Bush, McLaughlin spar in LA
Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush was accused of establishing a ‘slush fund’ when he revealed he planned to pay money to Matrix sub-contractors from a new programme being set up under his new ministry as premier.
In a Finance Committee meeting last week, Mr. Bush revealed that a group of sub-contractors who say they are out of pocket due to the failed Matrix contract would be paid out of a new ‘Nation Building and Church-based Support’ programme.
The programme has a $2.4 million budget for the 2009/10 financial year. Mr. Bush said $400,000 of that fund was earmarked for sub-contractors who say they are owed that much from Matrix International.
But Opposition MLA Alden McLaughlin said none of the intended recipients of the programme were mentioned in the government’s annual estimates document being scrutinised by the Finance Committee.
‘Would the minister agree with me that probably a more appropriate name would be the premier’s slush fund?’ Mr. McLaughlin asked.
Mr. Bush angrily responded: ‘It is not a slush fund. If he wants to call the churches slush, that’s his problem. If he wants to term the young people of this country slush, that’s his problem… This is a good programme. I believe we are trying to make some headway in nation building.’
Matrix signed a contract to remove scrap metal from the George Town landfill in March 2007 and agreed to pay the government $1.25 million for the scrap. It removed about 6,500 tons from the dump and paid the government only $310,000 before the contract was declared in default.
The company hired sub-contractors to help transport the scrap from Mount Trashmore to the port, but many claim they were not paid everything owed for the work.
Mr. Bush said of the new programme, ‘$400,000 out of this is for the Matrix fiasco, for the small businesses that have suffered in this country…
‘It is the moral thing to do after a government benefited but left their people in the lurch with the Matrix contract. Small businesses have practically gone under, if some have not failed. And therefore in spite of the situation we have, we are budgeting for that in this coming year.’
Mr. Bush added that much of the rest of the money budgeted would be given to churches as grants to fund after-school programmes and also fund a community-based group that would identify and encourage talented and bright youngsters and help them gain entry to top universities overseas.
Mr. McLaughlin responded: ‘We have already been advised there is $400,000 to be allocated to something which is not described under this section of the budget and Lord only knows what other things are going to be used as reasons to spend this particular money. That’s my concern.’
He also queried why a separate programme for young people should be necessary under another ministry, when there were already ministries that dealt with sports, youth and community affairs.
Mr. Bush insisted there would be no duplication or triplication of efforts or funds by keeping this programme within the premier’s office because it was essentially a grant to help build the nation and that taking a holistic approach to the development of children would play a major part in this.