Suarez And Transcaribe: The "Friendship" Of Millions
Monday, August 06 2012 @ 12:06 PM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Look at this case: The Minister Federico Suarez, who in his private role had won a tender for $6 million dollars to rehabilitate the Arraiján - La Chorrera highway, decided to transfer the contract when he was appointed by Ricardo Martinelli to be the Minister of Public Works. And to whom did he chose to transfer the contract? To Transcaribe Trading, owned by the brothers David and Daniel Ochy from Bocas del Toro, entrepreneurs who jumped to the mat after an unusual - and illegal - protest at the headquarters of the La Prensa newspaper last week.
Transcaribe Trading, after this first approach by Minister Suarez, began a sustained and unexpected ascent: they won, in the first two years of the Martinelli administration, government contracts worth $406 million dollars. About the relationship between Suárez - Transcaribe dance firm conclusions.
The critical entrepreneur Roberto Eisenmann; the Secretary of the Anti-Corruption Front Enrique "Chito" Montenegro; the former Minister of Public Works José Antonio Domínguez; Mariano Mena and the opposition politicians can't get it out of their heads that there is a company that was born with the contract to build the highway from Arraiján - La Chorrera, that stretched with the rest of the contracts.
"It's a chain in which there is no doubt very high officials who are involved," said Mariano Mena. And Jose Antonio Dominguez says "at some point it had to explode." Eisenmann delved into the canal flowing with scandals like the blockade of La Prensa, "there is too much unity between them (Ochy and Suarez) and Ricardo Martinelli."
Why Martinelli? He says the Suarez Group (chaired from 1989 to 2009 by Federico Suarez) was in bankruptcy and sold most of its shares to Martinelli. It's the Suárez-Martinelli construction company.
THE SUBURBS OF POWER - Suarez, who is now the Minister of Public Works, explained that his predecessor, Benjamin Colamarco, recommended Transcaribe and two other firms to perform the assignment. And, although he was able to choose any company, Suarez decided on the company owned by the Ochy brothers. During the administration of former president Martin Torrijos, Transcaribe won space for having activated a social service: it's 'charismatic' and in 'solidarity', say those who know. For them an 'emergency' means making machinery and personnel available to the State. Afterward, they always got some sort of contract.
During the Torrijos administration the company focused on the rehabilitation of roads and storm water services whose cost never exceeded $13 million dollars. The most expensive project was the construction of a sanitary sewer system in the city of Colon, which resulted as being deficient even before the ribbon cutting. Then they began to expand its operations from Bocas del Toro to Colon and the Darien. Because if their lack of experience (the company was inaugurated in 1999), they were given smaller contracts in the city dominated by the company CUSA.
Once the PRD was on the outside, they predicted good times. Although Transcaribe continued with solidarity. This time it had to save Suarez and thus became responsible for the contract given by the government of Torrijos. That was how Transcaribe took over the rehabilitation of the Arraiján - La Chorrera highway while Suárez was the face of the Ministry of Public Works. It was the beginning of what would be a long relationship.
FULL STEAM - With Suarez installed in the MOP, Transcaribe underwent a metamorphosis. They went from almost being unable to compete with the big construction companies, and became the protagonist of the most expensive tenders of the Republic. In the hallways it is said many of the contests are tailor made. The truth is that they lost one of the largest contracts because they were eliminated from the competition for marketing the asphalt of the State - and the contract was won by a consortium made up of the IBT group for $110 million dollars.
Thereafter, they have had a new life. Although the company rehabilitated the Arraiján - La Chorrera highway in 2009, one year later the Ministry of Public Works granted a new contract one year later to rehabilitate and widen the road (yes, again.) But this time the project would be a little bit bigger. At least in the budget. From $6 million dollars for the first contract, the budget grew and grew to reach $152 million dollars: slightly less than what it cost to fill and build Phase I of the Coastal Strip in Panama City.
Then a new wave came; the mega-contracts. Transcaribe specialized in widening roadways. This year Suarez awarded them (in partnership with Meco) a contract "for best value" to widen the road from Paso Canoas to Puerto Armuelles to four lanes for $114 million dollars, even though two other countries offered to do the work for less money. This comes despite the fact that - according to an article published by La Prensa - the road is perfectly passable and, in lieu of an expanded roadway, the people in Chiriqui are asking for a water treatment plant.
Still, the National Assembly Deputies from the MOLIRENA political party Osman Gómez and Miguel Fanovich defend (the contract) with tooth and nail. They, according to political sources who preferred to reserve their names, support the Ochy brothers.
THE KINGS OF THE EAST - 600 kilometers from Barú, in Panama City, business is also thriving for Transcaribe. Only months after Martinelli's ascension nearly $10.5 million dollars in projects were added for this part of the city. The MOP included them on the enviable list of companies favored for the road realignment project in the city (the second most expensive infrastructure project of the Martinelli era). They were given a contract worth $35 million dollars to expand the avenue connecting the Tocumen International Airport and the neighborhood La Siesta. For this project the government will pay Transcaribe just over five million dollars per kilometer. The expansion of the Tocumen integrator is just a detail.
The eastern part of Panama City was another specialty of the construction company. In 2010 they won contracts to rehabilitate roads in the districts of Mañanitas, 24 de Diciembre, San Martín, Tocumen and Pacora, and to channel the Tocumen river. And in the districts of downtown, the MOP always knew who to give the projects: in 2008 and in 2010 - with Asfaltando tu ciudad - Transcaribe was responsible for rehabilitating the streets of San Francisco, Bella Vista, Bethania, Pueblo Nuevo, Parque Lefevre, Río Abajo and San Miguelito. They won the latest round of work for $22.7 million dollars.
DIRECT CONTRACTING - After the arrival of the "government of change" and the Olympic triumph in the bids, Transcaribe also benefited from a tailwind of direct contracting. By that logic, Suarez decided to contract them directly to build a wall to protect the sector of La Mesa, in Changuinola, of the Sixaola river. The contract was for $5.6 million dollars. That was at first. Because then, without explaining why, last July the Cabinet approved an addendum for an additional $2.1 million dollars. And Transcaribe also was directly contracted to do away with the headaches caused to the MOP because of the collapse of the East and West entrances to the Centennial Bridge. The work cost $5.2 million dollars.
Public Works has not been the only institution that has favored the benefits of Ochy. Authorities under the umbrella of the Ministry of the Presidency, then headed by Jimmy Papadimitriu also hired them directly. They were paid $11 million dollars to rehabilitate the Pan American Highway in the Darien and to build two docks in the province. In addition, the Office of the First Lady decided, without considering other companies, that Transcaribe would remodel the Parque Omar. Another $33.9 million dollar contract was given (in partnership with Meco) to build a water line from the Costa del Este to the Ciudad Radial, to improve the service of delivery of drinking water, and another $5.6 million dollars to build the plant in Almirante.
Despite all the information, Minister Suarez insists that he has no relation to Transcaribe. "I have absolutely nothing to do with that now," he said last week, without explaining how Transcaribe became the fourth largest government contractor overnight (after Norberto Odebrecht, Meco and FCC). There were no further reactions, despite the attempts of La Estrella. (Estrella)
Editor's Comment: OK, apparently the guys at the La Estrella newspaper were feeling somewhat left out by all of the attention being paid to the reporting by La Prensa on the Ochy brothers and their government contracts. The details contained in this report are the fundamental basis of the complaints being lodged in the local news medial about Transcaribe and the Ochy brothers, and their relationship with Suarez and the Martinelli administration. It's a zero-sum game. If Transcaribe is getting the contracts, then someone else is not - so those guys are pissed and jealous. The administration of Ricardo Martinelli will have spent about $45 billion dollars by the end of their five years in office - and so far the Ochy brothers have received contracts worth $406 million dollars of that money - or just 0.9% of all the money Martinelli will spend in five years. And, they are building things. Someone's got to do it, right? What, did you think Martinelli would be hiring PRD guys? Not very likely.