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Police to ‘engage with’ Auditor on Covid-19 contract report

Review: Commissioner of Police Darrin Simons (File photograph)

Police plan to contact the Auditor-General after she filed a report alleging “multiple violations of the law” during the awarding and execution of a multimillion-dollar Government contract.

The Royal Gazette has been told that detectives are “to engage with“ Heather Thomas after she submitted her report – Government of Bermuda’s Response to Covid-19: Travel Authorisation – to the House of Assembly earlier this month.

Ms Thomas conducted a review of how the contract for a Travel Authorisation portal was granted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The contract was awarded to tech firm resPartner in June 2020 without going out to tender and enabled the Government to track visitors to Bermuda to help restrict the spread of the virus.

But in her review of the episode, Ms Thomas concluded that there were “multiple violations of the law and the Code of Practice for Project Management and Procurement in the awarding, development, implementation and operation of the electronic Travel Authorisation portal and the processing and collection of revenues generated by the use of this facility”.

Darrin Simons, the Commissioner of Police, has now confirmed that officers will make contact with Ms Thomas to see if further action should be taken.

Mr Simons said: “The Bermuda Police Service is aware of the Auditor-General’s report recently submitted to Parliament.

“The BPS will be engaging with the Auditor-General to review the matter.”

Travellers had to use the portal and complete an online Travel Authorisation form in order to enter Bermuda. According to Ms Thomas, the portal raised $21 million in revenue and resPartner was paid $6 million for providing the service between June 2020 and October 2022.

But in a breach of financial regulations, resPartner collected revenues before taking its cut and passing on any surplus to the Government, until February 2022 when the process changed so that money was received directly by the Government.

Ms Thomas’s report said: “The use of a non-Government bank account for the receipt and processing of Government’s revenues, rather than these funds being paid directly into the Consolidated Fund was a direct violation of the Bermuda Constitution Order 1968.

“No competitive bids were pursued, and other established guidelines were breached or simply ignored, resulting in private sector service providers in Bermuda being able to commence the provision of service with only verbal agreements, rather than properly executed contracts in place.”

The Auditor-General told the Gazette yesterday she has so far had no contact from the police about the report’s contents.

She added: “This report was just laid on March 24 and we have not fielded any queries or questions from ministries [or other organisations], including the BPS to date.”

In a statement on Friday, David Burt, the Premier, said his initial review of the Auditor-General’s report showed “a number of factual errors and incorrect inferences, which could have easily been clarified if the Office of the Auditor-General would have reached out for clarification in advance of publication”.

He spoke to some elements of the report in the House of Assembly later that night.

He added in his statement that the Government took actions in the face of a "once-in-a-century pandemic“ to protect residents’ health and try to address severe economic and financial challenges.

He said: “It is recognised, accepted and has been stated by Cabinet that in some cases, given the urgent need to address critical matters on an often expedited basis, not all of the standard steps were followed.

“These matters were subject to review and appropriate corrective action taken.”