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More beaches and parks revelations

Some contractors getting paid to do the same work

Bahamas Public Parks and Beaches Authority Chairman McKell Bonaby said yesterday that some contractors who were given work under the former board were being paid to do the same work and others were doing work for the Authority without contracts.

He said the Authority took on an additional $21 million in additional obligations in the months leading up to the September 16 general election in a clear sign of “electioneering”.

“The Authority is laden with heavy, heavy obligations,” Bonaby said during his contribution to the supplementary budget and amendment to the Value-Added tax (VAT) Act debate before they passed in the House Thursday.

“Madam Speaker, contractors are calling the authority every day looking for payments. We have different categories of contractors – contractors that cannot produce contracts at all, looking to be paid. In this category, contractors state that they have signed the contracts but they were told to come back to receive their copy only to be told that there is no contract.

“Mind you, Madam Speaker, some of these contractors purportedly started working without a contract in hand. 

“They alleged that they were told to start working and that they will be paid later. And so, now they are around the office of the Authority, Madam Speaker, looking to be paid without any evidence, any proof, of a contract – nothing to establish that a contract actually exists.

“Madam Speaker, there is another category of contracts that are missing. 

“… There are contracts that exist that do not have the chairman’s signature on it or the board’s secretary’s signature on it. But these persons have been carrying out work on behalf of the Authority.

“… They are being paid, some of them. And so, there are some irregularities, gaps that have happened. And so, we are trying to, in our best effort, rightsize the Authority. Also, Madam Speaker, there are some situations where more than one contractor has the same contract, working the same space. 

“So, you have contractor A would clean Boyd Road and he would be paid.

“… Let’s say contractor A came in on Monday. Contractor B would come in on Tuesday looking to be paid.”

The former Minnis administration and former executive chairman of the Authority, St. Barnabas MP Shanendon Cartwright, have come under scrutiny over the pre-election contracts.

On Monday, Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis revealed that the Authority’s budget increased from $15.2 million to a projected $37 million. 

Minister of Works Alfred Sears was the first to speak on the contracts. He said there was a “rash of contracts” issued by the Authority ahead of the September 16 general election, some without board approval. 

Cartwright has said he never did anything untoward.

He said the contracts were already in train before the snap election was even announced.

“I was never moved by the weight of my office to act recklessly,” Cartwright said on Wednesday in the House of Assembly.

“I used my discretion and authority discriminately. My team and I worked to improve things and processes as best as we could.

 “My ego did not agitate any course of action that did not involve seeking clarity and clearance from those in the official decision-making and approval process.”

$21 million

Bonaby said an additional $10.6 million in new obligations were taken on in July, and $11 million between August and September. 

“Interestingly enough, there were a number of laws that took effect on July 1, specifically the Public Financial Management Act, the Public Debt Management Act, which would have stifled the Authority’s ability to receive additional funding after July 1,” he said.

“But the authority continued to run the red lights.

“So, what that meant was the even though the Authority’s debts and obligations were growing, it was unable to raise more money to pay the debts or the obligations that it was incurring.

“The member for Golden Isles would say that it sounds like at the authority a wartime budget was being built at Public Parks and Public Beaches, $11 million right on the cusp of a general election.”

Bonaby said that the Authority aims to pay all its contractors for work done in October.

However, he said difficult decisions will have to be made.

“It gives us no joy to do what we may have to do,” he said.

“Our approved monthly obligations should be around $1.2 million. We are spending approximately $2.3 million per month with a shortfall of about $500,000 per month, which represents $11 million over this fiscal period.

“What is clear, Madam Speaker, is that the Authority cannot continue to operate this way. It is unfair to the contractors and it is unfair to the taxpayers.”

Bonaby added, “What we intend to do, Madam Speaker, is try our best to assist as many of the contractors as possible.

“We may not be able to make full payments, but we intend to pay all of the contractors for the month of October.

“But this is the state that we find ourselves in. I am confident that the new board will rightsize the authority. Difficult decisions have to be made. This is a position that we found ourselves in and the decisions that we make … we are prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the authority moving forward is able to pay its debts and able to pay its obligations.”

Bonaby said accountants are working overtime to figure out where the authority went wrong.

He said the issuance of the contracts looks like electioneering.

“This is why we say it looks like electioneering,” Bonaby said.

“It looks like it. It walks like it. It sounds like it. And we can see the impact of it, where it was not a real financial decision that was being made. It appears to be a political decision.”

But Cartwright has denied that the contracts were being used for any electioneering.

“While it is totally acceptable to consider the process through which additional funding was approved and acquired, there is no denying that the culmination of the approval process resulted in thousands of Bahamians, FNMs, PLPs, unaffiliated, many who have lost jobs due to this pandemic and now are able to feed their families, pay light bills and acquire their lifesaving medications,” Cartwright said.

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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