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Cheques left in civil servant’s desk

A total of $330,500 in uncashed cheques were left “in a drawer” at a government department, a report to Parliament has revealed.

The report by the Efficiency Committee said only $50,000 of the owed cash was claimed back and accused the Government of “poor management of staff and inadequate central controls”.

The group's report, tabled last Friday in the House of Assembly, added the pile of uncashed cheques included one for $6,369 that dated back to December 2006. The committee also found that the financial assistance department had continued to pay allowances to rest homes after residents had died because of a lack of co-ordination between departments.

The report also said revenue was left uncollected at the offices of the Tax Commissioner and Registrar of Companies because of a lack of trained staff and old-fashioned technology. And unassessed stamp duty on 1,590 property conveyancing files added up to “a huge backlog of work with the resulting loss in significant amounts of revenue”.

The nine-member team's recommendations, drawn up after the yearlong review, included:

• An update for Bermuda's intellectual property legislation, last revised in 1993, which one IP lawyer said could bring the island an extra $1.3 million in business

• Get-tough measures for companies more than 60 days behind on social insurance payments, including the Transport Control Department refusing to renew company owners' driving licences

• Centralisation of the purchase of materials and supplies for Government, rather than scattering it across departments

• A system where all budget expenses must be justified for each new period at the Office of Project Management and Procurement to control spending in government departments

A spokeswoman from the Ministry of Health said last night the ministry had made changes after an internal policy review. She said: “The amounts owing are now significantly lower. The Department of Financial Assistance has identified these gaps as outlined in the Efficiency Report and internal policy reviews, and are working to recoup any outstanding funds.”

James Jardine, the independent senator who wrote the consolidated report, said that “overall, no matter who it is, the Government needs an overall strategic plan for the next five years”.

He added: “A problem I see is the confusion over just what they necessarily want to achieve in each department.

“Each time the Government changes, their goals change, and ministries and departments have to rejig their thought processes.”

Mr Jardine said that the IT systems in government departments worked in isolation.

He added: “They don't talk to each other. So when they are trying to collect outstanding taxes, there is no one system bringing it all together.”

The committee's report recommended that the Government should “invest in a completely new tax software system”.

It also highlighted staffing problems across departments, which included a lack of manpower at the Attorney-General's Chambers to collect outstanding debts on behalf of the Department of Social Insurance.

Mr Jardine added that the committee had “resurrected” the findings of past reports, including the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission, or Sage, compiled six years ago.

The committee highlighted that the Sage report had suggested a plan to get isolated departments of the Government to work together. The Efficiency Committee agreed with Sage's statement that the need “cannot be overemphasised”.

Their report also said there should be a review of previous reports where “little may have been done to implement their recommendations”.

The committee's review of the Office of the Tax Commissioner quoted concerns raised in the report of the Tax Reform Commission, tabled last November, which said the OTC was “understaffed and under resourced”.

An earlier report by the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre, released in October 2015, recommended major improvements to Bermuda's tax billing and collection systems.

To view the full Consolidated Overall Report of the Efficiency Committee, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”

Overall strategic plan: James Jardine, the independent senator

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Published June 05, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated June 05, 2019 at 7:35 am)

Cheques left in civil servant’s desk

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