Gibbons: Govt has violated rules of transparency

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Shadow Education Minister Grant Gibbons has accused Government of violating “basic rules of transparency and good governance” by withholding a controversial lease agreement with Pembroke Hamilton Club from the public.

Dr Gibbons said Government had an “obligation” to disclose the agreement that the Ministry of Education signed with PHC in 2008 that was revealed by this newspaper last week.

The Ministry of Education confirmed what The Royal Gazette had reported in a brief press release issued to all media on Friday.

However, according to Dr Gibbons, the agreement should’ve been announced to the public after both parties signed on the dotted line four years ago.

“In the Ministry of Education’s shockingly brief statement confirming the 20-year, $10 million lease signed with Pembroke Hamilton Club in 2008, they say Government ‘is not committed to provide any funds to the PHC until such time that their facility is completed and public school students have access to it’,” he said. “They also say, ‘Regretfully the stories have caused concern in the community’. The Ministry doesn’t get it and neither does [Education Minister] Dame Jennifer.

“The reason there is real concern in the community about the PHC deal is that the PLP Government, once again, violated basic rules of transparency and good governance. If a government commits taxpayer funds, then it has an obligation to disclose it, whether the spending occurs now, in the future or perhaps never.

“This was clearly a Government back-room deal cut in secret. It’s the PLP Government’s ‘Uighur’ approach to governance — a secret deal with real consequences, unknown to all but a few. And then, at some point, taxpayers have to pick up the pieces and pay the piper.”

Dr Gibbons said Government’s reluctance to disclose an agreement of this magnitude until years later leaves much to be desired.

He asked: “Why didn’t the PLP Government tell anyone about the deal with PHC when it was signed in 2008? Unfortunately, secrecy leads to speculation and obvious questions.

“Was the then Education Minister [Elvin James] trying to avoid scrutiny and possible criticism? Was it a fair and reasonable deal for taxpayers? Was it a sweetheart deal for BIU and PHC president Chris Furbert? Will the deal still make financial sense to a future government that could be bound by the terms of the contract? More importantly, how many other secret financial deals that commit taxpayers’ money has the PLP Government not disclosed? If the PLP Government won’t disclose a $10 million commitment, what else don’t we know about?”

Dr Gibbons said the public deserves a “full explanation” from Government on all of the details of its lease agreement with PHC.

“The Ministry of Education’s statement, presumably released with Dame Jennifer’s approval, is inadequate,” he declared. “We call on Minister Smith to bring the lease to the House of Assembly and provide a detailed rationale for it, something that should have been done four years ago.”

Last Thursday The Royal Gazette revealed that the Ministry of Education agreed in 2008 to lease PHC’s yet to be built multidimensional complex for more than $10 million over 20 years.

But the agreement, which would have seen the Ministry pay PHC annual usage fees for schools within the zone to make use of the facility, was never made public, nor has it come into effect.

It is estimated that the agreement will cover as much as 60 percent of mortgage payments from a bank loan the club hopes to secure to finance the three-phase development plan at its Stadium Lane, Warwick property.

The usage fee was to increase annually at the rate of inflation, with the annual fee starting at $391,000 a year.

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Published May 21, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated May 21, 2012 at 8:52 am)

Gibbons: Govt has violated rules of transparency

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