Shadow Minister for Public Administration & Reform Shawn Crockwell and Shadow Attorney General Trevor Moniz released a statement about the Andre Curtis verdict saying, “While Mr. Curtis’s behaviour was reprehensible – spending tens of thousands of dollars of public money on personal matters rather than getting faith-based tourists to the island – we are more concerned with what his trial revealed about the conduct of the Government at the highest levels.”
“The Curtis affair was not an accident,” said the OBA statement. “It was not an oversight. It was an intended course of action, driven by the then Premier and Tourism Minister and put into effect by ministers and officials.”
The statement continued on to say that, “We cannot have a government that plays fast and loose with the public purse. The Bermuda tax dollar is not to be used for private favours. It is the people’s money.”
Mr Curtis was hired in 2007 to launch an initiative designed to bring tourists to Bermuda for religious events, with the contract worth $400,000.
Yesterday [Oct.12] a Supreme Court jury returned a not guilty verdict against Mr Curtis for theft of more than $130,000 in Government funds earmarked for the Faith Based Tourism [FBT] initiative.
During the trial defense counsel Mark Pettingill argued his client’s contract with Government was so vague it didn’t actually spell out the funds must be spent on the venture to draw religious holidaymakers to the island. Consequently, argued the lawyer, Mr. Curtis did not break any laws when he spent some of the funds on matters unrelated to the tourism initiative.
Mr Curtis – who was previously fined $335,000 for his role in a worldwide Ponzi scheme – is currently serving a prison sentence for running an unlicensed investment business. In December 2010, he was jailed for 15 months and is due to be released from prison soon.
The statement from Mr Moniz and Mr Crockwell follows in full below:
The public should not be surprised with the outcome of the Andre Curtis case. He did exactly what was intended of him under the contract – nothing.
While Mr. Curtis’s behaviour was reprehensible – spending tens of thousands of dollars of public money on personal matters rather than getting faith-based tourists to the island – we are more concerned with what his trial revealed about the conduct of the Government at the highest levels.
All the way down the line in this case, its ministers and officials bowed to the will of crony-driven politics. Their behaviour stands as a classic example of people disregarding rules and trust to put friends first and Bermuda second.
Consider the following:
- There was no public tender for the contract, meaning no attempt was made to invite a competing bid that could have put forward an alternative and possibly less costly faith-based tourism plan.
- Mr. Curtis was given $25,000 of public money before the contract was approved by the Cabinet.
- A senior civil servant was ordered by another to mock up a contract “to make this happen yesterday.”
- The contract did not impose effective controls on how the money was spent. The Government, court was told, simply “handed (Mr. Curtis) the cookie jar.”
As these things occurred, you can sense the strong push from the top to make it all happen, with everyone falling into line, regardless of rules and regulations; most disappointingly the Finance Minister Paula Cox, the protector of the public purse, who was simply not a factor.
We cannot have a government that plays fast and loose with the public purse.
The Bermuda tax dollar is not to be used for private favours. It is the people’s money. Rules are in place to make sure it is spent wisely and effectively, but these rules were ignored at every check-point.
One of the OBA’s founding principles is Responsibility, whereby government at all levels must be held accountable for its actions. Accountability is essential for good governance. Apply it and government cannot stray far from serving the public interest.
In the Faith-based scandal, the issue of accountability is not a question for historians to ponder. It is an issue that remains alive today.
The Premier talks about implementing reforms to strengthen accountability, but this is tantamount to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. The Premier today can lasso that horse by addressing the transgressions revealed in the Curtis trial.
She has an opportunity to demonstrate that rules already in place will be upheld; otherwise we must ask: Why should anyone have confidence in new rules you make if you don’t uphold the rules on the books today?
The point here is that people are the issue, not the rules. It is people who give meaning to rules. It is their actions that make them either real and relevant or fake and meaningless
Action can still be taken to close out this matter in a way that serves the principle of accountability. Action can still be taken to recover lost funds.
What is the Premier going to do? What is her plan of action?
The Curtis affair was not an accident. It was not an oversight. It was an intended course of action, driven by the then Premier and Tourism Minister and put into effect by ministers and officials.
No one stood up for Bermuda in this sorry affair. In fact, no one stood up at all.