Head of the Commission of Inquiry, Sir Gary Hickinbottom has disclosed findings that up to 60 percent of all major government contracts have been split into smaller contracts under the present administration.
With contract splitting, the tender process is usually waived by Cabinet and multiple contractors are selected to execute a project.
Addressing the subject when Premier Andrew Fahie appeared to give evidence before him yesterday, Sir Gary said: “It’s very, very high and given that a waiver can only be in rare and exceptional circumstances, that’s at least curious and unexplained.”
The Commissioner further said he was aware of government’s current procurement regime and questioned the level of confidence residents can have in any regime not being bypassed by the government.
‘Contract splitting’ must be seen in context, says Premier
Responding to the questions, Premier Fahie said the concept of ‘contract splitting’ should be viewed in the context of cultural nuances that exist in the BVI.
And while making reference to the construction being done at the Elmore Stoutt High School, Premier Fahie said his administration made a very ‘calculated but necessary’ decision to waive the tender process at that time.
He added that this was not done willy-nilly.
Premier Fahie told the COI that his government took contractors who were recognised and approved by the Caribbean Development Bank and placed them to work on the project to speed up the job. But he said this was looked at unfavourably by the previous governor.
He said the move should not have been seen in isolation given the context that it entailed. The leader of government’s business said this context was that students had been stranded at a mould-infested commercial building for years.
Systems in place but definitions need to be revisited
The Premier argued that besides having the systems in place for accountability, some definitions that were attached to governments procurement process needed to be revisited.
“So, you have a terminology of a contract splitting that you were being judged by but legally that doesn’t exist,” he stated.
“Some of the terminologies that are being used cannot hold the test of time in a court,” the Premier said. “I’ve heard about contract splitting and people believe in this terminology. You cannot split a contract, you can only split the project.”
He said there cannot be policies and laws that do not allow for accountability, but at the same time, these policies cannot be divorced from the people. Otherwise, small contractors would essentially be left behind.
“If you do that, you would wipe out a whole sector of your young contractors coming up, and only those who have money to tender will be able to tender,” the Premier said.
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