EPM Claims New Hidroituango Contract Amendments ‘Transparent’ Despite Insinuations of Mayor Quintero Corruption
Medellin’s city-owned EPM utility claimed in a September 19 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera oversight agency that an investigative report published September 18 in the local El Colombiano newspaper — citing potentially corrupt Hidroituango contract manipulation – ought not to be considered as accurate.
The El Colombiano report reveals that EPM recently changed the US$5 billion Hidroituango hydroelectric-plant construction contract bidding in a way that presumably would solely favor China’s Yellow River construction company via partnership with a previously unqualified Colombian construction company.
This alleged scheme follows Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero’s years-long efforts to eliminate Hidroituango’s current construction contractors in favor of a Chinese company that has been cuddling-up to Quintero (see Medellin Herald September 3, 2020).
While Quintero failed in his lawsuit attempting to revoke the current Hidroituango contractors, the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper published a fawning report on Mayor Quintero in its August 19, 2020 edition, under the headline: “Daniel Quintero, Mayor of Medellín: ‘We Have Seen in China a Strong Investment Ally.’”
In the new El Colombiano report — citing EPM’s recent contract “addendum 7” — EPM “did the Chinese three favors: first, they reduced the required volume [of prior construction experience] to 28,350 cubic meters. Second, they included that the [new] company could accredit that experience in the construction of ‘framed structures.’ In other words, they no longer had to have experience in more complex structures such as bridges, but building houses or buildings was enough.
“And third, if the Colombian partner did not have a way to accredit that experience in two prior works, as required in the original specifications, now it can accredit it in four works. That is, the company can add 28,350 cubic meters [of experience] in several houses or buildings,” instead of 94,500 cubic meters of experience as originally required, according to the report.
The amended contract also lowered the experience requirement for excavations and construction of wells, tunnels, or caverns to 57 square meters, rather than 80 square meters as specified originally.
José Fernando Villegas, president of the Colombian Chamber of Infrastructure in Antioquia, is quoted in the El Colombiano report as asking why EPM cut the experience requirements to very specific numbers, rather than roundabout numbers. “When one puts an indicator that is not a round figure, it means that someone in particular wants to win [the contract]. It’s what they call tailor’s sheet,” Villegas was quoted as saying.
Likewise, “in the case of tunnels, the natural thing [in a contract amendment] would be to go down from 80 square meters to 55 or 60, but not 57,” he added.
In response to those charges, EPM issued the following statement to Superfinanciera:
“The fundamental purpose of the public request for bids [via the new contract amendments] is not to change the construction firm, but rather to guarantee the continuity of the civil works of generation units 5 to 8 of the Ituango Hydroelectric Project, under a unit-price payment methodology. in accordance with the development of the work and the current state of the risks, seeking optimization in costs and control of the execution schedule of the project in its final stage,” according to EPM.
“This process has had seven addenda (modifications), among which are extension of the date for receipt of bids, updating of the readjustment formula and provision of complementary documentation to interested parties, information meeting with bidders, inclusion of construction plans of the exterior works and modification to the requested experience.
“As a result of an interdisciplinary analysis, EPM identified the need to modify the experience requested to encourage the participation of Colombian companies and seek a greater plurality of bidders. EPM clarifies that one of the fundamental requirements stipulated in the contracting process is the presentation of offers from national and foreign legal entities, under associative forms, which may not be made up of more than three members and at least one of them must be Colombian. EPM insists that the reason why it modified the experience was due to serious analysis and not at the request of one of the participants in the process (Yellow River).
“The reopening of the process, that is, the opportunity for new interested parties to acquire the right to participate, is not an alien or foreign matter to the contracting of EPM, since precisely to guarantee the principles of equality and plurality of bidders, the specifications of conditions establish the obligation to carry out a new opening of the process when participation requirements are modified. In this particular case, as the experience was modified in some aspects, it was imperative to once again exhaust the stage of reopening the process.
“EPM reiterates that the selection process to build the final civil works of Hidroituango is carried out in a transparent manner,” the statement concludes.