Both Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Irfaan Ali and Permanent Secretary of the Communities Ministry Emile McGarrell yesterday expressed concerns over the performance of regional engineers, with the former accusing them of bypassing financial laws and “manipulating” the system.
At the time, the committee was examining the accounts of the Region Four administration, particularly what was pegged by the Auditor General (AG) as a $3.69 million overpayment on a contract for the Tucville Community Ground Enhancement Project.
However, Regional Executive Officer (REO) Pauline Lucas related that the discrepancy was due to a change of scope in the project and she noted that the proper protocol had not been followed at the time for making the adjustment.
She added that the region has since rectified the issue, having gone back through the Tender Board, which agreed that the change of scope was “absolutely necessary.” Lucas said that the region was going to be making contact with the AG to relay the changes.
The committee later learnt that it was the region’s engineer who had failed to follow the required process. Lucas related that that engineer has since been transferred and is operating in Region Six.
“So you have an engineer who did not follow the due process in an overpayment, an engineer that allowed you to sign a contract without bonds in place and that same engineer has been transferred to another region?” Ali put to Lucas. “We are seeing tremendous issues in the region that originates from the engineering department, and we have to call a spade a spade at some time. The engineering departments are taking us for granted. They are manipulating the system. They are causing tremendous difficulties in relation to accountability and transparency. And in many cases, they are deliberately sidetracking established rules,” the Chairman stated.
Turning his attention to McGarrell, Ali questioned whether he was aware of the issue, and noted that transferring personnel does nothing to quell the issue. McGarrell said that he was not aware, but agreed with the points made by Ali. “I am prompted to say, sir, that the engineers in the regions were students who came back from scholarships and were appointed to positions of great responsibility with little experience. We’re seeing the results of that turning out in these matters,” he stated. Ali countered that the issue lay not only with the engineers but also their supervisory counterparts, as evidence before the committee had proved.
“It’s the same deck of cards and you’re shuffling it around to try and address a problem that is systemic,” McGarrell responded.
The AG also noted that he had seen no performance bond for the Tucville project, and Lucas stated that as far as she was aware, none was ever in place.
Accountant General Jennifer Chapman later related that the Ministry of Finance, having recognised this issue as one of the “areas of financial risk,” will soon be issuing a circular mandating that performance bonds be instituted for all contracts.