If former Government Minister and chairman of the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL, Arnold Piggott, feels he can just ignore the Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament, think again!
Simply sending a letter saying he is not attending a sitting of the JSC is not enough. He is going to be summoned for the next meeting, and if he doesn’t attend, there can be consequences.
Chairman of the JSC, Independent Senator David Small, read the riot act to members of the EFCL who failed to show up for a Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting in Parliament on Monday, accusing them of being disrespectful and promising to have them summoned for the next sitting.
Small said he was particularly concerned Piggott’s no-show was published in the newspaper before the committee had been informed.
Small added, “That is not is how we do business. The committee is concerned and it is not something we would like to see again. We try to be courteous and respectful to everyone and we were hoping to get that back. Respect is a two-way street.”
The JSC had called EFCL and other government officials to explore the efficiency and effectiveness of the State-owned company, which is responsible for construction, maintenance, repair, outfitting and furnishing of schools and for the textbook rental program.
During his contribution, EFCL chairman Ricardo Vasquez said they were possibly facing over $1 billion in debt due to various issues. He said some $750 million was owed to contractors and there were also a number of matters before the courts. He said in one instance a contractor in litigation with the EFCL had received some 58 contractors said to be amounting to some $900 million.
Small said, “I have $150 million in arbitration claims…I have almost $100 million in which a default judgment was issued against the EFCL.”
Acting Permanent Secretary at the Finance Ministry, Suzette Lee Chee, revealed some concerns regarding the operations of the EFCL, following a letter she received from acting general manager Denis Cox. Cox’s letter, she said, outlined several issues, including interference in the day-to-day operations of the entity by board members.
Lee Chee added, “There were situations with the board encroaching on the responsibilities of the staff of the EFCL, where the board approved unqualified persons for appointments, improprieties in the procurement process and there were situations where board members were abusing the resources of the EFCL.”
Cox said from then to date however, the situation had improved.
THE BIG CONTRACTOR
The JSC heard of one contractor being given 58 contracts by the EFCL, worth $900 million.
The contractor is currently in litigation with the EFCL for payment of this sum while an auditing firm which was hired by the company is now itself being investigated. The EFCL has been sued for $1.2 billion by 20 contractors including the lone benefactor of $900 million worth in contracts.
According to Vasquez, some jobs never got started, and in some cases contractors were on the site without working but are still billing the company. Asked how it is one person could be granted 58 contracts, both Vasquez and EFCL Ag General Manager Denis Cox could not provide an answer. Asked to provide this contractor’s name, the sums for each of the 58 contracts and the period in which these contracts were awarded, the EFCL officials were not forthcoming.
They were then asked by the JSC to provide details in writing.
Vasquez said most of the contracts were inherited by the new board which he now heads. He does know what the procurement policy was then and how contracts were awarded. It was not the practice to award one person so many contracts, Vasquez added.
Cox said when he took office at the EFCL, several audits were ongoing. Cox said he saw a lot of documents, but there was no evidence that advertisements were placed for open bidding and concluded that PWC was selected through the sole selective process. The EFCL is to provide to the JSC in writing, the criteria used to select PWC.
The JSC also heard that a previous EFCL board under the Piggott, overstepped their boundaries and interfered with the day to day operations of the company. This allegation was contained in a letter written in October 2016, by Cox, to one the Education Ministry’s four permanent secretaries.
That board, the JSC heard, approved unqualified personnel for appointment, conducted improprieties in the procurement process and, there were situations where board members were abusing resources of the EFCL and using resources for personal purposes.
The matters raised, she said, were sent in a letter to the Minister of Finance Colm Imbert, the afternoon she (Lee Sing) received it. The issues were raised with the minister.
The matter was investigated by the ministry’s Central Audit Committee which is in the process of finalising its report, Lee Sing said.
Noting that the allegations were serious, JSC chairman Small said the committee received many documentation showing, some unusual occurrences, such as the speed with which the board approved tenders in a day while others took months. “These are some of the things committee are trying to get to the bottom of,” Small added.