National Roads Authority Managing Director Brian Tomlinson issued a stern warning to all NRA staff last week not to do any favours for political candidates.
The memorandum came after an NRA truck was used to water down a privately owned vacant lot used for the People’s Progressive Movement’s national campaign launch Tuesday 7 April.
Mr. Tomolinson sent the memorandum, a copy of which has been obtained by the Caymanian Compass, on 8 April. The listed subject of the memorandum was ‘Requests from Political Candidates’ and it was copied to the Ministry of Communications, Works and Infrastructure.
The memorandum began by Mr. Tomlinson stating that on 27 March, at the NRA engineering and operations meeting, he had spoken about using NRA resources in response to requests from political candidates during election season.
‘I made it very clear that under no circumstances was anyone to do any favour for any political candidate with NRA equipment, labour or materials,’ he said.
Mr. Tomlinson went on to say that on 6 April, photographs were taken of an NRA vacuum truck/water truck watering down the vacant lot north of the Compass Centre on North Sound Road, where the PPM’s national campaign launch was held.
‘Please be advised that during this election season someone from the press or a political party is watching every operation that government departments and statutory authorities make,’ Mr. Tomlinson said in the memorandum. ‘To repeat what I told the supervisors and management staff on the morning of 27 March, 2009, under no circumstance is anyone to do any favour for any political candidate with NRA equipment, labour or materials.
‘Anyone caught doing so will be reprimanded to the extent of the Labour Law.’
The memorandum was issued in response to enquiries from the Caymanian Compass, but before an article about the matter appeared on the front page of the 9 April newspaper.
Although Mr. Tomlinson was not aware that a NRA truck had been used to water the vacant lot when he was first contacted, after some investigation, he later said he had found out from the NRA’s superintendent what had happened.
‘We have a standing gentleman’s agreement with Island Paving Ltd. that if our water truck breaks down, they help us out with theirs, and vice-versa,’ he said. ‘Monday, an IPL employee called our superintendent and told him that their water truck broke down and asked for assistance. Our superintendent innocently responded as he had many times before and obliged by loaning them the water truck, not knowing it was going to such a high-profile location.’
Island Paving Ltd. Managing Director Barry Bodden said Wednesday said he did not know what transpired with the incident.
‘Honestly, I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I know one of my supervisors was involved in an arrangement for a water truck.’
Although Mr. Bodden said the NRA does at times use IPL’s equipment and vice-versa, it is not a loan arrangement.
‘Sure, we’ve done that, but I suppose borrow might not be the right term technically,’ he said. ‘If [the NRA] need a certain piece of our equipment, they rent it from us.’
Mr. Bodden said such arrangement would normally be arranged with purchase orders.
Island Paving actually has two water trucks, and that one was under repairs, Mr. Bodden said. However, he could not say for sure what the state of repair was on the other water truck last week.
‘I’ll certainly speak to my supervisor and find out,’ he said.
Advanced Road Construction and Paving Managing Director Mark Scotland, who is running for political office in Bodden Town as a United Democratic Party candidate, agreed the NRA sometimes uses his company’s equipment and that the arrangement has worked both ways. However, he said it was done under a rental agreement.
‘I don’t think it happened the way they’re saying,’ Mr. Scotland said of the recent NRA water truck incident.
Mr. Scotland, who before entering the private sector headed up the Public Works Roads Division, said he could not think of a single instance where government equipment, manpower and resources were loaned on an informal agreement to a private sector entity.
‘No way; never,’ he said, adding that the questions of whose employee was driving the truck and whose water was in the truck were both good questions.
Leader of the Opposition and UDP candidate in West Bay McKeeva Bush called for an internal investigation into what he called a ‘misappropriation of public resources’ following the incident.
‘The PPM and the Minister for Works Arden McLean need to come clean on this blatant misuse of the public’s funds,’ he said in a written statement. ‘At a time when the government is facing the largest operational deficit in its history and with reckless overspending, this new revelation is just the last straw.’
Mr Bush said he will be writing a letter to the Complaints Commissioner’s Office and to the Office of the Governor about the matter.
‘The public needs to know exactly who gave this instruction to NRA staff to prepare this site, and we will not accept any scapegoats in this instance,’ he said.
Minister of Works Arden McLean said he knew nothing of the incident whatsoever when contacted last week and added that he did not request the watering of the PPM meeting site with NRA assets.