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Auditor’s report a must-read financial literacy lesson

Public interest report: Heather Thomas, the Auditor-General, took a close look at the Government’s actions after the pandemic broke out

Easter – a time for renewal, reflections on living, celebration of new life (such as the 18 cahow chicks born on Nonsuch Island), remembrances, and gratitude for community coming together during Covid-19, and the committed Government responses to protect our community.

Readers, the report by Heather Thomas, the Auditor-General, entitled “Government of Bermuda’s Response to Covid-19: Travel Authorisation”, is a must-read for you in the Bermuda Financial Literacy project.

Ms Thomas’s report is a compelling factual narrative of our Government’s rapid pandemic response to an unprecedented time in our country’s history, shared with all stakeholders for comment and to promote transparency.

The Covid-19 pandemic was rapidly escalating worldwide into an uncontrollable, unmitigated disaster. As it spread inward to our home country, it became an exhausting period in our community’s narrative, rife with anxiety upon recognition of unknown dangers of the disease, isolation and invasion of personal space, loss of jobs, depletion of savings and for too many, lasting grief.

There was a captured sense of urgency (and drama) as the Government of Bermuda was compelled to swift, decisive action to protect our borders, control local contagion while documenting the procedural process requirements of Government’s Code of Practice, disclosing conflicts of interest, appropriate management of the people’s money, and receiving Cabinet approval for contracts subject to competitive bidding.

Our community humanitarian care also shines through, documented during the committed work to protect the community and the innovative decisions implemented to provide swift protective action.

The Auditor recognised the outstanding responses of the Ministry of Health, many public servants and others contracted to support the Government’s initiatives. “They showed personal sacrifice, courage and resilience”, innovation and nimbleness working across the whole of government in a manner not seen before.

Ms Thomas also noted that “there were also many Public Officers who acted in silos; and others reluctant to act, and waiting to pass on their responsibilities to others”.

There are six sections and 19 pages in the report, along with an extensive supporting appendix.

The sections covered areas including he underlying circumstances and the corresponding identification of need for services; roles, responsibilities and authorities of public officers; the procurement of electronic travel authorisation services; relevant contracts; and the Auditor’s observations and lessons learnt.

Summary overview

This Public Interest Report is the third and final point-in-time report on Covid-19 issued by the Auditor-General, pursuant to the Audit Act 1990, sections 12(1) and 12(2) (a) and (b) where the Office of the Auditor-General, in the public interest, undertakes works and reviews any matter of public interest.

It focuses on the Government of Bermuda’s actions taken between March 2020 and November 2022 as it pertains to the implementation of its Covid-19 measures relating to travel to Bermuda by air, cruise or yacht.

This is your Auditor-General’s independent reporting to Parliament and to you, the public.

You have a right to know whether public officers’ and ministers’ actions, taken in the emergency response to the pandemic, were accountable, efficient, transparent, free of conflicts of interest, and in accordance with regulations and current legislation.

Underlying circumstances (pages 5 and 6)

The World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

• March 16, 2020: Government responded swiftly passing the Public Health Amendment Act

• March 17, 2020: mandated testing and quarantining of arrivals

• March 20, 2020: on-island testing started, with the Ministry of Health partnering with the Bermuda Hospitals Board and Helix Labs

• April 19, 2020: frontline ministers evolved Government’s Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory (MDL)

• March 2020-June 2020: closure to commercial traffic in the interim escalated the urgent need to develop an electronic travel authorisation system for large-scale public health surveillance to mitigate spread of the disease

• June 23, 2020: Cabinet approves traveller entry policy

• June 30, 2020: Bermuda Electronic Travel Authorisation Form was launched

• July 1, 2020: Bermuda reopens borders

Public officers’ roles and responsibilities (page 7)

Section 3 fully emphasises the main responsibilities of public officers in accordance with Financial Instructions 2.4.1 and lists the accounting officers and departments/ offices involved:

• Permanent Secretaries of Cabinet, Health;

• Acting Financial Secretary, Finance;

• Accountant-General;

• Chief Information Officer, Information and Digital Technology;

• Director, Office of Project Management.

Procurement of electronic travel authorisation services (pages 8 and 9)

By June 23 2020, with the airport reopening July 1, 2020, the Government’s own Information and Digital Technology (IDT) did not have the required expertise, or travel system knowledge, to develop the application in-house, nor did the department have sufficient capacity or resources to meet the tight timelines by which the Electronic Travel Authorisation Application was required.

The Government sought to engage an external application developer; however, the Ministry of Health open market searches indicated few solutions available.

Expediency prevailed. The most efficient decision was to use the same external vendor already in contract and being used for the local drive-through testing. Also, using one single vendor was considered to be positioned to deliver an integrated system.

An Emergency single-source waiver (under the Code of Practice for Procurements) was not sought by the Ministry of Health with respect to the acquisition and/or implementation of the Government’s travel authorisation portal until July 27, 2020, and finally after a departmental aside delay, Cabinet on November 10, 2020 retroactively approved the said contract.

Noted item

In September 2021, when researching a vendor’s system information request related to the Ministry of Economy and Labour (the ministry responsible for immigration services), the Department of Immigration inadvertently became aware of an existing agreement between Cabinet Office and another vendor for a border-crossing passenger processing system of which the department had no prior knowledge.

The agreement, which was effective from August 24, 2020, was signed by David Burt, the Premier, and the system design concept for this system exactly duplicated the design of the Electronic Travel Authorisation system.

Martha Harris Myron, JSM, is a native Bermudian with US connections, an author, financial columnist, and former qualified international financial planner Contact: martha.myron@gmail.com

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Published April 08, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated April 08, 2023 at 9:43 pm)

Auditor’s report a must-read financial literacy lesson

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