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Government confirms $3.2m Sports Centre loan guarantee

Calling for good governance: Craig Cannonier of the One Bermuda Alliance (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Government has confirmed that it is acting as guarantor for a controversial loan to fund an energy-saving project at the National Sports Centre.

In the House of Assembly on Friday, Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, confirmed that Government had issued a guarantee for “a $3.235 million loan on behalf of the National Sports Centre for the purchase and installation of renewable energy system”.

The contract became mired in controversy after it was awarded to Atlantic Energy Solutions Group in September 2018 through a Letter of Intent from Government.

A month later, AESG owner Damon Wade was appointed chairman of the ruling Progressive Labour Party.

But in January 2020 – with work on the project still to get underway – Mr Wade was forced to resign his chairmanship of the party after accusing Cabinet of “incompetence, arrogance and vindictiveness” in relation to the project.

The project was mothballed for a further 16 months until May of this year, when Government formally authorised AESG to start work. The project was given the go-ahead by three Government ministers, including Mr Dickinson.

But the Opposition now says the contract should be put out to tender again after it was revealed last month that NSC had to take out a bank loan to finance the project. When AESG was first declared the preferred candidate in September 2018, it had financing in place to break ground – and the NSC understood it would not have to pay anything until work was complete.

Craig Cannonier, the Opposition spokesman on public works, said on a Facebook Live discussion last week that, because the circumstances had changed significantly in the last three years, the contract should have been re-tendered.

“What ensued from 2018 was nothing at all. In fact for two years up to 2020 nothing happened at all.

“We hear nothing, nothing at all about the project. Now here we are in 2021, going on three years, heading into a fourth year and I hear that the project has been given to AESG.”

Mr Cannonier claimed that the NSC’s board of trustees understood that AESG submitted its bid “with financing in place” – and knew nothing of the loan until after payments were made into an NSC bank account last month.

He added: “If any terms of a bid change, it is incumbent upon Government to then go back to all of the other bidders and say ‘we need to do this process fairly and offer financing to the others as well’, or look at those who still do have financing in place and then say ‘shall we proceed with another bidder who has financing’ – because that was the terms and conditions.

“And so the bid now needs to go back out. That is good governance.”

Mr Cannonier raised the issue in the House of Assembly two Fridays ago, when he began reading out a letter from one trustee calling for the resignation of NSC operations manager Craig Tyrrell.

But Speaker of the House Dennis Lister interrupted him, saying he must present evidence to the House before making allegations against anyone under Parliamentary privilege.

According to OBA leader Cole Simons, that evidence was presented to Mr Lister’s office on Monday. Mr Lister was off the island on Friday.

During Friday night’s motion to adjourn two Government MPs criticised Mr Cannonier’s performance the previous week, claiming that he had used bullying tactics and had made unsubstantiated allegations.

Neville Tyrrell, a former chairman of the NSC board of trustees and the father of Craig, accused Mr Cannonier of making unsubstantiated comments that were not supported by evidence and “made him come across as a bully”.

Defending his son, Mr Tyrrell said: “He came across as one who had not done their homework on the subject matter.

“What the honourable member appeared to have done was to take on face value the word of what I would describe as a disgruntled former trustee, recently resigned from the board of the NSC.”

Government MP Christopher Famous followed Mr Tyrrell in attacking Mr Cannonier.

He said: “I know that we go at each other as MPs – that’s par for the course. This is not Sunday School, it’s a construction site.

“But what I heard last week was the honourable member going after a member of the public – who happens to be the child of another honourable member – with the most salacious accusations.

The person that the honourable member Cannonier went after is my cousin. All I’m telling that honourable member, is that this family will not stand for any attacks on any members of our family any day, never.“

When Mr Cannonier attempted a rebuttal, he was barred from doing so by Acting Speaker Derrick Burgess, who said he could not speak on the issue because Mr Lister had not ruled on his documents.

When Mr Cannonier persisted, he was ejected from the proceedings by Mr Burgess.

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Published July 26, 2021 at 7:57 am (Updated July 26, 2021 at 7:43 am)

Government confirms $3.2m Sports Centre loan guarantee

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