Financial Secretary (FS) Jeremiah Frett says the government can pay a contractor before signing an agreement even though there isn’t anything on the territory’s law books that explicitly permits this action.
Frett gave that indication to the Commission of Inquiry (COI) this week. He was responding to indications that government consultant Claude Skelton Cline might have been paid during the two-month gap between the date his contract expired and the date it was renewed.
“Commissioner, in reviewing the Public Finance Management Act or the regulation, I don’t think there’s anything in writing that states that while the contract is being finalised or vetted by the Attorney General, you can proceed and issue a cheque,” Frett told the COI.
But he explained that the process to renew contracts for consultancies or leases is sometimes left “till the last minute” because “persons are not as vigilant as they should”.
He said this process might include a wait-time for a new agreement to be drafted and vetted.
“In the meantime, do you tell that person (the contractor) who might be working on a critical document to stand down and wait until? Or is there an understanding that there’s a likelihood that this person is going to continue providing the services?“ Frett stated.
High-level officials would’ve discussed advanced payment
The Financial Secretary said while he could not speak to any discrepancy that may have taken place with Skelton Cline’s contract, there may be mechanisms in place to facilitate payment in advance of a contract.
“But I’m sure that there would have been some communication, whether between the former FS or the Premier’s Office and the Treasury, in seeking to execute payment [before a contract is finalised],” Frett told the COI.
“There might have been a fair understanding that this (Skelton Cline’s contract) can be renewed, it’s just a delay. It’s got to go to Cabinet, it’s got to go to the AG Chambers then come back to Cabinet, and it’s taking longer,” the FS added.
He continued: “I know Treasury may have observed that the contract expired. If they did not, it would probably be an oversight, and they would have flagged it, and they would have said, ‘what is the position? We have an invoice for payment, however, the contract has expired‘,” the FS said.
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