Richards rues direction on emissions testing
A chance to boost small businesses across the island was wasted when the Government decided to take control of vehicle emissions and roadworthiness testing, a former finance minister said.
Bob Richards, also deputy premier in the last One Bermuda Alliance government, said the work could have been parcelled out to several garages after the contract with Bermuda Emissions Control Ltd comes to an end on Thursday.
Mr Richards added he had wanted the work to go out to tender to multiple garages rather than come under government control when the contract was up for renewal under the OBA.
He told The Royal Gazette: “It wasn’t clear that BECL was doing anything constructive; they were testing vehicles for emissions, but there were no legal standards, so you can’t fail a test or you don’t know where the fail mark is because there’s no fail mark.
“The whole thing seemed to be just a make-profit programme for certain individuals. I did not want to turn that into a make-work programme for civil servants.”
Mr Richards said the Progressive Labour Party government decision to bring vehicle emissions and other tests under TCD control was “a bad idea”.
He added: “It’s something that was outsourced improperly in the first place, but the solution is to outsource it properly as opposed to bring it back inside government.”
Mr Richards said: “It’s an opportunity that has been squandered. I think this is a wasted opportunity to support smaller business and to encourage that sort of activity.
“It’s not something that has to be done by the Government. We have examples in the UK, which is so much bigger, so much more complex — they’ve outsourced it, I don’t see why in Bermuda we can’t.”
A government spokesman said last night: “With regard to the claims from a former MP, the Transport Control Department issued a Request for Proposal for the vehicle safety inspection and emission testing programme on December 2, 2015. There was only one respondent.”
BECL had been in talks with the Government dating back to the 1990s.
A Commission of Inquiry report published in 2017 said assurances given to BECL in 2001 and 2003, as well as contracts between 2005 and 2009, were handed out without the appropriate tender process.
A PLP Cabinet, led by then premier Ewart Brown, agreed in 2008 to give the company $2.4?million a year to run three new testing centres.
The five-year contract was criticised by the Opposition and Mr Richards claimed it was awarded because the business was part-owned by Donal Smith, a cousin of Dr Brown’s.
The deal expired in 2014, when the OBA was in power, but was later extended for another 12 months. Mr Richards said it had also been proposed then that BECL operations should be taken over by the transport ministry, but he was opposed to that idea.
He added: “I wanted to put it out to tender and, more specifically, I wanted to basically change the system.”
Mr Richards said the arrangement in Britain, where suitable businesses can become authorised transport ministry examination sites, was a model that could be adopted in Bermuda.
He said: “I thought that would be a great opportunity to put that business outside of Government and it would be increased business for the private sector.
“It came back through the civil service that nobody in the private sector had interest in it, which I found to be an answer that lacked credibility.
“That’s what I was told on more than one occasion by people in the transport ministry.”
The BECL contract was last extended for a year in early 2018, but it will end on January 31 when TCD will take over.
Mr Richards said: “I still think that outsourcing that to private garages is an excellent idea. Nobody tells me they have too much business, particularly some of the smaller garages.
“In today’s world, when you have online computer connections and solutions, you could make the whole paperwork thing disappear.”
A transport ministry spokesman said: “With regard to Bermuda’s emission controls and/or limits, currently a vehicle can fail for emitting smoke or odour and every year some vehicles do fail. Although emissions standards are not yet enacted in Bermuda, car manufacturers generally produce cars with better engines and emission controls.”
The spokesman added: “The Transport Control Department issued a Request For Proposal for the Vehicle Safety Inspection and Emission Testing Programme on December 2, 2015. There was only one respondent.”
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