Former and present Cayman Islands Port Authority board members found themselves in the middle of a political tussle last week during the Public Accounts Committee hearings to review the auditor general’s report on the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal construction project.
Five current Port Authority board members, including Chairman Wayne Panton, Port Director Paul Hurlston, Carlon Powery and Rayburn McLaughlin, and James ‘Sonny Boy’ Bodden were present for the testimony. All except for Mr. Panton were board members during the time period covered in the auditor general’s report.
Four former board members were also present, including Colford Scott, Frank Flowers, Rudolph Garvin and Joel Walton.
Wilbur ‘Bing’ Thompson, a Port Authority Board member at the time, was not present.
PAC Chairman Osbourne Bodden began the questioning by trying to ease the minds of the witnesses.
‘No one is on trial here,’ he said.
Contractor selection process
After some opening questions, the proceedings quickly turned to the process that was used to select the contractors for the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal project.
Testimony had already been given in the proceedings stating that the tendering process has been abandoned after the Central Tenders Committee had difficulty in comparing vastly differing design-build bids. After allowing the award of the repairs to the cargo pier – which had originally been part of the overall bid – to Misener Marine, the CTC asked for the Royal Watler part of the project be re-tendered.
However, that did not happen. Instead, a Tender Assessment Committee was formed, which included Project Manager Burns Conolly, Port Director Paul Hurlston, Deputy Port Director Clement Reid and Board Members Frank Flowers, Rayburn McLaughlin and Bing Thompson.
At some point, the Tender Assessment Committee recommended to the Port Authority Board that the contract be award to a joint venture with McAlpine doing the marine works and Arch & Godfrey doing the upland works.
The Port Authority Board, however, did not ratify that decision.
Mr. Garvin testified that to his knowledge, one of the sticking points was that McAlpine had said they were not capable of driving the sheet piling to the depth required.
‘My point of view was, if you bid on a contract, you have to do it to the specifications required,’ he said.
Mr. Flowers testified that the board relied heavily on the advice of the Burns Conolly Group in the matter.
‘We were given a consultant who was supposed to be experts if the field,’ he said, adding that the board came to unanimous decision on the matter.
‘There was no pressure from anyone to make the decision. We were guided by the project manager.’
Process a charade?
PAC member Alfonso Wright asked the board members if they were aware that there was written indication in June 2002 that the successful bidders – Misener Marine and Hurlstone Ltd. – would be awarded the contracts.
The contract award did not occur until September 2003.
‘It was a charade,’ said Mr. Wright. ‘Going thorough the bidding process was just that; a charade. The contractors had already been chosen.’
The board members testified they were all unaware of two letters written on the matter. The first, written by the Deputy Port Director advised Donal McGrath -a CGMJ Ltd. architect at the time – that Misener and Hurlstone had been selected as contractors ‘under the directions of Minister [McKeeva] Bush.
A handwritten note on the fax copy stated ‘Pls note that selection of contractors were chosen prior to the project being tendered’. Port Director Paul Hurlston said the note was written by Mr. Reid.
The second letter submitted as evidence was from Mr. McGrath to John Hurlstone of Hurlstone Ltd. advising him of the contract award.
Board Member Mr. Powery said the Port Authority management had not advised the board of the letters.
‘I’m not aware of management bringing these concerns to the board,’ he said. ‘I feel that if those concerns had been brought to the board, we would have acted on them.’
Port Director Paul Hurlston said he had only raised the issue with then Deputy Chairman Charles Clifford.
PAC Chairman Osbourne Bodden asked the board if they felt they had been taken advantage of.
‘Obviously, the decision had already been taken,’ he said. ‘This is proof that a decision had already been taken and the whole process was just a charade to make the people think the proper procedures were followed.’
Current Port Chairman Wayne Panton said it was clear from the testimony that there were certain things done without the knowledge of the board. He said that as long as there were strong-willed, forceful people acting as chairman, there could be problems with the system.
Board member Mr. Garvin took offence to Mr. Panton’s remarks because he thought they insinuated Mr. Bush had pushed the board into decisions.
‘I have never been strong-armed into anything in my life,’ he said. Mr. Panton responded by saying he was merely giving an example and he didn’t mean to imply anything by it.
After the board directors left and the PAC broke for lunch, PAC member Cline Glidden brought to the attention of the committee Port Authority board minutes from 18 July, 2002, that indicated all of the board members had known about the plan to award Misener and Hurlstone the construction contract.
‘And yet none of the directors recalled this,’ Mr. Glidden pointed out.
This was not the only case where one of the board members could not accurately recall what had happened back in 2002 or 2003. Mr. Flowers asked to take back the statement he had made earlier that the board had unanimously approved the award of the contract to Hurlstone and Misener in September 2003 because the minutes showed he was not present at the meeting. Mr. Flowers noted that he was getting old and his memory wasn’t what it used to be.
Mr. Bodden understood of the faulty recollections of the board members.
‘We can’t blame them,’ he said. ‘We’re talking about 2002. Who of us can remember where we were and what we did back then?’
The 14-month gap
What had transpired between the initial award of the contract to Misener and Hurlstone in July 2002 and the ultimate award of the contract in September 2003 was discussed.
Port Director Paul Hurlston, who has also served as Secretary of the Port Authority Board since 2001, said that after the initial award of the contract, the board changed its mind.
‘The decision was taken afterwards that the proper process was to put this out to tenders,’ he said.
Mr. Glidden then commented on the remarks made earlier in the day.
‘So basically, it wasn’t a charade,’ he said, expressing concerns that the board members had left from the morning session with a feeling they had been duped.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush, who is expected to testify later in the hearings, was in attendance for part of the earlier proceedings. He remarked that there seemed to be an effort to prove he had done something wrong as Chairman of the Port Authority with regard to the Royal Watler project.
He did not deny that he had earlier tried to award the project to Hurlstone and Misener, stating that he did not wish to see McAlpine get the bid because of problems with a previous government project.
‘Yes, [Misener and Hurlstone] were a preference of mine and I would have told the board about that,’ he said. ‘The important thing to remember is that nothing took place until the processes that the board wanted took place. We only awarded the contract after the board had dealt with it.’
The tendering process and subsequent Tender Assessment Committee process took more than a year, Mr. Bush pointed out.