The question of the day at this week’s pre-cabinet press briefing held at the Office of the Prime Minister was whether there was in fact any truth behind speculations made on various media platforms relating to corruption, or a lack of due process, as it related to the issuance of several direct award contracts. Former prime minister, and current minister of infrastructure Stephenson King wasted no time getting down to business, quickly dispelling speculations, particularly relating to the signage of the contracts by then acting Prime Minister Guy Joseph.
“There is nothing wrong or illegal about the issuance of direct awards,” King stated, adding that direct awards were covered under the Finance Act which granted the minister for finance the latitude in cases, where necessary, to issue a direct award to a preferred contractor based on experience, or based on proposals submitted to government.
What King found particularly concerning was the fact that the individual(s) responsible for leaking the documents had violated Staff Orders, specifically under chapters 1, 4 and 5, which state that it is illegal for any public officer to leak any document.
“As a consequence, [that individual] can face disciplinary action,” King revealed.
The minister then sought to explain why such a large number of direct awards had been issued in a relatively short space of time, totalling several million dollars. In his words, the ministry of infrastructure had a very aggressive and positive works programme which had been negatively affected by government’s 40-45 day delay of the annual budget of expenditure. According to King, that in itself had made it impossible for the ministry to submit its proposals, to be approved for implementation in the first and second quarter.
“However,” King noted, “once the budget was approved, and the submissions were made to the Ministry of Finance, in an endeavour to achieve our third quarter target, we had to issue a number of awards.”
Those had not been limited to direct awards, according to the minister. He revealed there was also a selection of awards made through the Central Tenders Board, a number of those made via the authority of the permanent secretary.
These according to King, were nothing new: “ . . . every government – past, present and in the future, except if the legislature is changed – the minister for finance has that authority to make direct awards to competent contractors, and persons who have submitted proposals upon invitation, for the projects.”
In this case, Minister Guy Joseph had acted then as prime minister, and minister with responsibility for finance.
“By that authority of the appointment made of Guy Joseph, he was in the seat at the time, and he happened to sign those awards, so its nothing new,” King added. “There’s no wrongdoing, there’s no illegality about the awards, it is merely a regular transaction, a normal transaction and, of course, I can only classify it as being political mischief.”
So, what of the leaked documents? According to King it was the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance, under the Finance Act, to do the necessary investigation, to determine exactly where the documents were leaked from. Based on his own conversation with the prime minister, King was confident that the matter would be thoroughly investigated, and the officer(s) dealt with, with the full brunt of the law.