Letters & Opinion

St. Jude and the Art of the Con — Part 15: Why No Audit Review?

Image of an incomplete St. Jude Hospital
Image of David Prescod
By David Prescod

WHEN Prime Minister Chastanet was first asked at his October 5, 2017 press conference if he would consider a review of the Technical Audit of the St. Jude Hospital reconstruction project by the St. Lucia Association of Professional Engineers, he rejected that suggestion, indicating that in his view that body was merely an association youtube.com/watch?v=7VT-oEzDv50 (1:40:20).

True to form, however, this Government did not hesitate in contradicting itself with its positions on St. Jude Hospital, and the very next day, on October 6, 2017, Minister for Health, Mary Isaac, took not one but two associations on a tour of the St. Jude Hospital project.

While the Medical and Dental Association concluded after that tour that something had gone “horribly wrong” with the reconstruction of St. Jude Hospital, the Nurses Association expressed concern with respect to fire safety. Neither association was reported in the media as commenting on the provision of medical services at the reconstructed facility.

In these circumstances, one might be forgiven for assuming that this Government only invites commentary from those associations that it thinks may hold views similar to theirs, and this might be correct. But there may be an additional reason for the Government not allowing an independent review of that Technical Audit.

In Part 4 of this series last June, I pointed out that while the Terms of Reference for that audit required the consultant to provide an independent and objective opinion of the worksundertaken, the leaked Audit Report itself disclaims any liability for the opinions that it expresses. Here is that disclaimer:

“FDL disclaims any liability to the Client and to third parties in respect of the publication, reference, quoting, or distribution of this report and any of its contents to and reliance thereon by any third party.”

This is an unusual disclaimer with respect to the provision of a professional service.

Further, Section 2.8 of the report states “It (the Audit Report) does not seek to opine on the legality of any transaction or acts of any party involved in the project.” Yet, Section 2.8 concludes with: “This is not a forensic audit; however, based on the reported findings, one may be required.”

Forensic audits are concerned with the detection of fraud, and the logical conclusion to be drawn from the second statement above would be that the Audit consultant was at least suspicious of fraud. Yet the first statement claims not to “opine on the legality of any transaction or acts…”

So that while that leaked Audit Report does suggest that a sum amounting to a little less than EC$1 million could be recoverable by Government, with the Audit’s disclaimer in place that suggestion amounts to nothing more than a rumour whispered into the ear of the Government by its consultant, a rumour which our Government has paid EC$1 million to hear.

While the detailed content of the Report cannot be discussed because of its liability disclaimer, the Report in a number of instances suggests possible outcomes of contracting procedures that are titillating, but are not conclusive.

So that at page 121, for example, the Report states that: “…thus allowing inferences to be drawn that …”; I have omitted the implicating phrases at the beginning and end of the quote. Statements of inference, however, are not to be expected in a professional report.

When Prime Minister Chastanet was, however, pressed on the conduct of a review of the Technical Audit during that October 5 press conference, he instead launched into a vigorous defence of the Audit Consultant. In doing so, the Prime Minister claimed that the Caribbean Development Bank had such high regard for this Consultant, that when he, (the Prime Minister), had visited the CDB, “…unsolicited, unsolicited, they said we would not know what we would do without this guy”, youtube.com/watch?v=7VT-oEzDv50, (1:40:53).

Having previously criticized the Leader of the Opposition for drawing a regional institution into our political guttersniping when he quoted from the leaked copy of the CDB report on our economy, I must, therefore, now offer an even harsher criticism of our Prime Minister as his statement was immeasurably more damaging.

In the first instance, professionals do not offer unqualified and unreserved commendation of the professional abilities of other professionals. Not only are such statements meaningless, but they open the door to future liability in the event that the highly-spoken of professional does not discharge his function as expected.

Secondly, a commendation by the CDB of the type recounted by Prime Minister Chastanet would raise the issue of bias in the Bank’s assessment and selection of consultants, and Prime Minister Chastanet has now exposed the CDB, himself, and his Government to this issue.

I would, therefore, suggest to our Prime Minister that his opinion of the Technical Consultant for the St. Jude Hospital Audit could not have been formed as a result of discussion with the professional staff of the CDB, as this would imply unprofessional behaviour on the part of the Bank’s staff.

Prime Minister Chastanet should correct this implication, with a first step to doing so being to subject that Audit Report to a professional review.

Next week, we offer a few comments on the technical merit of that Audit.

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