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OBA hits out over Covid-19 contracts awarded to Premier’s fintech adviser

Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A financial audit should be carried out after it was revealed a sole-sourced contract for Covid-19 services was given to a company owned by the Premier’s fintech adviser, the One Bermuda Alliance said tonight.

Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, claimed that David Burt, the Premier, “consistently finds himself in conflicts of interest, without remorse or accountability”.

Mr Simons said Mr Burt had gone “from being the Premier, Minister of Tourism and being in charge of gaming, to now literally handing a $3.6 million contract to his personal fintech adviser Denis Pitcher without going through the proper tender process”.

He added: “Let’s not forget that Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, who, when cornered, admitted that her ministry failed to take the required steps to get approval to engage resQwest for the travel authorisation process and Covid 19-test booking system.”

Mr Simons said: “The OBA and the people of Bermuda find this behaviour breathtakingly unconscionable.

“We are tired of the lack of accountability and the lack of transparency and as evidenced by Mr Burt and his party. Enough is enough.”

But Mr Burt said that the Auditor-General had “audited and will continue to audit” the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added: “This Government will continue to support that effort as there is nothing to hide when it comes to funds spent to keep Bermuda safe.

“Also, the Opposition leader doesn’t need a press release to get information surrounding this or any other government contracts.

“Mr Simons serves as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee so he can conduct his own inquiry if he sees fit, which would be much more effective than attention-seeking press releases that call for what he knows is already taking place.”

Mr Pitcher became the fintech adviser to David Burt in January 2019 and was in the post when the contracts for software to manage the pandemic were awarded without a tender process to resQwest, which is also co-owned by him.

His role changed to that of unpaid fintech adviser in April last year.

The row broke out after a Pati request revealed that technology firm resPartner, founded and co-owned by Mr Pitcher, had received $3.6 million to provide a Covid-19 test booking system, the travel authorisation web portal and vaccine appointments software.

Ms Wilson told Parliament in November 2020 that the travel authorisation contract was not put out to tender, in breach of the Government’s procurement rules, because the work had to be done before the island’s borders reopened.

Ms Wilson said in July 2021 that the Government now had a “month-to-month” contract with resPartner and that “a request for proposal to continue this programme had commenced”.

But a health ministry spokeswoman admitted last week that a request for quotations issued at the start of 2021 was cancelled in June “due to the considerable change in scope of work that occurred while the RFQ was in progress”.