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Dunkley determined to get Covid contract tabled in the House

Seeking answers: Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of Health (File photograph)

The opposition One Bermuda Alliance will keep pushing to have a Government contract for a Covid-19 test booking system tabled in the House of Assembly.

Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of Health, said that he had been asking for details about the deal with technology firm resQwest for months, only to be repeatedly stonewalled.

He said he estimated that the contract, which was not put out to tender, had cost the taxpayer $7.1 million and that the public had a right to know who had negotiated the deal on behalf of the Government.

He also questioned why the system could not have been created in house by the Government’s Information Technology Department.

The Government signed a contract with resQwest to set up an online Travel Authorisation form portal in the summer of 2020. Anyone travelling to the island had to complete the form before arrival as part of Covid-19 public safety regulations.

The contract is set to expire in March 2023, even though public safety regulations, including the TA form, were scrapped at the end of last month.

Mr Dunkley said: “It has taken me for ever to get this to Parliament and when it does, the Government is very hesitant.”

Mr Dunkley said he had put forward written questions to Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, in September, when he also asked for the resQwest contract to be tabled in the House of Assembly.

The matter was repeatedly deferred until Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House, ruled that the contract could not be made public because of commercial confidentiality reasons.

Yesterday, Mr Dunkley questioned that claim, saying that any sensitive material could be redacted before the contract was tabled.

“I don’t want to hear that,” he said, adding that, when the OBA was in government, it made public the contract with Aecon to build and operate the new airport.

Mr Dunkley said: “I believe that, up to October, resQwest has been paid $7.1 million for two years’ work.

“That is a significant amount of money. It’s certainly not fiscally responsible and I would like to know who was responsible for negotiating this no-bid contract.

“The Government has handled this very poorly from the start. They never told anyone that it was a no-bid contract and now, when pressed for information, they seem very reluctant to answer.”

Ms Wilson did finally answer questions from Mr Dunkley in the House of Assembly when she told MPs that resQwest had been paid more than $4.3 million in the 12 months from November 2021, including a payment of more than $2 million in October.

In the House of Assembly last Friday, Ms Wilson did confirm that the contract included a penalty clause, but gave no further details. Then, on Monday she revealed that no penalty fee had been paid as the contract, which supports Covid-19 testing, was still active.

In response, Mr Dunkley told The Royal Gazette: “I think the Government needs to explain exactly what resQwest is doing at this point and what they are being paid to do. Are we still using them for Covid tests and vaccinations?

“And if there is a penalty clause, then the minister owes it to the people of Bermuda to say what that clause is and if and when it might be enacted.

“These are questions that the taxpayers of this country have a right to have answered and I will keep pushing the minister for answers.”

This newspaper e-mailed a list of questions about the resQwest contract to Government. No answer was received by press time.

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Published December 16, 2022 at 7:53 am (Updated December 16, 2022 at 7:53 am)

Dunkley determined to get Covid contract tabled in the House

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