Beset by financial woes and talk of mass layoffs, the National Roads Authority has enough funding to take it through this budget year that ends 30 June.
“We’re good. We’re viable to the end of the year,” acting managing director Paul Parchment said.
Some four months ago, the authority submitted a comprehensive report to the overseeing Ministry of District Administration, Lands, Works and Agriculture, containing recommendations on how to run the authority in the future. However, the authority has not yet received a response from the ministry, Mr. Parchment said.
The authority’s budget for the 2012/2013 year, as laid out in the Annual Plan and Estimates, is $6 million. Last year’s budget was $8.3 million.
“As a result of the 2012/13 budget cuts, the NRA board and management submitted a comprehensive report to the ministry that included our recommendations for right-sizing the NRA to make the authority more efficient and effective going forward. This broad based plan was submitted in October 2012 and is currently under consideration by the ministry; however, until we have received further policy directives from our ministry, it would not be prudent to comment further,” he said.
As of press time, the ministry had not responded to the Caymanian Compass’ request for comment.
Mr. Parchment said lack of funds restricted the authority’s activities during the first six months of the budget year, July through December 2012.
“The NRA performed strictly routine maintenance activities for the first six months of the budget year. As of 30 January, we have officially commenced our complete annual works programme, which includes continuing our routine and periodic maintenance activities, and commencing with the following programs: storm water management (new drain installations), a limited Hot Mix Asphalt Paving Program, and upgrading various district roads. This has been made possible because of our Ministry’s diligent efforts to bring our accounts current,” he said.
Mr. Parchment did not disclose how much money the government owed the authority before it paid its bills. However, as of mid-December 2011, central government had owed the authority some $2.5 million, according to records provided by authority at the time.
Money from Cabinet
In response to a Freedom of Information Law request, the authority recently provided the Compass with minutes from its board of directors meetings during the last half of 2012.
The minutes of the board’s 9 October meeting include a significant portion that is redacted, citing a reference to a section of the FOI Law that exempts records from disclosure if they contain “opinions, advice or recommendations prepared for” Cabinet.
Following the redacted portion, the board “suggested that management obtain a written confirmation how the funds provided in EA36 are to be utilised”.
EA36 refers to an item in Cabinet’s budget for “Miscellaneous Road Surface Upgrades” totalling $3 million, according to the 2012/13 Annual Plan and Estimates.
According to the board minutes, “The proposed document is to be done in letter format, not too long and to include the above mentioned suggestions. This is to be compiled by management with the board’s approval and presented to the ministry as soon as possible (possibly by Friday, 12 October, 2012)”.
‘Urgently requested proposal’
According to the minutes of the board’s 11 December meeting, “It was noted that the financial status of the NRA is OK until the mid to end of January 2013. Management is currently awaiting a response from the ministry in regards to an urgently requested proposal on revamping the NRA forward.”
In March 2012, then-Premier McKeeva Bush told the Legislative Assembly’s finance committee that during the 2011/2012 fiscal year, then-Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly determined the authority may be transformed into a regulatory authority at some future stage and could function at half its operating costs.
‘Seeking employment elsewhere’
Last fall, rumours swirled that up to half of the authority’s about 110 employees could lose their jobs. In response, Ms O’Connor-Connolly (who is in charge of the ministry overseeing the authority) personally assured staff that there would be no compulsory redundancies.
Despite Ms O’Connor-Connolly’s statements, the board minutes indicate that worries still pervaded the authority’s ranks.
According to the minutes of the board’s 11 December meeting, “In regards to the anonymous list of names (allegedly of employees for dismissal) that was recently posted at the rear of the compound (storage shed), on investigation it was noted that there are no security cameras posted at that section of the compound, therefore no information on who posted it could be obtained from that source.”
According to the minutes, “In regards to the general morale and mood of the staff, it was noted that most employees are unsure of their work status and some employees are actively seeking employment elsewhere.”
Mr. Parchment said staff morale has improved since December, as the authority was able to begin projects again.
“Morale is better. Speaking from a management perspective, there is still relative uncertainty with regard to the future funding issues of the authority. However, as these issues are addressed and concluded the morale of the staff will continue to improve because at least our folks will know where their futures lie,” he said.
On the other hand, at least one former employee apparently isn’t happy with the authority – former managing director Brian Tomlinson whose tenure was ended by the board 29 June, five months before his contract was set to end.
According to the minutes of the 11 December meeting, the authority received a letter from the Department of Labour and Pensions regarding a complaint filed by Mr. Tomlinson.
“The letter stated that the former MD is claiming for unfair dismissal on the grounds that after reviewing Section 51 A-F none of the subsections could be used in terminating him.”
Section 51 of the Labour Law sets the standards for whether a dismissal is “unfair” or “for good cause”.
According to the minutes, Mr. Tomlinson was also of the opinion that the authority acted unfairly when it decided to extend the retirement age of all other Caymanian contract employees to coincide with their contracts, but did not make the same change in regard to himself.
The Department of Pensions and Labour requested materials from the authority and “will consider both arguments presented and may make a recommendation for amicable settlement by means of conciliation and mediation,” according to the minutes.