PAC port inquiry winding down

The Public Accounts Committee heard from three more witnesses Tuesday in its review of the auditor general’s special report on the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal capital project.

The witnesses included former Port Authority Chairman – and now Leader of the Opposition -McKeeva Bush, but not former Deputy Chairman – and now Cabinet Minister – Charles Clifford, as originally planned.

‘He said he was not going to testify,’ said PAC Chairman Osbourne Bodden of Mr. Clifford.

Hurlston Ltd., the company that constructed the upland portion of the project, also apparently declined to testify, although Mr. Bodden said there was still the possibility the company would appear before the committee.

Mr. Bodden explained that Hurlston had declined to testify because it claimed the Port Authority owed it $300,000 on the Royal Watler project and it wasn’t inclined to testify in the proceedings until the amount was paid.

PAC member Rolston Anglin said an outstanding debt shouldn’t allow Hurlston to decline to testify.

‘I think it would set a bad precedent for us to accept those kinds of excuses [for not testifying],’ he said.

Mr. Bodden noted that the PAC does have the ability to mandate the appearance of witnesses; however it had not wanted to go that route.

Later it was learned there had been communication to suggest Hurlston would be willing to testify, but its owner was off the island for Tuesday’s proceedings.

McKeeva Bush’s testimony

Mr. Bush testified there had been plans to build a new cruise terminal for some time, but that the project had been fraught with problems and delays.

‘The board [of directors] took the bull by the horns to get it done,’ he said. ‘The [Florida Caribbean Cruise Association] was continually pushing because their people were complaining.’

PAC member Alfonso Wright asked Mr. Bush why the Central Tenders Committee was bypassed in awarding the construction contracts.

‘I can’t remember all the details, but I do remember at some point there were discussions with the CTC,’ Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Anglin reminded the committee that earlier testimony had established that the CTC had indeed handled the initial bid, but it had difficulties in assessing the bids because of the design-build nature of the tenders. As a result, the Port Authority board authorised a tenders assessment committee to review the bids.

Mr. Wright said Mr. Bush, being a long-term member of the house, should have known the proper way to do things.

‘What justification can you give for being part of a decision to bypass the CTC and to make the decision to form a smaller committee when the CTC was having problems?’ he asked.

Mr. Bush defended the decision, stating the urgency of situation.

‘[The CTC] had a problem and in the public’s interest, I moved the project forward,’ he said, noting the decision was also approved by Cabinet and by the Port Authority board.

He became angry when Mr. Wright suggested the public’s funds had not safeguarded.

‘I believe the public got value for money,’ he said. ‘I said that before and I’ll say it again. You’re going to come here and say we weren’t safeguarding the public’s funds? The public’s money was safeguarded and we got a good deal.’

Mr. Anglin said the port board was made up of upstanding citizens and business leaders who had testified earlier they had acted on their own volition.

‘The board had more qualified people on it than the CTC would have ever had,’ he said. ‘The board carried out their function in a judicious manner and they safeguarded the public’s money.’

CGMJ architects

Also testifying Tuesday was Wil Steward on behalf of CGMJ Ltd., the architects that had done preliminary drawings and consultancy work on the Royal Watler Project.

Mr. Steward was asked why there was no formal contract between the Port Authority and CGMJ, and he said he thought there must have been some letter of engagement. However, many of the firm’s files were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Ivan and he could not find that letter of engagement in the reconstructed file.

The auditor general’s report had suggested CGMJ had been paid $173,886 for design work on the project. Mr. Steward, however, said that amount would have also included sums paid for design or consultancy work his company had done for the Port Authority on the South Terminal project and the West Bay cruise tender dock project.

CGMJ was suddenly terminated from the project in March 2001.

‘The termination letter was a complete surprise,’ Mr. Steward said.

The letter of termination was signed by Deputy Port Director Clement Reid and it stated that Mr. Bush had requested CGMJ Ltd. be terminated immediately. Mr. Wright pointed out that the Port board did not vote on the removal of CGMJ until July 2002.

Mr. Bush had said CGMJ was removed because it was not providing the project drawings fast enough. However, Mr. Bush also mentioned that CGMJ partner Arek Joseph’s wife had been one of the people getting signatures on a petition against the Royal Watler project.

Mr. Bush maintained it was Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts who recommended CGMJ Ltd. be hired for the project and that Mrs. Joseph’s involvement in the petition against the Royal Watler project came after Mr. Tibbetts was removed as leader of government business in November 2001.

McAlpine’s testimony

Ian Pairadeau, general manager of McAlpine Ltd. was the last to testify on Tuesday.

A McAlpine/Arch and Godfrey joint venture had apparently won the contract for the project at one time, with McAlpine scheduled to do the marine works.

However despite having a substantially lower bid and recommendations by the tender assessment committee, the board of directors and the project manager that the McAlpine/Arch and Godfrey joint venture be awarded the contract, it ultimately went to Hurlston Ltd. for the upland works and Misener Marine for the marine works.

After those recommendations, Project Manager Burns Conolly of the Burns Conolly Group asked the bidders for more information and conducted a detailed analysis of various aspects of the bids based on their responses.

Mr. Conolly produced a report that gave reasons why the McAlpine bid was rejected and Mr. Pairadeau was read those reasons by Mr. Bodden.

One of the reasons Mr. Conolly gave was that McAlpine had supposedly said it would need to use the port as a staging area, which would have disrupted cargo operations.

However, Mr. Pairadeau denied that claim, showing where he had responded to Mr. Conolly’s questionnaire that McAlpine did not need any staging area. In fact, McAlpine owned a piece of property nearby it was going to use only to lay down a one-week supply of sheet pilings.

‘I can’t see that as a reason not to give us the job,’ he said. ‘Misener used a big area [of the port] we would have never used.’

Mr. Pairadeau refuted every one of the reasons given by Mr. Conolly for not recommending McAlpine for the job.

‘In my opinion, none of those reasons are valid,’ he said, commenting specifically on one claim that McAlpine had not supplied enough documentation. ‘We had more documents on this bid than any other design and build bid we ever did.’

One of the concerns Mr. Bodden said Mr. Conolly expressed in his report concerned the amount of fill needed to reclaim land.

‘But that would have been at our own risk,’ Mr. Pairadeau said, adding the McAlpine/Arch and Godfrey tender had been a fixed-sum bid. ‘I don’t know what [Mr. Conolly’s] concern was. Did someone tell him it would have taken three times [our bid] amount? But that would have been at our risk one way or the other.’

Mr. Pairadeau acknowledged there had been an increase in scope in the marine works. He estimated there was an additional 40,000 square feet of reclaimed land, close to the one acre of additional reclaimed land Mr. Conolly said there had been.

Adjusting the McAlpine bid to account for the additional reclaimed land and other changes in scope, Mr. Pairadeau said his company could have done the marine works for the project for $6 million, much less than the $8.5 million Misener Marine charged.

Comments are closed.