'Just make it happen'
Ministry pressured AG to approve sole tender for TCD project - claim
The Accountant General claims she was pressured by Ministry of Transport officials to approve a sole tender contract over the controversial TCD construction project.
The Public Accounts Committee also heard TCD could save Government approximately $1 million by running the motor vehicle safety and emissions testing programme instead of Bermuda Emissions Control Limited (BECL).
The Committee is investigating a special report by Auditor General Heather Jacobs Matthews into the project.
The report states the Ministry of Transport took over control of the construction of the TCD emissions testing building, and two satellite sites, and there was ministerial interference from the outset.
The cost of the development eventually tripled from $5.3 million to $15.2 million. The report states this happened after control was “relinquished” to BECL and Corriea Construction Company Limited; a common shareholder linked the companies. Ms Matthews found there was inadequate documentation to explain the increases.
It adds Transport Permanent Secretary Marc Telemaque ignored an explicit instruction from Cabinet to conduct an open tender for the two satellite facilities.
Previously Mr Telemaque told the Committee he accepted the criticism in the report, but said the project would have taken longer. During his statement to the Committee Mr Telemaque was asked if anyone had exerted pressure on him during the process, he said no. He was not asked if he exerted pressure on anyone during the process.
Yesterday Accountant General Joyce Chesley Hayward was asked if there was ministerial interference.
“I would say the comment ‘just make it happen' was given to me on a number of occasions,” she said. “I was told Cabinet has approved the project.
She added that comment ‘just make it happen' came from the Ministry of Transport's controller, Julie Grant, who has since left the Island.
She said: “I was told [the project] was being delayed because of all the things we were requiring, such as expert reports.”
She later said: “I received an email from my bosses, the Permanent Secretary, and I was told we are doing this, we have done [the due diligence] and it is going ahead.”
When asked if it was the Permanent Secretary of Finance or Transport, she replied: “It was Transport.”
Speaking after the meeting Ms Hayward clarified that the email actually came from Ms Grant, with Mr Telemaque CC'd in the email.
Ms Hayward said all Permanent Secretaries are her bosses and that she did mention her concerns about the documentation to Financial Permanent Secretary Donald Scott. She said he agreed that documentation was necessary.
She also described a meeting with BECL and Government officials: “It was explained how this should work.
“I said ‘I'm not the expert, I'm the Accountant General if there is a reason for a sole tender I need a detailed business case'. I was told there wasn't another company that could do it. I said ‘we need the documents'.”
After the Committee meeting Mr Telemaque said: “ At no stage was the allegation that I pressured the Accountant General to “just make it happen” ever put to me or attributed to me by the Public Accounts Committee in two hours of appearing before them. The Auditor General's report does not attribute that comment to me.
“ The Accountant General does not report to me, has never reported to me and did not report to me at the material time. As anyone in the public service will know, no-one can cause a payment to be made without proper documentation.
“It is grossly unfair for this to be aired in this way, without the benefit of any context whatsoever. The imposition of deadlines for completion of tasks and an insistence of timeliness, efficiency and delivery is not undue pressure, it is management and it is meant to be what public service is about.”
Earlier in the day the Committee heard from TCD Director Randy Rochester.
He was asked if TCD could run the facility cheaper than BECL, he said: “Sure. We could run it for $1.4 million less.”
He said Government has been paying for the utility bills, maintenance fees and repairs for the equipment at the TCD emissions testing centre for the past two years.
Government has also paid BECL approximately $2.4 million a year for operating the emissions testing. The contract between BECL and Government stipulates the company should pay for its utilities and the maintenance and repairs of equipment.
Committee Chairman Bob Richards said this meant not only was Government paying more for the service than it should have, it was actually paying for it twice in some instances.
Mr Rochester said one of the reasons Government was paying the electricity bill was that the two entities were on the same electricity meter. He added that TCD would rectify the situation as soon as possible.
Mr Rochester was asked to estimate how much profit the owner of BECL, Donal Smith, is receiving from the contract, based on the operational costs. He said it would be somewhere between $400,000 and $600,0000.
Mr Rochester also admitted the Government was paying more to BECL than it was making from charging the public in test fees.
He added that he had not told the new Transport Minister this fact.
Government is locked into the contract with BECL until 2014.
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