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Good Governance Act doesn’t go far enough, Kevin Comeau

Premier Paula Cox's good governance law does not give the Auditor General sufficient powers to “follow the money” and investigate corruption, a public forum heard.

Lawyer Kevin Comeau told the Centre for Justice meeting that the Good Governance Act 2011 should have included increased powers for the Auditor to obtain documents from Government.

He claimed it didn't and said that “makes no sense whatsoever”.

But Ms Cox said last night that Mr Comeau was “under-informed” on planned changes to the Audit Act and had ignored the fact that the good governance legislation was being introduced in phases.

Mr Comeau, speaking to an audience of about 100 people at St Paul AME Church Hall on Wednesday evening, said the Good Governance Act gave the director of the new Office of Project Management and Procurement and the director of Internal Audit the ability to obtain any documents about procurement and capital projects from Government, even if legally privileged.

He questioned why the same power was not granted to the Auditor, whom he described as the “only truly independent investigator of government financial wrongdoing”.

A recent special report from Auditor General Heather Jacobs Matthews detailed how she was unable to obtain legally privileged documents from Government about a civil law suit being paid for by taxpayers on behalf of former Premier Ewart Brown and Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess.

M Comeau said the Good Governance Act was read in Parliament after Mrs Matthews's request for that information was refused.

He claimed the legislation was structured to specifically undermine the Auditor General's ability to investigate political corruption. Ms Cox said in a statement last night “I liaised with the Auditor General directly as to her recommendation for changes to the Audit Act.”

Finance Minister Ms Cox said she pledged in the Throne Speech to give public authorities, including the Auditor, the ability to “follow the money” ie ensure that money paid to vendors, contractors and organisations receiving grants was used for the purpose for which it was authorised.

The Premier added: “This Government will remain focused on the task at hand, delivering for the people of Bermuda and improving the level of governance in this Island.

“Our track record on improving governance is [a] long one. This Government has strengthened the office of the Auditor General, is enacting public access to information, created the office of the Ombudsman, the Department of Internal Audit and the Office of Procurement and Project Management.

“We have enacted good governance legislation and whistleblower legislation and there is more to come.”

Asked to comment on the good governance law yesterday, Governor Sir Richard Gozney said: “You may be asking her directly but the Auditor General has not sought from me support for a change in the Good Governance Act.

“It is a hypothetical point but should the Auditor General make such a request, naturally I would discuss it with the Government.”

Mrs Matthews did not respond to a request for comment.

The Centre for Justice issued a statement which said it was “committed to enabling healthy and open discussion on legal matters which affect members of the community”.

“Our role is to inform and educate. In order to encourage dialogue and promote open discussion, we invite speakers who have knowledge of relevant legislation and are grateful to them for their insight.

“However, by definition, free and open discourse may be subjective at times. Centre for Justice does not select its speakers to express the views of Centre for Justice.”

Kevin Comeau

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Published March 16, 2012 at 9:00 am (Updated March 16, 2012 at 9:49 am)

Good Governance Act doesn’t go far enough, Kevin Comeau

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