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PAC members clash over PetroCaribe consultant fiasco

Published:Wednesday | April 29, 2015 | 4:43 AM

The Board of the PetroCaribe Development Fund (PDF) is seeking to recover nearly US$50,000 from a consulting firm that was contracted in 2013 to prepare a risk management policy for the fund at a cost of US$84,000 plus general consumption tax (GCT), after raising concerns about intellectual property rights issues.

Yesterday, Financial Secretary Devon Rowe told members of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the matter is now before arbitration and it would not be appropriate for him to comment on the issue as this would compromise the legal process currently under way.

“Since it is going through a legal process I am very concerned about what I say and how it could influence those processes,” he cautioned.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, who conducted an audit of the PDF, reported to the committee that the fund has not accepted the draft policy prepared by the consulting firm and sought advice from the Attorney General’s Department.

“The PetroCaribe Fund is being careful in how it takes ownership of a document that it may be proved or not proved that there are intellectual property issues because there is concern that those liabilities could come to the PetroCaribe Fund,” Rowe said.

He said the fund is awaiting the outcome of the legal deliberations.

“We have asked for recovery of our funds and we are prepared to return to documents if necessary,” Rowe added.

Fitz Jackson intervened on what he said was a point of order, urging Shaw not to pursue the matter as it would affect the process of arbitration.

He accused Shaw of attempting to subvert the legal process, adding that the chairman was heading down a dangerous path.

However, Shaw hit back, claiming that the PAC would not be part of a "cover-up" of information.'

"I take umbrage to that remark. You are imputing that the committee is so doing and that is unbecoming of you," Jackson responded.

The verbal exchange between Shaw and Jackson escalated. 

"Mr Chairman, how loud you shout do not intimidate me," said Jackson, adding, "you will not usurp the committee by being the chairman. “You came here prepared to lead a cover up on this issue it is obvious to me,” Shaw retorted.

Monroe Ellis in her comments said she has seen the document and formed her own opinion on the issue.

“I am sympathetic to the position taken by the PDF in seeking to ensure that it receives value for money and I believe in the interest of not prejudicing this matter, I think it’s best I say no further on that until the matter is resolved, whether it is through the courts or arbitration,” the auditor general asserted.

Rowe said the fund is now seeking to hire another consultant. In the meantime, he said the PDF was having discussion with PricewaterhouseCoopers in terms of preliminary advice on risk management.