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Ministry was aware of trustees’ reservations over solar project

Denial: Jache Adams, chairman of the board of trustees of the National Sports Centre (File photograph)

A senior civil servant was told last month of concerns over a $3.2 million contract to install solar panels at the National Sports Centre.

Jennifer Attride-Stirling, the permanent secretary of the ministry of sport was told about the concerns at a meeting with the NSC’s board of trustees in June.

She also later acknowledged that an internal audit into the deal was “an appropriate option that is available”.

According to documents obtained by The Royal Gazette, Ms Attride-Stirling began looking into the contract following the June 17 meeting, when she was told that trustees had not signed it off.

Atlantic Energy Solutions Group was named as the preferred bidder to install solar panels at the NSC in September 2018, one month before AESG owner Damon Wade was appointed chairman of the Progressive Labour Party. The current chairman of the NSC board of trustees is PLP MP Jache Adams.

But the contract was not approved by Government until May this year, when it was authorised by the Ministers of Sport, Public Works, and Finance. On June 4, a loan facility for $3.2 million was agreed with HSBC and $119,400 was drawn down and paid to AESG to enable it to mobilize for the contract.

According to documents obtained by The Royal Gazette, Ms Attride-Stirling was alerted to concerns when she met with the centre’s board of trustees on June 17.

Those concerns were confirmed in writing by one trustee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the following day. A letter stated that trustees suspected there may have been a breach of financial instructions.

The same trustee sent further e-mails to Ms Attride-Stirling over the next four days, calling for a cease-and-desist order against AESG and an internal audit into the project.

In an e-mail to the trustee on June 26, Ms Attride-Stirling replied: “I take note of your concerns and ask that you allow me a little more time to investigate the matter further.

“For now I can assure you the Ministry was aware of the contract prior to its engagement and loan facility. However, we understood that trustees had full knowledge of developments.

“I will investigate further and revert by Thursday, July 1”

In a subsequent e-mail to the trustee on July 1, Ms Attride-Stirling wrote: “Thank you for allowing us the time to investigate further. I would like to arrange a meeting for us with [Sports] Minister [Ernest] Peets to advance your concerns.”

In her e-mail, Ms Attride-Stirling also acknowledged that the Ministry was “not aware of the drawdowns” on the loan.

This week The Royal Gazette contacted Ms Attride-Stirling and Government’s department of communications asking for further details about the investigation.

A Government spokeswoman did not answer our questions, saying only that “the Ministry was made aware of concerns raised regarding the energy project contract and looked into the matters raised”.

The statement went on: “As previously advised, this project was reviewed and approved by the Minister of Public Works, the Minister of Community Affairs and Sport, and the Minister of Finance as is required by the National Sports Centre Trustees Act.

“Additionally, the contract documents for this project were reviewed by the Attorney-General's Chambers. The Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sport will continue to work with the trustees of the National Sports Centre to ensure that all financial and project controls required to successfully execute a project of this scale are adhered to.”

Board of trustees chairman Mr Adams also issued a statement last week insisting that no irregularities had taken place.

Mr Adams said: “In response to claims of forging signatures, the misuse of public funds, and the like, this is categorically untrue. It is very offensive to suggest that this happened.

“This clearly is a sign that there continues to be a divide in our community where the historically disadvantaged are seen as corrupt and the historically privileged are seen as deserving.

“After three years of extensive review and analysis by the Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Cultural Affairs and Sport, and Ministry of Finance, approval was granted by the respective Ministers.

“The contract was then reviewed by the Attorney General’s Chambers prior to execution.

“All payments disbursed to AESG have been in accordance with the contract and AESG provides the NSC with weekly reports of their progress also as per the contract.”