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Government owed almost $200m in unpaid taxes and fees

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Counting up: Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Unpaid taxes and Government fees were thought to total almost $198 million at the end of last year, the finance minister said.

Curtis Dickinson told the House of Assembly that the estimate was based on figures from the Office of the Tax Commissioner and the Registrar of Companies.

He was speaking in the House of Assembly in response to a question from Cole Simons, the Opposition leader, who asked for the total amount of accounts due to the Government in taxes and fees as of December 31, 2021.

Mr Dickinson said that work to “close the quarter” was not yet complete and added: “What I can provide, though, is a thumbnail sketch or summary of relevant numbers with respect to the Ministry of Finance, in particular the Office of the Tax Commissioner and the Registrar of Companies; the caveat that there are a number of departments within the Government that have amounts that are outstanding or past due.

“In light of the fact that the OTC and the RoC, as of March 31, of 2021, their arrearages represented about 87 per cent of the outstanding amounts for the entire Government.

“We have extrapolated the figures from December 31 for the RoC and the OTC to give a number that we estimate for the Government, which would be about $197,743,000.”

A ministry spokeswoman confirmed later that the figure was “a rough estimate of the Government as a whole”.

Parliamentary question: Cole Simons, Opposition Leader (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Mr Simons also asked for “the amount of accounts receivables recovered during the fiscal years 2020-21 and 2021-22 to date”.

The finance minister said that amounts paid can be tracked at an individual level.

But he added: “Due to the nature of our reporting systems, determining the total amounts collected for dates outside of year ends is an onerous and time consuming exercise.

“What we can report is that for the OTC, for the period from April 2020 to January 2022, taxes collected totalled $84 million, which included both current and arrears.

“For the RoC, for the period April 2020 to December 2021, they collected $5.7 million.”

In another parliamentary question, Mr Simons asked the minister to state “the total receivables recovered by Oarrs Inc., and the total fees due and paid to them to date, and the fees due and paid to audit firm EY for the years 2020-21 and 2021-22 to date”.

Mr Dickinson explained that one of the House’s standing orders prevented questions “likely to prejudice a matter which is under trial”.

He added that the question went “to the heart of the matter at the Bar, with respect to Oarrs”.

Scott Pearman, the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, asked the minister later to confirm what court case he was talking about.

Mr Dickinson said: “The Government and Oarrs are engaged in a dispute … with respect to the provision of certain services to the Government.”

The Royal Gazettereported last year that Oarrs Inc filed a writ against the OTC on July 26, 2021, just weeks after it was revealed that the firm had clawed back almost $13 million in unpaid tax on behalf of the Government.

A notice published in the Official Gazette said that the company would be paid 15 per cent of all land tax arrears recovered, in a contract from June 29, 2020 to June 30, 2021.

Last year, a response to a Public Access to Information request revealed that Oarrs had recovered $12,717,099 between September 2020 and April 2021 and that the firm had been paid $99,826 at that time.

The deal between the company and the Government made headlines when it was revealed Oarrs Inc was not licensed as a debt collecting agency on the island and was not permitted to operate as such under Bermuda law.

Legislation that came into effect at the start of 2020 required a debt collection licence for anyone “pursuing and collecting a debt” who is not the creditor.

Mr Dickinson added on Friday that payments to EY were given in response to parliamentary questions received last year.

He said: “At that time, payments to EY totalled $4.4 million, of which $4.3 were in respect of Caroline Bay and the provision of joint provisional liquidator services.”

Mr Dickinson said that the company received an additional $39,000, including $12,000 for work with the finance ministry and $27,000 for the Cabinet Office.

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Published February 14, 2022 at 7:56 am (Updated February 14, 2022 at 7:37 am)

Government owed almost $200m in unpaid taxes and fees

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