Auditor’s report opens window into PLP Government backroom

By Sylvan Richards, JP, One Bermuda Alliance Member of Parliament, November 24, 2014

Not a day goes by that I’m not aware of why the One Bermuda Alliance was elected to govern the Island.

I know too many people who pay the price every day for misdeeds of the past – in lost jobs, lost income and despair – the despair that comes from providers not being able to provide.

It is for these people that we are working to make things better and why turning around the economy remains the Government’s Number One Mission.

But recently I was reminded of another reason the OBA was elected to govern or, to put it more directly, why the PLP lost the trust of the majority of Bermudians.

The Auditor General’s Special Report on the redevelopment of Port Royal Golf Course is a damning reflection on the leadership of the previous government and its responsibility to protect the public purse. 

I vividly remember PLP spokesmen snapping with indignation when challenged by people suspicious about the handling of public money. ‘Where’s your proof, ‘What’s your evidence?’ they would shoot back.

Well, the Auditor General just provided some with her investigation into the Port Royal redevelopment – a project that started in 2006 with a $4.5 million cost estimate and ended in 2011 at $24.5 million.

Everything people suspected about PLP maladministration – abuse of public funds, gaming the system for personal gain, cronyism, careless management and disrespect for the public purse – is contained in the pages of the Auditor’s report.

There is far too much in the report to recount here, so I will use this space to focus on what I consider to be the worst of the worst.

First, this was a team effort. 

The Auditor General found a systemic disregard for virtually all procedures, guidelines and controls for government spending.

The failures highlighted were not isolated to one person or one action. What went on involved many people over a period of years demonstrating indifference, even contempt for the rules governing the use of public money.

It began with the Government decision in 2006 to shift responsibility for the Port Royal Golf Course to the Minister of Tourism and Transport, a step that removed Works & Engineering’s capital project expertise from playing any part in the project. That decision ran counter to a government rule prohibiting the delegation of capital projects management to any entity other than Works & Engineering. In doing this, the Auditor said: “Government did not follow the law.”

It continued with the Finance Minister – the person responsible for protecting the public purse – authorizing loans without the approval of Parliament.

Second, it is clear a door was open to use the public purse for personal gain.

The Auditor General reported contracts in which members of Port Royal’s Board of Trustees were in conflict of interest.

The first and most revealing was $3.5 million in contracts awarded to a company in which a trustee, who was a Government Member of Parliament, had an ownership interest in the company. Of that total, $1.8 million of the work was awarded without tendering.

Just think about what it takes to pull that off: Arrogance for sure, but also a bit of ‘don’t worry, we make the rules’ and maybe some across-the-table intimidation for trustees who raised concerns.

In another instance, a contractor who secured a $1.3 million contract then subcontracted the work to a company in which a trustee was a director. That’s another brazen thing to do – the deal behind the deal that prosecutors in any jurisdiction would see as a classic example of gaming the system.   

Abuse, corruption, deception, opportunism, deceit – these are the words that come to mind when I read the Auditor General’s report. Its findings open a window into the backroom of the previous government, where public interest clearly took a back seat to self-interest.

And it makes me wonder what was really on the minds of that government when thousands of Bermudians were losing jobs – the very people whose recovery we were elected to bring about. Putting people first. That’s the priority, as it always should be for an elected government. Nothing else.

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