Negligence at the top, again! Solve it with a Contractor General

October 17 2011

Two developments in the past week have exposed Government behaviour that deliberately failed to safeguard the interests of the public.

The Andre Curtis trial exposed shocking lack of control over the spending of public money, and this morning people learned a Government minister overrode technical officers to push through an untendered contract that violated health and safety regulations protecting government workers.

The disregard for the public interest by the Minister of Works & Engineering in the matter of the Global House LED lighting contract was not isolated to one instance of bad judgment; rather it was methodical disregard of all checks and balances the system put forward.

Consider the following findings in a report by the Electrical Section of the Ministry of Works & Engineering:

  • No proper feasibility study was conducted on the LED lights despite their costing approximately ten times more than the fluorescent lights they were to replace.
  • The feasibility study, which was to be used to make the final decision, was conducted by the contractor – surely a conflict of interest.
  • Technical officers expressed concern about the project including “significantly less” LED light illumination levels
  • In addition, an office set up to demonstrate the LED lighting garnered the concern of “all those who entered” the office.

Despite official reservations and a record of complaints, the decision was made in the spring of 2009 to proceed with the contractor.

“Thereafter,” the Ministry report says, “complaints began to be received about the new LED lighting.”

The lighting installed by the contractor, Electrical Technology Management (ETM), did not bear any markings, meaning there was no way to conclude it had been certified by a recognised testing centre, meaning it did not comply with Bermuda’s health and safety standards.

There was concern also that the LED “blue light” posed an eye safety hazard, specifically photochemically induced retinal injury… from radiation exposure.”

The report concluded that the subsequent installation of the LED lights was a clear disregard of Bermuda’s Occupational Health & Safety Regulations, the Bermuda Building Code and the Electrical Code.

The Global House lighting situation was an avoidable mess. All that was needed was a minister whose decisions were guided by what best served the public interest.

The One Bermuda Alliance has a few questions about this matter:

  1. Why did the Minister push ahead with the decision to give ETM the contract when everything to that point said ‘Wait a minute”?
  2. Did Ministry officials know the LED tubes were unmarked – and therefore not in compliance with Bermuda standards – prior to the contract being signed?
  3. Does the Ministry plan eye-testing for employees exposed to the “blue-light hazard?”
  4. Did Cabinet support the ETM contract?
  5. Who are ETM’s principals? Who are its owners?

The LED lighting scandal underscores the need for a Contractor General, independent of government, whose sole role is to oversee the tendering process, monitor projects and contracts to ensure that rules and guidelines are strictly enforced and to identify any unfair practices or offensive conduct that takes place in government-sponsored projects.

The key point in this proposal is the Contractor General’s independence. If the Government is not interested in protecting the public interest, someone must.  

On a final note, we congratulate the staff in Works & Engineering’s Electrical Section for compiling their highly critical report on the Global House affair. It took courage. We will be watching for any repercussions.