AS we repeat calls for the publication of the Technical Audit of the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project and for the prosecution of those who may have abused their authority, the reasons for doing so bear repetition.
This has been a matter of some controversy in these articles and so let me reiterate that we make no specific statement here on the performance of the consultant, the project manager, or that of any of the contractors engaged on the project. Those statements are to be found in the Technical Audit Report.
What we are concerned with is the performance of government and, in particular, whether or not a government can summarily terminate a consultant’s contract without having specific cause to do so. We can only hope that our courts will have the opportunity to provide the necessary guidance.
The question arises as we have seen from the letter terminating the consultant that the government went to some length to provide a reason for that termination, indicating that it wished to conduct a review of the project. A review would, however, ordinarily require suspension of the contract, termination sensibly following only if that review established a cause for this action.
The government then compounded this behaviour by suspending the consultant without the requisite notice and while the issue of suspension has also previously been the source of controversy in these articles, this conclusion is supported by the Technical Audit Report itself which states at 3.2 (e) that “HGL’s services along with the related construction works were suspended effective 11th July, 2016, and Contract No. 2 subsequently terminated effective 3rd September 2016”.
While the Audit Report attempts to make some sense of the government’s actions, the fact remains that the termination and suspension of the consultant were both effected by a single piece of correspondence, with suspension of the consultant occuring within the period of notice of his termination. Admittedly, none of this makes any sense, but this is what our government did, and we want to know why it was done. Some more background might help.
According to the Audit Report, the consultant, Halcrow Group Limited, was engaged by government for the “Design Review and Supervision of Reconstruction of the Surgical Building and the Renovation of Other Buildings at the Original Location” in July 2010. The date indicates that the engagement was made by a UWP administration and maintained following a change of administration to the SLP in November 2011.
The Report indicates that, over the next two years, the consultant’s contract was the subject of five addenda changing the scope of services, period to completion, and the value of the contract, with a second contract again increasing the scope of the consultant’s services awarded in April 2014. This contract expired in March 2016, with a variation to increase the contract sum approved by government in April 2016.
There is nothing in the Audit Report to indicate any dissatisfaction with the performance of the consultant during the 16-month UWP administration or subsequent SLP administration, and Halcrow’s increased fees were approved in April 2016. Yet, with the change of administration in June 2016, the government immediately found fault with the consultant and project manager and terminated the consultant by notice of July 6, 2016.
We make the distinction above between an administration, UWP or SLP, and government, as there can only be one government of our country, and when our government acts, the world is entitled to rely on its actions. Up to April 2016, therefore, when their increased fees were approved, we suggest that Halcrow was entitled to be of the view that their performance was acceptable to the government of St. Lucia. The government of St. Lucia terminated Halcrow two months later. Six months following that, the Technical Audit Report became available.
Given government’s implicit approval of the consultant’s performance up to April 2016, it would seem unlikely that there could be a technical basis for the consultant’s termination in July 2016. But with Minister Joseph’s indication following the submission of the Audit Report that implicated contractors and firms would be held accountable, it is also difficult to avoid the conclusion that those contractors and firms had something to account for. If they do, then so does the consultant.
It is in these conflicted circumstances that we continue to demand that the Technical Audit be made public. Instead, it has been flung behind the closed doors of the Attorney General’s Chambers and remains hidden there.
We are also interested to know the advice provided to our government by the Attorney General regarding that Technical Audit. Perhaps even more importantly, we are interested to know why that Report was sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers instead of to the Director of Public Prosecution’s Office, as it is to this office that reports from the Director of Audit go when that department finds evidence of public wrongdoing.
Next week, we look at the public interest in disclosure in these circumstances and how our Constitution fails us.