A behind-the-scenes political squabble has erupted over the construction of a new government-leased vehicle licensing facility in Breakers.
The facility, which is due to open in stages later this year, will serve as a vehicle inspection station, particularly for heavy trucks and specialized construction equipment, according to owner George Anthony “Tony” Powell. Mr. Powell said he also intends to open an auto parts store on site, with the idea being that those who get their vehicles inspected at the facility can find replacement parts if their inspection fails.
Earlier this month, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush raised questions about whether there had been a proper bid process for the $1.4 million facility, which completed construction in January. Mr. Bush questioned why no request for proposals had been issued for the project, either for its construction or for the government lease of the facility.
Governor Helen Kilpatrick responded to Mr. Bush’s questions, which were submitted to her in January, by stating Cabinet had approved an annual rental of Mr. Powell’s building at $31,406 per year – $12 per square foot for the licensing facility – and that Planning and Infrastructure Minister Kurt Tibbetts had recused himself from that vote.
“Minister Tibbetts recused himself from the decision on this lease because he has a separate business relationship with Mr. Powell,” the governor’s Jan. 28 letter read. “[Mr. Tibbetts] has no interest in the property in question.”
Regarding Mr. Bush’s questions about the request for proposal, the governor explained that Mr. Powell had offered the previous government, led by Mr. Bush, to develop the Breakers facility in exchange for a lease agreement. The governor said that former Planning Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly agreed the project was “necessary and beneficial” but that the previous government simply couldn’t fund the lease.
In 2013, Mr. Powell wrote the ministry again, now under the direction of Mr. Tibbetts, the governor said.
“Given that there were no other facilities in the area suitable for these purposes, and because the facilities are being secured through lease arrangements, a request for proposal was not considered necessary,” Governor Kilpatrick’s letter read. “In the case of a leasehold interest, the law requires only that the arrangement provides value for money. [The] Lands & Survey Department [has] negotiated on the Department of Vehicle and Driver’s Licensing’s behalf and the agreed rent cost is supported by the [government’s] chief valuation officer.”
Mr. Bush questioned the governor’s views with regard to the request for proposals.
“How come it’s not considered necessary?” Mr. Bush asked. “Lots of people got land in Bodden Town; who would be the best developer for it? That’s the question. Are there not other persons in Bodden Town, North Side or East End who could have done this?
“It’s not the matter of the person that got it, nothing against [Mr. Powell], the fact that he has a business relationship with Kurt Tibbetts is the whole thing. I am talking about good governance which they are not adhering to.”
Mr. Bush also questioned what the response would have been if he were the Planning and Infrastructure Minister when such a deal arose.
“Everything that I had to do, every project, not just the dock but the Turtle Farm … Spotts dock, the Chinese couldn’t do it because we had to go to tender. When we were looking at the dump, we had to go to tender.
“If this had been one of the persons they have accused me … of having business with, then what would the PPM have said?”
Mr. Powell said Monday that while he did not have a problem with the opposition leader asking questions regarding the DVDL project, no rental agreement of this relatively small size should have to go to the Central Tenders Committee bid process.
Mr. Powell also said that he and his wife were the sole owners of the Breakers land where the facility was built and that they bore the full costs of the construction.
“Everything here was above board,” Mr. Powell said. “Mr. Tibbetts has absolutely nothing to do with it.”
Mr. Powell noted, as did the governor, that various governments – dating back to the mid-’90s term of the Thomas Jefferson-led administration – had negotiated with local landowners regarding such a public-private partnership. One such deal involved an office in Pease Bay, Bodden Town for DVDL facilities. A separate business plan was prepared in 2006 by then-Works Minister Arden McLean.
“Several sites in and around Bodden Town, have been considered, but for a variety of reasons, none of these proved viable,” the governor’s letter indicated.
The Cayman Islands Auditor General’s office confirmed Tuesday that it had not reviewed any aspect of the DVDL project to date. However, in a report issued last year the auditor’s office talked about the likely prevalence of such public-private partnerships in the future and noted the government has no policy in place to guide the approval of those proposals.
“Detailed policies and procedures are still required to ensure that the government receives value for money,” the 2014 governance audit report noted. “Examples of such policies and procedures exist and have been used for a considerable period of time in other jurisdictions and it should not be difficult to adopt and customize the required framework for the Cayman Islands.”