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Tired of the blame game on fiscal irresponsibility

Bermuda’s former governor, John Rankin, has his hands full overseeing the fallout from a commission of inquiry in British Virgin Islands (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Dear Sir,

Augustus Jaspert, the Governor of the British Virgin Islands, with support from the UK Foreign Office, ordered an independent commission of inquiry last year to investigate allegations including the misuse of taxpayers' money, concerns about government procurement and political interference in public appointments.

The report was released in April and includes a laundry list of things regarding gross deficiencies in government. Familiar things such as the lack of good governance, transparency, rule of law, etc — and in some respects it is like a mirror image of Bermuda’s own 2017 Commission of Inquiry report, most certainly regarding our Consolidated Fund’s accounting deficiencies as identified by the Auditor-General.

Here’s just one paragraph from the BVI’s report (Executive Summary: page 7), which could very easily have been extracted from our 2017 CoI report:

“The relevant elected officials are well aware of this chronic lack of governance. The Auditor-General and Director of the Internal Audit Department, whose job it is to audit government accounts and government projects, have consistently reported on these failures, indicated the dishonesty to which they might give rise and which they might obscure, and identified what needs to be done to prevent their recurrence. These auditors have been brave, forthright and clear in both their criticisms and their recommendations. But they have been consistently ignored.”

Sound familiar? It should because we have been dealing with this in Bermuda for decades.

The BVI report found serious failings of governance in successive administrations, just as our own CoI report did. However, in the case of the BVI, what has happened — with the “blessing” of Britain — is that the three major political parties have joined forces to fix governance issues identified in the report. This new government, called the Government of National Unity under the premiership of Natalio Wheatley, has committed to implementing 48 of the 49 recommendations in the CoI report — in a framework with clear delivery deadlines. There will be monthly public progress updates by each ministry, with a quarterly summary from the Governor. The British Government agreed that the GNU should implement these reforms, while also putting in place an Order in Council legislation, which would allow it to take strong action — including direct British rule — if reform failed.

It is interesting to note that BVI’s governor at present is John Rankin — the predecessor to Bermuda’s incumbent, Rena Lalgie — and he is now overseeing the implementation of the CoI recommendations. He has a rigorous timeline in which the reviews and investigations will be carried out, and here is an excerpt from his first quarterly progress review dated October 4, 2022:

“While it would not be appropriate to go into detail on matters related to the investigations, audits and reviews which are ongoing, I can state that, from the quarterly reports received, in general there has been a satisfactory level of co-operation. However, I note with concern that several reviewers and investigators have reported difficulty accessing relevant documents from the public service. I have asked the Deputy Governor to remind public servants of the need to prioritise co-operation with CoI implementation. If there is evidence that access is being deliberately blocked, action will be taken in respect of the relevant officers. I trust that this will no longer be a concern by the time of my next Quarterly Review.”

Hopefully, for the people of BVI, his actions will speak louder than his words.

I refer now to Bermuda’s own Commission of Inquiry in 2017 on government accounting deficiencies, which was conducted during the One Bermuda Alliance administration and formally presented to the Premier, Michael Dunkley, in February 2017. This commission focused specifically on the Consolidated Fund of the Government of Bermuda for the Financial Years 2010 to 2012. In the recommendations section, on page 125, it says this:

“Hold civil servants responsible with regard to ‘ownership’ of responses to Auditor-General reports. Clearly identify which civil servant in a ministry or department ‘owns responsibility’ for addressing issues identified by the Office of the Auditor-General. Mandate that the responsible civil servant report to the Public Accounts Committee and the minister within an appropriate period of time, on what actions have been taken to address the Auditor-General’s exit points. The commission suggests that this be no more than six months. The relevant minister should follow up with a further report to the Cabinet on his ministry’s status for all outstanding audit issues. There should be a note made in individual civil servants’ annual reviews for noncompliance with this follow-up process and sanctions considered for consistent tardiness and noncompletion.”

So, did these changes happen? Do the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Service Commission remember this CoI report? What about the Governor at the time, John Rankin? This COI recommendation is a clear directive to them that accountability must be improved in the Civil Service, for which they have the total responsibility of managing. Unless the PSC has been cut off from all outside communications, it — and the Governor — should know that there is no shortage of poor performance when it comes to the timely production of financial statements by the Civil Service and the above recommendation from the CoI report is perfectly clear in its directive.

People, that clear, concise directive was five years ago and there have been other inquiries before 2017, all warning about the poor administrative performance of senior civil servants and each giving recommendations for improvement. Our auditors-general have been pleading for Civil Service accountability to happen for between 20 and 30 years, and the incumbent Heather Thomas has just told us that there are still a combined total of about 130 years of public bodies’ financial statements that are in arrears.

We see that in the case of BVI’s government deficiencies, a firm, disciplinary hand from the mother country is apparently what it has to take to get some people in the government — both the political and the administrative sides — to perform their jobs with co-operation, efficiency and accountability.

We have a crystal-clear plan to remedy the problem, outlined in a report that apparently sits on a shelf next to countless others, all collecting dust. What is needed is a concerted, bipartisan move to come from both the government and the opposition leaders to formally bring this to the attention of the Governor and the British Foreign Secretary, with requests — dare I say, demands — for urgent, real reform of the existing management structure of the Civil Service and its oversight framework so that it brings efficiency and accountability to the forefront and penalises the lack thereof.

In closing, I now direct my comments to the Premier, David Burt, and Cole Simons, Leader of the Opposition.

I challenge you both to make this happen and show some collective political will. Put aside your party politics, put on your “big boy” pants, take a stand together and demonstrate some collaboration to get this done. Do it for all of Bermuda and let the people see a unified voice come from their political leaders, demonstrating a real commitment to fiscal accountability from our government because we are all tired of your blame game and flimsy excuses.



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Published October 13, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated October 12, 2022 at 3:52 pm)

Tired of the blame game on fiscal irresponsibility

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