While noting that he respects the office of the Auditor General and the holder of the post, the Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn during a press conference on 9 October blasted the process by which the audit of the perimeter wall at the Elmore Stoutt High School was conducted. He also bemoaned the fact that responses to the draft report from the Ministry of Education were omitted from the final Special Report which has a completion date of 24 August, 2018.
The perimeter wall project has been the subject of rumors, which Hon. Walwyn told the media during his press conference were “patently false and politically motivated.” Nonetheless, the pronounced whispers led to former Governor John Duncan requesting that the matter be looked into.
The result is the Special Report which the Minister gave to the media and is to be submitted to His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert.
The crux of the matter is that concerns for security and safety at the Elmore Stoutt High School prompted the Ministry of Education to push to have a perimeter wall built speedily. As a result, in February 2015, the Minister of Education got approval from Cabinet for emergency funding to construct the wall. It was stated that Cabinet approved the funding and waived the tender process to allow for the use of petty contracts.
The Auditor General contends that the Ministry of Education outsourced the management duties of the project to an independent contractor without adequate oversight or the involvement of the Ministry of Finance’s Project Management Unit or the Public Works Department.
It was further stated that the work was divided by area, segments, and work type to 70 contractors using 15 petty contracts and 64 work orders to build the wall. The Auditor General stated that some individuals received multiple engagements on this project; and she announced that costing of segments were inflated to more than double the authorized cost for the wall segments. Additionally, the Auditor General said that the project also suffered from loss of economies of scale and discrepancies in the rates and quantities applied.
Further the Auditor General mentioned that approximately 60 percent of the contractors used for the project did not have the required construction licenses to perform this type of work within the Territory.
During his press conference Minister Walwyn abstained from casting blames on the Auditor General’s Office although, he announced that the fact the draft report and the final report are verbatim leaves one to form an opinion: “This could lead a bystander to believe that the determination of the final audit was made way in advance of the first draft. And if this is, in fact, the case, it is very, very sad,” Hon. Walwyn declared.
While stressing the fact that the final report was devoid of the points his Ministry made in response to the draft document, Hon. Walwyn announced: “It cannot be accepted that the Auditor General can issue a final report that is very often made a public document, and totally ignore the responses of the particular ministry that is being audited. When that is the case, the Auditor General’ office can write whatever they want to write in an audit report.”
One such response from the Ministry explained the reason why trade licenses and good standings were not required for some of the work. The Ministry stated: “Contractors were issued work orders not exceeding the $10,000 amount and therefore were not required to submit a valid trade licence and good standings for the work.”
Meanwhile, Hon. Walwyn said that he is watching to see what the outcome of the Special Report is going to be. Nonetheless, he said that in the interest of transparency he furnished the report, and response related to the project to the media.
Additionally, the Minister said that he was responding as a matter of protecting his integrity and defending the public servants who cannot speak out on the matter. “I speak about my professional integrity and not just mine, but the integrity of my colleagues, and I am fighting even more so for them. I would tell you this — contrary to what many persons believe Ministers at least this particular Minister — I do not get involved in projects.”
He announced that he has never been directly involved in the day to day management of government projects. Hon. Walwyn also stressed that certain technical matters were overlooked in the Audit Report. “If you go to any Ministry throughout Government that is exactly the way it is done. So I am concerned, but I also mentioned that it could perhaps be as well that the Auditor General’ Office needs to be beefed up…and I am not saying that those there are not qualified in their areas, but when you are dealing with technical issues …I do not think, and from the very report you can see that they don’t have the expertise within the Auditor General’s Office.”