Money recovered from cheques in a drawer’
MPs agreed the Government’s performance had to be improved as they debated the findings of a bipartisan Efficiency Committee on Friday.
But the two sides clashed on the $122,000 paid to members of the committee, which the Opposition said should have been declared at the start of its work.
Wayne Furbert, the committee chairman, told the House the committee had recouped $12 million and found $354,972.90 of uncashed cheques in a desk at the Office of the Tax Commissioner.
He said $315,579.77 of those funds had been recovered by May.
Mr Furbert said: “Most of the cheques sitting in drawers were made by law firms for clients.
“They are supposed to keep [the money for] their cheques in a trust account so they could not tell us they didn’t have the money. That’s why we were able to collect most of that money quite quickly.”
He also told the House that the tax commissioner’s office had an $8 million backlog in stamp duty.
Mr Furbert said that a lack of staff had presented the office with challenges, but by filling vacant spaces the Government was able to recover more than $3 million in old debt.
He said there remained an issue with companies — particularly construction companies — who had not paid their payroll tax.
Mr Furbert said: “One particular construction company owes $1.9 million.
“The courts ordered that they pay $500 per month. It would take 360-some years for them, their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren if they were liable to pay for it.”
He told the House that the Government’s complicated approach to alien licences — required for non-Bermudians to buy land — had potentially cost the Government millions because potential buyers became frustrated.
Mr Furbert added that efficiency improvements had to be a continuous process.
He said: “It’s not about trying to blame one particular government or minister or individual. Efficiency can be improved overall from time to time.
“The things we put in place for efficiency will one day become inefficient because things change.
“It’s important that we all continually look at improvements. There is still a lot more to be done.”
Craig Cannonier, the Opposition leader, said the Government needed to find ways to improve communication between departments.
He said that performance appraisals were not carried out in some areas of departments and more training was needed — particularly in the area of those who make purchases.
Mr Cannonier said that as a minister he discovered parts in storage that had been ordered by mistake and were completely unusable.
He said: “We couldn’t put them in anything in Bermuda. How we wound up with them, I have no idea. I was shocked.
“I have no idea if it started under the UBP or the PLP. All I know is it’s a problem and we need to get right on to these things.”
However, he and several other OBA MPs challenged payments issued to Mr Furbert for his work on the committee and claimed it had not been declared at first.
Mr Cannonier said: “The scrutiny on the minister was because he hadn’t declared it. When it was declared, we found out it was even more money than was initially said.
“A number of $60,000 was put out at the time — not by himself — but it came out in Parliamentary Questions when you looked at the dates, the period of time was longer than was stated and it was more than was anticipated.”
But Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker, said the cost of the committee was “money well spent”.
He also suggested the Auditor-General take a look at the Office of the Tax Commissioner after the discovery of the uncashed cheques because such a thing should never have happened.
Mr Burgess said: “That office has got to be very proficient. We are talking about government money.
“This is something that is not acceptable. If this was a private company the entire department would be let go, along with the CEO.”
Mr Burgess also said that overtime across the Government needed to be monitored.
He told the House: “Some people know how to create their own overtime.
“A lot of department heads in government are not managing the way they should and they need to pick it up.”