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‘Possible criminal activity’ in seven projects

Michael Dunkley, the Premier (File photograph)

Evidence of “possible criminal activity” was found in a total of seven business dealings by Government between 2007 and 2014, a major report by a Commission of Inquiry said today.

The Commissioners said potential wrongdoing had been found in “third party issues”, including the $89 million new court and police complex in Hamilton, a contract issued in 2008 which cost $17 million more than its original $72 million budget and had been referred to the Bermuda Police Service.

The 2007 contract for Heritage Wharf at Dockyard, which cost $60 million — $21 million more than the estimated $39 million — has also been referred to police.

The upgrading at Port Royal Golf Course, which cost $25.5 million, some $17.8 million over its 2007 $7.2 million budget, was also picked out by commissioners.

And the 2001 contract to build and run the three TCD emissions testing stations, which came in more than $9.9 million over budget at $15.2 million, as well as $2.4 million-a-year contract over ten years for running costs, was also referred for investigation.

The Commission also found “a clear conflict of interest” for former civil servant, Vic Ball, now a One Bermuda Alliance senator, in the awarding of a $1.4 million contract in 2009 for sand and asphalt to Harmony Holdings — a company in which his father Eugene had a holding, which Vic Ball failed to declare.

But the four commissioners, under chairman Sir Anthony Evans, former Chief Justice of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts, stressed that a finding of possible criminal activity, or the naming of individuals, did not imply any finding of guilt.

The news came as Michael Dunkley, the Premier, announced the Commission’s findings in the House of Assembly this morning.

Mr Dunkley told MPs: “Indeed, the Commission noted that it ‘was not required or entitled to make any finding of innocence or guilt. It was required only to refer to the police and the Department of Public Prosecutions any evidence of possible criminal activity’.”

Other contracts named by the Commissioners were the 2009 $14 million contract with United States advertising and marketing firm Global Hue and $3.2 million paid out over 2008, 2010 and 2011 to Ambling for consultancy work on planning, works, engineering and hotels, originally budgeted at $400,000 a year — none of which were put out to tender, except for the 2011 deal with Ambling.

Mr Dunkley said that the Commissioners had focused on 12 transactions in total.

The Commission also looked at the controversial public-private partnership with the Canadian Crown Corporation and Canada-based Aecon to build a new airport, but found that there was no evidence of possible criminal activity.

The same was said of a 2008 contract given to Bermuda Drywall & Ceilings for renovations to the Commercial Courts and the Ministry of Finance buildings in Hamilton, which cost $1.86 million.

Mr Dunkley told MPs that the Commission had also looked at failures to comply with Government’s internal accounting and procedures and made a total of 50 recommendations for improvements.

These included establishing better working relationships between Government and senior civil servants, improving transparency and safeguards against conflicts of interest and boosting the effectiveness of Government Financial Instructions.

The Commission added that bodies responsible for safeguarding the public purse should be boosted, while Parliamentary oversight on spending should be enhanced.

“These recommendations are welcomed by the Government because they set the stage of the very thing the Commission was set up to achieve, which was, as I said in December 2015, to break the back of bad habits, to heighten public understanding of the issues and to return the principle of accountability to the centre of Government business at any level,” Mr Dunkley told the House.

He added: “We will also advance the principle of transparency in the management of the public purse.

“In that regard we will take a close look at making oversight of financial operations more current and contemporaneous.”

And Mr Dunkley said: “The Commission of Inquiry report is the next step in this drive to strengthen the overall governance of Bermuda and, more specifically, to institute the checks and balances necessary to make the Government more accountable and transparent to the people we are elected to serve.”

• To access the full Commission of Inquiry report, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”

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