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Ministry ‘shamed’ into sharing airport plans

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Key information about the Bermuda Government's airport plans were shared with Curtis Stovell, the Accountant-General, only after his appearance at the Public Accounts Committee prompted the Ministry of Finance to do so.

PAC chairman David Burt, the Shadow Minister of Finance, said the testimony of Mr Stovell appeared to have “shamed” the ministry into following through on a request for information made six months earlier.

“This speaks to weaknesses in our system,” Mr Burt told The Royal Gazette. “None of this would have been exposed had we not held that meeting on November 19.”

Mr Stovell has repeatedly said that while he initially waived protocol in the Government's early dealings with the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), he was not asked in writing for later waivers, and that financial instructions had not been adhered to.

However, Anthony Manders, the financial secretary, last week insisted that Mr Stovell's approval at the start had covered the entire deal with CCC — including CCC's selection of Aecon, a Canadian contracting company, to build a new terminal at LF Wade International Airport.

Yesterday, Mr Stovell conceded that “communication should have been much better than it was”, but said he had now been furnished with the necessary information and was “not saying that we are not currently in compliance”.

On his apparent difference of opinion with the Financial Secretary, Mr Stovell said: “I can see given the intimacy of the Ministry of Finance with the transaction, that the assumption would have been made.”

However, he said he saw no reason why he could not revoke his permission if he grew concerned about how the project had been handled.

Mr Burt said that there was “no dispute” that procedure had been broken, as the Accountant-General's permission had been required.

Mr Stovell also said that he would have asked the Ministry for more information about Aecon, had he known that CCC already had the firm selected.

The PAC heard that the project's value for money assessments would be “in the public agenda”, and that responsibility for it had been handed over from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Tourism and Transport.

Mr Burt later told this newspaper that the delegation to another ministry was “concerning”, pointing out that such transfers of oversight for major capital projects had been repeatedly criticised by the Auditor-General.

The PAC is now on break for the winter, but Mr Burt said the group was getting to the point at which it could provide the House of Assembly with a unanimous report of its recommendations going forward.

Assessing project: Public Accounts Committee members preparing for yesterday's debate (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)
Addressing PAC: Curtis Stovell, the Accountant-General

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Published December 18, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 18, 2015 at 8:16 am)

Ministry ‘shamed’ into sharing airport plans

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