The Infrastructure Minister branded a Tynwald committee a ‘disgrace’ during heated scenes at the start of an enquiry into the dumping of silt from Peel marina.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is investigating the Department of Infrastructure’s financial and procurement processes for the contracts to remove the silt, heard its first evidence on Wednesday.
The hearing featured a number of heated exchanges between PAC chairman Alf Cannan MHK and Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne, who repeatedly branded the hearing ‘a disgrace’.
The PAC was told that the cost of the dredging and dumping operation totalled £285,000. The harbour was dredgedby an off-island company and the silt was transported to Poortown quarry by JCK Limited.
Under questioning, the DoI’s chief executive Nick Black and director of harbours Ann Reynolds conceded that two ‘mistakes’ had been made in the procurement process.
Firstly the Department had not secured the required waiver for seeking legal advice on contracts that could exceed £50,000, and each haulage company that could have completed the work was not contacted by phone.
But it was Mr Cannan’s assertion that ‘accepted practices were almost completely ignored’ by the DoI that prompted the Minister to intervene.
‘This is about politics and doesn’t appear to be about getting to evidence,’ Mr Gawne said.
The chairman was then forced to refute the Minister’s suggestion that he should declare his own interest as a member of the Environment and Infrastructure Committee. ‘We’re not turning this into a circus’, he added.
‘I think you already have.’ replied Mr Gawne.
Admitting the department’s mistakes in the procurement process, Mr Gawne told the hearing: ‘If you make two small mistakes in delivering a really good outcome, then you get treated to what the chairman has treated my officers to today.
‘Compared with the scale of the task we were facing, does that really warrant the barrage that you just delivered to my senior officers? I don’t think that it does.’
Mr Gawne told the Examiner: ‘Having sat and listened to the barrage of questions, and interruptions to my officer’s evidence, it was clear to me that the chairman had made up his mind in advance.
‘It shocked me that a committee as powerful as the Public Accounts Committee should seem so disinterested in hearing the evidence from my department.’
He continued: ‘It’s the only one [hearing] I have ever been in where I haven’t had the opportunity to present my evidence.
‘We were almost an hour into proceedings and I hadn’t been asked a single question. I started to wonder what was the point in me being there.’
Mr Gawne admitted he had considered a formal complaint but has decided not to pursue the matter.
‘I have no wish to interfere with the way the Public Accounts Committee runs its affairs. But I think they’re wrong if they think that’s how to get the best out of their witnesses,’ he said.
Mr Cannan told the Examiner: ‘The Public Accounts Committee has a remit to investigate matters that it sees fit. Once we have fully reviewed this matter, we will make a full and balanced report to Tynwald together with any recommendations as appropriate’.