Opposition MP Michael Dunkley questioned why Government continues to offer only “partial answers” as to it relationship ResQuest, after it was revealed in the House of Assembly that more than $4 million in taxpayer funds had been paid to the independent contractor responsible for the building and administration of Government’s Travel Authorisation Form (TA) scheme.
The $4 million-plus figure was juxtaposed against just over $24 million in revenues received as a result of the $40 tax placed on incoming travellers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which was ended November 1.
The former Premier was particularly concerned about a $2 million payment distributed in October of this year, which exceeded the average amount of each of the previous eight months’ payments by more than $1.3 million.
“I certainly am concerned about how much government money –taxpayer money — has been paid out to Resquest, because the last payment in October was $2 million, which is 10 times the average payment per month before that,” said Mr Dunkley of the payment figures.
“That leads me to one of two things: Government’s payments were late. But a $2 million payment you’e covering a lot of lateness, which I cannot see being the case or; there’s a penalty clause in the contract.
“When I had the opportunity to ask questions in the House — and they have to be very focused on what the Minister talks about — as the minster brought up Resquest, I did get the chance to ask the Minister if there was a penalty clause in the contract and the Minster said that she did not have the information.
“I find that totally unacceptable, because if you terminate a contract early, which they did by a few months, you would sit around the Cabinet table and talk about the implications of ending it early — good and bad — and you would know there’s a penalty clause, that’s the first thing your colleagues would say.
“And, secondly, you would know what that penalty clause is, because you would have to make the decision to end it or not. So I believe the Minister has done her best to get herself out of a difficult situation. If the Minister doesn’t know whether ther’s a penalty clause, I know she’s busy, but t me it’s totally unacceptable that she doesn’t know the answer, yes or know.”
Mr Dunkley inferred there to be a suspicious veil of secrecy continuing to be placed upon the Government’s dealings with ResQuest, which was again noted to have among it’s key principal operators, the Premier’s fintech advisor.
“We’ve only been given partial answers,” said Mr Dunkley. “I have to say Trevor, that receiving those partial answers heightened my concern, and here’s why: In the beginning I asked questions about ResQuest and I found out that it was unbid.
“I can understand that when we were going through the early times of Covid we wanted to get things moving quickly and so, ye, there might have been some justification for that. But, even now, the secrecy around the ResQuest payments have continued to persist.
“Now, I think the work that was done when the borders were closed down and then reopened was commendable, but it ended way too late and should have ended earlier.
“For months now, in September I started asking for the details of the ResQuest contract. Not because I’m trying to go after the principals of the company, but when there’s an un-bid company and any time there’s government money spent on a contract, Members of Parliament need to see it and the people of Bermuda deserve an understanding.”
However, despite the receipts and disbursement figures being offered for perusal, the actual contract remains under wraps, with only certain members and Cabinet allowed to examine the document’s contents, this being the “partial” aspect referred to by Mr Dunkley.
“Those items only got to the floor of the House today and we learned to day that the Speaker’s taking advice, whether this contract can be tabled, because there are commercial aspects that might have to be kept secret,” explained Mr Dunkley.
“I could have been told that last night. I could have been told that days ago. And, if that’s the case, I can understand that.
“But, if that’s the case, we, as Members of Parliament, should be able to look at the contract ourself, protecting the commercial viability of what’s there to get an understanding of what’s going on, but this just raises more concerns.”
Further to the need to have to outsource the TA scheme, Mr Dunkley questioned whether such a programme and project could have been constructed within government at much lower cost to the public.
“It’s long been public that one of the principals is the Premier’s fintech advisor, which made a lot of people question how we got in this situation and the ability to no-bid the contract,” he iterated. “I’ve said it before, that I know the Government Department of Technology, which has handled technology for the Government from my time as Premier, is very capable.
“I would have thought that something like this, with border control, should have been given the opportunity to build something, (but) maybe they were and weren’t listened to. And that’s why we continue to ask the question, because it seems all too convenient, the closeness of the relationships and it’s a lot of money that’s been spent out.”
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