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Bob Richards drills down on Police supplemental funding

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Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards has questioned whether police are doing a good enough job with the millions of dollars in additional funding they have been given.

He told the House of Assembly he wasn't convinced the extra money from Government was making much of a difference to crime levels. Mr Richards said shootings continued to take place so he would be watching closely to see if “these efforts are bearing fruit”.

He spoke out as MPs scrutinised more than $160 million in government overspends since the financial year of 2002/2003.

The supplementary estimates, which related to unbudgeted amounts spent by Government over the course of eight financial years, were approved on Monday night.

The House heard just over $1m was needed to renovate police residential properties in 2006/2007. The original budget of $2m “forgot to include” the furniture needed for 64 rooms, plus kitchens and washrooms.

Then in 2008/2009, when gun crime was starting to take its toll on the Island, police were given an extra $7.5 million.

This included additional funding of $2.6 million, $2.8 million for overtime, and extra costs to bring in overseas witnesses and create extra office space for new consultants and analysts.

The House also heard about the rising costs of police pay, overtime and housing allowances. Mr Richards estimated the police had received an overspend of about $25 million which “does not even take into account the capital amounts”.

He said: “It's a recurring theme of an excessive amount of money being spent on the police. We see it almost every year.

“There's a tremendous amount of money being spent on the police and look at what we are overlooking in terms of crime. There is somewhat of a mismatch.”

Mr Richards said we are “starting to get some traction” and highlighted the court case which found Antonio Myers guilty of the murder of Kumi Harford.

He said: “Great things are expected of them [the police] and there are indications that some things are starting to happen but the jury is still out on that one. We still have to see if these efforts are bearing fruit. It's well worth watching closely.”

Shadow Transport Minister Charlie Swan said when some of the extra funding was being dished out to police was when uniformed officers marched on Parliament over pay.

He said: “It's a bit shameful that that sort of thing occurs when you would think this Country was quite well managed.”

Government MPs started to heckle as soon as the UBP brought up police funding, but they did not stand up to address their concerns.

The expense of the Berkeley Institute, which opened in September 2006, proved to be another talking point in the House.

Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith said the new senior school was budgeted at $121 million but an overspend of about $545,000 in 2005/2006 was down to extra fire safety requirements. Then in 2007/2008 another overspend of $128.5 million was for arbitration costs.

Mr Richards said: “I have to say this is a gift that just keeps on giving. The cost of that school is still giving us things to talk about.

“It's unfortunate for taxpayers as it's a cost that keeps on costing. It can't be worth the amount of money we have spent on it. This is really a case of bad management, it's a project that went horribly wrong.”

Items also highlighted in the House were the $44.9 million in debt relief given to the Bermuda Housing Corporation in 2006/2007.

Mr Richards said it was “a totally discretionary act by the Government which hadn't been forced on them by anyone else” and should have been discussed as soon as they knew the loans wouldn't be repaid.

Mr Richards said: “This makes the Government look bad when they don't have to look bad.”

Premier Paula Cox said this was “one of the few times she agreed” with Mr Richards, blaming it on “a lag in paperwork”.

She added: “No one likes having to stand up and rationalise things that are past due.”

The Opposition questioned a rest home investigation study in 2005/2006, which went over its $96,000 budget by $31,615 saying they couldn't even recall seeing the report.

Premier Cox explained “not all reports are tabled” and suggested it may have been an internal study. UBP members also quizzed Government over an excess of $3,587 in 2005/2006 to renovate the bathrooms at Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy.

Mr Swan said he “found it difficult to believe” that so much money could be spent on giving bathrooms wheelchair access.

Mr Richards said the Auditor General had highlighted $189 million of unauthorised spending and the House was told about $163 million in Monday's session so “there's still $26 million at large”.

He complained the time-consuming scrutiny of each year's supplementary estimates could have been avoided.

He said the Auditor General had flagged up the unauthorised spending every year yet nothing was brought to Parliament.

Mr Richards said: “If the matters had been brought up in a timely manner, we would not be here at 10.15pm having gone over this for four hours. It's boring everyone to tears. If things had come up at the time, it would have been a lot easier and a lot less burdensome. We are here because of past discretions.”

Premier Paula Cox admitted going through each year's overspends had been “tedious” but said: “We needed to bring this raft [of figures] before you so you know its not hiding in a Pandora's box somewhere. Should it have come sooner? Certainly. Should people's heads roll? Certainly.”

The largest single overrun was in 2004/5, when the Ministry of Finance spent $53 million more than estimated, the majority of it topping up the pension fund for public servants.

Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards has questioned whether police are doing a good enough job with the extra millions of dollars they have been given.
Shadow Finance Minister –Bob Richards

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Published March 30, 2011 at 9:31 am (Updated March 30, 2011 at 9:31 am)

Bob Richards drills down on Police supplemental funding

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