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Government stonewalls questions over debt collection agency

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

The Government is still stonewalling questions about why it failed to involve the police after it accused a debt recovery company it hired of committing a “criminal offence”.

A secret court settlement was made with Oarrs Inc in May, but ministers have repeatedly failed to say how much taxpayers’ money was involved in a payout to the company, which claimed the Government owed it nearly $2 million.

The Government has also not answered whether it imposed a gagging order on the settlement in a bid to try and ensure the true figure never comes out.

Why were the police not called in when the Office of the Tax Commissioner accused the financial recovery company of committing a “criminal offence”?

Has the Attorney-General ever been involved in looking into the Oarrs situation, or the accusations of a “criminal offence”? If not, why not?

The OBA has said the former finance minister, Curtis Dickinson, called an inquiry into the Oarrs matter, while the current one, David Burt, the Premier, “paid them off” – is that what happened?

How much did the Government pay the company in the settlement?

As it was a civil case, why hasn’t the Government yet said how much taxpayers’ money was paid out?

Did the Government impose a so-called “gagging order” or non-disclosure agreement as part of the settlement? If so, why?

Mystery surrounds the settlement reached behind closed doors with Oarrs Inc, which brought a lawsuit against the Office of the Tax Commissioner in July last year.

Oarrs said in its statement of claim that the OTC’s “unlawful and unjust conduct” led directly to it running out of 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.

But the Bermuda Police Service said last week that no criminal complaint had been made about Oarrs and its work for the Government.

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

Oarrs founder and 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.

David Burt, the Premier and finance minister (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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 OTC 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.

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Published July 14, 2022 at 11:29 am (Updated July 14, 2022 at 11:29 am)

Government stonewalls questions over debt collection agency

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