Silence of four under-fire civil servants
Four highly paid civil servants who came under fire from the Commission of Inquiry were silent yesterday on the panel’s recommendation for an “urgent review” into their abilities.
Derrick Binns, Cherie Whitter, Marc Telemaque and Anthony Manders — all of whom are on substantial six-figure salaries — were named in the Commission’s report as having failed to follow the rules on government contracts, along with four others who have since retired or left the Civil Service.
The actions of Dr Binns, Ms Whitter and Mr Telemaque contributed to the overspend of $72 million of public money during the Progressive Labour Party’s tenure as Government, according to the independent inquiry.
The Royal Gazette reached out to all four yesterday, but none would comment on the findings.
Commissioners did not find evidence of “possible criminal activity” in relation to any of the eight civil servants, apart from One Bermuda Alliance senator Vic Ball, who no longer works as a civil servant but now picks up a $30,000 parliamentary salary.
But it recommended an “urgent review” of “personnel and processes” within the Civil Service, including “a frank, independent assessment” of the skill sets of senior staff members.
And it recommended that failure by public servants to comply with official financial rules and failure to declare conflicts of interest be made criminal offences.
The report said there was a need to “improve accountability throughout [the Civil Service], but particularly at senior levels”.
Last night, Michael Dunkley said that while oversight of the Civil Service was the responsibility of the Public Service Commission, a Cabinet committee would be formed to assess the findings of the Commission of Inquiry.
“My Cabinet colleagues and I have discussed the report and its recommendations,” the Premier said.
He added that the new committee would review the recommendations in the report, which was released on Monday, and “produce an action plan that brings about the necessary levels of transparency and accountability which the [Commission] identified and is appropriate”.
It is understood that the Public Service Commission, which is responsible for ensuring that “all disciplinary matters within Bermuda’s public service are conducted efficiently, fairly, and without political interference”, has not been involved in reviewing any proceedings involving the civil servants named in the report.
Commission chairman Gregory Swan would not comment when contacted yesterday.
Dr Binns, the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, is the highest-ranking civil servant in Bermuda, with a salary likely to exceed $200,000, according to the most recent figures published in the Budget book. He was found by the Commission to have failed to notify the Accountant-General of breaches of Financial Instructions in relation to a 2007 contract for $1.6 million and on the original contract to build the $70 million Dame Lois Browne-Evans Building.
Asked by this newspaper to comment yesterday, he said: “All that needs to be said by me was said at the Commission’s public hearings.”
Dr Binns, in response to a question about whether he and the three other civil servants would face any repercussions for their actions, pointed out that the commissioners stated that they did “not consider that disciplinary proceedings would be appropriate”.
Ms Whitter is Deputy Head of the Civil Service. She was criticised by the Commission on a number of fronts relating to contracts with GlobalHue, Ambling, the Port Royal Golf Course redevelopment and Heritage Wharf.
Ms Whitter said yesterday: “I have no comment. Not at this time.”
Mr Manders, Financial Secretary, was found by the tribunal to have failed to make clear that a requested waiver of the rules for the public-private partnership deal to build a new airport would extend to the whole project.
He said yesterday he had no comment on the Commission’s finding but, like Dr Binns, noted the commissioners’ statement about it not being appropriate to refer any matters for disciplinary action.
Mr Telemaque is permanent secretary at the Ministry of National Security and, like Mr Manders, an accounting officer, with responsibility for ensuring compliance with Financial Instructions.
He was criticised in the report for failing to provide oversight to Ms Whitter, failing to report a breach of Financial Instructions and other omissions in relation to large contracts.
Another failing which the commission highlighted was that while Cabinet Secretary, Mr Telemaque authorised an advance payment of $8.9 million to Correia Construction/NB Entrech for the construction of Heritage Wharf, which ran more than $20 million over budget.
He said yesterday: “I don’t have any comment.”
We asked the Cabinet Office for the specific pay grades of all four civil servants but did not receive a response by the time we went to press.
The Commission of Inquiry was appointed by Mr Dunkley to investigate the findings of Auditor-General Heather Jacobs Matthews, in her report on the misuse of public funds between 2009 and 2012.
After the release of her report, Mrs Matthews said there was a reluctance on the part of Government to penalise civil servants for breaching the rules.
The Ministry of Finance refused to reveal to this newspaper at the time whether any public officials had been penalised in relation to the examples in the Auditor’s 315-page report.
The four former civil servants criticised in the Commission’s report were Mr Ball, Kenneth Dill, Robert Horton and Joyce Hayward.
The matter involving Mr Ball has been referred to the police.
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