Former education minister Rolston Anglin interfered in process, auditor general finds
The government’s schools building projects had cost overruns of at least $25 million, and former education minister Rolston Anglin interfered “to a highly inappropriate degree” in the procurement process, according to a report from the Office of the Auditor General released on Tuesday.
The report examines the capital projects to plan and build three high schools and expand several primary schools. Only one of the high schools – Clifton Hunter – has opened, at almost double the cost of the proposal. The primary schools project ran over budget by more than a third.
“Government has spent far more than it should have and got far less than it wanted when it originally decided to build the new high schools and additional classrooms,” Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said during a press conference Tuesday.
He added that the “audit was delayed significantly by a lack of cooperation” from education ministry staff.
Mr. Swarbrick said the ministry “lacked formal record keeping of the project and were unable to provide my audit team credible documentation to support various decisions made during the course of the project.”
The lack of records and the way the project was managed “increased the risk for fraud and corruption,” Mr. Swarbrick said, but he noted that auditors did not find any specific criminal incidents of corruption or fraud.
However, he said, “The former minister of education from 2009 to 2013 [Mr. Anglin] was very involved in the management of the projects, including inappropriate direction around procurement.”
“We found this involvement to be outside the laws in place for the management of public funds and obscured accountability for the cost overruns conservatively estimated to be greater than $25 million on the projects we reviewed,” he added.
The report accuses Mr. Anglin of pressuring his ministry staff to incorrectly record payments to contractors. The report also said Mr. Anglin directed contracts to local companies with informal directives when tendering the project and gave those local companies flexible treatment when judging the quality of their work.
Mr. Anglin declined to comment as of press time Tuesday but said he was reviewing the report and would issue a response Wednesday.
The report also accuses the former minister of violating the Public Management and Finance Law and adding to the delays and cost overruns.
The core problem in the school project, Mr. Swarbrick said, was that the Ministry of Education is supposed know how to teach children, not supervise major infrastructure projects. The ministry, he said, “did not have the people, systems and practices in place to carry out this kind of work.”
The Ministry of Education, in a written response to the audit released Tuesday, stated that the “Ministry of Education will be following the same approach being utilized by other ministries in carrying out major capital works, including the formation of a project steering committee, development of substantiated business cases and in securing project management services from government’s centrally operated Project Management Office.”
The Ministry of Education’s response to the report continues, “The Ministry supports all efforts to improve transparency and accountability.”
The statement from the ministry pointed out that while it generally agrees with the auditor general’s recommendations, it “does not agree with all of the findings of the report. As a result, there are several areas for which we intend to provide explanation/context when the report is brought before the Public Accounts Committee.” The ministry did not cite which findings it disagrees with.
Cabinet initially approved the projects in 2005 to build three high schools with an estimated cost of $95 million. By December 2013, the report states, the ministry reported it had spent more than $170 million, not including the price of the land, and had completed only one high school. Plans for the Beulah Smith High School were shelved in 2009, and the proposed new John Gray High School, the auditor general said, has effectively been “mothballed.”
The plan for five new buildings for primary schools received $10 million in government’s 2010-11 budget, with plans to complete construction by the middle of 2011. By early 2013, two new primary school buildings and two smaller projects had opened at a cost of $13.4 million.
Auditors, led by Martin Ruben, said they were delayed by ministry staff in 2014. The auditors note, “Ministry officials actively screened files and documents that we requested.
“We believe the actions of the ministry demonstrate at best an inability to manage the information for which it is responsible. At worst, the ministry’s actions were designed to limit our ability to conclude clearly on the selected audit objective and criteria,” the auditors write in the new report.