The Electricity Regulatory Authority believes an independent investigation will demonstrate that the bidding process to provide new power generation in the Cayman Islands was free from corruption.
The ERA announced on Friday that an investigation would take place following a string of allegations made by its outspoken former director Joey Ebanks in the wake of his suspension last month.
The authority has indicated that it will seek to recover costs of the taxpayer-funded inquiry from Mr. Ebanks if his claims prove to be without substance.
Mr. Ebanks welcomed the news that his allegations were being considered, but questioned whether the investigation would be fair and truly independent. He is asking for a three-man panel to be established made up of qualified individuals selected by Governor Duncan Taylor, the ERA and himself.
Mr. Ebanks said on Friday that he would decline to cooperate with an investigation unless those conditions were met, citing fears that it would be a whitewash.
The ERA has said it intends to hire an independent firm – likely to be an accounting or consulting company – to conduct the inquiry.
Louis Boucher, acting managing director of the ERA, said he expected the investigation would provide reassurance to the public that the bid process was open, transparent and free from corruption.
DECCO Ltd. won the contract in February to provide an additional 36 megawatts of power to Grand Cayman through new diesel generators following a tender process. There were two other bidders for the contract – Caribbean Utilities Company and Navasota.
When the decision was announced it was hailed as a landmark deal that would inject competition into the electricity sector and stabilise prices in the long term.
Mr. Ebanks, who was head of the ERA at the time, called it a “game changer”.
He was later suspended from his role and arrested amid a police corruption probe, said to be unrelated to the power generation bidding process. He has not been charged with any offence and maintains his innocence.
Since his suspension, Mr. Ebanks has made several postings on his Facebook page alleging irregularities with the power deal. He has also posted documents he cites as evidence and suggested his suspension was related to anomalies in the bid process.
Mr. Boucher said he expected the inquiry would provide reassurance to the public and the companies involved that this was not the case.
“I expect this will clear up any allegations that have been made and show that the ERA was transparent in its evaluation of the bids,” he said.
In a statement on Friday, the ERA board of directors said Mr. Ebanks had not expressed any concerns about the bid until after his suspension on 2 March. “The 36MW bid was awarded by the board to DECCO on 9 February on the recommendation and with the full support of the former managing director as well as the entire ERA team,” the statement read.
The statement added that the board had a “duty to the bidders and the general public to cause an investigation to be undertaken” in light of the allegations. The board also said it would seek compensation if the allegations proved to be unfounded.
“In the event that it is confirmed to the board that the bid process was open and transparent and there were no irregularities, the board will take whatever actions necessary to recover the costs and expenditure of public funds on this investigation,” the statement read. “In the event that irregularities are found they will be reported to the appropriate authorities.”
The statement also stressed that Mr. Ebanks’ suspension was unrelated to the power-generation bidding process and was connected to concerns over financial irregularities uncovered by the auditor general, which are now the subject of a police investigation.
Mr. Ebanks said any investigation needed to be truly independent because there was “no trust” between the parties.
“I want the whole thing investigated,” he said. “The evidence is there, but I am only going to cooperate if there is a truly independent panel.”
“I expect this will clear up any allegations that have been made and show that the ERA was transparent in its evaluation of the bids.” LOUIS BOUCHER