Where is missing $807,000 from Sandys 360?
The Bermuda Government is still pursuing the trustees of failed sports facility Sandys 360 for hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' cash paid out by mistake.
A public access to information request by The Royal Gazette to the Ministry of Finance has revealed that $807,000 paid in “error” in August 2011 to those responsible for the West End community pool and sports centre has still not been recovered.
The disclosure comes soon after public works minister Craig Cannonier told MPs that $1 million was being set aside in this year's Budget to give to the same trustees to buy the Sandys 360 building in Somerset.
With regard to the $807,000, the Ministry of Finance's information officer told this newspaper: “At this time, no recovery of the funds owed to Government has occurred. The Government will continue to progress this matter with the trustees of Sandys 360.”
The Royal Gazette has since asked for a full list of the names of the trustees and disclosure of actual records showing how Government has sought to get the money back but has not received that information yet.
The $807,000 was a duplicate payment which should never have been made. The same amount had already been given to Sandys 360 from the Government's Reserves Fund in two separate transactions — $627,000 in April 2011 and $180,000 in July 2011 — to help the struggling facility pay its debts.
The duplicate sum was flagged up by the Auditor-General in a critical report she released last year, which detailed widespread disregard for official financial rules within the civil service and is now the subject of a Commission of Inquiry.
During 2011, Sandys 360 Sports, Aquatic and Enrichment Centre — which officially opened on September 12, 2009 — was still operating but in early 2013 it admitted it could not pay its bills and its doors finally closed in November of that year.
Taxpayers stumped up millions of dollars to help pay for the facility before it was built and during its brief four-year existence — though the exact amount of public money spent on the doomed endeavour is unclear.
Under Pati, The Royal Gazette is seeking a complete list of all payments to Sandys 360 from the public purse, as well as a financial report on the entity carried out by KPMG at the request of the Government.
According to comments made by Mr Cannonier during the Budget debate in March, the Government is planning to buy the purpose-built facility from the trustees of Sandys 360 for $1 million this financial year. The building is on the site of the Sandys Secondary Middle School on Scott's Hill Road, with an entrance on Broome Street.
The Ministry of Finance's information officer said of the $807,000 duplicate payment: “It was the intention of the former government to recover the funds owed by way of reducing grant funding going forward to offset the receivable and to continue supporting the entity.”
She said the current government decided to “cease supporting Sandys 360” though it was revealed by senator Michael Fahy last July that “a little money” was still being spent to keep it operational.
The information officer revealed that Sandys 360 was also in debt to the Government in relation to payroll taxes, land taxes and social insurance contributions but she refused to disclose the amount owed, citing three exemptions under the Public Access to Information Act: commercial information, information received in confidence and disclosure prohibited under other legislation.
This newspaper will appeal that refusal to the independent information commissioner, as well as a refusal by the Department of Public Lands and Buildings to release the KPMG report.
Stanley Lee, one of the Sandys 360 trustees, told this newspaper in December it was up to the Government to release the KPMG report on Sandys 360 “since they initiated the process”.
• To see the Pati decision letter, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”