By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
FORMER ministers in the Christie administration are “guilty” of “misfeasance” and Attorney General Carl Bethel will have to determine if they should be held liable for the “millions” in taxpayer dollars that were awarded in questionable contracts, in some cases to “inexperienced” contractors, Minister of Works Desmond Bannister told the House of Assembly last night.
The Carmichael MP made the suggestion as he outlined several cases of government waste on public contracts, noting he had to stop work on a $22m public private partnership for a building in Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama because it is “not in the best interest” of the Bahamian people.
He also noted the worrisome $6.5m construction contract for the Lowe Sound Primary School. He said this job was given to three “inexperienced” men, despite warnings from officials in the Ministry of Works that the present structure put the project “in jeopardy.”
Referencing the recent stoppage of work on construction of a seawall at Smith’s Point in Grand Bahama, Mr Bannister said this was “one verifiable example of how members opposite put politics ahead of the interest of the people and in doing so they wasted our money and created the potential for great harm of the Bahamian people.”
He said the project was put out to tender and a highly experienced company had the best bid. He said professionals in the Ministry of Works recommended that Waugh Construction receive the work for a contract worth more than $4m.
“However, the former administration decided to ignore the professional advice and gave the contract to Smith’s Construction which had submitted a bid that was $75,000 higher,” Mr Bannister said. “A contract was signed on June 24, 2016 and the seawall was supposed to have been completed on February 22 of this year.”
He said the job is nowhere near complete and the contractor has “made a mess” of the job, prompting his ministry to stop the work.
He said the government has spent over $1.7m on this project and will move quickly to replace the contractor.
“We are now all aware of the decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice from 2011, that said that even if the acts are not criminal in nature, former ministers can be sued and made to pay damages for losses incurred by the state from their acts of misfeasance. It’s a sobering judgment for all of us to consider,” Mr Bannister said. “Misfeasance is when you ignore the advice of professionals who are trained to give you that advice, as members opposite did in this case. Misfeasance is when for political reasons you hired a contractor who does not have the experience and ability to carry a job out when someone with proven ability is available and has offered a better price for the job. Members opposite are guilty on this count, Mr Speaker.
“Misfeasance is when you expose the people of small, coastal communities to danger, as members opposite did in this case. Mr Speaker, they are guilty and by their acts they have caused untold damage, but, sir, this is only one of many cases that I can cite where the former administration endangered Bahamians and wasted millions of dollars.
“In this case, $1.7m has been spent on the terminated contract, the attorney general will have to determine whether they will have to pay and they should not expect the government to waste the people’s money to represent them in court as they did when they maliciously and deliberately disclosed the private information of people in public.”
Mr Bannister also referred to an ongoing $6.5m construction project at the Lowe Sound Primary School in Andros as a cause of concern.
“They invited three of their supporters in Lowe Sound to submit bids on building the school,” he said. “One was a plumber, the second had never been involved in construction, and the third had been involved in several small projects. All of the bids were rejected as being unsatisfactory . . . but instead of engaging serious contractors to do the job, the former administration told those same inexperienced men to get together, work as a team and they awarded a $6.5m contract to those three men to build the Lowe Sound Primary School.”
He said professionals at the Ministry of Works advised against this.
He said former Minister of Works Philip Davis was told in writing that: “The existing arrangement puts the project in jeopardy similar to what we have experienced to the BAMSI North Andros project.”
“Mr Speaker, members of the former administration need to pray that nothing goes wrong with this project because $6m is a lot of money for them to have to find to repay to the Bahamian people for their misfeasance and negligence (regarding) this project.”
Earlier in his contribution to the budget debate, Mr Bannister also outlined how his ministry had to stop a $22.8m public private partnership for a building in Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama.
He noted the hefty penalties the government will incur for breaking the agreement.
He said the government has given instructions to stop the work in Grand Bahama because the concrete used “was not of sufficient strength for the structure” as well as concerns that a geo-tech survey was not done. He said now subterranean carbons have been discovered at the job-site.
“At the end of the day, we may have wasted another $4m entirely as the result of irresponsibility of the former administration,” he said.