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‘No apologies’ for blown Port Royal budget

The 2014 PGA Grand Slam of Golf at Port Royal Golf Course

A damning independent report on the restoration of the Port Royal Golf Course was criticised by former members of its board of trustees, who defended the project going more than $10 million over budget.

“We built a course that Bermuda could be proud of,” Wendell Brown, the former chairman of the board, told a sitting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The PAC met to examine a special report by Auditor General Heather Jacobs Matthews, issued in October 2014, that faulted the $24.5 million project for “lack of oversight, cost overruns and inadequate accounting”.

“OK, we went over budget, but it’s a PGA course and that was the mandate,” Mr Brown said. “I make no apologies that we blew the budget. I think we delivered this so Bermuda could benefit from the PGA [Grand Slam of Golf].”

The PAC heard that management for the Government-owned course was under considerable pressure to have Port Royal ready for the 2009 tournament, which went ahead under the auspices of Dr Ewart Brown, the Premier at the time with responsibility for tourism.

Overall renovations took place between 2007 and 2011, but the board of trustees had to scramble to deliver a PGA-quality golf course in time for October 2009.

There were problems with grass, which had to be grown in a special nursery, according to Bob Wilson, a Port Royal trustee and former chairman of the finance committee.

“We were supposed to finish in a year — it was a very, very pressing timeline,” Mr Wilson told the PAC. “Frankly, I was worried.”

He said the board had been “caught between trying to reduce the financial impact and at the same time getting the course open”.

Both men told the PAC they felt “very disappointed” by Ms Jacobs Matthews’s report.

“When you come to do an audit, you want to have information that was in the recent past, not going back several years,” Mr Wilson said.

He added: “No one likes to find incomplete documentation. Go several years after the event and I suspect that probably happens.”

Ms Jacobs Matthews’s report also criticised the awarding of contracts worth $1.6 million and $1.2 million to one company without being put out to tender — pointing out that a board member, who was also a Member of Parliament at the time, had owned the company.

Yesterday, the PAC heard that the excavation contract went to Island Construction, owned by Progressive Labour Party MP Zane DeSilva, which was the only company that submitted a bid. Contracts were handled by a project manager who had been strongly recommended for the job after handling a similar project in Barbados.

Island Construction also got the contract for irrigation and importing sand for the golf course, but both Mr Brown and Mr Wilson defended the choice based on the company’s equipment and prior experience at Tucker’s Point.

Mr Brown dismissed suggestions by PAC member Susan Jackson, a One Bermuda Alliance MP, that it represented a conflict of interest.

“There are nearly always conflicts of interest in Bermuda,” he said.

Questioned by OBA MP Glen Smith, Mr Brown told the PAC: “We felt comfortable with Zane doing it and Island Construction doing it — they had the experience ... we felt we were getting value for money.”

He added that it had been Mr DeSilva’s brother, Allan DeSilva, who had represented the company. “We never dealt with Zane,” he said.

PAC member Wayne Furbert, the Progressive Labour Party MP, also criticised the initial presentation of the report, which implied that a Government minister had been on Port Royal’s board at the time instead of an MP.

Assistants to the Auditor General acknowledged that had been an inaccuracy.

OBA MP Jeff Sousa questioned why his own business, which specialised in irrigation systems, had never been contacted. Mr Brown repeated that it had been handled by the general manager in conjunction with their project manager.

Both Mr Brown and Mr Wilson agreed that while the Government initially approved $13.6 million for Port Royal, the designs underwent changes during the renovations.

All financial transactions that took place were signed off by the Minister of Finance, and Mr Brown said the board never contacted any one company to suggest that they apply for a contract.

One board member was awarded a commission of $10,000 for finding a vendor to supply steel, and the project manager received an unspecified bonus despite the job taking extra time and money.

Reactions to the Auditor General’s report have been fiercely divided along party lines, and those divisions continued at the PAC.

PLP MP Lovitta Foggo told the committee that she was satisfied that the project had been worth it, while Mr Furbert pointed out that the PGA Grand Slam of Golf alone had brought in some $30 million to the Island. The event’s relationship with Bermuda ended after last year’s tournament.

“It at least makes me feel confident that we have indeed got value for money,” Ms Foggo said.

However, Mr Sousa disagreed, telling the PAC: “With the fact that many phases of the project did not go out to tender — the excavation, the irrigation, the supply of sand — the people of Bermuda did not get value for money.”

Closing the meeting, PAC chairman David Burt emphasised that the public needed to understand that the PAC “does not deal with policy; we deal with process”.

Mr Burt pointed out that the PAC had heard last week that financial instructions had been bypassed for the tight deadline of bringing in the 35th America’s Cup and that the committee should examine the waiving of financial procedures.