The scrap metal Matrix International Ltd. failed to remove from the island is being re-tendered. The invitation to tender advertisement appeared in the Caymanian Compass Friday.
‘The primary focus is to get rid of it and to get paid some value,’ Minister of Communications, Works and Infrastructure Arden McLean said in Finance Committee last week.
The announcement was made in response to questions asked about the Matrix contract.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush asked Mr. McLean a number of questions concerning the contract, including ones about the value of scrap metal taken off the island by Matrix; the value of the scrap metal remaining at the George Town Landfill; and the quality of the metal remaining.
Mr. Bush asked whether it was true Matrix had ‘cherry picked’ the best scrap metal and left inferior materials of little value.
‘No,’ said Mr. McLean. ‘That’s not the information I have. There is value in what is left there.’
With regard to the monetary value of what was left at the landfill, Mr. McLean said that since government was in the process of putting its removal out to tender, if he gave a value figure it might prejudice what someone would bid to remove it.
The invitation to tender includes not only the scrap metal Matrix had contracted to take but did not, but also more scrap metal that has come in since.
Mr. McLean said Matrix took 6,500 tons of scrap metal, for which it paid $310,000. It was supposed to pay $1.25 million for all the scrap metal at the landfill at the time of its contract. However, Matrix ran into problems and never removed all the scrap metal it was supposed to.
‘The contract was terminated and Matrix declared in default,’ said Mr. McLean. ‘[The matter] is currently being reviewed from a legal perspective.’
Mr. Bush asked if the government was going to sue Matrix, which is a local company.
‘I didn’t say we were suing,’ Mr. McLean responded. ‘I said government will likely have legal proceedings.’
Mr. McLean said government would likely seek all of the money Matrix contracted to pay but did not. MLA Julianna O’Connor-Connolly questioned that because of the fact government was now re-tendering the sale of the same scrap metal.
Mr. Bush asked if anyone in government monitored what Matrix was doing as it removed scrap metal from the landfill.
‘The contract didn’t require us to monitor them, except that [Matrix] couldn’t take what they weren’t supposed to,’ Mr. McLean said, explaining that a section of the landfill had been identified as what Matrix could take.
MLA Cline Glidden asked why, if there was so much value in the scrap metal, Matrix didn’t follow through with its contract.
‘I believe with all that is in me that Matrix wanted to do a good job,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘I genuinely think they underestimated the cost of doing business here.’
Mr. Bush asked Mr. McLean if he knew at what price Matrix sold the scrap metal it removed, but Mr. McLean said that was not his business.
Even though Matrix did not complete the removal of the scrap metal, Mr. McLean said the government was about $12,000 to $15,000 ‘on top right now, based on what value we had in it for the processing and the like.’
Mr. Bush also asked if Mr. McLean believed government had a responsibility to compensate the losses of the subcontractors Matrix had engaged to help them haul the scrap metal to the cargo dock. Many of the subcontractors are still owed money for their work by Matrix.
‘Don’t you think government had some responsibility to ensure people got paid and [Matrix] just didn’t run off?’ Mr. Bush asked.
‘No one ran off,’ Mr. McLean responded. ‘[Matrix] is a local company.’
Mr. Bush said he thought government had a duty to assist the local people who lost money when the project fell apart.
Mr. McLean disagreed.
‘I fail to see the responsibility a third party would have in a contract between two companies,’ he said.
‘Government is not just a third party,’ Mr. Bush responded, adding that government had created the problem by giving a contract to Matrix. ‘I think government is part and parcel of that.’
Mr. Bush said the government had an obligation to the public to check the backgrounds of the people it gives contracts to.
Mr. McLean pointed out that he did not sign the contract.
‘I have no obligation to dig up anyone’s personal records,’ he said. ‘That is the responsibility of the [Central Tenders Committee].
Mr. Bush objected to Mr. McLean’s attempt to deflect responsibility.
‘He can’t sidestep the issue by saying he didn’t sign the contract or he didn’t know,’ he said.
Mr. McLean said the decision to award the contract to Matrix was made by Cabinet, based on his advice to give the contract to the highest bidder.
Although it is locally incorporated, Matrix has some foreign ownership that provided expertise. That expertise, however, has been called into question since the contract defaulted.
The Matrix contract caused a lot of controversy because another company – entirely Caymanian owned – also bid on the scrap metal removal. That bid was only $50,000 less than the Matrix bid at $1.2 million.
The deadline for the new tender is 27 June.