WE turn now to the termination of the consultant to this St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project, Halcrow Group Ltd.
While the FIDIC form of contract used to engage the consultant allows termination without cause, this is subject to the Laws of St. Lucia, and so presumably in an abundance of caution, the correspondence from Government terminating Halcrow cited government’s intention to conduct a review of the project as a reason for termination. The consultant’s services, and the works, were then suspended, with five days’ notice given to the consultant.
Notwithstanding that the notice of suspension does not conform to the requirement of the contract, (56 days’ notice is required), the reason given for termination of the consultant is not valid, as a need to review the project would necessitate suspension of the consultant’s services, not termination. Suspension would allow the review, with termination of the consultant to follow if cause were to be found.
With no reasonable cause offered for termination, Government’s demands for the consultant’s financial records, demands that are contained in its correspondence terminating the consultant, are illuminating. In the event of a dispute with respect to a particular invoice, the terms of engagement of the consultant allow for an independent auditor to inspect the consultant’s financial records, at his office. In this case, however, the Government demanded wholesale justification of the consultant’s fees, to the point of demanding audited financial statements for the previous three years, before the consultant’s outstanding invoices could be settled.
Government’s termination of Halcrow Group Ltd. and its demands for Halcrow’s financial records is another of the extremely serious matters of governance affecting our country at this time, and this matter must see daylight. But, in spite of Minister Guy Joseph’s initial promise to publish the Technical Audit Report, it has not been made public and it has reportedly been sent to the Attorney General.
And while Item (b) of the Terms of Reference for that audit requires the consultant to provide an independent and objective opinion of the works undertaken, the Audit itself disclaims any liability for the opinions that it expresses. So that we now have an Audit Report commissioned by Minister Joseph’s Ministry, for which we have paid nearly $1 million, but on which neither the Government nor anyone else can rely.
Following receipt of that Audit Report, and having confirmed that, contrary to his initial promise, it would not be made public, Minister Joseph then explained that he would not comment on the Report “in case his comments prejudice any Court action that might arise from it”. Reasonable people coming across this statement could only conclude that something is amiss, and that “court action” was likely. But, for whatever reason, Minister Joseph then later indicated to the press that the Report would be used to guide the Government in the future.
You might think that the foregoing is unbelievable, but we have a $1 million Audit Report which we have been told will not be made public, which the Minister has sent to the Attorney General but will not comment on because it might prejudice any Court cases arising from it; an Audit which disclaims all liability for its contents, and yet an Audit which the Government will use to guide it in the future.
The reconstruction of the St. Jude Hospital has now been at a standstill for a year and the consultant terminated. While we are asked to believe the Minister’s statement of high mismanagement and secrecy surrounding the project’s implementation, (The VOICE, Jan. 14, 2017), we are simultaneously asked to believe that none of that has anything to do with the termination of the consultant’s contract, or with the recommendation of the Audit Report that the contracts for construction works be terminated.
But the true secrecy lies with the Audit Report itself, as with there being no accusations arising from that Audit in the public domain, and no charges from the DPP’s office six months after the report has been sent to the Attorney General’s Office, there is no aggrieved party and so no one to challenge the Government’s behaviour. In my opinion, in these circumstances, it can only be a matter of time before the Government proceeds to adopt the recommendations of this Audit, the contractors are terminated, and a design/build contract for $100 million is awarded to an entity of the Government’s choosing.
But, we have that letter from the Government terminating the Consultant, and it is a public document. Now, we must not only demand that the contents of that Technical Audit be made public, but must also demand that the people responsible for the termination of Halcrow be given an opportunity, before the Courts, to justify the decision that they took six months before the Audit became available and, therefore, six months before even any suggestion of a possible cause for termination of the Consultant could have become available.