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Inquiry: Lister ‘tried to help smaller firm’

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Dennis Lister yesterday told the Commission of Inquiry he had no personal interest in going against the recommendation of technical officers over which firm was given the contract for the Dame Lois Browne-Evans project.

The former Minister of Works and Engineering told the panel he was following the Progressive Labour Party philosophy of giving opportunities to smaller, disadvantaged Bermudian firms that had not previously been afforded them in choosing Landmark Lisgar: a partnership between a local firm and a Canadian firm.

Mr Lister, who was the minister in 2007 when the contract was signed, acknowledged that the move went against the recommendation of the ministry's experts who had supported a bid by Apex Construction Management Ltd.

But he maintained that there was a “never a full stop in force”, saying that Government could not work with Landmark Lisgar. The PLP MP was questioned on the eighth day of evidence before the commission, which has been tasked to probe the misuse of funds on capital projects including the multimillion dollar Dame Lois Browne-Evans project, identified by the Auditor-General.

Commission lawyer Narinder Hargun asked Mr Lister if he understood that technical officers viewed Landmark Lisgar's bid as “incomplete”, to which the former minister replied: “I would not put it in those terms, I understood they had some challenges to resolve, and would leave it at that.”

Mr Lister said that Landmark Lisgar was an example of a local firm “taking the right steps to attempt to grow and expand itself” by partnering with an overseas entity.

Mr Hargun referred Mr Lister to the statement made by his then permanent secretary, Derrick Binns, in which Dr Binns stated that Mr Lister wanted Landmark Lisgar to get the contract and not Apex.

Mr Lister responded: “I think I should put this in context. Part of the decision-making process and mandate of the Progressive Labour Party when in Government, after a long time in Opposition, was to try and give opportunity where it had not been before.

“We looked at how we could give the chance for small persons and businesses to grow.”

Mr Lister maintained that Dr Binns was “well aware” of that philosophy and admitted the pair had “many disagreements over many different things” that came into the ministry.

The commission heard that initially Cabinet was asked to choose between Apex and Landmark Lisgar. However, Cabinet deferred its decision in order for Mr Lister to provide a recommendation and a clear rationale for it.

Asked if he had initially told Cabinet of the technical's officers' recommendation, Mr Lister said: “I just can not recall.”

Mr Lister later recommended Landmark Lisgar to Cabinet saying they were the “best option”.

Mr Hargun then pointed out that Dr Binns stated that Mr Lister did not share his rationale for not using Apex.

“We are in stern and strong disagreement on that,” replied Mr Lister.

The commission lawyer also referred to another conversation between Mr Lister and Dr Binns saying: “Dr Binns said he advised you that if you did not recommend Apex you could be challenged as to why you have recommended the riskier bid, he also advised you that the allegation might be made that you had an interest in seeing the riskier bid awarded.”

Mr Lister replied: “That discussion never took place. Nowhere at no time can I recall ever being cautioned that it could be implied I had an interest in this contract.

“I can clearly state that my interests were never put in question in regard to any concern.

“If at any time I was being cautioned about the implication that someone might read into this, that Dennis Lister had an interest, that would stay with me and I would remember that. But I don't and never did, so I don't remember this conversation.”

The tribunal heard that Canadian partners Lisgar withdrew from the project a year later.

Mr Hargun asked Mr Lister: “With the benefit of hindsight would you accept that the concerns which the technical officers had in relation to the Landmark Lisgar partnership actually came into being a year later?”

Mr Lister, who was then no longer the minister, responded: “I can not confirm or deny, I have nothing to base that on. You are asking me to speculate on something I have no interest in.”

Following questions from commissioner John Barritt, Mr Lister conceded that it “could be” good practice in future for Cabinet to have access to the technical officers' report on a project regardless of whether or not the minister agreed with their recommendations.

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

Dennis Lister, the Progressive Labour Party MP, is quizzed by lawyer Narinder Hargun at the Commission of Inquiry yesterday (Photograph by Simon Jones)

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Published October 10, 2016 at 6:10 pm (Updated October 11, 2016 at 2:09 am)

Inquiry: Lister ‘tried to help smaller firm’

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