Ministers fail to log travel expenses
Globe-trotting government ministers have failed to post their expenses on a webpage designed to reveal the cost of overseas trips.
David Burt, the Premier, is among the worst of those who have not updated the cost of their foreign travel and has not yet listed at least eight overseas trips.
Heather Thomas, the Auditor-General, said: “Transparency is at the heart of how the Bermuda electorate holds public officials accountable.
“It provides an important opportunity to demonstrate the public interest is being served and its elected or representative officials are acting in their best interests.
“As part of any commitment to accountability and transparency and to report the highest levels of transparency and accountability, proactive disclosure of information by departments and agencies, access to information and compliance with acts and regulations are all measures to enhance transparency and accountability of public resources.”
Michael Dunkley, who was One Bermuda Alliance premier when the website was set up, claimed the expenses site was something the Progressive Labour Party “hasn’t paid attention to”.
The public was told the information would be “continuously updated” when the page was relaunched last year in a commitment to “full transparency”.
But costs for foreign travel dating as far back as last October have yet to be posted, with a string of visits to New York and London among those unavailable.
The former OBA government published expenses totaling $113,864.29 relating to overseas trips during its final year in power.
In comparison, the online Travel Calendar yesterday showed only $70,641.94 spent on foreign visits by PLP ministers since the party swept to power a year ago.
The Royal Gazette has identified at least a dozen examples when ministers travelled abroad on government business that have not been included in the list.
Among them were Mr Burt’s visit to Miami for a special meeting of the Caribbean Overseas Territories last October to discuss the regional effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and a trip to the UK and Europe in November for meetings with the Joint Ministerial Council and tax officials.
Expenses for Mr Burt’s visit to Jamaica for the Caribbean Infrastructure Forum in December have also still to be added to the website.
The costs for a further five trips made by the Premier to the US have also still to be published: — Miami in December, Washington DC and San Antonio, Texas, both in April, and two to New York in May. Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, visited Switzerland in January as part of a team of Bermudians who attended events connected to the annual World Economic Forum.
His expenses for the trip were not available — despite the publication of those of his travel partner, Mr Burt, who listed total costs for the event at $7,156.29.
Visits by Mr Caines to London and twice to New York for work in connection with the island’s bid to build a fintech and blockchain industry on the island had also yet to appear on the webpage by yesterday.
Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, was part of a delegation at a meeting of the International Labour Conference in Switzerland last month.
No expenses have been uploaded for that trip, even though costs of $5,060 have already been published for a more recent trip made by Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, to the UK for Joint Ministerial Council talks. Mr Dunkley said: “I started the travel website because I thought it was important for transparency and accountability, and it had the full support of the Cabinet.”
He added that the PLP suspended the webpage when the party first came to power but later restarted it “and now it’s dropped off the radar”.
Mr Dunkley said: “We live in an age of transparency and accountability and if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Clearly it’s something that the PLP hasn’t paid attention to.
“I think there’s more and more people who look at that information and don’t even believe it’s accurate.”
Lovitta Foggo, the Minister for Government Reform, relaunched the ministers’ travel expenses page in October.
She said at the time: “The new page contains current and historic information and will be continuously updated as ministers travel overseas.”
Ms Foggo added: “I am committed to full transparency and this page will detail the location and reason for a minister’s international travel together with how much they spent while travelling.”
Randy Horton, former Speaker of the House of Assembly, who stood down before the 2017 General Election, said the Government had to maintain open access to travel cost information.
Mr Horton added: “If there is any travel it should be transparent. It’s the people’s money so they deserve to know how it is being spent.”
A government spokeswoman said last night that updating the travel costs page was “an administrative task” and that trip expenses should be up to date by the end of this week.