Airport audit to remain under wraps

| 26/09/2018 | 41 Comments
Cayman News Service

Construction of the Owen Roberts Airport

(CNS): An interim progress report on the airport redevelopment project conducted by the Office of the Auditor General will remain under wraps for several more months because it is “a live project” that is “still commercially sensitive”.  The review, which is believed to confirm wide speculation about cost overruns being at least 20% more than the original estimates, has raised concerns for Public Accounts Committee Chair Ezzard Miller because, he said, the enforced secrecy means his committee cannot do its job and he is unable to reveal any of the content.

The report was given to House Speaker McKeeva Bush and PAC on 30 August, but the members were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement not to reveal the contents of the report, which Auditor General Sue Winspear has said was conducted to help government to steer the project and consider improvements before it’s complete, with “a view to getting a better overall outcome”.

Winspear told CNS that she is also not entirely comfortable with the lack of openness and transparency around this interim report but believes conducting such an exercise is worthwhile, and at this point there were sound reasons for keeping the document out of the public domain.

“There is more value in undertaking performance audits on major projects when they are in progress as it enables government to steer the project and consider improvements prior to the end of the project, with a view to getting a better overall outcome. But the downside of this approach is inevitably the tension between doing this and being open and transparent at that point in time, given it is a live project,” the independent public auditor stated.

She explained that there are likely to be commercial risks from contract information being made public too soon.

“As the Owen Roberts Airport redevelopment is still a live project and thus still commercially sensitive, I decided, after seeking the advice of both the acting governor and attorney general, that this report was only to be given at that point in time to the five members of the PAC and the speaker. I plan to make the report public as soon as the project is completed or the commercial sensitivities are otherwise sufficiently diminished. Given my office strongly upholds and promotes openness and transparency, this is not a situation that I find ideal,” Winspear added.

The PAC chair agrees that this is not ideal and he told CNS that he is becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation because without the power of public scrutiny there is no way for the committee to know if any of the auditor general’s recommendations are being followed.

He also pointed out that the PAC held an administrative meeting earlier this month and they and Winspear had agreed to release the report to all other MLAs under the same terms of non-disclosure. But two weeks later the speaker had not yet distributed the report to the other members, Miller said, adding that he did not know if MLAs on the government bench had seen a copy of the report.

Miller, who is the opposition leader, said it was “regrettable” that he could not tell readers about the content. He explained that this is the first time the PAC had asked the OAG to undertake a report on a project before it was finished, with the intention of heading off the kind of problems that have been revealed and well documented by the auditor general when it comes to government-funded capital projects.

“But if we are not allowed to hold public hearings on the findings until after the project is finished, what is the point?” Miller asked, pointing out that keeping the lid on this report defeats the purpose.

Emphasising his inability to speak about the content, Miller said that the way things are being handled raised some constitutional questions about the independence of the auditor general, as he implied that the civil service hierarchy are the ones putting pressure on Winspear not to release the report.

But Miller’s main concern is that without public scrutiny there is no way to influence change or to know whether or not the OAG’s recommendations will be addressed.

He said that long before the report was finished there had been mounting rumours that all was not going to plan at the airport when it came to cost overruns and the time-table. He pointed out that the delay was already in the public domain and numbers ranging from increases of 5% to 30% on the originally $55 million price tag have been circulating for months.

At the beginning of this month during a sitting in the Legislative Assembly on Cayman Brac, the speaker took aim at Chis Saunders, a member of PAC who has seen the report, after he mentioned the overruns at the airport as a warning signal during the debate on the request for a government referendum about the cruise port. But his words were struck from the record.

Given that the ministry management team that steered the airport project through is the same one that will be overseeing the cruise and cargo project, there are calls for the OAG’s airport report to be made public before government moves on what will be the largest ever capital works project in Cayman’s history.

Sources close to the project have told CNS that it will not be finished until well into 2019 and that the increase in costs is likely to be around 20%. But Winspear’s report is likely to have scrutinized the process and while it may demonstrate that the ministry managers and board followed the law to a ‘t’ but earlier, almost since the beginning of the project, questions had been raised about the timelines on decisions and how various contractors were selected.

Miller warned that covering up the report because of the so-called “commercial sensitivities” could set a dangerous precedent that can be used by government to keep a lid on any future reports that criticise its handling of major projects.

And with government claiming that the costly and controversial cruise port project is going to be a public-private partnership, such a model would already make close scrutiny difficult.

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Category: Government Finance, Government oversight, Politics

Comments (41)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    AirportsRUs “How can we help you?”
    Alden “It is the Cayman Islands here. We want a new airport. We’d like to pay top end prices for third rate products. That’s how we like things down here.”
    AirportsRUS “We have a 1980s design for a dull US fly-over state regional airport. We could build that for you for the price of a cutting edge modern international airport”
    Alden “Sounds great, but don’t worry if you crash over budget. We have lots and lots of money and can keep it all secret from the public while it is being built.”
    AirportRUS “Super. And what about the shops, restaurants etc”.
    Alden “We’ll sort out those. We are going for a ‘crap and massively over-priced’ feel. It helps the tourists finish their vacation with the same vibe as the rest of their time here”.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    airport looks like garbage. We paying Royals Royce money but getting a chevy.

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  3. anonymous says:

    No matter how many hundreds of millions of dollars this “world class” airport will cost us, nothing will take away from the majesty and glory of those magnificent arches soaring towards the heavens, which as the Minister says will cause our visitors to pause and gaze in awe.Surely our Airport Authority got this absolutely right, giving top priority to this cosmetic folly and leaving the travelling public to contend with the third world parking system that has given endless problems for more than 20 years.

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  4. bobo says:

    its a joke
    and it looks like crap
    sterile
    looks like a commercial slaughter house
    and whats with the arches?
    We are suppose to appeal as a tourist destination not a post modern / soviet block country
    awful waste of money
    I CAN ONLY IMAGINE THE CRUISE PORT

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    • Anonymous says:

      The only thing worse is the interior! Who is responsible for those awful blue cabinets with the yellow granite tops!?! It is hideous!!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    At least the duty free shops and fast food places will be open on time.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Most posters are simply making things up. If you have not seen the report how in the hell can you comment on it.

    By the way I don’t know any where in the world where major projects are done except in Cayman (GAB project John Gray gym ) where there is not significant cost over runs.

    CIG major project office has changed everything, gone are the days of the public money being wasted on major projects.

    Thank you PPM and Civil Service.

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  7. Diogenes says:

    Another reason why a project the size of the CIG’s annual budget (the proposed berthing facilities) should not be pursued under this administration or any other
    Gambling with unnecessary expenditures and egotistical projects of this size is how countries go from prosperous with bright futures to failed states and international crises
    Anyone braindead enough to support the CIG pursuing these projects with their track record of failed projects is TFG (too far gone)

    Diogenes

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    • Just facts says:

      Folks you have not read the report how in he world can you comment on its contents.

      CNS posters ability to simple “make up stuff” is beyond belief.

      Thank you Auditor General you are a breath of fresh air.

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      • Anonymous says:

        What exactly am I making up here?
        The continuous, purposeful and intolerable obfuscation by the CIG is an issue that I have been talking about for years.

        The report is being purposefully kept secret from the people, does that seem to you like positive content is inside
        You think that the CIG is purposefully hiding a report that is positive in regards to this project?
        Take a second and make an educated guess as to the actual contents likely within in the audit, and then the secrecy surrounding it might make a bit more sense to you.

      • Anonymous says:

        6.06pm “CNS posters ability to simple “make up stuff” is beyond belief.” It is the price we pay for being allowed to post anonymous; some take advantage and just “make up stuff”.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Local contractors almost always bid to undercut a project’s actual break even cost in order to win. Then, halfway through learning as they go, they give you the bad news on remaining cash. Time and time again. You gotta double the best estimate on anything or go with a bidder with a track record of actually completing projects on budget – if CIG procurement even retains such data – doubtful!

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Just making sure all the lodge buddies for their fair share.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    If this audit is accurate (it’s supposed to be), it will reveal numerous cost overruns. I know of one system which had 8 change orders, all costly as components had to come from Australia & Germany. Also, I wonder if they will report the special glass which arrived broken and allegedly wasn’t insured?

    Also, what happened to the spoils (all the old, usable materiel)? Is it true that only 6 toilets were “rescued” by the CIAA Maintenance Unit? Remember all restrooms in the Terminal were totally refurbished in 2012/3, including toilets and other fixtures – that’s approximately 28 toilets!

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    • Anonymous says:

      You just have to love CNS for allowing anonymous comments. A veritable font of information!

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    • Anonymous says:

      Wow we now have a toilet count! Maybe they can find one for you to sit on with all this real important information you have to post.

  11. Anonymous says:

    When logic and a sound business plan fail or do not exist always use the fear factor.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    The Cayman Islands – from the 5th largest financial sector in the world, to a Banana Republic. Yay, unity gowament.

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  13. Anonymous says:

    Chill out people!!! Proper creative accounting takes time!!

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  14. Anonymous says:

    Just wait until the half a billion dollar port goes “over budget” (code for officials milking government coffers) by 20%. We are so screwed its not even funny!!

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  15. Anonymous says:

    A lot of this is manufactured umbrage. Management is expected to make mid-course corrections if something isn’t working and private audits help you find those problems you need to solve. But of course you don’t do the public audit until after a project is finished. And nothing stops the PAC from doing a private review (which it actually sounds like they did) if CIG (LA) feel that there are emerging problems that PAC involvement at this time will help to remedy. However to argue that the report is worthless, or somehow provides a way to keep AG reports secret for ever, just because a mid-project report is not suitable for publication mid-project is storming in a teacup.

    To put it another way, the PAC & its Chair knew the report would (probably) need to remain confidential but they asked the AuG for it anyway and now are complaining when what they knew was going to happen has happened? Sounds like they planned to complain in advance also. The Auditor General’s office is getting played for politics here by the Chair of the PAC.

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  16. Anonymous says:

    And the stupid kirkbots want to trust this bunch to build a half a billion dollar port!? How many RED FLAGS do you need!??? This government cannot be trusted!!!

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  17. Anonymous says:

    If there was anything in the report to be concerned about, or any dirt on the PPM, you can be sure it would be front page news. The fact that Ezzard hasn’t leaked the details tells me there’s not much to talk about.

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    • Anonymous says:

      If you hit thumbs down on this post, then you don’t know Ezzard. He was ready to go to press with this report until he actually got his hands on it. 5 or 6 million in overruns on a $55 million renovation and expansion project plus 5 or 6 million in enhanced or upgraded features pre-approved by the Board when funds became available. All paid for without any borrowing. Poor Ezzard. Well done CIAA. Can’t wait to see this published.

  18. Anonymous says:

    To think the Unity team promised us Transparency, how stupid are we now?

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  19. Anonymous says:

    report says it is a complete shambles. now cig can scramble to save face and find excuses.

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  20. Diogenes says:

    Is this the part where we pretend to be shocked?

    *feigns surprise*

    Diogenes

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  21. Anonymous says:

    More alleged overruns proving the point more and more everyday that the CIG cannot be trusted to negotiate a contract for 200-300 million dollars without bankrupting these islands with unforeseen overruns and delays

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