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PAC to probe Auditor’s findings

Public Accounts Committee chairman Bob Richards has pledged to call witnesses and hold open meetings to get to the bottom of the Auditor General’s findings on the misuse of taxpayer dollars.

The Shadow Finance Minister said yesterday the meetings would be held as a matter of priority, even though it was annual Budget time, “because of the implications for the management of the public purse going forward”.

Auditor General Heather Jacobs Matthews released a scathing report a week ago highlighting two instances where public funds were inappropriately spent.

She said one case involved a “fundamental conflict of interest” in which the government-owned Bermuda Land Development Company (BLDC) paid more than $160,000 in consultancy fees to the chairman and deputy chairman of its own board.

The other matter saw more than $30,000 in public funds spent on the private legal fees of former Premier Ewart Brown and current Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess.

Mrs Matthews wrote: “In this case, where the fundamental financial rules which govern all civil servants have been blatantly disregarded at the highest levels in Government, appropriate sanctions should be applied, including appearance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).”

She said her attempts to get access to information about the legal case were repeatedly denied and if such denials happened again she would recommend those responsible also go before the PAC.

Mr Richards said the PAC would take up the Auditor’s Special Report on the Misuse of Public Funds as soon as Parliament reconvened tomorrow (Friday, February 3)

“We will call witnesses and obtain documents that can get to the bottom of the Auditor’s conclusion that officials at the highest level of government ‘blatantly disregarded’ rules designed to protect the integrity of the people’s money,” he said.

“Although this is Budget time, we will hold these meetings as a matter of priority because of the implications for the management of the public purse going forward.

“People must have confidence in their government and, if that can’t be the case, then they must have confidence in the systems that control the activities of government.”

The One Bermuda Alliance MP told

The Royal Gazette an initial meeting to plan how to proceed would likely be held in private but any further meetings on the topic, including when witnesses give evidence, would be open to the public.

He said the list of witnesses would be drawn up at the first meeting and could include anyone involved in the cases outlined in the Auditor’s report.

“I’m told that we have the right to require anybody to appear before the committee,” Mr Richards said. “We basically have subpoena-like powers. We can decide who we want to interview and will ask them to come to talk to us.

“Insofar as this report is concerned, we have the right to interview anybody who is involved in this report. I think they are obliged to [give evidence] but we’ll see what happens if they refuse. We haven’t got there yet.”

E.T. (Bob) Richards

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Published February 02, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 02, 2012 at 7:10 am)

PAC to probe Auditor’s findings

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