Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Irfaan Ali grew extremely frustrated after a series of conflicting information was provided by senior accounting officers of the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs (MoIPA) regarding a $52.080M purchase of tractors and trailers to distribute to various Amerindian settlements.
The PAC, which was at the time reviewing some issues highlighted in the 2015 Auditor General Report on that Ministry, learnt that the entity purchased six John Deere tractors and trailers from GenEquip in 2015 without a written contractual agreement and the items were only delivered just last month.
Deputy Permanent Secretary Samantha Fedee initially told the PAC that the Ministry paid the supplier in 2015 and the items were uplifted and stored at a dormitory in 2016 – all the while indicating that there was a contract.
When the PAC Chairman pressed the Manager of the Dorm to verify this information, she disputed the statement provided by the Deputy Permanent Secretary.
The Dorms Manager initially claimed she could not remember if the items were delivered in 2016 or 2017 but she later asserted that the equipment was delivered at the compound until 2017 after Ali asked if she recalled seeing tractors and trailers in the yard around Christmas time.
At this point, Fedee fumbled to respond to that revelation and she eventually posited that she needed to recheck her records at the Ministry.
In an attempt to uncovered why the supplies were delivered more than one year after the purchase, PAC Member Juan Edghill then inquired whether the contract specified a delivery date and what was the warranty period provided.
Fedee again said she did not have the information and would have to recheck at the Ministry.
At this point, Ali declared that “I will not tolerate this disrespect” – referring to the fact that the accounting officers of this ministry already appeared before the PAC on two occasions and were not properly prepared to answer certain questions.
“And now this is a third time and this is a simple question, if we are coming to PAC with a major query we have to walk with the information from that contract. I am getting the feeling that there was not a contract,” the PAC Chairman said.
Shortly after Ali made that statement, the Deputy Permanent Secretary admitted that there was no contract for the over $52M purchase.
The Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Alfred King said he was not aware of the situation and when asked to rate the level of seriousness of these breaches on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst, he said 4.5.
But King insisted that the tender board procedures were followed for the purchase, but Ali later pointed out that the tender board requires a contract be submitted within five days of the purchase and to date, no contract for that transaction was created.
Vibert Welch, who was the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry at the time of the purchase, tried to insinuate that there was a contract despite the Deputy Permanent Secretary admitting that there was none.
The PAC Chairman, at this point, asked “are we at the same meeting?”
Government parliamentarian, Jermaine Figuiera commented that the discoveries are shocking and asked the accounting officers if there were previous situations where purchases of such magnitude were made without contracts.
Again, the officers said they do not know and will have to check their records.