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Government staffing issues cost millions in extra payments

More than $1 million was paid in overtime to corrections officers working at places including Westgate because of staff shortages (File photograph)

Corrections officers were paid more than $1 million in overtime because of an acute shortage of staff, the House of Assembly heard.

The Department of Education also paid $2.6 million for substitute teachers to cover for annual leave, sickness and work on education reform.

The details emerged yesterday as MPs debated the cause of some extra spending in the Ministry of National Security as well as the Ministry of Education for 2022-23.

National security minister Michael Weeks told MPs: “During the fiscal year 2022-23, the Department of Corrections’ operations were greatly impacted by the shortage of staff.

“To ensure that all measures of safety and security, including the daily operations of the facilities and the court orders were carried out, the existing staff were required to work a huge amount of overtime.”

He said the majority of the $1.074 million overtime was caused by coverage of staff vacancies.

Mr Weeks added: “There were some unforeseen incidents that involved inmates having to be housed in the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, the Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute as well as suicidal inmates who had to be observed on a 24-hour observation watch.”

The Department of Corrections had 33 staff vacancies in 2022-23 ranging from an assistant commissioner to basic officers.

The minister said the department “conducted a very aggressive recruitment drive during the fiscal year 2022-23 with the aim of recruiting at least 25 to 30 corrections officers”.

“Unfortunately it was extremely difficult to find suitable candidates out of the approximately 200 applicants,” he said.

Mr Weeks added that only nine suitable people had been identified for corrections officers and one for a nursing officer.

“This fiscal year saw a considerable number of officers exit due to retirement,” he said. “We had nine officers retire between the ranks of basic officers and chief officers as well as three resignations of basic officers.

“These retirements and resignations further exacerbated the staff shortage and added to demand for staff to work overtime hours.”

Mr Weeks said the Department of Corrections competed with the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service, the Bermuda Police Service and the Department of Customs for recruits.

“This creates an even more difficult challenge of recruiting suitable Bermudian candidates.”

Recently the minister revealed that the number of police officers in Bermuda had reached the lowest level in 30 years.

Mr Weeks added: “During this coming year, the Department of Corrections will be conducting more recruitment drives to fill staff vacancies. In fact, the department is well advanced in a current recruitment drive. The aim is to fill vacant posts and, by extension, reduce the need for officers to work overtime.”

Education minister Diallo Rabain told MPs that his ministry’s unbudgeted sum of $2.67 million was for substitute teachers.

He warned that with a new collective bargaining agreement with the Bermuda Union of Teachers, which increased teachers’ personal days off, “there might be a challenge again this year” over substitute teachers.

“In 2022-23, a high number of substitutes were required to fill in for teachers who were absent for any given number of reasons ― illness, personal leave, special leave, etc, during this relevant period.

“Substitute teachers also cover for reassigned staff assisting with education reform, working in the education reform unit or participating in education reform school transition teams,” Mr Rabain said.

The minister said the original 2022-23 budget for substitutes was $2.7 million but the expenditure to year-end reached $5.96 million, reflecting an overspend of $3.3 million.

He said $640,000 was found within the operational expenses.

The minister said that previously, funded vacant posts would offset overspends for substitutes.

“However, due to the defunding of the department’s vacant funded positions, funds were not available for overages.”

In addition, MPs heard that there was a supplementary estimate of $2.7 million in 2022-23 for the Ministry of Public Works.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the minister, said the ministry budgeted $5.5 million each year as an estimated amount to be recharged to other government departments for work done at places such as the government quarry for non-public works activities.

He said the charging system was done manually and the process had become “largely anachronistic”.

“This $2.7 million supplemental represents the balance of the $5.5 million that was not recharged by other departments due to technical difficulties within the accounting system. Until the issues are rectified, we will continue to expect these supplementals which are administrative in nature.”

It is understood that it is normal practice for these types of supplementaries to come after the final audit of government accounts, which can take up to a year.

The final countdown

David Burt introduced the agenda item Consideration of Supplementary Estimate No 3 for Financial Year 2022-2023.

The Premier and Minister of Finance told MPs that after the completion of the 2022-23 financial statements in March, a final total current account spending for 2022-23, inclusive of debt service, was $1.098 billion, $16.7 million lower than the adjusted budget of $1.114 billion.

Total revenues for 2022-23 were $1.129 billion, $51.3 million higher than the original budget of $1.078 billion.

The final budget deficit, he said, was $34.7 million, $35.3 million lower than the original forecast.

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Published May 18, 2024 at 8:03 am (Updated May 18, 2024 at 8:03 am)

Government staffing issues cost millions in extra payments

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