Edghill’s mic muted during questions about irregular sale of derelict vehicles under APNU+AFC
Tensions flared on Monday as Chairman of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Jermaine Figueira cut the audio of Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill and ruled him “out of order” during enquires linked to the sale of three derelict vehicles by the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs in 2017.
Edghill, in turn, accused Figueira and three other APNU+AFC members of the PAC of attempting to suppress the release of information into the irregular sale that occurred while the Coalition was in government.
Acting Permanent Secretary (PS) Ryan Tulsiram and former PS Alfred King were both called upon to provide explanations on the sale which did not go to the highest responsive bidder; was done without advertisement, and in one instance, to a person who had never been a part of the bidding process.
After minutes of questioning, Edghill, who attended the meeting virtually, asked for the names of the purchasers – a request that was immediately met with rejection by former Minister of Public Works David Patterson and supported by Figueira – who said he was following the advice of the Clerk of Committee.
“Who were the buyers?” Edghill pressed as he disagreed with the position. The Public Works Minister further questioned Patterson’s knowledge of the sale, having been the minister at the time, and said there was an attempt to “suppress information.”
He was found to be “out of order” by Figueira who then instructed that the minister’s mic is muted.
“I am chairing this meeting,” Figueira asserted.
“But I am making a point and you are interrupting… you and your members have an interest in this matter…was the buyers’ members of staff, and/or related to members of the ministry? Or was [it] a government official?” Edghill questioned.
Edghill said it was unfair that Figueira would not allow the names of the buyers to go on record when the PAC had named contractors, engineers and other public officials in the past.
“Why are we not being consistent?” Edghill continued and later received clarification from King that the sales were not to any staff members.
But the issue relating to the sale itself remained with member Dharamkumar Seeraj, who noted that although it is sometimes a painstaking venture to get rid of these government vehicles, it remains the expectation that established procedures would be followed.
According to the Auditor General report of 2017, the then Ministry of Indigenous Affairs received approval for the sale of six unserviceable vehicles of which three were sold – a Toyota pick-up, a Nissan Frontier and a Toyota Coaster bus.
The Toyota pickup was valued at $50,000 and was sold for $50,000. This vehicle was not advertised for sale; hence no bids were received from bidders.
The Nissan Frontier evaluated at $100,000 was sold for $50,000. However, the highest bid for this vehicle was $500,000. In addition, this vehicle was sold to an individual who did not bid for the vehicle.
The Toyota Coaster bus was valued at $950,000 and sold for $301,000 to the third-highest of the seven bidders, the highest bidder being $1.010M.
But on Monday, King and Tulsiram both assured that all procedures were followed in accordance with the Procurement Act/Financial Circular.
They explained that the vehicles needed to be removed to allow for the expansion of the building. He added that several national training bodies were contacted but refused the vehicles and that the highest responsive bidder failed to come forward and complete the purchase.
King said they were all crashed vehicles with the Nissan Frontier being “just a shell.”