Image credits: Animal Político, China Communications Construction Company
News Article

Controversy Follows Mayan Train Contractors

By Pedro Alcalá | Mon, 04/27/2020 - 19:07

A series of accusations have followed the announcement of the first Mayan train contractors, which continue the trend of shrouding this important project in controversy. It all began on Thursday April 23 after the winning Lumat consortium was announced. Journalist Raúl Olmos tweeted out a thread of messages containing incriminating articles pertaining to one of the consortium’s members. Animal Político identified Olmos as a contributor to Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI), the organization responsible for a previously debunked accusation of corruption against FONATUR and its management of Mayan Train finances

In the thread’s first tweet, Olmos cited a 2009 article from the World Bank in which China Communications Construction Company was forbidden from working in projects backed by the World Bank after being found guilty of fraudulent practices in a number of road management projects in the Philippines. A second tweet contained a 2018 article from Bangladesh’s The Independent in which a subsidiary of the same Chinese parastatal is put in a national blacklist after being accused of attempted bribery of an unnamed government official. This was connected to an ongoing highway expansion project (although Olmos describes it as an airport expansion project). A third tweet contained a 2015 Reuters article reporting on a Sri Lankan investigation into the company’s alleged bribing of presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa. A fourth and final tweet in the thread linked to a New York Times article from 2018 detailing the Canadian government’s move to block the parastatal’s US$1 billion takeover of Canadian construction firm Aecon Group, following concerns over the threat to Canadian sovereignty and national security that the deal could represent given the access to public government contracts that it granted to the Chinese state.  

FONATUR’s response was immediate. On Thursday, the dependency released a statement (uploaded by Animal Político to Scribd) directly addressing these polemics. The statement highlighted the bidding and contracting processes’ legality and the fact that it was overseen by the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS). In its statement, FONATUR also claims that UNOPS executed its own parallel evaluation of all 14 original bids and independently reached the same conclusion as FONATUR regarding the Lumat Consortium (being the best option for the project in terms of cost-benefit). The statement then goes on to defend China Communications Construction Company by pointing out that the World Bank’s prohibition (which the statement places at 2011 as opposed to 2009) was only in effect until 2017. Since then, the statement claims, the company has strengthened its anti-corruption measures, created an internal department for regulatory compliance and adopted the best international practices to avoid another similar case. The rest of the incriminating articles and issues were not addressed. 

In its own report, Animal Político detailed Olmos’ accusations while also exploring similar accusations made against another prominent member of the Lumat Consortium: Portuguese infrastructure giant Mota Engil. It first identifies this company as a “favorite” of Enrique Peña Nieto’s past presidential administration, during which it accumulated a minimum of US$413 million in contracts, many of which were previously listed on our Friday report on the winning bids. Of these projects, some presented specific issues. For example, in the State of Mexico Siervo de la Nación highway project, Mota Engil has accumulated four years of delays and over US$161 million in over-budget charges. When these shortcomings were originally pointed out in an Animal Político piece from March of last year, the State of Mexico government and Mota Engil both went on the record assuring readers that the highway would be inaugurated by June 2019. To this day, the highway remains under construction.  

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Animal Político, Raúl Olmos, MCCI, World Bank, Reuters, The Independent Bangladesh, New York Times, FONATUR
Pedro Alcalá Pedro Alcalá Senior Journalist & Industry Analyst