BTA says minister used out-of-date report

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  • Jamahl Simmons (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

    Jamahl Simmons (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

The island’s tourist authority hit back at claims by new tourism minister Jamahl Simmons that it had failed to look after its finances.

And the authority — a quango set up under the former One Bermuda Alliance government — said Mr Simmons had used an out-of-date version of an Auditor-General’s report to launch a House of Assembly attack on the organisation.

Mr Simmons highlighted on Friday that former BTA CEO Bill Hanbury had been given a 30 per bonus without approval by the board — which was denied by the BTA.

A BTA spokesman said: An early draft of the Auditor-General’s observations which was cited today includes misstatements of fact that were subsequently either removed by the Auditor-General or corrected.

“For example, the former BTA CEO’s contractual incentive was approved by the Board, contrary to what was said today in Parliament.”

Mr Simmons dodged a specific question on why he had used an early version of the Auditor-General’s report.

He said in a statement: “Presented in Parliament this morning are the summary findings of the Auditor-General’s report.

“BTA is aware of the findings sent from the Office of the Auditor-General on July 11, 2017, and are actively working to remedy the same as I noted in my statement.

“As I stated, it is our responsibility to increase the accountability of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, develop a process for better monitoring the funds utilised by the BTA, while demanding a greater return on our investment.”

Mr Simmons told MPs that the Auditor-General had found 13 areas where improvement was needed and a requirement to strengthen internal controls.

These included no evidence to support that either the BTA’s compensation and remuneration committee or the BTA board ensured that criteria for bonuses to the executive management team were met.

Other problems raised in the report were a payment posted as a credit instead of a bad debt recovery, a lack of signed contracts for services and payments made before the completion of targets.

And Mr Simmons also highlighted that 12 of the 13 board minutes for the year included in camera sessions — sessions held in private — which were not recorded in the minutes.

He added that the audit and risk committee, which was supposed to meet every quarter, had skipped meetings for the last quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of this year.

In addition, Mr Simmons said the BTA had failed to provide a response to the Auditor-General on whether they had given declarations of interest from its employees and how this requirement was communicated to staff.

But the BTA spokesman said: “The exchange of opinions and interpretations, and the provision of recommendations for improvement, which the Minister referenced today, is a normal and healthy part of the dialogue between auditor, management and the audit committee of a board.

“For example, it’s the view of the Bermuda Tourism Authority board, and many other boards, that it is a necessary part of good governance for directors to regularly allocate time for an in-camera discussion towards the end of each scheduled and properly minuted board meeting.

“These discussions are typically used to discuss sensitive issues like those surrounding HR or other matters that legally require confidentiality. In 2016, for the BTA Board, the majority of these sessions focused on the identity of applicants for the CEO search and board deliberations about those candidates.

The BTA spokesman added: “The recommendations of the Auditor-General should not distract from the fact that 2016 marks the third consecutive unqualified audit of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, for which the Auditor-General issued the following opinion — ‘as required by section 20 of the Bermuda Tourism Authority Act 2013, I also report that, in my opinion, proper accounting and supporting records have been kept and that the receipt, expenditure and investment of monies and the acquisition and disposal of assets by the Bermuda Tourism Authority during the year ended December 31, 2016, have been in accordance with the provisions of the Bermuda Tourism Authority Act 2013’.”

The BTA spokesman added that the quango was accountable to four different bodies — including the House of Assembly public accounts committee, where it has answered questions from MPs in public sessions — and had provided a return on investment on government funding of 15:1.

And he said: “The Bermuda Tourism Authority is always open to ideas on what it can do better, and looks to all stakeholders for constructive input.

The BTA’s audited financials are legally required to be laid in Parliament by the Minister before they can be publicly posted.”

The spokesman said last year’s report would be posted the BTA’s website after it had been given to Parliament.

But Mr Simmons said: “I consider it a matter of great seriousness and urgency that every entity under my Ministerial purview operates at the highest standards of openness, accountability and transparency.

“Anything less will not be tolerated. The people of Bermuda deserve nothing less.”

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Published Sep 18, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Sep 18, 2017 at 4:05 pm)

BTA says minister used out-of-date report

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