House: Richards tackled over airport plans
Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance, has defended his position in face of accusations that he did not adhere to financial instructions over the release of key information about the Bermuda Government's airport plans.
Shadow minister and chairman of the Public Accounts Committee David Burt took Mr Richards to task in the House of Assembly over details he believes should be released with regards to the deal with Canadian Commercial Corporation.
Accountant-General Curtis Stovell originally maintained that while he had waived protocol in the Government's early dealings with CCC, he was not asked for later waivers in writing, hence financial instructions had not been adhered to.
However, in December 2015, financial secretary Anthony Manders 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.
In Friday's House session, Mr Richards read out a quote from Mr Stovell that was printed in a Royal Gazette article on December 18, 2015.
In the article, Mr Stovell conceded that communication should have been much better than it was, but said he had since been given the necessary information. Mr Richards read Mr Stovell's quote that Mr Stovell was “not saying that we are not currently in compliance”.
Mr Burt said he did not see reference to the quote in the official transcript and challenged Mr Richards to produce the evidence at a later date. Mr Burt said: “The Government is able to set their policy, however it is our responsibility to hold them accountable.
“He [Mr Richards] is frustrating the will of the elected body, he has delayed on a request by your very own PAC committee meeting which was passed unanimously, and now he has ignored a summons which was voted on in another meeting. Nothing from the civil servants, nothing from the minister, all we hear is we have to get Aecon's permission.”
Mr Richards retorted: “His story is that the Bermuda Government has not got the permission of the Accountant-General for waivers for financial instructions — he keeps saying that we are operating outside of financial instructions and that is not correct.”
The minister then made reference to another situation it reminded him where Mr Burt was unable to “differentiate between truth and fiction.”
He raised the issue of Mr Burt's previous assertions that members of the One Bermuda Alliance had not contacted him about being unable to attend a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee meeting, when in fact, they had.
Mr Burt accused Mr Richards of misleading the House, saying that members had even claimed they would be turning up to lay motions.
But Mr Richards pushed on: “The honourable member can't seem to differentiate between truth and fiction because he said that he had not been communicated to by them and then when The Royal Gazette reporter produced the e-mails that they sent him he said, ‘oh yes'. You can't have it both ways.”
When Speaker of the House Randy Horton disciplined Mr Richards for calling into question Mr Burt's integrity, the minister said “I am not commenting on his integrity, I am commenting on his veracity” to which Mr Horton said there was little difference.