By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
UNDER the Christie administration, public/private partnerships were not coordinated through the Ministry of Works and were allowed to begin without technical experts at the ministry weighing in on a number of matters relating to them, Works Minister Desmond Bannister said Monday.
He also revealed that during his term as deputy prime minister and minister of works, Philip “Brave” Davis warned former Prime Minister Perry Christie in a letter that members of Parliament were “authorising contractors to undertake capital and property maintenance works” to be paid by his ministry without the Ministry of Works’ consideration and approval.
Mr Bannister told Parliament that in the letter, Mr Davis warned Mr Christie of the consequences of such action.
The Carmichael MP highlighted these as examples of how disorganised the government was run by his predecessors as he made the case that there could be cause to pursue legal action against members of the former government for misfeasance.
“…It seems that everyone was doing their own thing, just as we alleged,” he said. “...They were an undisciplined group of free agents doing whatever they wanted to do…”
The Christie administration embraced public/private partnerships as a way of financing infrastructural work. It was often touted as a novel approach of the previous government.
But despite the focus on construction in such partnerships, Mr Bannister revealed that because these projects were not coordinated through the Ministry of Works, he has been unable to obtain public/private partnership (PPP) contracts through official sources in his ministry and had to obtain at least two from sources outside the ministry.
“Why the secrecy?” he asked. “The Ministry of Public Works is the government agency that is charged by law with the responsibility with protecting the Bahamian public in these construction ventures. It is regrettable that the highly competent professionals in my ministry were not permitted to be involved in negotiating the contract; agreeing to the contractors; or reviewing and evaluating the scope of works or priced bill of quantities.”
In the case of two public/private partnership ventures, Mr Bannister said he stopped one and Mr Davis had to stop the other.
The project stopped by Mr Davis was the construction of a new post office at the Independence Shopping Centre opposite AF Adderley Junior High School.
Expressing empathy for the person the former administration entered into the partnership with, Mr Bannister said: “It is inconceivable that the former administration put him in the position that it did.
“They directed that the project go on, and permitted millions of dollars of our money to be jeopardised despite the fact that there were no approved plans or building permit for this construction.
“Technical officers of the Ministry of Public Works had advised the former administration that a traffic impact study was required; a proper site assessment should have been completed to see whether there was any possible ground contamination from the nearby gas station; environmental and social assessments were required together with the submission of design details to the relevant governmental agencies for review. None of this was done, yet persons in government authorised the project to proceed and in the process bypassed the Ministry of Works.”
Mr Bannister said a preliminary application for a building permit was made only after a notice was issued demanding that the work be stopped until a permit was applied for.
“The application was deficient, but the work still went on even after a second notice was served,” he said. “The work has stopped until the Ministry of Public Works is satisfied that there is full compliance with the law.”
So far, more than $3m in taxpayer money has been expended through the now stalled project.
Mr Bannister said Mr Davis can’t help the new administration understand the problems concerning PPPs, because starting in 2015 he was stripped of the power that would have allowed his ministry to have a say in such matters.
“His own people started taking power away from him,” Mr Bannister said Monday. “Took all the roadside and park contracts. Didn’t let him know about the public/private partnerships. Cat Island has got to be feeling good that he’s back here while the fella who stripped him is gone. Mr Speaker, I know I won’t hear a point of order on that!”
A source told The Tribune that PPPs were managed through the Ministry of Finance under the Christie administration.