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Firm co-owned by Premier’s adviser earned $3.6m from sole source Covid-19 tech contracts

David Burt, the Premier, and fintech consultant Denis Pitcher (File photograph)

A company owned by the Premier’s fintech adviser has earned $3.6 million after it was awarded no competition government contracts as part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Technology firm resPartner, founded and co-owned by Denis Pitcher, will be paid $2.4 million in 2021-2022 financial year.

The company was paid $1.2 million in the previous financial year.

Payments to resPartner broke down as $2 million for a Covid-19 test booking system, $1.3 million for the travel authorisation web portal and $300,000 for vaccine appointments software.

The figures were revealed in records released to The Royal Gazette under public access to information legislation.

Mr Pitcher became the fintech adviser to David Burt in January 2019 and was in the post when the contracts for software to manage the pandemic were awarded without a tender process to resQwest, also co-owned by him.

His role changed to that of unpaid fintech adviser in April last year.

Mr Pitcher said last May that he had created the SafeKey programme – which the Government announced last Friday it was to drop – free of charge.

Anyone visiting Bermuda since July 2020 has had to complete a form on the Government’s travel authorisation site and pay a $75 fee before they are allowed into the island. The fee has been cut to $40.

Kim Wilson, the health minister, told Parliament in November 2020 that the travel authorisation contract was not put out to tender, in breach of the Government’s procurement rules, because the work had to be done before the island’s borders reopened.

Ms Wilson said in July 2021 that the Government now had a “month-to-month” contract with resPartner and that “a Request For Proposal to continue this programme had commenced”.

But a health ministry spokeswoman admitted last week that a Request for Quotations issued at the start of 2021 was cancelled in June “due to the considerable change in scope of work that occurred while the RFQ was in progress”.

It is understood that it has not yet been reissued.

The Gazette asked the Ministry of Health last October to release records that showed payments from the Government to resPartner and resQwest.

The ministry last week released a spreadsheet of payments to resPartner between July 2020 and April 2021 and another that detailed payments from April 2021 to July 2021.

The second spreadsheet included eight estimated payments between August 2021 and March 2022.

The totals were $1.95 million for testing, $1.32 million for travel authorisation and $317,247 for vaccine appointments.

The ministry’s disclosure included a July 27, 2020 e-mail from Jennifer Attride-Stirling, the health ministry’s chief strategy officer, that asked the acting head of the Office of Project Management and Procurement to issue retroactive approval for a waiver for the tender process for the travel authorisation contract.

Dr Attride-Stirling’s memo said normal procurement rules could not be followed “due to the nature of a pandemic that has taken lives and continues to threaten lives”.

She highlighted that resQwest was “a company co-owned by Denis Pitcher, who is currently a consultant to the Premier of Bermuda”.

Dr Attride-Stirling said: “As such, Denis has a conflict of interest in the matter of the execution of the TA portal contract. Denis Pitcher has a letter in regards to his conflict of interest, which has been submitted to Cabinet Office.”

The request for a waiver was rejected, and Elaine Blair-Christopher, the OPMP’s acting director, warned health officials to check the relevant rules and “take the necessary actions” if “other emergency-related goods and services are needed in the coming weeks”.

Ms Blair-Christopher wrote: “We understand Covid-19 has come with many challenges that needed to be addressed quickly.

“Had we been contacted prior to the engagement of resQwest for the TA portal contract, this procurement could have played out differently.”

But she added: “Given the work has been completed, the payment will have to be made.”

Ms Wilson wrote a memo to the Premier, the finance minister and the Cabinet Office minister the next day, to “formally alert you that we have not been able to regularise our engagement with resQwest to produce and maintain the Government’s travel authorisation portal …”

She added that her ministry had failed to take the required steps to get verbal approval from the OPMP or drafted a memo “due to the speed at which we had to operationalise the border opening”.

A Parliamentary written response from Ms Wilson in February last year to questions raised by Michael Dunkley, the shadow health minister, revealed that a string of Covid-19 related contracts did not involve competitive bids.

Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez issued a decision last week on The Royal Gazette’s Pati request about resPartner and resQwest.

She found the Ministry of Health failed to respond in the time frame required by law but had now issued a decision so no further action was needed.

Ms Gutierrez wrote that the ministry “provided the understandable explanation that it has been overwhelmed by the more recent Covid-19 outbreaks”.

The health ministry’s information officer said that more records in relation to the Pati request would be “forthcoming in the near future”.

To view the Information Commissioner’s decision, click on the PDF under Related Media.

The health ministry spokeswoman said Mr Pitcher had “led the effort to ensure that Bermuda becomes a global leader in fintech and the Premier is extremely grateful for his continued voluntary service”.

She added the published pandemic response system RFQ had included the travel authorisation and testing programmes, but not vaccinations.

The spokeswoman explained the three separate systems used to implement the vaccine scheme “proved to be inadequate to support the rapid roll-out …”

She added: “Due to the successful Covid test booking system, resPartner was engaged in March 2021 to provide a unified solution for the vaccination programme as part of the pandemic response system efforts and to assist with consolidating the data from these three separate systems.

“On top of this, resPartner delivered digital vaccination and PCR certificates, as well as the SafeKey programme, at no additional cost beyond that of the vaccination programme.“

Mr Pitcher did not respond to requests for comment.

To view the records released by the health ministry, click on the PDFs under Related Media.