Five questions about the Auditor’s report
It's been nearly two weeks since the Auditor General made public her special report on the Government misusing public money. Since then, there has been a steady stream of press reports about wrongdoings at the Bermuda Land Development Company and Government funding a private legal action by two of its ministers. We've heard ministers and officials deny wrongdoing, ministers contradicting one another, ministers passing the buck and everyone saying they've answered enough questions. On the weekend, I was trying to take stock of the situation and came up with a list of five things that stick in my mind about Auditor General's report. I thought I would share them with you. Here they are: 1) The first is a question that remains unanswered. The Government said it used taxpayer money about $30,000 to fund a private lawsuit by two of its ministers to 'protect the integrity' of the Government of Bermuda. Yet when the Auditor General first questioned this use of public money, the Government dropped its support for the case. That made no sense to me. Why was support withdrawn if it was done to protect the integrity of Bermuda's government? It's a question the Premier really has to answer. 2) I've spoken with a lot of people about the Auditor General's report. They are very angry because they perceive that insiders are working the system to help themselves while they play by the rules. You can't have one set of rules for the people and another set of rules for insiders. Nothing good can come from that. The fact that so many people today are struggling to make ends meet only deepens their grievance. People need to know the government is on their side. They need to know it is working for them. 3) The Premier has spoken a lot about the need for greater transparency in government. But by the end of last week she had stopped taking questions on the Auditor's report. On Monday she shut down a new candidate press conference when the candidate was asked her views on the report. The Premier stopped questions because they perpetuate a controversy that reflects poorly on her government. This was a political calculation that put her party's interest ahead of transparency and the people's right to know. The only conclusion to draw from this is that the Premier's belief in transparency depends on the situation yes to transparency if it works for her, no if it doesn't. 4) The Auditor General reported the Deputy Premier ignoring the Premier's instructions. In the days following the release of the report, these two most senior ministers were again at odds on the issue of wrongdoing at the BLDC. With other ministers contradicting each other, the credibility and unity of the government came into question. This is not good for Bermuda. Here's why: Bermuda's good reputation is essential if we are to remain attractive to local and overseas investors, whose plans and activities generate jobs. If the Government is seen to be untrustworthy or unreliable, then people will be less likely to invest in the Island meaning they will not start a business, they will not build a hotel, they will not participate in the redevelopment of Hamilton's waterfront all things that create jobs and career opportunities for the people of this country. That's something all Bermudians should bear in mind. 5) Finally, the Auditor General's report is not an isolated controversy. It is part of an ongoing story of questionable behaviour and careless management of the public purse. We've seen it before in controversies and investigations surrounding the Berkeley School, the Housing Corporation, the TCD emissions centre, Kings Wharf pier, untendered contracts for friends, companies selected over the objections of technical officers, officials disregarding Financial Instructions, unaccounted for millions … the list goes on. But perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Auditor General's report was the lack of shock over its revelations. Bermudians are getting used to this stuff and that is not good. It doesn't have to be this way. We can make things better. We can restore trust and confidence in our government. And we can make sure it is focused on one thing the people's business. That is my goal and that of my colleagues. If you would like to read something on our plans to make government a people's government, I urge you to visit
www.oba.bm, click 'Hot Topics', scroll down to my Reply to the Speech from the Throne and click to read the 'better governance section in the first half of the speech.
Craig Cannonier is the Leader of the Opposition One Bermuda Alliance