Commission of Inquiry to cover airport deal
The Government’s disputed airport redevelopment contract is to be investigated by a Commission of Inquiry along with contentious projects of the past — such as Bermuda Emissions Control and GlobalHue.
That independent body, which held its first public hearing yesterday, had been tasked with probing allegations by Auditor-General Heather Jacobs Matthews that public funds had been mismanaged in the fiscal years ending 2010-12.
Her reports, tabled in Parliament on November 13, 2015, highlighted a lack of control over various capital development projects in the final years of the Progressive Labour Party administration, also citing a disregard for financial instructions. However, as chairman Sir Anthony Evans laid out the top issues for consideration, the former Bermuda Court of Appeal judge said the commission’s members felt their work could benefit by also considering contracts awarded before or after 2010-12.
This would mean looking into certain contracts “where either payments made during those years represented Government outgoings under earlier contracts, or the Government’s practice during financial years 2010-12 may have emerged before the period began, and may have continued after it ended”, he said.
PLP MPs Walton Brown, Derrick Burgess and Zane DeSilva were among those in the audience as Sir Anthony announced that the commission intends to pursue the following:
• The Transport Control Department’s emissions centre, condemned by Ms Matthews in 2011 for its cost overruns and a claimed lack of oversight;
• The Port Royal Golf Course — a $24.5 million project that the Auditor-General said went $10 million over budget;
• The Dame Lois Browne-Evans police and court building, opened in 2011 at some $26 million past budget;
• Heritage Wharf, the Dockyard cruise ship pier completed in 2009 — the budget and design of which changed substantially and ended at close to $60 million;
• The current airport development, which is the One Bermuda Alliance’s proposal for a new terminal at L.F. Wade International Airport — the topic of recent Public Accounts Committee meetings that heard of widespread breaches of financial instructions. Sir Anthony was flanked by fellow commission members John Barritt, a former MP, as well as executives Kumi Bradshaw and Fiona Luck.
The commission is not tasked with resolving criminal issues, but to look into government affairs, refer potential violations of law or rules to the appropriate agency — and ultimately to be “assured that Government has learnt and moved on from any past mistakes about its own internal processes”.
With respect to alleged violations, Sir Anthony said: “In short, was the Auditor-General correct? If so, how did that occur, and why was the situation allowed to continue?”
Yesterday’s meeting in St Theresa’s Church Hall was the last public hearing until September 28, when public hearings resume with witnesses.
“The commission has many powers, such as the power to compel people to give evidence,” Sir Anthony told the gathering.
“We also have the power in exceptional cases to preserve the confidentiality and the privacy of individual witnesses who request it. I strongly urge any person who may be able to assist us to come forward, whether in person or by posting information on our website.”
The commission heard next from lawyer Narinder Hargun, who appeared as counsel to the group alongside Jeffrey Elkinson. Mr Hargun outlined a swath of requests made by counsel for government documents from the Cabinet Office, the Office of the Tax Commissioner, the ministries of finance, tourism, education and public works, and the Accountant General — in connection with projects including:
• The 2009 commercial courts renovation at the Ministry of Finance;
• The renovation of the Department of Human Resources;
• The central laboratory contract;
• GET Security arrangements;
• Contractual arrangements with GlobalHue, Ambling Development Services and Bermuda Emissions.
GlobalHue was a United States advertising agency awarded a $28 million contract in 2009 for Bermuda tourism, with no rival firm to bid. The arrangement was sharply criticised in a 2012 PAC report faulting the firm’s relationship with the then Premier and Minister of Tourism.
The Atlanta-based firm Ambling Development, meanwhile, was taken on by the Government in a wide-ranging 2008 contract.
Yesterday’s sitting of the commission heard also from lawyer Venous Memari, asked by the Bermuda Public Services Union to assist with ten civil servants — three of whom are government department heads. A total of nine are entitled to representation, while the tenth may submit documents rather than appearing in person. The commission then formally adjourned until September.
• For details, or to make a submission, see its website, www.inquirybermuda.com
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