MINISTER for Economic Development, Guy Joseph, says that while contractors seeking payments for work rendered on projects under the Constituency Development Programme (CDP) might be frustrated at the slow pace in being compensated, some discrepancies need to be cleared up first.
Speaking on DBS NewsMaker Live on Wednesday evening, Joseph said he was “not on a witch hunt”. He said a team of people, including an unnamed engineer, is presently assessing whether projects were indeed undertaken as per their respective contracts. In some instances, he said, some of the people receiving contracts are not registered contractors.
“We went through the engineers’ registration board’s list of certified engineers. Out of a list of 10 engineers or consultants used by the Ministry of Economic Development, only five of them are registered engineers,” Joseph said.
Nevertheless, Joseph indicated that government hopes to begin making payments on what have been deemed legitimate contracts completed and executed up to the specifications set out in each contract.
“As to who is going to answer for the cost of projects, that is a separate matter,” Joseph added. “We will have to deal with those who designed the projects. But (to) the contractors who went out there and did the work, we have an obligation to pay them. However, we would have to rectify all the issues before we can pay.”
Some contractors have since been paid, Joseph said, namely those who went through the bank.
Joseph also claimed that despite the Taiwanese government funding projects under CDP, the previous administration had to source a loan to pay for some of those projects.
“What happened to the money that the Taiwanese were giving to pay for the projects? Dr. (Kenny) Anthony said to us that the monies were going into the Consolidated Fund so nobody could interfere with it. So what happened to it in the Consolidated Fund?” Joseph asked.
Joseph explained that he and Prime Minister Allen Chastanet met with Taiwanese officials on Tuesday “expressing our concerns because that cannot be kept in the dark.” He later added that an apology was issued to the Taiwanese “for what transpired under the (CDP) even though it did not happen under our watch.”
“If we were to receive all the allocations from the Taiwanese right now, it will still not be enough to pay for what the government implemented. There will still be a shortfall. So the government will have to find resources to make up for that shortfall,” Joseph said.
Joseph added: “The last government practically spent all the money that was allocated for CDP for the entire year (2016/17) in the month of elections.”
Joseph said the Department of Audit has been written to and a technical audit is being done to verify that the projects were actually executed, adding that government has had to fast-track the audit in order that outstanding payments are made to contractors, whom he assured will be paid shortly.
“I want to know that these contractors who went out there and did the right thing are adequately compensated for the work that they did. On the other hand, the Department of Audit must now carry out a full audit,” Joseph said.
Speaking on the technical audit done at St. Jude Hospital, Joseph said the report “has revealed a lot more than we ever dreamt was happening.” While acknowledging that he could not pre-empt the findings of that audit, he said “some major pronouncements” will be made next week with “some serious action being taken”. An attorney has been retained on the matter, he said.
“I can tell you (that) everybody who is responsible and accountable will be brought to answer,” Joseph said.
The government came in for heavy criticism when Joseph indicated some weeks ago that nearly $800,000 was spent for the technical audit on the St. Jude Hospital Restoration Project. However, Joseph defended the audit on Wednesday, saying, “If this audit does not save the government $10 million, then we would have wasted our time.”
During the last SLP administration, a report, “Report on Financial Operations of Town, Village and Rural Councils”, alleged maladministration and misappropriation of Taiwanese funds by the previous UWP administration. However, there is no public record of any entity being prosecuted. Since then, promises of putting iron-clad systems in place continue to be clamoured for by the citizenry.
The VOICE contacted the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, Philip J. Pierre yesterday for a comment relating to Joseph’s charges. However, we were told by the secretary that he would be in a meeting all day. Nevertheless, we will continue to seek a comment from him on the matter.