Recently in Accountability Category

A quick plug for tomorrow's forum by the Centre for Justice.

Wednesday 14th March 2012
6:00 - 8:00 PM

St Paul's Centennial Hall
Cnr. Court and Victoria Streets.

Agenda is here.

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Interesting and typically reality based analysis of political corruption by Kevin Comeau in today's Gazette.

Unfortunately the Gazette really buries guest Op-Eds to well down the page of the comment section of their website.

That would not be such a big deal if political corruption were a rare occurrence in Bermuda. But it appears that "Defamationgate" may be only the tip of the iceberg.

Numerous Government capital projects over the last ten years (e.g., Berkeley Institute, Port Royal Golf Course, Heritage Wharf, the new Courthouse, TCD) have collectively resulted in cost overruns of hundreds of millions of dollars. Generally, only two things can cause large cost overruns: Managerial incompetence and financial corruption.

When you consider that the cost overruns on some of these projects exceeded 100 percent of the initial cost estimates and that Government had at its disposal civil servants with collectively more than 100 years of architectural, engineering and construction expertise, it is hard to conclude that only incompetence was at play. Someone had to be doing something unscrupulous. Individually and collectively, these and other large Government contracts simply don't pass the smell test.

Not only were tendering rules violated and the recommendations of civil servants ignored in the granting of some of these and other large Government contracts, but inordinately large change orders were frequently made.

When you add to this the multiple damning reports of two Auditors-General, we are left with strong circumstantial evidence suggesting something untoward.

I find it interesting that PLP partisans' position is that an absence of prosecution demonstrates a lack of corruption. However those same people would argue that the administrations that proceeded them were horrendously corrupt, yet I can recall no prosecutions from those eras either which by their own definition means they were corruption free.

What we're seeing is situational ethics in full effect.

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Derrick Burgess responded to the Report of the Auditor General on the Misuse of Public Funds:

"The Auditor General's behaviour indicates that he shares the all-too-common belief that people of African descent are illiterate and chained in darkness, and for them to have any type of success, they must be duly humble and suitably subservient," said Mr. Burgess.

Sorry. Rookie mistake. That was from the white Auditor General rebuttal file in 2002.

Here's today's black Auditor General rebuttal:

"For the Auditor General to think that she is above the law is shameful. It seems as if Ms Matthews is on a personal witch hunt and to suggest that any wrong doing took place is outrageous and clearly an attempt to malign the integrity of those implicated in her report."

Same audit conclusions. Similarly cynical responses, tailored for the race of the Auditor.

This is why the PLP have no credibility on good governance...and race.

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I predict that the rebuttal to the Auditor General today will be a very long winded, overly-verbose, cliche ridden blind-em with BS statement about process, rules, procedures, accountability, transparency which actually doesn't address any of the Auditor's points.

With the previous Auditor it would have been much more concise. Call him a racist.

Unfortunately that won't work with Ms. Matthews.

This also by the way answers the question in today's Gazette article entitled "Why won't whites vote for the PLP".

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Really? The worst case scenario for pollution clean up at Morgan's Point is 1.5% more than the likely cost?

"The estimated cost of the works, including provisional items, is likely to be near US$35,595,195 with the worst case cost of US$36,140,026."

$35,595,195? Talk about false precision. Why not $36M? Or a range of $30M - $45M to give yourself some room to beat. It is a highly uncertain pollution cleanup after all.

Not to mention that it being brought to you by the Government that delivered Berkeley at 70% over budget, TCD at triple budget* and the cruise ship terminal at about 50% over budget - all relatively standard capital projects.

*Updated to correct 300% overrun from 200%.

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So, this is what it's come to:

But, and she must be given credit for honesty, she also admitted that almost half of the incorrectly addressed mail 45 percent could have been delivered with little difficulty.

Really? Expectations for our politicians are so low that we applaud them for being honest as if that's an accomplishment?

We've got a long way to go.

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Five days later and I'm still surprised and shaking my head that Glenn Jones was willing to sign his name to what has to be one of the most ridiculous up is down, down is up, excusing the inexcusable Op-Eds published in Bermuda in recent memory.

And that's saying something. Even for a partisan former press secretary.

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This is what happens when the truth gets out ahead of the political PR machinery.

Stay tuned. The story is young.

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It is always amazing to me that the PLP issues very guarded statements in response to allegations of Government corruption (one of the few statements which doesn't appeared on their website by the way) but goes all out to condemn those who call for an all out response to it in order to restore Bermuda's name. John Barritt:

"These are extremely serious allegations, made under oath in Supreme Court before the Chief Justice of Bermuda. They raise questions about the conduct of the Government of Bermuda that must be answered.

"Until the allegations are addressed, Bermuda's international reputation will suffer and we will endure another episode where the integrity of Bermuda's political leaders is open to question."

It takes a lifetime to build up a reputation, but seconds to destroy it.

Calling for a investigation to get to the bottom of corruption allegations at the highest levels of the Bermuda Government - in a measured way as OBA leader John Barritt did - doesn't harm Bermuda's reputation overseas, quite the opposite.

Corruption happens in every country around the world.

What shows your character and values is how you respond to it, not how you respond to those who want to root it out.

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I've said a few times that the PLP are good at the politics and bad at policy in Bermuda, with the UBP the inverse.

There is however a glaring example of where the PLP, for whatever reason, are just terrible on the politics, and that is the continuing refusal of MPs to take a pay cut, even a symbolic one.

I guess it just comes down to dollars, which as we've learned in the past 12 years is where the PLP always seem on the wrong side of doing the right and prudent thing.

So, this statement in the speech tonight has the potential to distract from the rest of the message that the Premier was trying to push:

It takes grit and character to resist the temptation to indulge the politics of appeasement ... and to say ... there will be no symbolic cuts in Ministers' salaries. This ... in my view ... would be an empty gesture ... inappropriate for a Government ... or for any team ..14 facing the prospect of having to do more with less ... and having to do it in half the time ... under double the pressure.

Well, it does take grit to refuse to take a pay cut after rampant financial mismanagement. But it doesn't take character. Actually it demonstrates a lack of it.

The short version of this statement is "The country has to do more with less, but we Cabinet Ministers, individually, flat out refuse to do more with less when it comes to our personal renumeration."

There's some serious tone deafness in that. And self-serving platitudes. Regardless of how underpaid you might think you are.

It's really the line about having to do more with less that screams out. This slogan is the Premier's crutch for defending the need to now dramatically cut back funding for basic social services because of her previous spending sprees resulting in little of value to the public.

The fact that Ministers won't take a pay cut means that they are not willing themselves to do more with less. Not even a symbolic tiny little bit of less. Which is precisely the thing they're asking everyone else to do, but are just flat out refusing to even consider doing themselves.

It's amazing really that they're willing to dig in like this. I guess that just means that Ministers are willing to look like they're a) above sharing the pain they've inflicted on the island b) not walking the walk c) in it for the money and d) really out of touch and in need of spending some time back on those lower paid opposition benches.

I don't get this one. I really don't.

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Maybe it's just me, but I would have thought that the new Premier would have commissioned a Civil Service review before, not after, reorganising and renaming every Ministry under the Sun.

The cost of the first re-organisation is surely not insignificant, and it's hard to see the consultant not recommending a further costly re-organisation in the name of cost savings. Measure twice, cut once as they say in the trades.

Unless the consultant was hired solely to be the public face of the public sector layoffs that is.

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The news that ex-Premier Brown will allegedly be paying for Works and Engineering to build a wall on his property will have come to a surprise to everyone - W & E and Dr. Brown included I'm sure.

Nice to see Zane DeSilva defending his patron with the language of the unapologetically corrupt, and uninformed:

Mr DeSilva added that former United Bermuda Party (UBP) Minister Ralph Marshall had Mr DeSilva added that former United Bermuda Party (UBP) Minister Ralph Marshall had walls built by Works & Engineering on two of his West End properties one at Whale Bay and another at Hog Bay.

"What goes around, comes around," Mr DeSilva finished.

UBP Deputy Leader Trevor Moniz objected that in both cases Mr Marshall had given away a strip of his property to allow for the construction of sidewalk.

And UBP MP John Barritt said: "I bristle when I hear things like 'what goes around comes around', if land owners are willing to give land for sidewalk." (*)

The more things change....

[* UPDATE: John Barrit contacted me as the Gazette's quote was incorrect and didn't accurately capture his intent. John's clarification is as follow:

The point I thought I made was I bristle when I hear comments like what goes around comes around because the people of this country are tired of this sort of justification. They want us to break from the past and past practices and do what's right. But on that front, I said it was my recollection that what W&E used to do (and I still hoped they would do) is build walls for land-owners who give up property for the purposes of constructing a sidewalk. That was good practice . A kind of quid pro quo which works for the benefit of the public. The paragraph which the RG reported just didn't capture at all what I said or was trying to say.]

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Open Parliamentary Committees seems to be getting a bit contagious, which is great news.

John Barritt and the UBP have been banging this drum for years, it took awhile to get the Government on board, but evidently they're coming around.

It's not just opening up these committees that is positive, but it's also more of getting MPs down to work in a more meaningful way than just speechifying on a Friday afternoon.

I've been a bit remiss in following up on John's four part series in the Gazette recently (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4), but hope to spend some time this weekend on the topic.

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Nothing speaks to the outgoing Premier's moral and political bankruptcy more than his effort to redirect the outrage from the $10M arguably criminal overspend at TCD (exact same M.O., contractor and Minster as the Dockyard overspend) to that against the Auditor herself for making the report public prior to Parliament reconvening, and reaching the same conclusions that her predecessor did in his audits.

"The Auditor General's Reports are to go to the Speaker of the House, who in turn tables them for the House to consider," Dr. Brown said. "We're two weeks away from the first opportunity for that usual process, so I found this Report's timing and very media-based release strange.

"This reminds me of the style of the former Auditor General and it diminished the stature of the office when it's done that way.

The outgoing Premier has never expressed outrage or genuine dissatisfaction about the repeated fleecing of the taxpayers of Bermuda during his tenure, but routinely rants against the media and independent oversight bodies that point it out.

Perhaps the Auditor released the report directly to the media to prevent the PLP engaging in the well-worn tactic of quickly tabling a report in Parliament but not taking it up for months on end. This allows them to hide behind the Speaker who would enforce a procedural rule of not permitting discussion in Parliament of tabled items until the relevant Minister decides it's an opportunistic time.

The PLP has used this tactic to bottle up un-favourable reports for months at end on a number of occassions.

So point to the Auditor who has affirmed the independence and responsibility first and foremost to the public interest of her position.

With respects to his second point:

"Commentary and sensational headlines based on the findings of the Report without the benefit of proper context or the full facts of the Ministry position do a disservice to the hard-working public officers of the Ministry and the Department who spent countless hours addressing these issues."

Here's an idea. Perhaps the Auditor didn't believe the excuses. Unlike the PLP's belief that they can press release themselves out of any situation, financial controls tend not to mesh with politically driven false equivalencies and excuses. Unlike the media who feel an obligation to report complete nonsense in the pursuit of perceived objectivity and 'balance', the Auditor probably just dismissed what wasn't credible.

Additionally, the obvious problem with the political strategy of defaming and discrediting previous Auditor General Larry Dennis for his repeated findings based on his race, is that when his black female successor reaches the same conclusions the public begin to reach two devastating conclusions of their own:

  1. It's the PLP and their cronies that are corrupt, not two Auditors and Opposition.
  2. As Audit reports are now race independent, whereelse have and will the PLP exploit race? This from a party that claims it as their raison d'etre.

Politically number 2 is huge: the PLP's brand is undermined and begins to erode, particularly when the Finance Minister and Presumptive Premier in Waiting issued 404 words of absolutely incoherent verbosity in response to the report. "An identity of interest", "as signposted", "review of the regime has considered the framework that exists", "latent ambiguity" and "overriding authority" for example.

The old blind-em-with-BS strategy. How's about "This is completely unacceptable and we will get to the bottom of it and recover the misappropriated public funds and cease contracting with the offenders"? Couldn't Ms. Cox have found that kind of clarity and purpose rather than a 400 word episode of verbal diarrhea?

And finally, we now have two major capital projects by the same contractor which have both run suspiciously over-budget, and where the Auditor doesn't appear to think that the asset values are remotely close to construction cost.

Both appear suspiciously similar in how the overruns were executed: low-ball the budgeted cost, move the project out of the Ministry of Works and Engineering and into Ewart Brown's relm of Tourism and Transport, ignore established financial controls and crank up costs and come in multiples of original cost.

Which leads to my final point. How on earth has Correia Construction not been disqualified from any future Government, at least until the Auditor's findings have been fully investigated with a complete forensic audit?

Surely the Finance Ministry should stop contracting with a company which appears either incompetent or malicious in their business practices.

If Ewart Brown and Paula Cox were the CEO and CFO of a corporation who handled their shareholders' funds this badly they'd both be fired.

Yet the PLP appear poised to promote the CFO? Shocking and telling.

I'm just surprised that the PLP as a party want to own Ewart Brown's legacy like this. Surely they'd be much smarter to try and paint the past 4 years as some sort of aberration.

I suspect we'll see attempts at this after this weekend's leadership vote, Brown will be to the PLP as George Bush immediately was to Republicans once out of office. But both parties own those legacies now as much as their leaders do.

Fortunately for the outgoing Premier, he'll be comfortably ensconced in the Vineyard while we deal with the disastrous fallout of his tenure.

Unfortunately for his party they will have to face the voters again. It might not be at the next election, but corruption is now firmly entrenched as a theme of the PLP's performance as Government, and at some point the voters will react.

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