Nevis Commission of Inquiry Exposes Faults

Sir Richard Cheltenham Questions Laurie Lawrence

Sir Richard Cheltenham Questions Laurie Lawrence (R) At Nevis Commission of Inquiry

Charlestown, Nevis
July 21, 2009

Permanent Secretary in the Nevis Island Administration’s Ministry of Finance for the last 16 years Mr. Laurie Lawrence told the Commission of Inquiry on Tuesday, that there was a definite need to upgrade and modernize the Financial Instructions. The document which had been used to guide financial matters was written in the 50’s and was adopted by St. Kitts and Nevis after independence in 1983.

Mr. Lawrence, in his near two hour long testimony, was at the time making reference to the purchase of the Marion Heights Shopping Mall, a property that was purchased by the NIA for $1.4million, a matter that was under investigation by the Commission.

“There is no procedure laid out for the purchase of property, there is nothing addressing conflict of interest in the financial regulations. It says that contracts should be tendered for over $3, 000,” he said but cited that the tendering process procedure was not always followed.

However, he noted that the NIA in collaboration with the Federal Government was in the process of revising the Financial Act, the Procurement Rules and the Financial Regulations.

Mr. Lawrence said too, that there was no regulation that governed accepting gifts and agreed with Queen’s Counsel Sir Richard Cheltenham that there should be a protocol in place with regard to that situation.

In more testimony, he said at the time of the Marion Heights purchase he hastened to put things in place to meet with a September 1998 deadline that was given to him by the then Premier Mr. Vance Amory. The deadline was subsequently not met but he insisted that he did his best to negotiate the best possible price, with the owners of the property given the three month time frame he was compelled to work with.

Mr. Lawrence said he based his negotiations on a valuation report from then Inspector of Works at the Public Works Department Mr. Anthony Nisbett.

Mr. Lawrence negotiated to purchase the property on behalf of the NIA. The property he said was to be used to house the University of the West Indies Long Distance Programme and the Department of Education.

Other witnesses were Mr. Anthony Nisbett and a Charlestown Businessman Mr. Trevor Chapman who accused the former Administration of discriminating against him in its decision to acquire Marion Heights at the price it did. He said his building at Prospect was valued at over 1million yet the NIA then purchased his building via a public auction for $500,000.

The final of four witnesses for the day’s proceedings was Mrs. Andrea Tyson a part owner of the Marion Heights Shopping Mall who was questioned by Attorney-at-Law Mr. Jeffrey Nisbett, Sir Richard’s Assistant in the Commission.

She addressed the financial status of the property at the time the NIA had shown interest in purchasing the property and when and how and to whom the cheques were made payable at the end of the million dollar purchase.

The Commission of Inquiry which was commissioned by the NIA is headed by British Queen’s Counsel, Mr. Thomas Sharpe, with Queen’s Counsel, Sir Richard Cheltenham as Commission Counsel.

Proceedings were adjourned early Tuesday afternoon and are expected to resume on Wednesday at 10am.

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