A company hired to remove scrap metal from the George Town Landfill owes the Cayman Islands government nearly $1 million, apart from whatever cash the company’s subcontractors claim they were not paid.
Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean also revealed Wednesday that 45 per cent of the original amount of mixed metals Matrix International Ltd. was slated to remove remains at the landfill. Mr. McLean said most of the scrap has already been separated, sorted into piles and made ready for baling.
Government has received just $310,000 of its $1.25 million contract with Matrix, which signed the scrap removal agreement in March with the intention of selling the materials it procured from the landfill. Mr. McLean said that contract remains in effect through mid-March 2008, and the minister said he’d received no indication that Matrix simply does not intend to pay.
‘The ministry staff and I are currently in discussions with the principals of Matrix International Ltd. in an effort to assist with alleviating some of the difficulties they are experiencing in order to get this contract back on track,’ Mr. McLean told the Legislative Assembly Wednesday night.
At least three companies contacted by the Caymanian Compass have confirmed they are owed money by Matrix for subcontracting work.
Mr. McLean said as of Wednesday only two Matrix subcontractors had contacted him about problems with the scrap metal deal, and none had filed formal complaints with either the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure or the Department of Environmental Health.
‘If a subcontractor was hired by Matrix, then I would suspect that Matrix has an obligation to pay the subcontractors for works completed,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘At this time we do not see a reason why the government should make payments to, or settle the debts of, any of the subcontractors based on a default of Matrix International Ltd.’
He also denied earlier claims that government was snubbing the subcontractors.
‘I have not refused to meet with the subcontractors and will do so whenever asked,’ he added.
Matrix, which is 60 per cent Caymanian-owned and 40 per cent owned by Canadian Bruce Young, was declared in default on the scrap metal contract 19 September. On 2 November, the government temporarily suspended all operations of Matrix at the landfill and demanded full payment.
A $500-per-day penalty would be applied for late payments, according to Mr. McLean.
In previous interviews with the Compass, Mr. Young blamed government for some of the problems his company has dealt with on the contract.
Mr. Young said it took the government three months to sign the contract after it was awarded. He also said repeated break-downs have plagued the scrap metal baler, which belongs to the government, and have slowed things up on the job site.
‘The government baler — has only worked 23 out of 178 days,’ Mr. Young said in September. By that time, he said the company had gone through its initial cash and had gotten somewhat behind on payments.
Mr. McLean said in previous meetings with Matrix officials, government was told the company was unable to pay on its $1.25 million contract because it was trying to settle up with the subcontractors.
‘The reason why government wasn’t being paid is because we were advised they were using the money to pay their subcontractors,’ he said.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush has previously criticised the government for not responding to some of his questions about the Matrix contract, and has urged them to hire another company to complete the scrap metal removal.
‘Why?’ Mr. McLean rhetorically asked on Wednesday. ‘By going down that avenue, little or nothing may go toward those persons and companies already owed money by Matrix International Ltd.’
Mr. Bush was off island Wednesday evening when Mr. McLean responded to two parliamentary questions from Opposition MLA Captain Eugene Ebanks on the subject, and read a lengthy statement about the situation with the scrap metal contract.
The opposition leader had attempted to ask questions about the Matrix contract last week during finance committee proceedings, but Mr. McLean refused to answer at that time.
Mr. Bush called the refusal ‘a national disgrace.’ He also asked Cayman Islands Auditor General Dan Duguay to review the scrap metal contract.
Mr. Duguay said he wanted to give the parties involved a chance to resolve the issue before pursuing it.
‘I don’t have any evidence the government is not going to get the money it’s owed,’ Mr. Duguay said. (see Compass, 23 November)
Minister McLean said the earlier comments by Mr. Bush were politically motivated, and an effort to distract the public from ‘his shortcomings.’
‘It appears that his attempt is to try to make the people of this country think that I am involved with something untoward with the contract between government and Matrix International Ltd.’ Mr. McLean said. ‘No one can accuse me of any intentional wrong-doing, least of all him.’