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PM’s luxury ride raises eyebrows in Parliament Committee

The Office of the Prime Minister last year paid Beharry Automotive Sales Limited a total of $22M for three vehicles, payments which were made using money allocated to be spent the previous year as well as paid up front only for delivery to be made nine months later.
“Everything is wrong about this transaction and it falls on the lap of the accounting officer (Permanent Secretary),” was the retort of the chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)

The matter came to a head today (May 22, 2017) when Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Presidency, Abena Moore, was called in to provide clarity on the discrepancies raised by the Auditor General in his 2015 Report related to the purchase of a $13M luxury vehicle for Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.

A barely audible Moore, was unable at numerous times during the hours long grilling by the Parliamentary Committee to provide satisfactory answers and committed to provide all outstanding information at a later date.

Acting Chairperson of the Committee, Peoples Progressive Party Civic Member of Parliament, Bishop Juan Edghill, raised the matter and sought to query the procurement methods used but was told that government approached Beharry Automotive Sales directly to make the purchase since that was the only supplier.

That answer clearly irked Chairperson Edghill who quickly quipped, “monies were appropriated through an Appropriation Act for the purchase of a vehicle for the Office of Prime Minister…It did not say a Toyota Vehicle.”

The Committee Chairperson (ag) insists that it was only after the money was appropriated and procurement process engaged then the brand of vehicle could be known.

Having been told that Beharry Automative Sales was approached to sole source the vehicle, the chairperson raised the matter of payments since the contract stipulated that 50 per cent of the monies would be paid at the time of the order and the remainder paid at the time of delivery.

The Committee heard however that the auto dealer was in fact paid all the money upfront with two cheques which one technical officer attempted to explain away as a mistake.
“This is PAC you are talking to madam…A cheque could only be cut based on a process to give approval for the cutting of that cheque,” he explained.

Permanent Secretary Moore, at this point committed to providing the information at a later date as to specifically why the two cheques were cut at the same time and both paid to the auto dealer up front.
The extended delivery time by Beharry Automative Sales also proved to be a source of consternation for the technical officers none of whom could adequately explain the nine month delivery for a vehicle that was already paid in full.
The use of the monies in 2016 caused Finance Secretary Dr Hector Butts—at the behest of the Committee Chair—to intervene to explain to the Permanent Secretary how monies are to be rolled over for expenditure in the following year.

By the end of the lengthy PAC session involving Moore and the Minsitry of the Presidency, she conceded that none of the Financial Transactions for which she is being ‘hauled over the proverbial coals’ was overseen by her but rather the fired Permanent Secretary Omar Shariff.
The Committee heard that the luxury vehicle for Prime Minister nagamootoo was purchased at a cost of $13M and the remainder of the amount in the allocation was used to purchase two other vehicles—a car and motor cycle—from the same auto dealer under the same arrangements.

The Committee also heard that the Ministry of the Presidency in 2015 also paid almost $20M upfront to a US based company—Moonblink Communications Inc—to supply a quantity of Closed Circuit Television Cameras.

The money was paid using a Contingency Fund advance and Moore reasoned that the purchase was deemed to be urgent, unavoidable and unforeseen as catered for in the laws.

The Committee heard however that to date none of the equipment has been supplied and the company has in fact gone out of business.

According to Moore, “I engaged the Minister of State (Joseph Harmon) on this matter; he is speaking with the Minister of Legal Affairs (Basil Williams.”

She said too, the Ministry has also been looking to engage the American Embassy to solicit assistance in recovering the money.

There was no bond securing the transaction.