Commission of Inquiry looks under the hood
“You have never walked in my shoes. Every day of my life, I am reminded I am black. You will never experience that. Everything we do, it is directed because we are black”
— Derrick Burgess, the former Minister of Works and Engineering, launches a stinging attack on Commission of Inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Evans after he is quizzed in 2016 on the over-budget, behind-schedule Dame Lois Browne-Evans court building project
Bermuda had its first Commission of Inquiry for 16 years as the handling of taxpayers’ money under the Progressive Labour Party administration between 2009 and 2012 came under the spotlight.
But while the 2016 commission concluded that seven government business dealings had evidence of possible criminal activity, many of the headlines were dominated by the drama within the tribunal hall.
The PLP objected to the racial make-up of the commission, which was 75 per cent white.
Derrick Burgess, the former deputy premier, declared he felt like he was before a “lynch mob” and repeatedly compared the way he was being questioned to an attempt to “re-enact slavery”.
Mr Burgess told Sir Anthony Evans, the commission chairman, that he had “never walked a day” in his shoes and could therefore neither experience nor understand what it was to be a black man and be disrespected.
The MP told the tribunal: “You know what it feels like to me here? That I’m before a lynch mob.”
He said that while he was works minister, he favoured black contractors over white, where their bids for contracts were for similar amounts, because it was the PLP’s policy to enfranchise black business owners who were not in the running for projects in the past because of discrimination.
Ewart Brown, the premier throughout the period in question, did not take to the witness box after he successfully argued his right to claim privilege against self-incrimination.
The commission eventually found potential wrongdoing in five projects related to Dr Brown, three connected to Mr Burgess and one to One Bermuda Alliance senator Vic Ball.
Contracts for the new court and police complex in Hamilton, the Transport Control Department emissions testing project, Port Royal Golf Course, Heritage Wharf cruise ship pier, GlobalHue advertising, Ambling consultants and a sand and rock for asphalt purchase were flagged up as showing evidence of possible criminal activity.
The commission said it supported police investigations that had already commenced into many of the matters.
More than $72 million was overspent on four of the seven projects, the largest of which was the 2007 contract for Heritage Wharf in Dockyard, which leapt from $39 million to $60 million.
Other matters included the 2007 contract for Port Royal, which increased from $7.7 million to $25.5 million, and the 2008 contract for the Dame Lois Browne-Evans Building, which cost $17 million more than its budget of $72 million.
The construction and operation of the TCD vehicle safety and emissions testing programme increased from $5.3 million to $15.2 million, and the cost of operations was $7 million over budget over a period of ten years.
The $14 million contract for American advertising company GlobalHue, in 2009, and the $3.2 million contract for consultancy firm Ambling, from 2008 to 2011, were cited as evidence of possible criminal activity.
Mr Ball was found to have a clear conflict of interest, while he was a civil servant, in the awarding of a $1.4 million contract in 2009 for sand and asphalt to Harmony Holdings, of which his father, Eugene, had a holding.
The commission wrote in its report: “We have found that there were indeed widespread breaches of financial instructions. We found numerous violations, some of which were serious and persistent.”
Eight civil servants were heavily criticised over failure to follow the rules on contracts, and the commission called for the Government to conduct a “frank, independent assessment of whether all current leaders of the Civil Service have appropriate skill sets, perspective and motivation to effect needed changes”.
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