Transparency needs sunshine of scrutiny
“Where had I heard this wind before/
Change like this to a deeper roar?” *
By John Barritt
Finally, Mr Editor, a much-needed Commission of Inquiry, the announcement of which has met with initial endorsement from the Man on top of the Other Hill down to Alaska Hall, and pretty well across the rest of the Island, I suspect.
No one I know is asking why. Only: why did it take so long?
While there is no need to pour cold water on what is a hot development, there are concerns about which people are already talking and asking questions.
You have not been living in Bermuda for the last couple of years if you have not heard the whispers; in some cases, more than just whispers. They were advanced as an explanation or an excuse or an answer (take your pick) — and mostly privately (you know, off the record, wink, wink, nudge, nudge) — as to why nothing was apparently being done to investigate some of those very serious allegations surrounding and arising out of various past government contracts, some of which have been highlighted in past reports of Auditors-General. We led ourselves to believe that there was some behind-the-scenes probe by a crack team of forensic investigators who were hard at work combing through documents and police statements.
True or not? Inquiring minds want to know. More importantly will any of the work which has been undertaken to date be shared with the Commission of Inquiry? It ought to be, if for no other reason than to save time and concentrate resources. We don't need a commission to cover the same ground and with the same result so far which, to date, on the record, and for the record, is nothing, ie a great big fat zero.
The public, the taxpayers, about whose money we speak, have a right to know — which leads me to the next point of concern. We have been told that the commission will meet in camera, not on camera, but in camera which means in private. The public will thus be shut out until a report is completed handed over. That shouldn't be the case for good reason in my books:
•An independent commission should be left to act independently and decide for itself what evidence should or should not be received privately after it has first informed itself fully of what's what whether voluntarily or through subpoena;
•Sorry but private-only meetings give the wrong appearance: too cushy, too comfy, too cosy. We the public ought to hear and see what is being alleged and said. People whose work is in question deserve that opportunity too, to explain and defend themselves. Hello CITV.
•Transparency and accountability require the sunshine of public scrutiny.
There is also no need for this commission to be any more political than it has to be. I say this notwithstanding the apparent endorsement of the Progressive Labour Party. Any probe should not be confined only to their last term of government.
With all due respect, the current Auditor-General hasn't exactly just discovered plutonium. There have been many other previous reports, from her predecessor, stretching back some 15 to 20 years, reaching into previous governments under different administrations, that have highlighted deficiencies and problems that continue to bedevil us today.
The problem has roots, people, and those roots need to be examined too. They will help explain the culture which exists today. Their identification should help lead the commission to the right solutions — and solutions are what we need going forward.
We know some of what needs fixin' already. We can start with the Legislature and the need to make the annual Budget debate a far more critical and meaningful examination of government expenditure than it has become over the years. Then there's the Public Accounts Committee which has to become far more active and robust to become the effective body of oversight that it is meant to be. Not to mention the need for greater resources for the Office of the Auditor-General so that reviews are current and up to date. These are just starters.
You read this column, you are familiar with the list — and I am not alone. Dust off and read the Sage Report again and some of its recommendations. There was a guide there that could have been followed. Let's hope, Mr Editor, that the same fate doesn't befall the recommendations of this Commission of Inquiry.
*Opening lines from the poem Bereft by Robert Frost