Emmanuel calls for update on garbage contract inquiry

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~ Says financial controller had limited info ~

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Independent Member of Parliament Christophe Emmanuel on Sunday called for an update on the Ombudsman’s inquiry into the awarding of garbage contracts to five companies for the next five years. He said though the Minister of VROMI has gone quiet on the issue, it remains unresolved with several questions unanswered.

The MP explained that at least two companies filed complaints at the Ombudsman who in turn contacted the Minister with several inquiries based on those concerns. This was also confirmed by the Minister. The MP said he understands that the Minister has since responded to the Ombudsman with information that was not sufficient or clear enough for the Ombudsman to issue a final report.

“Judging from how the Ombudsman has worked in the past, the fact that we have not heard from the Ombudsman means that there are still issues that are unclear and there is still a serious lack of information from the government. I know government often hopes that people forget, but a process was started. What is going on with this process? What are the concerns of the Ombudsman and are they basically the same as the companies who complained about the bidding process?” MP Emmanuel asked.

In fact, he continued, it is reported that the financial controller of VROMI informed the Minister/COM that she was not provided with the final evaluations mentioned above or the financial information thereof. The controller reportedly signed off on the advice based on a reported “pre-approved” extra budget presumably in the 2021 budget since there are no funds available now or in the 2020 budget for an extra two million.

“One would think that a financial controller should be provided with all information before signing off on an advice that commits the government for two million extra. So the question is based on what did the controller sign off? Who approved that extra two million and how was this justified by the Minister? Also what did the Governor have to say about this? You could not use 2020 as a basis, so the budget of 2021 has to be in play somehow,” Emmanuel said.

“The Minister painted a picture as if the companies who complained were just unhappy or bitter that they were not awarded a parcel. He also tries to imply that I was somehow stirring trouble. Both the companies and I simply want clarity on a process that is unclear although the Minister said they made improvements to the process. Well those so called improvements have led to confusion and the involvement of the Ombudsman who also has a right to conduct a deeper investigation if the Minister does not provide clear answers and summon everyone who was involved in the process to get clarity,” the MP said.

As far back as January 2021, several persons associated with the bidding for the new contracts contacted the MP with serious complaints and accusations about the bidding process. He then raised several of these concerns publicly to ensure that proper procedures were followed and the process wasn’t corrupted.

He has since questioned the scoring breakdown of the bids, if the complete agreed upon advice was sent to the Governor of St. Maarten for approval, how was an additional two million found by a cash strapped government to increase the garbage contracts total, why one company was granted three parcels, who formed part of the evaluation committee for the bids and what were their original evaluation of the bids and several other questions.