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Difficult decisions and judgement calls: Auditor General on decision to publish ORIA report

Auditor General Sue Winspear defends the decision to release her report which flagged cost overruns on the Owen Roberts International Airport project.

On Thursday she broke down her reasons for delaying publication of the report, which was only released on Monday (21 January,) but had been presented to the Public Accounts Committee in August last year.

“It’s a judgement call,” Ms. Winspear explained.

She added: “I hope that judgement doesn’t have an adverse impact. But the public good is best served by bringing out the report into the open now.”

But the Auditor General said it was not an easy call to make.

“You can get into that tension between transparency, openness and public accountability versus commercial sensitivities and things around that. For me it’s been very tricky to make the right judgement calls about when to hold things private and when to release things,” Ms. Winspear admitted.

Back in October 2017, Ms. Winspear presented an update on the ongoing major capital projects in Cayman. The airport redevelopment was included, but was still in its infancy.

Six months later, the Public Accounts Committee asked for this report. She said, with the project being live, it was an opportunity for her office to steer the team working on the project where remedial measures were needed and make an impact before it ended.

She cited two reasons for the delay and the over-spend at Owen Roberts in her report.

Firstly, the performance of the lead consultant was called into question and secondly, changes were made to scope, after contracts had been signed.

The Ministry of Tourism has defended those changes saying they were in the interest and safety of passengers, that opportunities to make improvements should be taken if they are presented.

That was an argument Opposition Leader Hon. Ezzard Miller said did not hold water.

“All those things should have been incorporated in the original design. What we have here is a bad design, bad planning, bad implementation of a project that has led to the over-run,” Mr. Miller stated.

Ms. Winspear acknowledged the practicalities of the Ministry’s defense, saying the “affordability” factor did have to be taken into account.

“Things are constrained by the amount of funding available at the outset,” she said, before going on: “but these are improvements that should have been foreseen at the start.”

She asked: “did it take Hurricane Irma to make us realise we needed the most effective glass for hurricane proofing?”

She insisted she places great importance on the strength of the evidence in compiling her reports, but said people should be free to draw their own conclusions from her findings.

“The inferences and conclusions I draw are mine and mine alone. It’s not something that I do expecting people to be universally happy,” she revealed.

Ms. Winspear suggested that, in comparison to major overspends on past projects, like the two government high schools, the airport redevelopment should be applauded.

“There’s been plenty of positives,” she stated.

She explained it was “the first major project delivered under the Major Projects Office out of government, which has brought discipline and good governance into place.”

Repeated requests for interviews from both the Ministry of Tourism and the Cayman Islands Airport Authority have gone unanswered.

Mr. Miller, meanwhile, stated that in his capacity as chair of the Public Accounts Committee, there will be public hearings on the OAG’s findings.

He said he hoped this would be done before Valentine’s Day.

About the author

Caroline James

Caroline James

Caroline joined Cayman 27 in September 2018 after seven years working for Sky News in London, both as a Producer on the World News programme and, latterly, as News Editor on the Foreign Desk, where she led coverage on the ground of stories as diverse as the 2016 US Election, corruption allegations surrounding FIFA and The Oscars. Before this, she worked as a Producer for Associated Press Television News (APTN) for two years, based in their London headquarters. Caroline graduated with a BA Hons degree in Arabic, French and German from Durham University, before gaining an MA in Television Journalism with distinction at City University, London. When not hunting down stories in Cayman, she can be found playing tennis, practicing Bikram yoga or enjoying a beer on Seven Mile Beach. You can reach Caroline at carolinejames@hurleysmedia.ky or 326-2243.

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