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The PLP Government caught playing favourites yet again – a statement from Opposition Leader, the Hon, N. Cole Simons, JP, MP

The following statement has been offered by the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. N. Cole Simons, JP, MP regarding the government and OARRS Inc. Limited.

“It has been exposed that once again, that the PLP government are not playing by the rules, but instead, they continue with increasing regularity, to make decisions to benefit the chosen few.

Last week it was the debacle of the government’s handling of Certificates of Exemption for workers on the St. Regis project, while local construction workers were restricted from working, then it was the special consideration they gave to the SailGP athletes to train, while our local and own elite athletes, who should be able to train for the 2021 Olympics were sidelined. The government only made the appropriate corrections after they were caught out. This week, we learn that the government awarded a lucrative contract to collect overdue land tax, to a company that is operating illegally.

In June 2020, OARRS Inc Limited was awarded a contract by the Tax Commissioner’s Office to collect $75 million dollars of tax owed to the government, without having applied for a licence to do so. To be clear, the OBA supports the government in this initiative, if it is conducted lawfully and in accordance with predefined protocols. However, the irony of a company chasing people to pay money, when the island was several months into the Covid-19 pandemic and hundreds of people were unable to work, while at the same time they themselves ignore the law is incredible. Where is the equity?

According to a notice published in the Official Gazette about its contract with the Office of the Tax Commissioner, OARRS will be paid 15 per cent of ‘all land tax arrears recovered’, but the company would make several million dollars if it successfully recovered all the unpaid land tax. How could such a lucrative contract be given to a company without adherence to the proper procurement process, and who was responsible for awarding the contract?

The Debt Collection Act 2018, which came into force on January 31, 2020, clearly states that those engaged in the “debt collection business”, must be licensed.

The Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon. Walter Roban, echoed the Debt Collection Act to MP’s by stating quote: “No debt collector can operate without a licence issued by the licensing authority. Let me repeat that line just so that it is clear if I did not make it clear already. No debt collector can operate without a licence issued by the licensing authority.” end quote. Our response is “Clearly not in this case Minister.”

The PLP should be embarrassed at the obvious inequity, poor decision making and its’ blatant disregard of legislation. On one hand, the Tax Commissioner’s Office, which is part of the Ministry of Finance, should be well aware of the need for the company to have a licence to operate. On the other hand, the debt collection licences are handled by the Department of Consumer Affairs, which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the same Minister who was just quoted.

Who made the decision to award OARRS the contract without adherence to the proper process? Is the Premier aware of this? Who is minding the shop? Who is accountable for yet another example of the government’s poor decision-making and inequity?

The OBA is calling on government to be accountable; to do its job with integrity, fairness and transparency across the board; to level the playing field, and to make the right decisions on behalf of all Bermuda and not just the chosen few.