Burgess defends use of public money in legal action
Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess yesterday blamed the Attorney General’s Chambers for a writ directing a potential $2 million in damages to himself instead of Government.
He was responding to criticism after taxpayer dollars were spent funding his and former Premier Ewart Brown’s personal battle for $4 million compensation over the false cheques affair.
Mr Burgess claimed public cash was used because any damages would have been paid to Government, not to himself or Dr Brown.
He was challenged immediately by an Everest DeCosta radio show listener who pointed out Mr Burgess and Dr Brown had always stood to gain from the action, never Government.
The Minister replied that the Attorney General’s Chambers was responsible for the way it was worded. It was never his and Dr Brown’s aim to gain all the money when Government paid their fees, he claimed.
When asked whether the Attorney General's Chambers had been instructed to draw up the contract with Mr Burgess and Dr Brown named as plaintiffs, Premier Paula Cox referred The Royal Gazette to the Auditor General’s report, which states the Attorney General had been instructed by Government to instruct Canadian attorneys to commence proceedings.
Premier Cox did not respond when asked whether there was ever an agreement for the $4 million to go to Government and not to the Ministers.
On Thursday, Auditor General Heather Jacobs Matthews issued a damning report condemning Government for spending more than $30,000 public money on Mr Burgess and Dr Brown’s personal expenses, contrary to Financial Instructions.
Government initially gave the go-ahead for that move but, after Mrs Matthews stepped in last summer, terminated the law firm’s contract. Mr Burgess and Dr Brown have since been paying their fees themselves.
Yesterday, Mr Burgess appeared on ZBM’s afternoon talk show and confirmed he and Dr Brown stand to gain $2 million each if their claim is successful.
A caller asked: “As Government has paid part of the legal fees, are you agreeable to taking $14,000 out of the settlement and paying back to the public purse to reimburse the public purse at this time of fiscal challenges?”
Mr Burgess replied: “Had the Government stayed and paid for the entire case, let’s say the case cost $100,000, and we were awarded $4 million, the money would have been payable to the Government.
“The Government would be the one that would determine how much damage the Ministers incurred. The Government got some damages also.
“It was never, never the intent of us asking the Government to pay this here and we get all the money. The money wouldn’t have been payable to us.”
Another listener then called in and said: “Surely if the lawsuit was in the name of Dr Brown and Mr Burgess, the Government wasn’t the plaintiff? How would any reward be going to the Government? Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m having a hard time understanding.”
Mr Burgess replied: “Whether it’s in my name, Dr Brown’s name or Government’s, I don’t expect for the Government to pay X amount of dollars for the case against me. It’s a case against the Minister.”
The caller said: “Then it should have been the Government’s name then.”
Mr Burgess countered: “We did not draw up the paperwork. The paperwork was done by the Attorney General’s Chambers, not us.”
Also yesterday, Shadow Attorney General Trevor Moniz noted the stark difference in statements from Ms Cox and Mr Burgess gave in response to Mrs Matthews’ two latest reports.
Ms Cox said she had addressed deficiencies in Bermuda Land Development Corporation, removing the whole board after it was reported chairman and deputy Edward Saunders and Pastor Leroy Bean inappropriately received $160,000 BLDC funds.
But Mr Burgess claimed the whole process was legal and dismissed Mrs Matthews’ comments as a witch hunt.
Mr Moniz described Ms Cox as “weak and hopeless”, trying to give the impression she’s in charge but powerless to improve the poor governance legacy left behind by Dr Brown.
He said Ms Cox had seemingly not used any of the powers already available to her to sanction leading civil servants who break the rules.
Mr Moniz was also critical of Mrs Matthews, saying her report didn’t go far enough.
“She doesn’t go on to say she has referred to the police for investigation,” said the MP. “When all this is done, surely people should look into it.
“The worst she says is that if they do it again she will write another report. Well who cares? They don’t care. This doesn’t change anything. The Premier should fire the Minister, it’s obvious, but she won’t.
“This report goes some way towards highlighting the corrupt practices in Government, but it doesn’t really go far enough.”
Mr Moniz also said there remains a backlog of reports waiting to come out of the Auditor General’s office.
“The Governor indicated to me last May that he expected some to be tabled in the summer,” he said. “Where are they?”
He said reports should also be in the pipeline on the Heritage Wharf project, TCD, Coco Reefs and Port Royal.
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