Local caterer crying foul after failed tender with MSJMC

Photo caption: Executive Chef and Owner of Nigel’s Catering, Nigel Joseph, during an appearance on ABS’ Good Morning Antigua Barbuda show.
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By Orville Williams

One local business owner is expressing disappointment and a feeling of unfair treatment, after a failed tender with the Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC).

The situation facing Nigel Joseph – executive chef and owner of Nigel’s Catering – is a tough one, but the reality for his staff of over 40 persons is even worse. After more than three years serving patients and staff at the hospital, Joseph was not selected to continue service, following a tender process that has reportedly resulted in Goddard Catering being named the new service provider.

Speaking to Observer, Joseph explained that from all indications, the administration had no issues with his services, so the decision not to select him came as a surprise.

“When Covid-19 hit, we knew that the contract was going to be coming to an end in June, and I guess because of the [pandemic], they put it out to tender. I was guaranteed that they have no problems with me and I was looking forward to an extension of the contract.

“Unfortunately, I noticed that when the bidding started, Goddard was in the picture, among several other local Antiguans. Like I said, because I was assured that everything is going to be okay, I did not raise any eyebrows or anything like that.”

A big part of his frustration, Joseph said, came from a last-minute request for the tender proposals. He says there was a focus placed on the availability of equipment from the applicants, which would give an unfair advantage to any applicant who had the sufficient resources within the short space of time.

“Another thing that stood out, was the fact that when the time came for handing in the proposals, they gave us an extension and included another clause. [That] other clause said, if you bring your equipment, you’ll be favored. But I had bought equipment and had been using my equipment for over two-and-a-half years, and nobody even thought about giving me a rent reduction – and that is my issue.

“Then, during the [pandemic], I got hit and I’m expecting to hear them say, ‘okay you’re going to get an extension’, [but] then two weeks ago, they give [me] a letter to [say] you’re going to come to an end on the 31st of January [2021].”

Along with the ‘big fish eats small fish”-concept that Joseph feels he fell victim to, he is displeased with the fact that he – along with the other local caterers who applied – was overlooked in favour of a ‘foreign’ company.

“It’s not the termination of the contract, because people do what they have to do, but my issue is I’m a local Antiguan, and Goddard is a [Barbados]-based company. I think, in all fairness, I should get first preference, no matter what.

“If you wanted me to get more [funding], point me to the Entrepreneurial Fund, if you didn’t think I had enough money. The government is paying me, so they’re supposed to [be able to] take out my money [afterward]. I think the [selection] was unfairly done, that’s my feeling and I’m not going to bite my tongue,” he expressed.

Many industries are still reeling from the economic fallout that came with the pandemic and hundreds of individuals across the country are suffering greatly, having lost their jobs. This is at the forefront of Joseph’s thinking, with his staff complement now facing a similar fate.

“I have forty-two staff, what am I going to tell them? This is Covid-19 times and [things are] rough. Many of them are from single-parent households – plenty of them – and it’s very rough on them, because they live from paycheck to paycheck.

“They’re very disgruntled and they are in fear of losing their jobs, because they sent out [some] criteria that certain people are supposed to have 5 O-levels or 5 CXCs. Do people need CXCs to serve food? To serve patients?

“A lot of them are not going to meet that criteria, but they have experience. This is human beings we’re talking about. [So], I’m not worried about me, I’m a professional chef [and] my reputation precedes me, but I have the 42 staff and these are [pandemic] times – have a heart.”

While reiterating that the non-selection came as a surprise, Joseph added that the decision could not have been made with great consideration for the locals.

“I can tell you, even if you bring a five-star chef into this situation right now, they would have to adjust to the situation. Whoever it is that dispensed the contract was not thinking about Antigua or Antiguans, they were thinking about their own pockets, it’s as simple as that.”

Observer attempted to contact representatives from the MSJMC and Goddard Catering, but those attempts proved futile up to press time.

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