Schools contractor slams PPM

The general contractor for the John Gray and Clifton Hunter high schools slammed the previous People’s Progressive Movement government in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Schools contrac-tor slams PPM

The gate is barred recently at the John Gray High School worksite barring out workers. Photo: Alan Markoff

The statement, issued by company spokesman David Legge, comes after Tom Jones International walked off the two jobs last Friday due to a dispute on the projects.

As confirmed in a statement issued by the government last week, the core of the current dispute is Tom Jones International’s perception that the government cannot afford to pay for the work on the schools.

‘While the government has continually stated that it has budgeted funds to complete the projects, a line item in a budget, in practical financial terms, means nothing,’ the press release stated.

The press release points to recent Cayman Islands budgets as evidence of ‘how wildly inaccurate’ the budget projections are, especially on the revenue side.

‘TJI, therefore, exercising its rights under the contract, asked government to provide assurance, in the form of a trust or payment bond, that it has the financial wherewithal to meet on time its financial obligations to complete the schools,’ the release stated. ‘Government has steadfastly refused to provide such assurances.’

Friday’s site walk-off was the second time Tom Jones International walked off the John Gray site. The company returned to work on that project the following week.

The press release said that despite the ‘back and forth’ on the schools projects, government’s role could be explained and understood with one simple fact: ‘It never had the resources to build these schools. What resources it did have, it managed poorly.’

The statement harshly criticised the PPM government and the former Ministry of Education.

‘The schools were part-a large part-of the previous administration’s spending spree that was ill-conceived, poorly executed, over-indulgent, and insufficiently funded,’ the statement said.

The Tom Jones International statement said the most important part of the building process was the initial planning, During initial planning discussions, a wish list with every conceivable ‘bell and whistle’ is put forward, the statement said.

‘However, in most instances, common sense prevails and this wish list is then scaled down to reflect reality-especially financial reality,’ stated the press release. ‘In the case of Cayman’s high schools, common sense never prevailed. The reconciliation between wishes and costs never took place.

‘In fact, as the project progressed, the wish list grew to include such desirable, but non-essential, items as a four-star gourmet kitchen and a state-of-the-art recording studio that would have been suitable for producing the Beatles greatest hits.’

The press release stated the Ministry of Education had made ’85 significant changes to their original plans for the two schools’, increasing the costs by approximately CI$17million.

‘Importantly, the Ministry never budgeted any funds for these changes or any other contingencies, including furniture and fixtures,’ the release stated. ‘Tom Jones International bid on one project and is being asked to build quite another, one that is far more costly.’

The statement also criticised the lack of a management until recently.

‘Astonishingly, at the beginning of these projects the Cayman Government employed a project manager, but he was gone before the first shovelful of dirt was scooped from the earth,’ the release stated. ‘The consequence of this has been catastrophic both to the government treasury and the projects.

‘Until the recent electorally-induced changes in the Ministry of Education, Tom Jones International had spent dozens of hours negotiating, explaining, and trying to educate the Education Ministry (notably former Minister Alden McLaughlin, Chief Officer Angela Martins, and advisor Vaughn Carter) on the timeline and cost consequences of their decisions.’

The statement said that in the 100 years the Tom Jones Group of Companies had been in business, it had never walked off a worksite before.

Tom Jones denied comments made by Minister of Education Rolston Anglin that indicated an agreement in principle had been reached with regard to funding for advance purchases that had been made.

‘[T]here was never an agreement in principle to this additional funding arrangement,’ the statement said. ‘Verbal discussions touched on an agreement for the advance payments, which would have been acceptable to TJI, but the government then drafted an agreement that sought to change the terms of the original contract.’

The statement indicated Tom Jones still wanted to get back on the job.

‘For clarity, it is the company’s desire to resolve the current issues with government and complete the projects,’ the press release said. ‘TJI has the ability, expertise and experience to finish these projects at a price that is tens of millions of dollars lower than the other on-island contractors.’

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