Cabinet Minister Arden McLean declined to answer a query in Finance Committee posed by Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush on Monday about the situation with the company awarded the contract to remove scrap metal from the George Town Landfill.
Mr. Bush later called Mr. McLean’s refusal to answer the question about Matrix International ‘a national disgrace’.
‘This is a government that talks about openness and transparency?’ he asked.
When Mr. Bush asked the question during the sitting of Finance Committee to approve the 6th Supplementary Annual Plan and Estimates for the financial year ending 30 June 2007, Mr. McLean stated that the question fell outside of what could be asked because the time period of the financial year fell ‘prior to this country entering into a contract with Matrix’.
However, according to a statement Mr. McLean read in the Legislative Assembly in March of this year, the contract to remove scrap metal from the landfill was tendered in November 2006. The contract was awarded by the Central Tenders Committee in December 2006, although the contract was not signed immediately.
A press release later issued by Government Information Services stated the contract was signed on 19 March 2007. The commencement of the contract therefore fell within the 2006/07 financial year.
‘I knew from then he was dodging something,’ Mr. Bush said of Mr. McLean’s response.
Had he been able to receive answers to the questions, Mr. Bush said he would have asked Mr. McLean about several aspects of the contract.
‘One of the things I would have asked is did they check the background of [the Matrix] people.’
Matrix has had difficulties fulfilling the contract it signed with government. There was also a long delay in starting the debris removal process.
The Cayman company that was awarded the scrap metal removal contract, Matrix International, is 60 per cent Caymanian owned. The other 40 per cent is owned by Canadian Bruce Young.
When he spoke with the Caymanian Compass in September, Mr. Young blamed the government for some of the problems with performing on the scrap metal removal contract.
‘The bid was accepted in December and I came down to Cayman to begin work,’ he said at the time. ‘It then took Government three months to complete and sign the contract and I was losing money every day.’
Mr. Young said equipment failures at the landfill also hindered his timeline.
‘The government baler that is supposed to process scrap metal has only worked 23 out of 178 days,’ he said. ‘They get it working for a few days and then it breaks down again.’
Matrix owes money to a number of Caymanian companies with which it did business. Mr. Young admitted as much in September.
‘I came down here with $1.2 million and I have gone through every bit of it,’ he said. ‘I have now got a bit behind, but I can’t pay when I don’t have any money.’
Three companies contacted by the Caymanian Compass confirmed they are owed money by Matrix, including A1 Rentals, Island Paving and Mack & Son Trucking.
Mr. Bush said he intended to ask the Auditor General if he was going to look into the Matrix contract.
‘I’ll be writing him about that this week,’ he said.
Auditor General Dan Duguay, who was in the gallery during Finance Committee, said the situation with the Matrix contract was something he would monitor, but that it was not something his office was likely to look into that this point.
‘It does no good to get the Auditor General involved too early in the process,’ he said. ‘If there is a problem, we want to allow the people involved a chance to resolve it.’
Mr. Duguay said that at this point his interest wasn’t so much about the award of the contract, but the way it has been managed.
‘If the reports are true, it doesn’t look like it’s been managed well,’ he said, adding that it appears from what has been said in the press that Matrix was able to take all the high-value scrap metal out of the country without the government getting paid for it.
Mr. Duguay said part of the problem could be a lack of systems in place to deal with a contract of the nature of the one with Matrix. However, he did not want to rush to any judgments.
‘I don’t have any hard evidence [the government] is not going to get the money it’s owed,’ he said.
The Government, for its part, isn’t saying much about the situation. The Ministry of Communications, Works and Infrastructure did not respond to requests for comments by the Caymanian Compass.
When Mr. McLean refused to answer Mr. Bush’s query about Matrix in Finance Committee, Mr. Bush pointed out that maybe he would answer the Parliamentary Question on the subject that has been submitted to the House.
Mr. Bush said it was frustrating not being able to get Parliamentary Questions answered. One about the Cayman Development Bank has been left unanswered since 2005, he said.
‘We can’t do the people’s business efficiently without information,’ he said. ‘It’s absolutely ridiculous that we can’t get the answers to questions, even in Finance Committee.’