Port Royal Golf Course Failures

The Auditor General’s Report into the then-Government’s handling of the upgrade of the Port Royal Golf Course was hair-raising stuff. 

Many of the checks and balances the Government has carefully put into place over the years to oversee the spending of public money on large public projects went out the window.  The PLP Government had to change the law in order to give oversight of the project to the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Tourism instead of the Ministry of Public Works. 

The need for competitive tendering was sometimes ignored.  The Trustees of the Golf Courses didn’t seem to bother with the normal public money protocols – money was sometimes spent without authorisation, there were cost overruns, lack of oversight and accounting procedures up and down the chain of command, and loans authorised without Parliamentary approval. The project, initially budgeted for $4.5 million ended up costing $24 million.

It was almost as if the PLP Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Tourism gave the Trustees a sack full of money and said “Here, spend this.  If you need more, we’ll fill it up again for you.”

Perhaps a part of the reason was that Premier Ewart Brown wanted the new Port Royal to be the site of the PGA Grand Slam, so time was always of the essence in getting the work done. 

But urgency is no excuse for throwing the rulebook out of the window.  The Auditor General said this: “Should those persons responsible for the failure to safeguard the public purse be held accountable? The answer must be a resounding and unequivocal Yes.”

The House of Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee will undoubtedly be making an investigation.  Will they see to it someone is held accountable?  We’ll see.

The Port Royal project was controversial almost from the day it started.  One widely-seen story in July, 2008, began this way:

“Government MP Zane DeSilva can expect a bumper $9-million payday for helping renovate the Port Royal public golf course.

‘The Island Construction boss, who also sits on a Board of Trustees which oversees the management of the island's three public courses, was the only company to submit a bid to Government to carry out excavation work, which accounts for the bulk of the $13.6-million price tag for the project.”

“The revelation supports earlier claims from rival construction firms that the job was never put out to tender and contradicts claims by the Board of Trustees that Mr. DeSilva won the contract after ‘providing a competitive price’.”

Golf Course Trustees Chairman Wendall Brown had said: "Island Construction was given the contract because of their experience, having recently done the excavating at Tucker Point and Mid Ocean and providing a competitive price. At no point was Mr. Zane DeSilva involved with the bidding process either as a Trustee or as a representative of Island Construction."

At the time, UBP leader, Shadow Tourism Minister and golf pro Kim Swan said that written answers provided by Dr Brown to questions asked in the House of Assembly clearly supported the claim that no other companies had been invited to submit bids for the excavation work.

And he said: "The Board of Trustees claim that they hired a project manager to oversee the project but clearly Zane DeSilva is the project manager.  He is the deputy chairman of the Board and is also chairman of the links committee, and he just so happens to end up winning the contract for the bulk of the work?”

There were also complaints by those who felt Bermudians had been bypassed in favour of foreigners for jobs at the course once it was completed.  The issue was discussed by the Bermuda Professional Golfers Association, when several members expressed their disgust at the way they say local applications had been ignored.

Questions about hiring were dodged neatly by the former PLP Premier’s Press Secretary at the time, who said “The Golf Courses (Consolidation) Act 1998 gives the Board of Trustees hiring power for the public golf courses. So there is no appropriate person in Government for these questions."

It can’t be denied that Port Royal is now a first-class addition to Bermuda’s golfing attractions, but apparent disregard for the rules was no way to accomplish that.  The irony is that the PLP government’s then-Ministers and Members of Parliament, who sat as quiet as mice while all this was going on, and who must have known it was going on, are now screaming every time the One Bermuda Alliance Government steps up to the plate to get the job done properly.

 

-- By Susan Jackson, JP, MP – OBA Representative of Pembroke South West





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