Branding the issue as “political mischief”, Minister for Infrastructure, Ports, Energy and Labour, Stephenson King, has said that the civil servant(s) responsible for leaking government documents, which were exposed on a popular talk show last week, will be investigated and face the “full brunt of the law”.
Former government minister Richard Frederick revealed the documents – some 30 letters indicating the approval of direct awards for services and the purchase of goods – on his live Thursday night talk show, ‘Can I Help You’, on MBC TV.
Frederick noted that the signature of Castries Southeast MP, Guy Joseph, was affixed to the documents and appeared to have all been signed on the same day.
However, King defended Joseph at the weekly pre-Cabinet press briefing on Monday, saying his colleague did nothing wrong, and it is the civil servant(s) who leaked the documents who should be held accountable for violating sections 1, 4, and 5 of the Public Service Staff Orders.
“This is the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance under the Finance Act to do the necessary investigation to determine exactly where those documents were leaked from. And I am sure, based on my own conversation with the prime minister, that the matter will be investigated, thoroughly investigated, and officer or officers dealt with, with the full brunt of the law.
“Not withstanding that there is nothing wrong… no public officer has the authority or the duty to release any document that is part of the government’s file except it is released officially. So whereas there is nothing, but people must abide by the rules of the public service, not in their own whims and fancy,” King said.
The former prime minister explained the rational behind the issuance of the number of direct award contracts. He said the six-week delay in the passing of the 2017-2018 Budget hampered his ministry’s ability to do so earlier.
“That in itself didn’t provide the opportunity for the ministry to submit its proposals and to be approved for implementation in the first and second quarter. However, once the budget was approved and the submissions were made to the Ministry of Finance we had to, in an endeavour to achieve our third quarter target, we had to issue a number of direct awards.
“But they were not only direct awards, there are a number of awards which were made through the Central Tenders Board, a number which was made under the authority of the permanent secretary, that is awards below $50,000, and since in the absence of a departmental tender board, which deals with awards [of] up to $100,00, we were forced in the ministry to do an internal assessment or proposals requested from contractors and then to submit it as a direct award.
King said the issuance of direct award contracts is nothing new, having been done under successive governments, and dismissed suggestions that political favouritism was behind the issuance of some contracts.
“The tenders were put out and we would look at the most competitive bid, not necessarily the lowest, not necessarily the highest, but what we consider the most competitive bid. Because in bidding, not only does cost come into consideration, but experience, past performance, ability to deliver on time, in terms of your equipment, your capacity to be able to have the relevant equipment to undertake a job.
“So for example there may be contractors who may not have equipment but may have had an excellent track record of building roads, and so if that contractor comes within the cost of the project, that contractor may be favoured. So there is no single element to be considered in awarding a contract. There is nothing which states that you must award a contract to the lowest bidder,” King added.