Moniz: I commissioned Sandys 360 report
A former public works minister said yesterday that it was he who commissioned the report into the finances of a struggling sports centre — not the trustees who ran it.
Trevor Moniz, now a One Bermuda Alliance backbencher, explained that he asked for the independent review from professional services firm KPMG in 2013 because he was “under pressure” from high-ranking civil servants to release more public funds for the now-closed Sandys 360.
Taxpayers had already forked out millions of dollars for the Sandys 360 Sports, Aquatic and Enrichment Centre, which opened in September 2009 and closed its doors in November 2013 because it was unable to make ends meet.
More money had been promised in the form of a government grant, but Mr Moniz said he wanted to cancel the offer, against the wishes of some civil servants.
Mr Moniz claimed civil servants “were saying ‘Government has made a promise and you have to abide by it'.
“I was saying ‘it's a different government, the conditions have not been met. I'm not going to pour money down a black hole.' It was $30,000 to $40,000 a month on Belco.
“I was refusing to do that. I was trying to persuade Cabinet and the Civil Service to stop pumping money into this facility that was unsustainable.”
Mr Moniz suggested some in government wanted the report kept secret because it was an “embarrassment to the Civil Service that all this money had flushed down the drain”.
The Royal Gazette launched a bid to get a copy of the KPMG report under public access to information legislation in December 2015, soon after the Auditor-General revealed that the centre received a duplicate payment of $807,000 in 2011 that was never recovered by the Government.
The report was kept secret by the One Bermuda Alliance administration and was kept under wraps by the ruling Progressive Labour Party.
Sandys 360 chairman Stanley Lee said in December 2015 that The Royal Gazette should “approach Government for a copy of the report, since they initiated the process”.
A Pati request was made to the Government, which asked for the report and for records showing all payments made from the public purse to Sandys 360 and all attempts to recover money owed by the centre to the Government.
The request for the report was refused by the Department of Public Lands and Buildings, but Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez ordered its release in May this year.
Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, now the Minister of Public Works, told Parliament this month that the Government would not release the report because “it was not commissioned by, nor is it the property of, the Department of Public Lands and Buildings”.
Mr Moniz said: “In my view, all this nonsense about ‘it's not a government report' prompts a serious question: who paid for the report?”
He said that those in charge of Sandys 360 — the trustees of Sandys Secondary Middle School — had to agree to take part in the review because they held all the information on the centre's finances.
But he added: “I would assume Government paid for it because they had no money. We were the ones who started the process.”
Opposition leader Craig Cannonier agreed yesterday that the report was commissioned during Mr Moniz's time as works minister.
But he said he understood that HSBC bank, which was owed more than $9 million by the trustees, asked for the report and paid KPMG for it. Mr Cannonier added: “The trustees had nothing.”
Mr Cannonier said: “When I became the public works minister in 2015, the report had already been commissioned. I'm almost sure that it did come out under me.”
He added: “There were no hard, clear financials on Sandys 360 that made any particular sense. Every time we asked them for information it was difficult to get a complete picture of what was going on.”
Mr Cannonier said that “people were trying to figure out exactly what it was we needed to do” to help the centre stay afloat.
He added: “The bank was coming to us for help. We said we can't seem to get any proper direction from those guys.”
Mr Cannonier said Cabinet decided that the Government should buy the centre from the trustees. He added that the Government could not release the report to the public at the time because it needed to finish negotiations on a price for the centre.
Mr Cannonier said he believed Sandys 360 was mismanaged by people with good intentions, which was why he told Parliament last year it was “completely unnecessary” to suggest the centre's financials should be made public.
But he added that the report should be released after Ms Gutierrez ordered it to be made public.
Mr Cannonier asked: “What's to hide?”
KPMG told the Information Commissioner its clients were the trustees and that it agreed to conduct the report on the basis it would only be disclosed to HSBC and the Department of Public Lands and Buildings.
The trustees told Ms Gutierrez the report was prepared for the trustees to help them resolve the “financial issues” surrounding the centre, including its potential sale to the Government.
Charles Thresh, of KPMG, said yesterday: “We do not comment on client engagements and so I am unable to answer your questions.”
An HSBC Bermuda spokeswoman said: “HSBC takes the issue of customer confidentiality very seriously and as such is not able to discuss any matters with respect to customers or purported customers.”
The Ministry of Public Works did not respond to questions on who paid for the report and if Colonel Burch planned to challenge Ms Gutierrez's order in court.
Sandys 360 timeline
September 12, 2009: Sandys 360 officially opens
August 2011: A payment of $807,000 from the public purse is made in “error” to Sandys 360 and never recovered
December 20, 2012: Trevor Moniz becomes public works minister after the One Bermuda Alliance's election victory
November 2013: Sandys 360 closes its doors because of financial difficulties
December 11, 2013: Mr Moniz is replaced at public works by Patricia Gordon-Pamplin
March 2014: Sandys 360 board member Stanley Lee reveals that KPMG is conducting a financial review of the centre and says its report is expected by month end
January 15, 2015: Craig Cannonier replaces Ms Gordon-Pamplin as works minister
July 2015: Sandys 360 managing director Melvyn Bassett tells The Royal Gazette that KPMG has finished its review
December 2, 2015: Asked for a copy of the KPMG report, Mr Lee tells the newspaper: “Maybe you should approach Government for a copy of the report, since they initiated the process.”
December 10, 2015:The Royal Gazette submits a Pati request for the KPMG report to the Department of Public Lands and Buildings
February 10, 2016: The department refuses the request. It says: “In respect of the KPMG report, you may wish to make the request directly to the trustees of Sandys 360, as they are the holder of the record. The KPMG report ... was commissioned by the trustees of Sandys 360. It was not commissioned by this department.”
March 2016: Mr Cannonier announces $1 million has been allocated in the budget to buy Sandys 360
April 5, 2016: Marva O'Brien, then the public works permanent secretary, upholds the refusal to disclose. She writes: “The report was prepared for KPMG's client, the trustees of Sandys Secondary School.”
April 19, 2016:The Royal Gazette asks the Information Commissioner's Office to review the decision
December 16, 2016: the Department of Public Lands and Buildings provides the ICO with a copy of the KPMG report
July 18, 2017: The Progressive Labour Party wins the General Election.
February 28, 2018:The Royal Gazette reveals that Sandys 360 cost taxpayers at least $5.3 million — $1 million towards its construction costs and $4.3 million in further payments
March 2, 2018:The Royal Gazette reveals that BCM McAlpine is still owed more than $1 million from the Sandys 360 trustees. Mr Cannonier tells the House of Assembly “we don't even need to get into all of that stuff” about how much public money was spent. He says of the KPMG report: “People were coming to me at the time saying ‘they are not giving up their financials' and the likes. Completely unnecessary for people to carry on in that manner when we were seeking out an opportunity to save that area.”
March 2018: Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, tells MPs that HSBC is prepared to take $1 million as “full and final settlement” of the $9.24 million it is still owed by the trustees of Sandys Secondary Middle School
May 27, 2019: Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez orders the Department of Public Lands and Buildings to release the KPMG report and to make a decision on whether to release records showing all payments made from the public purse to Sandys 360 by July 8. The Government has six months to seek a judicial review of her order
July 5, 2019: Colonel Burch tells Parliament the report will not be released