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Sandys 360 cost taxpayers $5.3m

Taxpayers have forked out at least $5.3 million on the failed Sandys 360 facility, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

The now-shuttered sports centre, which the Government plans to buy for $1 million and renovate for an as-yet-unknown sum, was funded with a bank loan, a government grant and donations from the public.

The education ministry provided $1 million towards its construction costs and, according to disclosures made to The Royal Gazette by the Ministry of Finance under public access to information legislation, further payments from the public purse totalled $4.3 million.

A duplicate payment of more than $800,000 made by mistake to the centre's trustees has never been recovered and the ministry said there were no records to show how it has sought to recover the cash or from whom.

The Government has also refused to make public a report into the financial affairs of the centre carried out by professional services firm KPMG.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the public works minister, revealed last week that the Progressive Labour Party government is to go ahead with a plan first announced by the previous One Bermuda Alliance administration in 2016 to buy the facility for $1 million.

He told the House of Assembly: “There is a significant amount of money that is owed to HSBC, I believe, and so we are purchasing the facility for $1 million.

“No capital funds have been budgeted in the next financial year on the facility but, once the purchase is complete, a thorough survey of the structure will be carried out.”

Colonel Burch said any major work would have to be “properly scoped and budgeted for the following financial year”.

The state-of-the-art Sandys 360 Sports, Aquatic and Enrichment Centre opened its doors in September 2009 next to Sandys Secondary Middle School after 15 years of fundraising and planning and two years of construction.

The sports centre boasted the island's only 25-metre indoor swimming pool and diving platform, plus a full-sized gym, an aerobics and fitness room, a weights room, a viewing gallery and a juice bar, as well as six classrooms.

More than 2,000 people were reported to have attended its official opening, when it was described as a “magnificent” $12 million facility, which would benefit the entire community.

But management admitted less than four years later in March 2013 that they were struggling to keep up with bills and repay a loan from HSBC.

Sandys 360 closed that year and Michael Fahy, then home affairs minister, later said in the Senate that it had been “run very badly”.

Mr Fahy, speaking in July 2015, said the Government was still spending “a little money” to keep it in operational condition.

He said it was “a private entity and a private concern — not a government initiative”.

The Government stonewalled questions in December that year about how much it was still paying to keep the facility from falling into disrepair.

The Pati disclosures, made in response to requests from The Royal Gazette, show a series of payments beginning in 2009 and ending in 2013.

They include:

• An $807,000 grant in 2011 from government reserves

• A further payment of $807,000 — made in error by a civil servant and never recovered — from the Consolidated Fund in August 2011

• A $2 million grant in the fiscal year 2012-13 from the Ministry of Government Estates

• A $500,000 grant from the Ministry of Public Works in 2013-14.

The Ministry of Finance's information official said: “All the payments ... were used to defray the cost of previous capital works undertaken by Sandys 360 and to reduce associated debt.

“Funding went directly to service debt and was not used for operational expenditures of Sandys 360.”

A further $253,700 was spent between 2009 and 2013 to subsidise use of the centre by “seniors, youth etc”.

The official said The Royal Gazette's question on how the Government had sought to recover the missing $807,000 could not be answered.

She added: “There are no records showing how government is seeking to recover the funds it is owed by Sandys 360 and who it is seeking repayment from.

“Hence, there are no records of letters, invoices, or court papers pertaining to repayment.

“However, government has sought to recover these debts by pursuing its customary debt collection procedures.”

The information officer later said in an e-mail in January 2017: “We confirm we have now provided you with a list of all payments made to Sandys 360.”

A request to the Ministry of Public Works for the KPMG report and confirmation of the total amount of public funds spent on Sandys 360 did not receive a response by press time.

Sandys 360

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Published February 28, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated March 01, 2018 at 9:38 am)

Sandys 360 cost taxpayers $5.3m

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