[Opinion column written by Jeremy Deacon]
OK, so a by-election is on the horizon and it is a seat that could go either way, but nonetheless, the speed and extent of the U-turn was spectacular.
On November 24 last year, Bernews broadcast a podcast interview with the Premier in which he was asked about possibly holding an investigation into Auditor General’s latest reports which highlighted a shocking disregard by the PLP Government to uphold financial instructions.
40-minute podcast replay of the interview with the Premier from November 2015:
Premier Michael Dunkley told Bernews: “That is not something that a Government should do, that is something that authorities who are concerned about it should do.
“So if the police want to take a look into it, they can do that. If the Auditor makes suggestions about a forensic analysis, that is something that can be looked at.
“If you want to follow the money and call people to discipline, we are not the police. Our government is to run the affairs of the country to the best possible way, and I am sure authorities will take a look at that in the appropriate way.
“My job as Premier is not to go on a witch hunt on former Governments. I don’t like what has gone on in there and I want to make sure we don’t repeat those challenges. I will draw the bar up to a higher and higher level.”
“If there are investigations, that is up to authorities enshrined in law to do those type of things. And I won’t stand in the way of those, I will support them.”
Video of the press conference announcing the Commission in December 2015:
In a statement, the Premier says: “The findings are disturbing. There is no future for Bermuda, as we know it, if there are no adequate safeguards to prevent the practices described by the Auditor General from taking place again.
“They have contributed to the unsustainable spending deficits that have pushed public debt to the absolute limits of our ability to manage it. The situation is a danger to our international reputation, our solvency, even our self-government. We need to be sure that we have the right controls in place for the future.
“I will therefore, by the authority of the recently amended Commission of Inquiry Act 1935, and with the support of the Governor and the Head of the Civil Service, form a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the issues raised in the Report of the Auditor General on the Consolidated Fund of the Government of Bermuda for the Financial Years ending March 31 in 2010, 2011 and 2012.”
There is no mention of his previous comments to Bernews, so we are left to speculate about the reasons behind the about face.
As mentioned, the by-election coming soon and the PLP has a majority of just 19 votes. Given the Government’s very small majority in the House of Assembly an extra seat would be extremely valuable.
But leaving cynicism aside, maybe it is as simple as someone having a quiet word in the Premier’s ear and telling him that there appears to be a significant public desire to see where their money – as taxpayers – has actually gone [because it clearly has not gone where it should have done or we would not be talking about changes to bridges and he has bowed to public pressure.]
In terms of the Commission’s terms of reference, more is to be announced, but it is good to hear that a lawyer will be involved and those called will be giving evidence under oath.
I would like to see the appointment of an executive officer to help the Commission and I would, ideally, like to see as much as possible conducted in public – it would help bolster public confidence.
However, I was most concerned to hear the Premier say that a report could be forthcoming within as little as three months. That is way too short and hardly allows the Commission members to get their seats warm.
Here are some of the areas that the Commission will cover:
- Identify breaches of Financial Instructions and how they arose
- Consider the adequacy of safeguards and the system of accountability
- Make recommendations to prevent recurrences and to mitigate financial, operational and reputational risks
- Refer any evidence of possible criminal activity, which the Commission may identify, to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Police
- Draw to the attention of the Minister of Finance and the Attorney General any scope, which the Commission may identify, to secure recompense under the Public Treasury Act, including Financial Instructions, and Civil Asset Recovery.
Considering the complexity of the issue, the potential number of people involved and the timeframe covered by the Auditor General’s reports, three months is an absurd length of time – ideally an update could be released after three months, then perhaps an interim report after six to nine months and then a full report after 12 months.
Twelve months? Yes – if this is to be taken seriously, 12 months is a minimum. Giving it three months is akin to a whitewash.
I can predict the press conference: “The Commission worked diligently to investigate the misgivings in the Auditor General’s reports and the Commission’s conclusions show that there was complete disregard for financial instructions, however it has been impossible to pinpoint exact failures or to find those culpable. We have done our best and if new evidence comes to light we will be happy to investigate further.”
Ultimately, of course, this may be what the Government wants. How is Bermuda better served – opening this tin of worms up or saying that we’ve looked and we tried our best? I’ll vote for the former.
Jeremy Deacon is a 30-year veteran of the media industry in Bermuda and the UK. He runs award-winning public relations company, Deep Blue Communications, and also engages in freelance journalism for publications in Bermuda and overseas. He is also the Executive Officer of the Media Council of Bermuda.
20 Most Recent Opinion Columns
- 31 Dec: Column: What Has Been Achieved In 3 Years?
- 28 Dec: Column: Investigating Financial Rules Breaches
- 28 Dec: Column: “Government That Works For Everyone”
- 24 Dec: Column: Burchall On “‘Tis The Season”
- 23 Dec: Junior Food Critic Review: Devil’s Isle
- 20 Dec: Column: Solvency II Has Positive Repercussions
- 18 Dec: Column: “Three Wise Men Came To Bermuda”
- 10 Dec: Column: Most Wonderful Time Of Year, Or Is It?
- 10 Dec: Column: United Against Hateful Acts And Speech
- 07 Dec: Column: Reevaluating Current Education System
- 07 Dec: Column: ‘Auditor’s Report, What Will We Learn?’
- 06 Dec: Column: Dr James, “What About Cholesterol?”
- 04 Dec: Column: ‘Priority Right Now Is Money, Not Youth’
- 30 Nov: Column: “Continuing High-Level Incompetence”
- 26 Nov: Column: Who Is Dr Ryan T Anderson?
- 24 Nov: Column: Working Together To Reduce Crime
- 20 Nov: Column: The Accountability Of Real Leaders
- 19 Nov: Column: Establishing A Sex Offender’s Registry
- 18 Nov: Column: Understanding Public Services Delivery
- 17 Nov: Column: Determining Right To Absentee Voting
Opinion columns reflect the views of the writer, and not those of Bernews Ltd. To submit an Opinion Column/Letter to the Editor, please email email@example.com. Bernews welcomes submissions, and while there are no length restrictions, all columns must be signed by the writer’s real name.