The Sunday Leader

Bribery And Scandals Plague Mabey Johnson

The flyover in Nugegoda constructed by the Access Group for Mabey and Johnson

The flyover in Nugegoda constructed by the Access Group for Mabey and Johnson

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The British bridge building firm Mabey and Johnson that has been selected by the Sri Lankan government to construct bridges and flyovers in the country has been convicted of foreign bribery in the UK.

A series of scandals revealed during the investigations, including faults in designing and constructing flyovers and bridges in other countries has now raised doubts over the stability of the British construction company and the durability of the flyovers that have been built and the bridges that are to be built in the country.

The flyovers and bridge construction project is currently being carried out in the country through funding from the British government.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in UK has found that a string of foreign politicians and officials had received payments from Mabey and Johnson when the company had admitted to systematically paying bribes around the world to win contracts. Many of the company’s contracts have been allegedly financed by the British taxpayers.

Charged with offences of corruption

Mabey and Johnson had appeared at Westminster Magistrate’s Court and charged with offences of corruption and breaching UN sanctions. This was the first prosecution brought in the UK against a company for overseas corruption.

The company had paid a series of bribes totalling to 470,000 Sterling Pounds to politicians in Ghana. Bribes had also been paid to ministers and officials in Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique, Bangladesh and Jamaica.
Mabey and Johnson according to investigations carried out in the UK had broken UN sanctions by illegally paying 363,000 Sterling Pounds to Saddam Hussein’s government from 2001-2002.

The prosecution for corruption had arisen from the company’s voluntary disclosure to the SFO of evidence to indicate that the company had sought to influence decision-makers in public contracts in Jamaica and Ghana between 1993 and 2001.

The durability of the bridges has also raised doubts following the revelations during the investigation.

Partially collapsed

A report carried in The Ghanaian Journal states that on or about September 24, 1996, the steelwork structure supplied by Mabey to an Italian company and erected in Ethiopia had become unstable and partially collapsed.

A review in the design and construction of the bridges by Mabey and Johnson had revealed potential faults. The company, which had by then undertaken two contracts to build a total of nine bridges in Ghana had not informed the Ghanaian government that the bridge designs were faulty.
Ghana Priority Bridge 1 was valued at US$ 17,185,000 and Ghana Priority Bridge 2 was in excess of US$ 8 million.

Although it was the duty of Mabey and Johnson to design each set of bridges carefully and properly, the report states that the firm had failed to do so in either case.

However, the decision to voluntarily disclose the corruption offences to the SFO was taken by the management of Mabey and Johnson’s holding company in February 2008.

The company had pleaded guilty to the charges levelled against it last month and is to now pay out more than 6.5 million Sterling Pounds including fines and reparations to foreign governments.

Work on flyovers and bridges

Mabey and Johnson set up operations in Sri Lanka several years ago to carry out construction work on flyovers and bridges. The local agent for Mabey and Johnson in Sri Lanka is the Access Group.
The Sri Lankan government handed over a bridge building project valued at 50 million Sterling Pounds (Rs. 11.5 billion) to Mabey and Johnson by the late Highways and Road Development Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. The project included the building of a flyover in Kelaniya and 222 bridges.

However, the government’s decision to later increase the number of flyovers resulted in a reduction in the number of bridges planned under the project.
Meanwhile, the government in late August decided to hand over other mega bridge building projects in the North and Eastern Provinces to Mabey and Johnson outside tender procedures.

Carried out subcontracts

President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as Highways and Road Development Minister had reportedly proposed that the project be awarded to the British bridge building firm, Mabey and Johnson.

When contacted by The Sunday Leader, officials from the Access Group said they were unable to make any comment about Mabey and Johnson, as they were not part of the operations.

The Access Group noted that it carried out subcontracts from Mabey and Johnson in Sri Lanka.

Non Cabinet Highways Minister T.B. Ekanayake said Mabey and Johnson have been given a project to construct 200 flyovers and several bridges.
Ekanayake said the project was handed over to Mabey and Johnson according to legally stipulated methods. He said the flyovers build in Kelaniya, Nugegoda, Dehiwela, Battaramulla and Panadura have been constructed by the British firm.

As for the bridges, Ekanayake said they were currently being designed and will commence construction some time next year. However, he was unable to give the exact number of bridges that would be constructed under the project until the designing stage was concluded.

When inquired if the Sri Lankan government was aware of the conviction of Mabey and Johnson in the UK for foreign bribery, Ekanayake said if the firm was convicted of such charges, the British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Dr. Peter Hayes would not have participated in the opening ceremony of the Dehiwela flyover last week.

Conviction of Mabey

“If Mabey and Johnson has been convicted by the British government, the British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka would not have attended the opening ceremony,” he said.

When inquired from the British High Commission in Sri Lanka whether Mabey and Johnson, which was engaged in constructing bridges and flyovers in Sri Lanka, was convicted in the UK, the High Commission said the Company has taken steps to ensure ethical compliance in all its operations.

A spokesperson from the British High Commission said, “At the end of September Mabey and Johnson was fined following its conviction on charges related to its historic conduct on contracts undertaken in Jamaica, Ghana and Iraq. Mabey and Johnson Managing Director has expressed regret for the Company’s past conduct and put in place a range of robust measures to ensure ethical compliance. These measures apply to all Mabey and Johnson operations including its operations in Sri Lanka, to which none of these charges relate.”

Meanwhile, Peter Lloyd, Mabey’s managing director has been quoted in the international media as saying: “We deeply regret the past conduct of our company and we have committed to making a fresh start, wiping the slate clean of these offences.” New managers have been installed at the firm.
Lloyd had also said that “as a further expression of our regret” Mabey had agreed to pay a form of reparations to the governments of the three countries.

Sri Lankan authorities however claim they are unaware of the conviction of the British firm in the UK adding that the Company has the support of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka.

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