Plasma TV purchase concerned Permanent Secretary
Buildings manager Kyril Burrows quit the Works and Engineering Ministry amid concerns over his irregular purchase of a 58-inch plasma screen television, high-ranking civil servant Robert Horton told a court yesterday.
Mr Horton, former Permanent Secretary of Works and Engineering, took the stand in the trial of Mr Burrows and his wife Delcina Bean-Burrows, who are jointly accused of defrauding Government of more than $553,000.
He recalled his concern at the way Mr Burrows used Government purchase orders to obtain the television from M&M electronics store in 2008, and noted his swift exit from his job when his actions were questioned.
The prosecution has previously claimed Mr Burrows, 48, who with his wife is accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund their luxurious lifestyle, spent Government cash on televisions later discovered at the couple’s home.
Mr Horton told Supreme Court then-Civil Service head Kenneth Dill e-mailed him in May 2008 with information about a 58-inch plasma screen TV and copies of purchase orders suggesting an irregularity.
“I do remember being very concerned at the information that was communicated to me by the head of the Civil Service, who had received that information from some other individual,” said Mr Horton on the second day of the trial yesterday.
“I do recall talking with Mr Burrows later that month to discuss what appeared to be an irregularity.”
Mr Horton said purchase orders had a maximum limit of $3,000, but that the TV and other equipment cost up to $5,000; he said two purchase orders had therefore been used to cover the price.
“That was the irregularity that I saw and required an explanation for,” he said.
He said Mr Burrows told him the equipment was a large screen to be used in a boardroom at the Ministry’s headquarters at Prospect; Crown counsel Susan Mulligan has previously said a 58-inch plasma screen TV bought by Mr Burrows with Government money in January 2008 has never been recovered.
Mr Horton said the incident caused him some discomfort and that Government launched an investigation into the purchase.
The jury was then shown Mr Burrows’ resignation letter, dated June 10, 2008, in which he said he would work a period of notice but added: “Effective the close of business today, I will no longer be responsible for nor carry out the duties of the buildings manager.”
Mr Horton described this as “most unusual”, explaining: “The norm would be for an individual to have full responsibility for his post until his effective last day.”
Mr Horton, who was Works Permanent Secretary from December 2007 to April 2011, recalled how television use was an area of concern when he visited the Prospect depot for the first time in January 2008, with new Minister Derrick Burgess.
They had made it clear it was unacceptable to watch television during working hours, he said.
“During our tour of the facility, we came upon a room during normal working hours where there was a television on. It was kind of a lounge area on the second floor,” said Mr Horton.
“My attention was drawn to that immediately. There were one or two workmen there, looking at it, and I expressed my concern, as did the Minister, about the inappropriateness of watching television on work hours.
“On the same visit, we went in an office of a foreman and saw a small television which was also on, and I certainly commented on that.
“I don’t recall giving instruction to Mr Burrows, but it’s most unlikely that I didn’t comment. It was essential that there was to be absolutely no watching television during work hours.”
Asked about the responsibilities of his job, Mr Horton, who is now Permanent Secretary of the Estates Ministry, said: “As a Permanent Secretary, I’m the accounting officer for the Ministry. That means that I’m ultimately responsible for the handling of, safe keeping of all those funds that have been provided by the legislature.”
Questioned if money could be used for personal reasons, he replied: “It’s strictly forbidden in every circumstance.”
Mr Burrows, who is representing himself, then cross-examined Mr Horton and asked him about his days as deputy principal of Berkeley Institute.
Mr Horton said he couldn’t recollect Mr Burrows being anything other than an exemplary student.
Mr Burrows is accused of dishonestly submitting invoices so Government paid to rebuild the house he shared with Mrs Bean-Burrows in Turkey Hill, St George’s.
Ms Mulligan says he also directed taxpayers’ cash to his wife’s company Ren Tech under the false impression it would do construction work at schools after Hurricane Florence.
He and his wife have pleaded not guilty to 35 charges between January 2005 and July 2008, encompassing allegations of cheating, obtaining money transfers by deception, obtaining property by deception, money laundering and false accounting.
The trial continues.