MP demands answers in wake of auditor’s report on TA system
An opposition MP has called for answers over decisions and actions taken by the Government at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Michael Dunkley, the shadow health minister, applauded the Auditor-General, who released a report last month about the Travel Authorisation portal introduced to monitor arrivals to Bermuda and reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
The findings included “multiple violations of the law and the Code of Practice for Project Management and Procurement in the awarding, development, implementation and operation” of the system as well as “the processing and collection of revenues generated by the use of this facility”.
A series of observations also 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.”
Mr Dunkley said yesterday: “The One Bermuda Alliance has sought this type of oversight and applauds the AG’s swift action.
“The report flagged many of the concerns we have spoken to since the inception of the form in 2020.
“The history of the TA is chequered and littered with issues all along the way.”
Mr Dunkley said: “The AG report raises many valid concerns and the OBA supports the need for the Government to answer them in detail.”
He said questions included: “Who made the assessment that the Government's own information and digital technology department did not have the required expertise to develop the application in-house?
“Why did Government not seek the appropriate waivers and emergency procedure for the acquisition of goods and services in relation to the contracts with resPartner Limited?”
The report listed contracts between the Bermuda Government and resPartner, which was described as “a local company that was established on December 19, 2014 and is co-owned by a consultant to the Government on fintech-related matters”.
It added that "as required by policy, it was noted that the consultant had in fact submitted his conflict of interest position in a letter to the Cabinet Office”.
The report said that in June 2020, in preparation for the reopening of the island’s borders and airport, a Cabinet sub-committee approved a traveller entry policy to include a portal that would "accommodate an online Electronic Travel Authorisation Application to be used by all persons wishing to travel to Bermuda“.
It added: “The Government’s own Information and Digital Technology did not have the required expertise, or travel system knowledge, to develop the application in-house, nor did the department have sufficient capacity or resources to meet the tight timelines by which the Electronic Travel Authorisation Application required.
“As such the Government sought to engage an external application developer to develop and implement the Electronic Travel Authorisation Application.
“The Code of Practice provides provision for waivers and emergency procedures for the acquisition of goods and services … these waivers and procedures were not sought with respect to the acquisition and/or implementation of the Government’s Travel Authorisation portal.”
Excerpts from the Code contained in the Auditor-General’s report:
“6.1 In exceptional circumstances, the Authorised Officer may ask the Director to waive certain requirements of this Code.
“The Director may consult with the Accountant General or the Financial Secretary before granting any waiver.
“If the Director is not available, the Permanent Secretary responsible for OPMP [Office of Project Management and Procurement] may grant the waiver.
“All requests for a waiver must be made in writing on the prescribed waiver form or in such other manner as prescribed by the Director.”
“6.2 Waivers must not be granted retroactively except in emergency situations as described in paragraph 6.3.
“6.3 In emergency circumstances, the Permanent Secretary for the relevant Ministry may seek oral permission from the Director or a designee to waive certain requirements of this Code.
“An emergency exists where there is an immediate risk to the public, public officers or property to an extent where any part of a Government service is or will be disrupted without immediate action being taken.
“In such cases, where oral permission has been granted, the procedure to obtain a waiver in writing must be followed within five business days after oral permission has been granted.
“If the Director determines that any requirements of this Code have been waived by an Accounting Officer without adhering to the procedures outlined in paragraphs 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3, then it will be considered a breach of this Code, and a report will be made to the Secretary to the Cabinet who must decide whether disciplinary action or report to another agency may be appropriate.”
“24.4 Public officers may engage in single-source procurement in the following exceptional circumstances where the Director determines that: … (b) Owing to a catastrophic event, there is an extremely urgent need for the subject matter of the procurement, and engaging in any other method of procurement would be impractical because of the time involved in using those methods … ”
The report noted that the Ministry of Health applied for a retroactive emergency single-source waiver but the acting director of the Office of Project Management and Procurement “responded that she did not have authority to approve” it because the relevant section of the code “had not been adhered to or complied with”.
It said: “In spite of the position taken by the acting director of OPMP, the contract for the provision of the Government’s Electronic Travel Authorisation portal was retroactively approved by Cabinet on November 10, 2020.”
Subsequent review, negotiation and renewal of the contract later took place, it added.
The Auditor-General’s report explained that under the terms of the resPartner contract, the company “provides an online application that facilitates the administration and collection of revenues (TA fees) on behalf of the Government from persons travelling to Bermuda”.
It added: “Under the contractual arrangement, the vendor collected passport information, travel details, health status, contact information and TA fees.
“The TA fees collected by resPartner were transferred (not in real time) to the Consolidated Fund net of administrative expenses.”
Mr Dunkley said: “The use of a non-government bank account for receipt and processing of Government's revenue is a direct violation of the Bermuda Constitution Order 1968.
“Who signed off on this violation of the Constitution and what action has been taken to deal with the person or persons and to make sure it does not occur again?”
The report said records indicated that invoice payments to resPartner from inception to October 2022 for the Travel Authorisation portal totalled more than $6 million.
It added that revenue over the same period amounted to about $21 million, “contributing a significant amount of revenue source to Government’s Consolidated Fund account”.
Mr Dunkley asked: “Has an audit been done to ensure all government revenue has been received and if correct amounts were received by the vendor?”
The OBA MP also cited reference in the report to an agreement — said to have been signed by David Burt, the Premier, and effective from August 2020 — for a “border-crossing passenger-processing system”.
He asked: "What was that system's purpose and how much did it cost?“
Mr Dunkley said: “The Government lauded itself for their handling of Covid, and even called an election in the middle of the pandemic.
“Now the self-praise has worn thin on the people of Bermuda and these and other pressing questions must be answered.
“Failure to do so means that resignations should occur; anything less and the people would have been let down by the Burt Government.”
Mr Dunkley added later: “I have at least twice in Parliament called for a full inquiry due to the fact that Covid had such serious implications due to decisions made, with tens of millions spent here in Bermuda and the country shut down for a period and only now rebuilding.
“In addition a review would no doubt be beneficial for future decision-making."
The Government was contacted for comment but none was received by the time of publication.
• UPDATE: This article has been updated to include an additional comment from Mr Dunkley.
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