In the wake of the current St Louis Gate, there were huge expectations for a more spectacular performance from the man who drafted the framework leading to the setting up of our Independent Commission Against Corruption ( ICAC) . The man who portrays an image of Coeus ( Titan god of intelligence) and never fails to show case his addiction to transparency. However giving in to the parliamentary theatrics displayed by Ivan Collendavelloo would only confirm our status as one of the world’s most gullible nation. A masquerade purely orchestrated to bury truth in a pit of deceit. Let’s step into the furnace of power.
The honey comb
From all political speeches we gather, corruption is a constant plague. Members of parliament relentlessly purport the disease has been invasive in various sectors and particularly in the energy sector. The figures prove them right. Though public procurement accounts for over a large chunk of our GDP, there is a deliberate poor oversight on procedures, allocation of contracts, monitoring of projects and quality assessment . The widespread of corruption is to an extent that we tend to believe it is deeply rooted in our culture, preventing honest countrymen from quenching their thirst for trust, better livelihood and equality. Yet despite the ruckus by our MPS ( comprised of lawyers ) our history holds no record of any substantial achievements in terms of justice delivery. Then why do they talk so much about energy projects? May be Energy projects are to Politicians, like what honey is to bears.
The Black out myth
In 2006, after 5 years in office, out of which 2 years single handedly steering the government, Paul Berenger embarked on an obsessive recital of his favorite mantra “ Black Out”. Backed by a fanatic main stream media which kept spinning dark stories of an imminent failure of our power supply. Back then let us recall the presence of his trusted lieutenant – Ivan Collendavelloo, the man who today claimed to be an international stalwart within the energy sector. The vociferous claims of the leader of the MMM strangely coincided with renewal period of contracts between the State & Independent Power Producers (IPPs), historical oligarchs who rule freely over 70 % of the economy. For 16 years Paul Berenger has been spinning the imminent Black Out scare by flashing reports of World Bank ( WB) and the Country Strategy Paper of the African Development Bank. A diligent fact checking by the media would have allowed to call the bluff. Every single report is based on specialized publications , interaction with operators, institutions and consultants. If they all convey the same message based on a common interest, then obviously the findings and recommendations contained in the reports would be strongly influenced. For example one of the grievances from the private sector made to the representatives of World Bank relates to “inadequate infrastructure” in the energy sector, which they observe as a problem for doing business in the country. An obvious recommendation from WB would be to remedy the situation, which in turn simply implies more contracts to the aggrieved operators. More so we do have the vivid evidence that most pharaonic projects splashed out in successive budget speeches are nothing but publicity stunts geared at renewing the annual hype. Which distorts the information and supposed facts submitted to internationa agencies. Another interesting finding in the ADB report which is clearly deleted by those lobbying for Fossil Energy projects relates to the recommendations made on clean energy. Despite a supply increase from (430) MW in 2012 to  MW in 2018 the scare of an imminent Black Out still serves the purpose of opportunists. One of them being Ivan Collendavelloo himself. In an interview published on 19th March 2016, Ivan Collendavelloo states there is no Black Out. Yet in the same interview he boasts of his decision to go for emergency procurement.
Understanding the St Louis Redevelopment Project
According to briefs from reports and parliamentary answers, St Louis Power Station was the first diesel power station commissioned by CEB in October 1955. The first engine, firing on Light Fuel Oil (LFO), was operating by the end of 1955. A further seven engines were commissioned between 1955 and 1962. All of these engines had been decommissioned. From 1978 to 1981, six Pielstick engines (G1-G6), firing Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO), were commissioned. In 2006 three new Wartsila engines (G7-G9), burning HFO, were commissioned.
The Phase 1 of the redevelopment comprised of the construction of a new powerhouse building with two 15MW Wartsila engines, resulting in decommissioning of existing Pielstick engines. The Phase 2 redevelopment comprised of the installation of two additional engines, similar to the existing Wartsila engines, in an extension to the powerhouse provided under Phase 1, and the decommissioning of the remaining four Pielstick engines.
In 2013, the ADB has established in its report that the peak load was 446 MW with a reserve capacity of 43 MW, to meet any possible shortage. The report stressed without the St Louis Redevelopment Project the reserve margin would drop to 32 MW in late 2015, when the peak load is forecast would be 475 MW. The fall was attributed to the decommissioning of two Pielstick generators in 2014 and the retirement of four similar machines towards the end of 2015, resulting in a reduction of the installed capacity by 30 MW. It was also noted that 2 IPPs, namely Consolidated Energy Limited (CEL) with a power output of 12 MW and Médine with an output of 4MW during the crop season, would cease exporting a total output of 16 MW at the end of their contracts in 2015. Subsequently Tender for the Design, Supply & Commissioning for the Phase 2 of St Louis Redevelopment was floated 26 June 2014 with closing date set for 11th September 2014. Following the change in government in December 2014, main stream media reported serious allegations of tailor made specifications benefitting the only bidder, namely Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor (BWSC). The exercise was ultimately called off and a revised tender was floated.
The self-confession by BWSC
Contesting the second tender exercise in 2015, BWSC appealed to the Independent Review Panel (IRP). Interestingly the Danish company makes serious allegations, which to any sound mind would appear as self-incriminating evidence. In its plea BWSC affirms the second tender has taken on board no less than 26 proposed deviations it made in the first tender and making them standard requirements in the 2nd tender. The company dared to allege, the 2nd tender specifications had been tailor made to suit specific suppliers. IRP (Decision 22/15) rightly, clearly and without any possible misinterpretation, rules the revised specifications do in fact offer an advantage to BWSC.
Understanding the modus operandi
The whole design of our energy strategy rests on studies and recommendations of experts. The bible of our current energy sector often flaunted at the national assembly by Ivan Collendavelloo, has been drafted by Mott Macdonald which boasts of its expertise in bridging donors, agencies, consultancy firms and individual consultants. The firm has bagged no less than 8 contracts, including that of Mauritius Multisports Complex at Cote d’or.
In its first intervention in 2005, Mott MacDonald recommends redevelopment of Fort Victoria Power Station and further states that future electricity generation needs in Mauritius should be met by coal fired power plants. With regards to the St Louis Power Station. Mott Macdonald underlines “As stated previously, the redevelopment of St. Louis Power Station is required in order to meet forecasted demands due to delays associated with the development of a coal fired power plant at Pointe aux Caves. Should the coal fired power plant development proceed, as is now planned, it is anticipated that there will no longer be a requirement for the installation of the additional engines, as proposed under Phase 2.”
Ivan Collendavelloo may claim he is an Energy expert of international repute, but he surely cannot aver having selflessly advocated for any cause of national or human interest during his career. There are no records of him supporting social / environmental activists. Strangely during the early days of 2015, freshly appointed as Minister of Energy, he embarked on the mission of waging war against CT Power. The sequence of exchanges between the Government and CT Power listed out in the statement of facts before the privy council depicts an awkward pattern of behaviour by the state in its clear and successful attempt to oust CT Power. During his intervention at the parliament on 16th June 2020, Ivan Collendavello, himself stated loud and clear “ On a volontairement perdu CT POWER “. A sentence pregnant with meaning, which should be retained for our understanding on the modus operandi and which also answers the question as to how did the St Louis Phase 2 project become an urgency. If Ivan Collendavelloo was genuinely motivated by environmental concerns over coal, why not exert the same zeal onto the IPPs?
BWSC – Mitsui – Partners in crime
Shakespearean character Marcellus states in Hamlet “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” and BWSC has proved him right. In its 2017 Annual Report the company stresses on the key risks in BWSC’s business and focus on corruption prevailing in markets where it operates. Contrary to what is being reported by the Media, it is not the African Development Bank which carried out the initial investigation, but BWSC. Following alerts by an anonymous whistle blower back in 2018, the BWSC carried out an internal investigation which found the claims unfounded. A second investigation by law firm Kammeradvokaten Poul Schmidt acting as Danish state attorney discovered serious malpractices ( Bribery of officials, Embezzlement and . The enquiries focused on projects implemented in 3 African countries namely ; Benin, Mali and Mauritius. The report was submitted in February 2019 and BWSC informed all parties involved. The main accused against which charges have been filed is Martin Kok Jensen, the man who makes every deal happen. The man who pops into ministers office as if he is at home. The St Louis gate shares glaring resemblances with various other bribery cases around the world involving BWSC and its holding company, Japanese giant Mitsui E&S Holdings Co.
As early as 1999 BWSC has been involved in a case of bribery in Philippines involving an agent via whom kickbacks were paid to the chairman of the public authority.
In June 2001 – Mitsui & Co had been accused by Chinese law enforcement agencies of bribing a senior Chinese energy industry official in connection with the award of a 3 billion yen contract to supply transformer equipment.
In 2002 – The Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office reported that details of the Foreign Ministry secret budget for the plan were leaked to the Mitsui employees, enabling the company to outbid two rivals for the contract worth two billion yen. Three high officials of the company were charged with bid rigging in the contract for a diesel generating plant on the island of Kunashri.
In 2008 BWSC is embroiled in a scandal in Bahamas where reports affirm the Danish company had paid commissions to politicians in the Bahamas as to benefit exclusivity on contracts. The commissions were dispensed as being marketing expenses.
In the wake of the enquiry in Malta, Thomas Hall former lawyer of BWSC affirmed disclosed that in 2002, the company indirectly paid Euros 75,000 to Tata Power, one of its competitors for a tender which had been issued in Sri Lanka, to withdraw its submissions.
Revealing the BWSC scam in 2010 , then Maltese opposition leader Joseph Muscat stated “ BWSC, the company which has won the tender for the extension of the Delimara power station, has over the past few years been found bribing officials in various countries across the world to make sure it is awarded tenders” . Even during that period there were admissions by BWSC “that in some cases it had used money to influence the awarding of contracts”.
Grounds for an inquiry
Should we out of sheer madness decide to trust the intentions of Ivan Collendavelloo in ousting in such grossly manner the CT Power project and justifying his hypothetical decision to go for an emergency procurement (when he himself claimed there was none what so ever threat of Black Out), the question still remains why BWSC. The emergency procurement only provides for fast tracking of acquisitions and not bending of the laws. We do understand selection of bidders are made on basis of meticulous assessment of their tack record. With the damning track record of BWSC and with international organisations adamant on proper governance and transparency, the elementary question would have been, should BWSC have been invited. The answer is even more obvious when taking into account all aspersions casted against the Danish company by the government itself.
Moreover submissions are made under three categories, 1) Technical 2) Financial and 3) Commercial. As revealed by the IRP ruling ( decision22/15) specifications in the second tender did offer an advantage to BWSC. The financials show BWSC as the highest bidder and even the purported levelized evaluated cost can be subject to dispute. However on the commercial submission which pertains to credibility of the contractor, the CPB which claims to share the vision “To be the Model for Efficient and Effective Public Procurement in Mauritius” should have logically dismissed the offer as being tainted and untrue. Thereby disqualifying BWSC from the exercise.
A full fledge inquiry would provide answers to numerous pertinent questions. One of them being, did the government have to wait for 8th June 2020 to take cognizance of a scandal revealed by all leading publications specialised in energy sector as early as February 2019? Does not the CEB and other government offices subscribed to those publications ? Is it true at least 5 board members were aware of the findings of the report on 28th March 2019 ? Did the board members shield the information from their parent ministry? Or did they act upon instructions of a particular minister ? Is the St Louis gate the reason why the Ministry of Finance (MOF) intervened to stop the Combined Cycle Gas Turbine Power Plant Project at Fort. George, by fielding in a new member ( V.S) to disrupt the Board’s plan to unilaterally go ahead with the project? If that was the case, it is hard to believe the Minister of Finance was unaware of happenings at the CEB. Then again, who was the Minister of Finance in 2019 ?
The inquiry would take a monumental leap into history, should it seek clarifications from journalists having authored articles about the BWSC and other related subjects. Such an exercise would expose an underground news-spinning which pickles overtime into facts. Solid enough to be tabled at our august assembly
The unwillingness of the government to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate into the St Louis gate paves way for reasonable doubts by fellow countrymen and on watching international institutions. Of course they would shield behind the so called investigations by ICAC, an institution we would stand more to gain by shutting it down. The public statement by the Prime Minister as to the ability of a Commission of Inquiry to obtain a copy of the report from the African Development Bank, is a lame excuse and more of an admission of the poor credibility of his government vis a vis the international agencies. Any decent commission of Inquiry would not only look into the beneficiaries of the confessed bribery deals. But would also identify loop holes in crooked processes, absorbing billions of public funds.
Right from the disclosure of interest of consultants, integrity of contractors, role of intermediaries, the CPB framework to the government long term planning have to be scrutinised. Looking into the ownership of planning, decision making on the appropriate technology in line with the country’s masterplan ( if it does exist), designing of specifications, monitoring of implementation and assessment will spark trust from the public and funding institutions.
By self-confessing, BWSC has ensured in months to come it will again be eligible to secure financial resources to fund its projects. With Martin Kok Jensen replaced since July 2019, the local accomplices expect the chapter to be closed, leaving tax payers to loom forever in the purgatory of doubt and debt.