Several weeks ago, Auditor General Heather Matthews issued a special report that put former Premier Dr. Brown’s administration and one of his portfolios again under a critical spotlight.

The special report highlighted serious points of mal-administration in the construction and operation of the new Motor Vehicle Safety and Emissions Testing Programme. It’s a must-read document. The audit confirmed that:

  • The project lacked the necessary oversight and project management processes to ensure value for money. In other words, there appears to be money spent for which we got no value. Question: on what was that money spent or where did it go?
  • The fiscal responsibility assigned to the Ministry of Works and Engineering was given over to a department within the Ministry of Transport (Dr. Brown’s portfolio), which then contracted the consulting firm. Like putting the wolf to guard the sheep, the government essentially gave over the responsibility of watching the money to the people spending the money;
  • Improper ministerial interference effectively neutered established procedures and steered civil servants to do wrong.

The government’s first response, delivered by Dr. Brown, was to attack the messenger — a bogus attack at that — impugning the Auditor General’s character and motives by implying that she did not follow a protocol when no such protocol exists.

I must point out that when the first response to a message is to attack the messenger, that’s a good indication that the meat of the message itself is beyond attack.

We have a new Premier and administration, with the promise of stricter controls. But that doesn’t mean that past events are given a pass. The questions raised by the Auditor General remain. They won’t go away.

The public now knows that there are several government projects that have drawn the Auditor General’s attention. In one of those, the Dockyard cruise ship piers (also overseen by Dr. Brown’s Tourism portfolio), we have already heard how the building contractor bumped the cost of renting a crane from the $8,000 per month quoted by the renter to $10,000 per week to be paid by the Bermuda public — same value at four times the cost.

Perhaps the most sordid side of the TCD saga is that the integrity of senior Civil Servants, and thus the service itself, was compromised. Public statements were made about the new facility being on-budget and that all contracts were vetted, costed out and signed off by the Ministry of Works and Engineering. But that wasn’t true in this case because the ministry’s fiscal oversight had been handed off to TCD who further handed it off to BECL, the company being overseen.

The tangle of mal-management exposed that the public funds were unprotected. The Auditor General’s report has shown that the public got value for only some of its money. A big question is ‘who got value for the rest of the money?’ A $5 million project ended up costing the public more than $15 million. And even if you allow for inflation and design changes, a 300 per cent bite into the public’s purse requires more than a nod.

We have a trail of projects in which established fiscal controls were set aside or dismantled or otherwise neutered. The systems put in place by the U.K. to protect Bermuda’s residents, visitors and business partners were breached.

The dagger of bad practices has pierced the heart of good governance, and the public’s hard-earned money is spurting out.

If the local government won’t initiate probes into the mismanagement of the public’s funds, how much more ill-governance must be uncovered for the Governor to step up to his duty and set up a Commission of Inquiry?