be involved in the development work. So, we have built a company with a group of very dedicated and very qualified businessmen to assist in the development of the project across the spectrum of the local community."
"CLNG Jamaica had acquired 1,700 acres of land on which to execute the project," Kerr said.
According to Christie, his inquiry will, among other things, probe the "potential conflict of interest" of CLNG Jamaica's participation in the consortium "taking into consideration Mr Ian Moore's former position as board chairman of the PCJ and his now-documented position as a director of the local company, Caribbean LNG (Jamaica) Ltd".
This would include Moore's "probable involvement in the underlying considerations" that would inform the LNG procurement process, which started in earnest in April 2007 and "overlapped his tenure as PCJ board chairman".
Further, the investigation would probe Moore's probable exposure to and/or use of sensitive information.
Additionally, Christie is also concerned by the fact that CLNG Jamaica's majority shareholder is registered offshore, with the parent company's beneficial owners unknown.
This, he said, raised questions "as to whether there are any Jamaican-connected persons or public officers, who, by virtue of their being beneficial shareholders in Caribbean LNG (Jamaica) limited, will impro-perly benefit from the contract, which is to be prospectively awarded by the PCJ to the Exmar consortium".