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Richards blasts ‘utterly false’ airport claims

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Bob Richards

Finance minister Bob Richards wants to “put to bed the nonsense” being circulated by his Opposition counterpart David Burt that suggests the Bermuda Government flouted financial instructions to secure the development of L.F. Wade International Airport.

He specifically made reference to a paragraph in a Letter of Agreement that refers to the Canadian Commercial Corporation as the entity that “will source premier Canadian development and construction expertise to develop and implement the project under the CCC umbrella”. The expertise selected was Canadian company Aecon.

Mr Burt continues to claim that Accountant-General Curtis Stovell was not fully informed and even misled by the minister.

He said a memo shared at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee showed that the Accountant-General, whose permission was necessary to bypass official financial instructions, was “in no way, shape or form in the loop”.

The document, dated March 16, 2016, was sent from Mr Stovell to financial secretary Anthony Manders, reiterating claims that when he gave permission for the Government to pursue a deal with CCC, he was not agreeing to the entire project, including the selection of Aecon, merely the early stages.

Mr Stovell wrote: “I was initially of the understanding that it was CCC who introduced Aecon to this transaction. My read of this is that Aecon was the intended construction partner, which was not my initial understanding when the CCC Letter of Agreement was provided to me.”

But Mr Richards insisted the LA gave sufficient information, including this paragraph which Mr Stovell was privy to: “The CCC will source premier Canadian development and construction expertise to develop and implement the project under the CCC umbrella.

“Any firm or firms so selected shall have been subject to CCC’s due diligence and vetting in terms of technical financial managerial capabilities, and shall be subject to prior due diligence and approval to be completed by Bermuda.

“CCC shall, as a matter of transparency and co-operation, provide Bermuda with reasonably complete, accurate and current information concerning the nature and scope of such firm selection due diligence and vetting undertakings.

“The selected Canadian firm, together with its team of required specialist consultants, advisers and subcontractors shall, together with CCC, constitute the ‘CCC team’.”

Mr Richards told The Royal Gazette: “It is clear from the LA that CCC is driving this thing.

“Somebody is making some suggestion of whom selected whom but this makes it very clear that CCC selected Aecon. Signed by yours truly and Luc Allary, CCC regional director, Caribbean and Central America.

“It seems that there have been questions about Aecon previously having a conversation with CCC. Who cares? The second point is this: Mr Stovell said he thought that he was only signing off on the letter of agreement. But the LA describes the entire process — it talks about preliminary due diligence.

“We are progressing with this process exactly according to how it is outlined in this document. Nobody who signed that memorandum that relates to the LA can say he didn’t know what he was signing. He only could not know what he was signing if he didn’t read it.”

Mr Burt made a point of order in the House of Assembly last Friday to say Mr Richards was “misleading the House”.

“The Accountant-General did not say he was not informed about the process. The Accountant-General said he was not informed that a contractor had been selected prior to his knowledge.”

He further told this newspaper: “CCC, in their own documents, say that Aecon brought the project to CCC. How on earth the minister is trying to contradict CCC is beyond belief.

“The minister is engaging in revisionist history. CIBC [who are now consultants to the Ministry] made initial contact with Aecon on behalf of the Minister of Finance. It was only after that point that Aecon contacted CCC. For the minister to say he never heard of Aecon, when his own consultants (who he’s said in Parliament he’s known for 25 years) made contact on his behalf fits a pattern of half-truths which have plagued this project from the beginning.

“The Accountant-General has stated that he was unaware that a contractor was selected at the time he gave permission. He also has stated that there was no mention of Aecon to him at all.”

But Mr Richards said: “Aecon’s name was not supposed to be on the document — this was an agreement between the Bermuda Government and CCC who represents the Canadian government. There is not an agreement with Aecon.

“The statement from Burt is utterly false. I spoke to no one from Aecon before the initial meeting in Toronto. I met [Steve] Nackan [Aecon president], and [Donald] Olsen from CCC for the first time on that occasion, and had never met nor spoken to anyone from either organisation previously.

“This conspiracy narrative by Mr Burt is utterly false and is merely a political gambit to undermine Bermudians’ confidence in a project that will create hundreds of Bermudian jobs and build a new airport terminal without encumbering the Government with further debt.”

Junior Minster for Finance David Burt (Photograph by Akil Simmons)