Auditor General wants civil servants held accountable

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  • Auditor General Heather Matthews

    Auditor General Heather Matthews

Auditor General Heather Matthews believes nobody has the fortitude to punish Government officials alleged to have allowed taxpayers’ money to go to waste in the Ewart Brown administration.

Ms Matthews spoke out after Supreme Court heard how top civil servant Marc Telemaque directed that public funds be given to Faith Based Tourism boss Andre Curtis before a contract had been signed.

Mr Curtis’ lawyer Mark Pettingill told the jury which eventually cleared Mr Curtis of theft allegations that Government “just handed him the cookie jar”, letting him spend public cash on personal items.

That came after Ms Matthews condemned a lack of oversight as the costs of the new TCD building and three emissions centres soared from $5.3 million to $15.2 million; although Mr Telemaque has said MPs approved increases to the total allocated funding in four successive years.

Both projects, which have been severely criticised in Auditor General reports, took place within the Tourism and Transport Ministry, at a time when Dr Brown was Minister and Mr Telemaque was Permanent Secretary.

Ms Matthews says Premier and Finance Minister Paula Cox, who has repeatedly championed the cause for good governance since taking over from Dr Brown, has the power to bring charges against any Government officer responsible for improper payment of public money.

Cabinet Secretary Donald Scott has told police investigating the FBT affair that permanent secretaries have the responsibility for the management and control of funds in their Ministries.

However, Ms Matthews said: “The Government’s Financial Instructions are and always have been clear about consequences for non-compliance. Unfortunately, no one appears to have the fortitude to mete out the penalties/surcharge as a result of non-compliance.”

Dr Brown has repeatedly denied former United Bermuda Party leader Wayne Furbert’s claims FBT was used as a method of getting cash to Mr Curtis as a thank-you gesture for running his Progressive Labour Party constituency in Warwick South Central.

In July this year, the Public Accounts Committee said there was specific intent at the highest level of Dr Brown’s Ministry that the TCD contract be given to Bermuda Emissions Control, a company partly owned by Dr Brown’s close friend Dennis Correia, regardless of Financial Instruction rules.

In his report into FBT last year, then-Auditor General Larry Dennis said Mr Curtis was awarded his first payment of $191,000 despite failing to meet the criteria for the disbursement of funds stipulated in his contract.

This month’s trial heard Mr Telemaque e-mailed Tourism director Cherie-Lynn Whitter in April 2007, before the contract had been fully approved, directing her to release some funds to Mr Curtis. “Can you mock up a contract of sorts to make this happen yesterday,” stated Mr Telemaque in that e-mail.

The e-mail exchange, obtained by The Royal Gazette, shows how Ms Whitter forwarded Mr Telemaque’s request to Tourism comptroller Richard Scott, who asked for an invoice from Mr Curtis in order to transfer $25,000 into his account.

A further payment of $166,000 followed after Cabinet approval, but still without the criteria for the disbursement of funds being met.

According to the PAC report into TCD, after the Accountant General requested documentary evidence that justified granting the contract to Mr Correia’s firm without it being put out to tender before disbursing any money, Mr Telemaque told her to “just make it happen”, through the Ministry’s controller.

Mr Telemaque has previously responded to that claim: “At no stage did I tell the Accountant General to ‘just make it happen’ in relation to this project, although the report now alleges that this was communicated on my behalf by a subordinate.”

This summer, Ms Cox introduced the Good Governance Act to stamp out any unethical behaviour within Government.

However, Ms Matthews says existing laws already gave her the ability to take action against Government officers who broke the rules.

She said of the FBT trial: “This case highlighted the importance of following the rules. But unfortunately it has also highlighted that no steps have been taken to punish those who did not follow the rules.”

Mr Telemaque was Cabinet Secretary during Dr Brown’s tenure as Premier from November 2006 to November 2010.

He was Permanent Secretary of Tourism and Transport from 2004 through the period the FBT contract was signed in 2007.

After Ms Cox became Premier in November 2010, Mr Telemaque became Permanent Secretary of National Security; he was replaced as Cabinet Secretary by Mr Scott.

Mr Telemaque declined to comment yesterday.

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Published Oct 28, 2011 at 8:29 am (Updated Oct 28, 2011 at 8:26 am)

Auditor General wants civil servants held accountable

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