MONDAY, MAY 28: Secretary to the Cabinet, Mr. Donald Scott stated: “The Auditor General has been reported as calling into question the action taken to hold civil servants who abuse standing Financial Instructions accountable for their actions.
“The reported comments contain a number of broad and emotive statements which, taken together, suggest a lack of integrity within the civil service and poor governance.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of Bermuda’s public servants are honest and have high integrity. No doubt they too are equally appalled by the illegal actions of the disgraced and former civil servants who were convicted in the case in question.
“It is false to say that in the past persons in the public sector have not been held to account. There is a scale of increasing sanctions under Financial Instructions (including surcharge and dismissal) and these have been applied and continue to be applied.
“Financial impropriety is a distasteful and reprehensible matter that can have a devastating effect on an organisation. It sometimes can tarnish the image and reputation of the entire organisation. There is an African proverb that captures this debilitating impact: “One falsehood spoils a thousand truths.”
“Government has done much over the course of the last several year to strengthen the protection of public funds through the Good Governance Act, and the Office of Project Management and Procurement. Whistle blowing provisions exist and have been proved to be working. Whilst not playing down the seriousness of the individual case it did occur before such measures were introduced.
“Non-partisan observers will see that Government’s actions have been ever-vigilant in minding the public purse in accordance with the core values of accountability, transparency, prudence and fairness.
“It is not helpful, constructive or appropriate to discuss matters of internal discipline in the media when these may be subject to ongoing investigation. Any concerns that the Auditor General might have would be best directed to the Financial Secretary or to Cabinet Secretary.
“In a democratic community like Bermuda where there is separation between accuser, judge and jury, this is only fair to protect both the rights of the individual and the administration. Indeed it is possible that such matters if discussed publicly may in fact impair future legal action, should that be deemed necessary.
“I wish to note also that meticulous and careful journalism in media reports of this nature is also required so that the reputation and integrity of individual civil servants is not savaged by reckless association as occurred in The Royal Gazette front page story on 25th May, 2012.
Financial Secretary Mr. Anthony Manders stated: “Financial Instructions set out the principles and rules by which taxpayer monies are utilised and protected. Financial instructions are a living document and kept continually under review and revised whenever it is necessary to do so.
“It would be appropriate to review the Financial Instructions yet again and some wider financial governance protocols in the light of the further lessons learnt from the Burrows case.
“Government has taken steps to ensure that internal controls are up to date and that officers with fiduciary responsibilities are complying with the standards.
“Some of the very positive measures Government has undertaken to enhance Public Financial Management are as follows:
• The Accountant General has concluded the implementation of a government accounting infrastructure that involved placing qualified accountants throughout Government at the departmental or Ministry level, to ensure financial controls are improved and accounting needs are met;
• Providing additional resources within the Accountant General’s Department to improve operations, accounting systems and the internal control environment across Government;
• Established the Office of the Ombudsman to act as an independent check on instances of maladministration;
• Establish the Internal Audit Department to provide an independent, objective assessment of the stewardship, performance and cost of Government programs and operations;
• Enacted Good Governance legislation to establish the Office of Procurement and Project Management and to provide protection for “whistle-blowers;
• Executing a risk assessment of the entire Government of Bermuda to identify, categorise and to prioritise the risks;
• Updating of Financial Instructions;
• Requested that all Ministers who have Quangos under their remit to advise of the need to operate in a manner consistent with Financial Instructions;
“This has been a deliberate set of actions taken in recognition that protection of the public purse is a core function of Government.
“Change is not just pending - change has come and the Government has a determination to make a difference in its operating procedures.
“Regrettably, such controls cannot, and throughout history have not, prevented dishonesty nor cured dishonest individuals. Indeed, Bermuda has witnessed a bevy of different cases of dishonesty in retail, banking and within families in most recent times.
“The internal control regime has changed and now there are criminal offences created under the Public Treasury (Administration and Payments) Act for failures to heed financial codes of practice in Government.
“Going forward the sanctions for serious lapses in adherence to internal controls have been increased and censures will occur in the public eye when serious lapses are detected and there is a conviction in the Courts.”