Gov’t: Schools paid up

All current payments due on the construction of the new John Gray High School in George Town had been made as of Wednesday, according to Cayman Islands Education Minister Rolston Anglin.

Mr. Anglin told the Caymanian Compass during a telephone interview Wednesday morning that there was no reason he knew of that the project contractor, Tom Jones International, should not be back at work.

Construction workers left the site in George Town last Friday a week after receiving job termination notices.

Following the site closure, Tom Jones International President Hunter Jones said his company simply could not afford to fund the school construction project itself.

‘We are a construction company, not a bank,’ Mr. Jones said.

One of the major funding issues, the repayment of a CI$5.4 million ‘bridging loan’ that was accessed by Tom Jones earlier this year, was taken care of yesterday, Mr. Anglin said.

‘We have paid that money to Scotiabank,’ Mr. Anglin said. ‘There’s nothing else that’s currently due today (Wednesday).’

The loan agreement, which has been described by several sources involved in the schools’ construction project as ‘unusual’ and ‘convoluted’ was put in place by the previous People’s Progressive Movement government administration.

Under the deal, Tom Jones International agreed to secure a short-term line of credit for US$12 million from the bank to purchase equipment and materials from overseas and fund various project change orders.

The change orders were needed, according to Mr. Jones, because ‘government had not secured proper financing.’

The government, in return, agreed to send a letter of comfort to the bank to assist in setting up the loan facility. On Tuesday, Tom Jones International representatives said that the repayment on that loan facility (some CI$5.3 million by their estimation) had not been made.

Company officials also admitted that the arrangement itself was out of ordinary.

‘It was highly unusual for us to take out a bank loan to, in effect, pay ourselves,’ Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Anglin declined to comment on the details of the funding arrangement set up by the previous government. A spokesperson for Tom Jones International was preparing a response to Mr. Anglin’s statements at press time Wednesday.

Another funding issue at the John Gray school site involves a CI$3.64 million payment that Tom Jones officials said was due on 10 September. Government representatives have previously said that amount was not due until 10 October.

A Tom Jones representative called government statements about the deadline actually being 10 October ‘nonsense.’

‘Government, in recent days, has asserted for the first time that (Tom Jones) was one day late in submitting its application for payment last July and therefore, its funds are not due until Oct. 10,’ a statement from the company read. ‘(Tom Jones) strongly refutes government’s position.’

Mr. Anglin expressed some disappointment about statements made to the press regarding the schools construction project by the contractor.

‘It is unfortunate that the information shared with the public to date has been so selective,’ he said.

Mr. Jones, in a paid advertisement published by the Compass Tuesday, said that government had ‘worked diligently’ to resolve issues on the schools project, which he blamed largely on the previous government. The company stated that it remained hopeful the contract disputes can be ironed out.