Opposition members grilled over illegal sale of unused motor vehicle in 2017

A “derelict” vehicle was sold in 2017 by the then Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, to a buyer who was not involved in the standard bidding process.

This was revealed during the statutory Monday meetings of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), as they perused excerpts of the Auditor General’s report for the years 2017 and 2018.

Minister of Public Works, Hon. Bishop Juan Edghill, MP addressing the Public Accounts Committee

As a regular practice, an advertisement or solicitation of bids is widely published to invite relevant stakeholders to take part in the bidding process. Once this is done, bidders will attend specific meetings, and thereafter submit their sealed bids. A bid is usually won based on the lowest responsible sum. In a case of selling, an item is expected to be sold to the highest bidder for maximum profit to be gained by the government, while still being reasonable to bidders.

It was however, revealed that an unserviceable Nissan Frontier valued at $100,000, with the highest bidder coming in at $500,000, was sold for $50,000 to “an individual who did not bid for the vehicle”, according to a document emanating from the Audit Office and circulated during the PAC meeting.

Member of Parliament and government member of the PAC, Hon. Sanjeev Datadin, MP, raised the question to find out why such a mishap transpired.

“My question is, how was it possible that you identified a person to buy the vehicle who did not bid?” Datadin enquired.

Datadin further went on to question a similar issue in which another vehicle was sold. In this circumstance, a Toyota pick-up valued at $50,000 was sold, but, according to the AG’s report, “no advertisement was made”.

The PAC meeting at Public Buildings

“[With the Toyota pick-up] no bids were even invited. So, to say that you followed a procurement process – no bids were invited for the pickup,” Datadin continued.

Minister of Public Works, Bishop Juan Edghill, who is also a sitting member of the PAC, continued the grilling of the officials present before the committee. The minister asked for information about the buyers of the vehicles to be brought to the fore, to ensure that the PAC continues to fulfil its mandate of transparency and accountability in the scrutiny of public funds.

Minister Edghill was then denied access to the information.

“Then we can’t name any other contractor anything here. We have asked for the name of a defaulting contractor; we have asked for the name of an engineer…I am simply asking who were the buyers? I want to establish that the buyers were not somebody from the ministry…why are we trying to hide it?”

Finance Secretary Sukrishnalall Pasha later advised the committee that it is not an appropriate practice for vehicles to be sold to the ministry’s employees, in response to a question raised by the PAC’s Chairman, Opposition MP, Jermaine Figueira.

“The practice is to not have persons in the system bid for these items, because they may be in a conflict-of-interest position,” Pasha said.

 Minister Edghill expressed his “total disagreement” with the decision made by the committee’s Chair to refuse the presentation of the information about the buyer of the vehicles.

“This is inconsistent with practices that have taken place at the PAC before and I want it to be noted,” the minister said.