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‘Burgess action deplored,’ Horton tells COI

The actions of former minister Derrick Burgess over a major construction project prompted considerable concern among technical experts and senior civil servants, the Commission of Inquiry heard yesterday.

The tribunal was told that in 2008, Mr Burgess, the then Minister of Works and Engineering, personally took architectural drawings relating to the planned renovation of the Commercial Court building to another architect in a bid to cut costs.

Mr Burgess was also said to have wanted to provide more opportunities for smaller businesses, but technical officers feared his approach could end up costing the Bermuda Government more money.

Robert Horton, a former permanent secretary for Works and Engineering, acknowledged that Mr Burgess was “greatly exercised” by the costs of certain projects, but admitted: “It was action I deplored.”

“He was very concerned about what he called wastage of public money for Rolls-Royce initiatives so he did involve himself,” Mr Horton said. “He did interfere.”

Yesterday afternoon, Mr Horton told the commission that Mr Burgess felt that the estimated cost for the Commercial Court renovation project was “excessive”.

“The minister was greatly exercised about the costs that the Department of Architectural Design and Construction had estimated certain projects which were going on at the time,” Mr Horton added.

Commission lawyer, Narinder Hargun, told the tribunal that the Commercial Court project went out to tender towards the end of 2008, resulting in technical officers recommending the bid of DeCosta Construction, which was “both complete and the lowest”. A smaller firm, Bermuda Drywall and Ceilings, was disqualified from the process because its bid was incomplete.

Mr Horton said of Mr Burgess: “One of the things he said repeatedly was we must provide opportunities for a greater cross section of small business.

“He felt that within Works and Engineering too often work went to established, large, already successful companies.

“This was part of his rationale in expressing concern about DeCosta and the cost of the estimated work. It was his wish to involve the small business Bermuda Drywall and Ceilings.” Mr Hargun described how the minister then took architectural drawings prepared within the ministry to another architect to see if he could cut the costs.

“It was action I deplored, but it happened,” Mr Horton said.

Noting that Mr Burgess had “gone outside” of the six Government architects, Mr Hargun told the commission that the minister then instructed all bidders in the contract to rebid on reduced scope of work by December 23, 2008.

Mr Hargun then proceeded to take Mr Horton through a string of e-mails in which chief architect, Lawrence Brady, and a second technical officer, Lucy Chung, expressed concern about the “irregular” approach to the project that could “cost us more money”.

Mr Horton added: “I shared her (Ms Chung's) concern.”

Mr Hargun asked whether there had been any urgency attached to completing the project, to which Mr Horton replied there had. He said that there was pressure from both the then Minister of Finance as well as from the Registrar of the Supreme Court for expedience.

The commission heard that ultimately the contract worth just over $1.6 million was awarded to Bermuda Drywall and Ceilings at the beginning of 2009. The commission, which is probing the misuse of public funds between the years 2009 and 2012, as identified by Auditor-General Heather Jacobs Matthews 2015 report, was hearing evidence for a fourth day at the St Theresa Church Hall in Hamilton. The redevelopment of Port Royal was one of a number of historic government projects that have come under scrutiny during the tribunal; others included the emissions testing centres for TCD, the Heritage Wharf pier at Dockyard and the new Magistrates' Court and police building.

Earlier in the morning Cherie Whitter, a former permanent secretary for the Department of Tourism and Transport, gave evidence before the Commission about the Port Royal contract as well as the GlobalHue contract.

In the interest of treating the Commission of Inquiry much like continuing court proceedings, The Royal Gazette has taken the decision to disable comments. This is done for the protection legally of both the newspaper and our readers

Talking to tribunal: Robert Horton, the former permanent secretary for the Ministry of Works and Engineering, at the Commission of Inquiry (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published October 03, 2016 at 6:09 pm (Updated October 04, 2016 at 8:54 am)

‘Burgess action deplored,’ Horton tells COI

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