No Cabinet approval, no witnesses: Patterson’s Ministry sole-sourced $72M contract
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday heard shocking details of the former Public Infrastructure Ministry, which was headed by David Patterson, sole-sourcing a contract to procure motion scales from a company in 2016, with no Cabinet approval, witnesses, or even date. Additionally, the contract had no National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) number.
It was revealed that the contract was signed without any witnesses, and even worse, Cabinet approval was only granted afterwards. The contract in question was for the purchase of three motion scales for the sum of $72.2 million.
However, only two of the scales were delivered as of 2019, despite the contractor being given a delivery period of 90 days. The contract provided for an advance payment of 50 per cent of the contract sum within thirty days of signing of the contract and the balance on delivery.
“As at 31 December 2016, the full contract sum was paid. It was also observed that a performance bond was not presented for audit examination. Further, at the time of the audit in September 2017, the scales have not been delivered. There was no evidence to show that an addendum to this contract was prepared,” Auditor General Deodat Sharma had said in his 2016 report.
In the Auditor General’s briefing notes for the PAC, it was explained that as of 2019 two of the scales were on the wharf awaiting documents to clear them, while the Ministry was actively trying to engage the contractor to supply the third scale and the missing documents. According to what the Ministry told the AG, however, the contractor had not responded in a timely manner.
It was pointed out by acting PAC Chairman Jermaine Figueira that such a contract would be null and void. He questioned how then Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry, Balraj Balram, a man with extensive experience, could have signed such a contract.
But Balram, who participated in the session virtually, could not remember how or why he signed the contract without witnesses or Cabinet approval. Balram informed the PAC that he signed a number of contracts over the years and could not remember particulars about this specific contract.
“As far as I can recollect, the Ministry took a decision to buy new equipment rather than reconditioned ones. And any payment of that amount would have to be provided by a bond. That bond is still in existence when I left there in early 2017,” Balram said.
“I honestly cannot recollect so far back, five years ago, why witnesses did not sign the contract… I agree (that witnesses should have signed it) … with due regard, I cannot recall. I know I signed a contract, but I’ve signed several contracts in that particular year and I cannot recall signing a contract without an NPTAB number or date or witnesses,” he added.
Meanwhile, PAC member Juretha Fernandes was very critical of the former PS’s inability to give clarity on the award of the contract. According to her, this is the very reason the PAC is meeting.
“It is unacceptable for an accounting officer during this period to present himself before this Committee and just be guided by words from the Auditor General report. The whole reason we have them present is to give details about what went on,” Fernandes said.
For the examination of the then Public Infrastructure Ministry, former Minister David Patterson, the substantive PAC Chair, recused himself. Also recusing himself was current Public Works Minister and PAC member Juan Edghill. (G3)