By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip “Brave” Davis revealed yesterday he intervened to cause the cancellation of two contracts awarded to his brother’s company by the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) while he served as minister of works in the Christie administration.
Mr Davis insisted he did not want his brother to be awarded any contracts with the Ministry of Works or any agency in his portfolio and as a result he moved for them to be cancelled when he learned these wishes were not honoured.
His comments came a day after The Tribune published contents from Ernst & Young’s (EY) audit into BEC, now called Bahamas Power & Light (BPL), which accused former Executive Chairman Leslie Miller of allegedly “influencing” procurement decisions and sometimes “circumventing” the process altogether. Mr Miller has denied these allegations.
The audit said Mr Miller wrote to BEC officials in October 2012, directing them that BEC’s board had requested two contracts be given to AL D’s Construction & Roofing – owned by Mr Davis’ brother – even though the business was not the preferred bidder in a tender process.
There was no assertion in the audit that the former deputy prime minister was involved in this decision.
Taking issue with parts of the audit, Mr Davis said when he learned AL D’s Construction & Roofing was chosen for work, he summoned Mr Miller and Permanent Secretary Colin Higgs to voice his concerns.
However, the Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP said it was Mr Miller who insisted AL D’s Construction & Roofing should not be disqualified for work because of its owner’s familial ties to the former deputy prime minister.
Mr Davis told Parliament that in sensing Mr Miller’s reluctance to follow his directive, he further instructed Mr Higgs to write a letter to BEC and its board of directors requesting the company terminate with immediate effect the two contracts awarded to his sibling’s company.
The EY report, first leaked to The Tribune and later tabled in the House of Assembly, does not include the information regarding Mr Davis’ intervention in having his brother’s contracts cancelled. For this reason, Mr Davis said in his view the report was not complete and was proof of the Minnis administration’s quest to “smear” and “scandalise” Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) members.
In response, Works Minister Desmond Bannister said the audit report made an “incorrect” allegation against Mr Davis, adding “unequivocally” there was no evidence presented that the opposition leader did anything wrong.
However, the audit and The Tribune’s original report did not accuse Mr Davis of any wrongdoing.
“I’m at peace,” Mr Davis said in the House of Assembly yesterday morning. “Earlier my karma and spirit were deeply disturbed and aggrieved.”
He also said: “The minister during the break indicated this report suggests that you might have given a contract from BPL. I said that’s what the report suggests? I said what else did the report say? He said that’s all the report said that you gave your brother a contract. I said well that report would be incomplete because if you check you would see that it is incomplete.
“Because when I became aware that BEC had awarded my brother a contract and it came to my attention I immediately summoned the chairman of BEC. If I’m not mistaken the member of Bamboo Town (Renward Wells) may have been present. I knew I discussed the matter with him for sure.
“I called them (the chairman and the PS) in and I said, ‘look my brother is not to be awarded any contract for my ministry or any of the agencies which falls in my portfolio. If any of the other ones wish to deal with him them fine, but he is not going to get anything from my ministry or any of the agencies that fall in my portfolio.’
“The chairman took the position that look man your brother ought not to be disqualified from the projects because he’s your brother and in any event, this is BPL, the board that will be dealing with this not your ministry.”
Mr Davis continued: “I said I hear what you’re saying…but in this political world I don’t want it to be said that my brother got anything for my ministry or any agencies.
“I conveyed this to the minister and I said if this is not in the report then the whole report is just the continued witch-hunt that your government is continuing on just to smear and to scandalise PLPs.
“I said check with your PS to see whether or not and quite frankly when I was speaking to him I knew that I had done some things, but I wasn’t quite sure that the letter had gone out but I knew that I gave instructions so I asked the minister to check.”
The letter Mr Davis was referring to is dated December 14, 2012. It was sent by Mr Higgs to Mr Miller referencing AL D’s Construction.
Mr Davis also said he was holding Mr Bannister accountable for the oversight in the report because he had knowledge of this letter.
The letter from Mr Higgs read: “I am directed to request that BEC terminate with immediate effect the two contracts recently awarded to ALD Construction, namely contracts for the renovation and painting of Blue Hills Substation and for the repair of the substation building, Soldier Road.
“ALD Construction should be invited to submit any claims for compensation for which they feel entitled. To the extent that any such claims cannot be agreed between the parties, the same should be resolved by arbitration, pursuant to the appropriate contract clause(s).
“They should also be requested to take steps to remove all of their plant, machinery, materials and equipment from the construction sites and to terminate any subcontracts which may have been entered into by them for the purposes of or in connection with the contracts.”
The letter, which was also tabled in Parliament, did not bear Mr Higgs’ signature, but Mr Bannister said he attested to its authenticity.
Mr Davis further questioned whether this letter had been ignored by auditors, adding whatever the case was he expected Mr Bannister would have instructed EY to go back and consider its contents.
“Mr Speaker this (letter) did not come from me,” Mr Davis said. “This came from the minister to me, so it would have come from an official source from the permanent secretary that still works for him. This letter is dated December 14, 2012 where it was cancelled and I would have expected that the report that Ernst & Young they are professionals, an international auditing firm with their integrity to protect.
“Now either they ignored these instructions, they saw these instructions and ignored it or these instructions that were provided were not brought to their attention. Whatever it is at the very least I’d expected was that the minister having discovered this would have said to Ernst & Young you need to go back on that particular matter and take this in to account.
“But at least take this into account but it wasn’t and so Mr Speaker it is an egregious effort. It’s targeting PLPs no doubt about it because I can say here that not only PLPs got contracts from BEC but FNMs too. In fact FNMs got contracts in the ministry I was involved in. We did not preclude anyone and while he laughs I can say that the brother of the prime minister was one of those who got contracts from BPL for a lot of monies - welding contracts at the Clifton Pier.”
For his part Mr Bannister maintained he had every intention to inform the House the report did not consider Mr Davis’ intervention.
“I wish to table volumes one and two of the report together with a letter from Permanent Secretary Higgs, which completely exonerates the leader of the opposition. I know him to be an honourable man and would not wish to see his reputation besmirched,” he said.
“I think members ought to appreciate that when we are in this place the integrity that we bring is important and so before I sought to table that report, knowing there was an allegation against a fellow sitting parliamentarian, I spoke to him privately as he indicated as I would do with any member of this place,” Mr Bannister said.
“I pulled him on the side. I spoke with him privately. I said there is an allegation against you. He took issue with that and there was an opportunity for him to be able to communicate directly with my office as I indicated the first time that we met which he took advantage of.
“My permanent secretary confirmed that the ministry had done what he had instructed. Somehow the records of BPL did not reflect that at all. That is regrettable because when the auditors came in and when they did their work they would not have come across that letter. The report has not been reprinted. It was fully my intention to indicate that when I spoke here today but somebody who had access to that report, and it’s a very small number of persons, leaked it out and as a result a reputation could be tarnished.”