By Candia Dames
12 May 2006
Minister of Youth, Sports and Housing Neville Wisdom, under whose portfolio Junkanoo fell before the February Cabinet reshuffle, disputed a portion of the Auditor Generalís most recent report on Thursday as it related to the controversial 2002 million-dollar Junkanoo bleacher contract.
As reported by the Bahama Journal, the Auditor General said that based on documentation from the then Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture it appears that the contract for rental of the bleachers did not receive Cabinet approval before an agreement was signed between the ministry and Towers Scaffold Services INC.
But the minister said this is not so.
"The Cabinet approved the bleacher contract," he indicated. Mr. Wisdom said the contract was approved before it was signed.
The Auditor General noted that Section 58 of the Financial Regulations states that the Cabinet shall make all contracts for supplies, works and services required by the government for amounts in excess of $250,000.
But the report said that based on documentation from the ministry, the ministry entered an agreement with Towers Scaffold Services INC. on October 28, 2002. However, approval for the venture was noted on November 28, 2002.
Asked to explain this, Minister Wisdom said that oftentimes Cabinet conclusions do not come out immediately when decisions are made. He suggested that this might be the case as it relates to the Junkanoo bleacher contract, although he was not sure.
The report also said that an examination of smaller Junkanoo bleacher contracts awarded during the 2002/2003 season revealed that the contracting parties did not sign three contracts.
The three contracts, the report said, were awarded in the amounts of $1,800 each.
To this, Minister Wisdom said, "I know absolutely nothing about that."
He promised to give a more detailed response after reviewing the Auditor Generalís Report, which was released in very limited numbers.
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee Brent Symonette, who is the Member of Parliament for Montagu, has continued to ask the government to provide each member of the committee with a copy of the report so that it can meet.
Mr. Symonette made his most recent request on the floor of the House on Wednesday evening.
The other members of the committee are Lucaya MP Neko Grant (FNM); Long Island MP Larry Cartwright (FNM); Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP Philip "Brave" Davis (PLP); and St. Thomas More MP Frank Smith (PLP).
Mr. Symonette told the Bahama Journal on Thursday that itís sad that the government has not been able to come up with five copies of the report for the members of the committee.
He said that when the committee meets it will call officials of the various ministries in for questioning.
He said the permanent secretary of the former Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture will be among those called.
"Weíre going to ask for various contracts and ask when they were executed," Mr. Symonette said.
Asked whether the Auditor Generalís report that the ministry violated the financial regulations concerned him, he said, "It concerns me a lot."
"The auditor general asked the government to verify the information and the government failed to do so, and the auditor noted it," Mr. Symonette added.
"This is a very fundamental issue. [Minister Wisdom] never should have signed this contract without approval."
The auditor general said that relevant Cabinet conclusions regarding the Junkanoo arrangements were not forthcoming. Therefore, he relied on information from files at the ministry. The report was tabled in the House of Assembly several days ago.
After the million-dollar contract was executed to rent the bleachers, Minister Wisdom faced a firestorm in the House of Assembly over the arrangements.
At one point, he informed that, "Yes, a million dollars is being invested, but the return anticipated from the exercise is $3 million."
But the auditor general noted that the revenue for ticket sales was estimated at $2.1 million, but only $695,000 was realized.
The auditor general recommended that for future years the budgetary process should be "more realistic".
During the Junkanoo bleacher contract debacle, the Bahama Journal reported that a draft report from the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche had put losses to the Bahamian taxpayers at $1,189,562 during the Junkanoo season in question.
Amid criticisms from opposition forces, Minister Wisdom consistently denied that his ministry executed the bleacher contract without first getting the necessary approval from Cabinet.
With the newly released Auditor Generalís Report resurrecting the controversy, itís likely that he will face further questions about the contract.
Prime Minister Perry Christie now has ministerial responsibility for the Junkanoo parades, which come under the Culture portfolio.