Dunkley: ‘minister was just trying not to answer the question’
Questions were raised in the House of Assembly yesterday over a $2 million final payment to a technology firm behind the Government’s software for Covid-19 screening.
MPs were told that ResQwest, which provided the technology behind the Travel Authorisation forms, was paid $4.3 million for a year’s operations – including one payment for more than $2 million in October 2022.
Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of National Security, Health and Seniors, said he was taken aback when Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, was unable to give details on whether the payment constituted a penalty fee for ending the controversial TA Form earlier than expected.
Ms Wilson was responding to parliamentary questions from Mr Dunkley about ResQwest that have lingered on the Orders of the Day, the agenda for the House of Assembly meetings.
Mr Dunkley told The Royal Gazette: “I asked if it was a penalty fee for ending early, and the minister said she does not have that information. That further raises my alarm bells.
“The minister was just trying not to answer the question. There is no way a minister is not going to know whether there are penalty fees.”
He said he was “blown away when the minister said she could not answer that”, adding: “I am sure you would come prepared.”
He noted that the payments listed “fluctuated”: $63,113 for January this year and $778,816 for June.
The TAF, which was slated to continue until the end of March 2023, came to an end on November 13.
The procedure comes with a $40 fee – down from $75 as of this March.
Mr Dunkley said he found it “very strange – all of a sudden, there is a $2 million payment right when the border control ended”.
From April through October of this year, the TAF took in revenues of $24.1 million.
But the Government’s contract with ResQwest, which Mr Dunkley has pressed to have tabled in Parliament, was not provided.
“It was not answered because I was told, at the last minute, they were reviewing if the document could be put in the public realm.”
He said he had been told there were aspects of the contract that could harm the business if it was revealed.
But he added: “It leads me to believe that the Government is trying to hide something, and that is not acceptable.
“From the very beginning there was a rush to do it, which I understood. But there was no bid for it and it was not run through the office of procurement, which is not acceptable.”
The Gazetterevealed in February that the firm which is owned by the Premier’s fintech adviser Denis Pitcher, had been paid $2.4 million in the 2021-22 financial year after taking in $1.2 million the previous year.
Mr Dunkley acknowledged that the Government had needed revenue to cover a string of costly border protections and rigorous Covid-19 testing at the height of the pandemic.
He added: “But as borders around the world started to open up, we were at a competitive disadvantage. We had no choice but to end it five months early.”
Mr Dunkley said the Government had been “stubborn to keep on with it”.
Mr Pitcher has been messaged for comment, and the Ministry of Health has been queried over the final payment as well as the reasons for keeping the contract under wraps.
• To read the parliamentary questions in full, click on the PDF below “Related Media”.