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MP criticises government over handling of debt collector

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Gina Stableford, owner of OARRS Inc (Photograph from Facebook)

An Opposition MP has demanded to know why the Government did not bring in the police when it alleged a company it hired to collect taxes on its behalf without a licence had committed a “criminal offence”.

The controversy erupted after it emerged the Government secretly settled a lawsuit brought against it by the financial recovery firm.

Oarrs Inc filed a civil writ against the Office of the Tax Commissioner in July last year, alleging it was owed almost $2 million for tax collection services it provided under a contract it had with the Government.

The Government has failed to tell taxpayers how much it paid Oarrs Inc to settle the lawsuit.

Oarrs said in its statement of claim that the OTC’s “unlawful and unjust conduct” led directly to it exhausting its available funds and having to dismiss its three Bermudian employees.

The OTC countered that the company “committed a crime” by collecting the tax without a licence so its contract was terminated.

One Bermuda Alliance shadow cabinet member Craig Cannonier said he would raise the issue in the House of Assembly on Friday, as he called on David Burt, the Premier and finance minister, to “come clean” on the controversy.

Mr Cannonier told The Royal Gazette: “Questions need answers. What we need to know is if this company was illegal, how dare government pay off an illegal institution?

“If this company indeed was illegal, then where’s the investigation?

“The Attorney-General should be all over this. If the company’s illegal, then that’s an offence. And if it’s an offence, why is there no investigation?

“Why hasn’t the AG investigated this? And in addition to that, if it’s an illegal firm, why haven’t the police been informed?

“And the hypocrisy of it is - we paid them off.

“What are the details in that?”

Craig Cannonier, shadow cabinet minister (Photograph supplied)

Referring to Curtis Dickinson ordering a probe into the matter in April last year, Mr Cannonier said: “Why is it that the former finance minister calls an inquiry, but the current finance minister pays them off?”

Oarrs president Gina Stableford stated in an affidavit that the Tax Commissioner told her a licence was not needed and that the contract termination was being considered because of the amount of money owed to the company.

Oarrs discontinued its legal action in May this year and any settlement amount paid to it by taxpayers remains secret.

The Supreme Court file concerning the case only reveals that the company was given leave by Puisne Judge Larry Mussenden on May 15 to discontinue its action.

After a Pati request from The Royal Gazette, Tax Commissioner Derek Rawlins disclosed that $12,717,099 was recovered by the company between September 2020 and April 2021 and the company had been paid "$99,826.61 to date“.

He said his office received monthly collections reports, summary data collections reports and monthly performance reports – although in its defence to the lawsuit, the OTC claimed Oarrs “failed to provide any or any adequate reports” in breach of its contract.

The company, founded and led by Ms Stableford, alleged in its statement of claim that the OTC refused to pay its invoices, despite it collecting $13.5 million in unpaid land tax for the Government between September 2020 and June 2021.

The Office of the Tax Commissioner, in a defence filed with the Supreme Court by Trott & Duncan law firm, claimed the contract it had with Oarrs could not be enforced because the firm carried out the debt collection service without a licence and therefore “committed a criminal offence”.

The Royal Gazette first revealed on April 7, 2021 that Oarrs was carrying out the recovery of million of dollars of unpaid land tax for the Government without a debt collection licence and without the contract having been tendered.

The Debt Collection Act 2018 had come into force at the start of the previous year, requiring those engaged in the debt collection business to be licensed.

Police said last week there had been no criminal complaint made about Oarrs and its work for the Government.

The Government has not responded to a request from The Royal Gazette to explain why the police were not involved in the matter.

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Published July 13, 2022 at 12:39 pm (Updated July 13, 2022 at 12:39 pm)

MP criticises government over handling of debt collector

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