Additional professional fee claim for Justice Square concerns ministry official, MPs
THE Ministry of Justice is investigating an additional $50 million claim for professional fees from project managers involved in the expansion of court facilities in Justice Square in downtown Kingston.
Permanent Secretary Carol Palmer has informed Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) that she has "serious concerns" about the project.
"As I indicated in November, this project is with the internal auditors of the ministry, because, as I indicated then, I have some serious concerns," she told the PAAC at its weekly meeting on Wednesday at Gordon House.
She was responding to questions raised by Opposition MP, Mike Henry, about a $50 million item included in a Summary of Actual and Projected Costs, and presented to the committee by the ministry, but which its officials could not fully explain.
Henry sought clarification of the item listed as "damage to fence and fuel line", with a projected additional cost of $50.4 million. But, neither the permanent secretary nor her team could explain exactly what it meant, other than that it was a claim for additional professional fees.
"Damage to fence and fuel line should not be there," the permanent secretary admitted, explaining that the item should have referred instead to professional fees and added to the $92.6 million already approved for those fees.
"What it means then, is that professional fees have gone up to $143 million... We have to get a full explanation of this," a startled PAAC Chairman Edmund Bartlett responded.
Palmer said that what was in the submission was all the ministry could present based on the information available from its files.
"In other words, this is a sum based on the claim I now have from the project managers that instead of the $92 million already approved by cabinet, the fees are going up to $143 million,' Palmer said.
She explained that after Cabinet approved an increased budget for the project from $700 million to $1 billion in December 2011, certificates have been sent in by the project managers increasing the professional fees.
"And that is a subject of my own investigations right now... I have, out of my own concern, brought in a quantity surveyor to assist me in this project, because we do not have those skills within the ministry, and I have concerns that I indicated in November and I still have concerns on this project," Palmer said.
"Therefore, I would say to this committee that this figure is given to you because those are the figures which are before me, but I cannot explain exactly now, until I have the clarifications that I need," she added.
However, she insisted that, in her view, the costs of the current phase of the project should go down, based on the fact that her ministry has reached an agreement with the Ministry of Finance to use the Public Building West on King Street, currently occupied by the Accountant General's Department, for the expansion of the Court of Appeal and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
"We are not going to be doing any new construction on that building, which is what was contemplated in the (previous) arrangements" she said.
The Government had agreed with to spend $283 million on construction costs for upgrading Public Building West after the tender process was completed and a contractor identified 12 months ago, but no funds have been earmarked for that project since.
Palmer also told the committee that the intervention of the quantity surveyor has resulted in significant reductions in payments on certificates being presented to the ministry .
"Her fee is minuscule compared to the savings I have already gotten from her intervention, and I will have to report on this, in its totality, at a later date when the investigations are completed," she said.
She also stated that the ministry will have to make a decision on whether it is going to keep the current project managers, "because we are going to be changing what we are going to do and the contract, in fact, will need to be different".
Bartlett suggested that PAAC members hold further questions on the matter until the permanent secretary returns with a report.
The Justice Square project is an initiative started by the previous government to provide additional courtrooms and office spaces for the major courts in downtown Kingston. It includes construction of new facilities and an extensive renovation of the old NCB building on King Street, as well as the refurbishing of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, the project has been hobbled by funding problems.