Opposition Leader Michael Pintard yesterday accused the Davis administration of bringing to Parliament “regressive amendments that take us back in terms of greater accountability, greater transparency”.
Pintard was referring to the Public Procurement Bill and the Public Finance Management Bill, which were eventually passed in the House of Assembly last night.
The opposition voted against the bills.
“This is a discussion in my mind about whether an administration is truly committed to being transparent and accountable,” Pintard said.
“We can engage in as much linguistic gymnastics as we like and we can talk about words matter, but [while words are] extremely important, so is the spirit of a piece of legislation and the spirit of the people who are tasked with implementing the provisions of the legislation.”
The opposition leader said, “We believe that they have not done a good enough job in terms of improving in their amendments both of the pieces of legislation that we are looking at – the Public Finance Management Act as well as the Procurement Act.”
Pintard said that through its actions, the government has weakened legislation intended to ensure accountability and transparency.
“After all this time that they’ve taken, those that they have hired to provide them with advice, this is where we are – consolidation of power in the hands of the minister, consolidation of power in the hands of the executive, gutting the powers of the legislature,” he charged.
The Public Finance Management Bill, 2023 will repeal and replace the Public Finance Management Act, 2021; Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2018; and sections of the Financial Administration and Audit Act, which the prime minister has on numerous occasions called flawed and unworkable.
The government is also replacing the 2021 Public Procurement Act.
Though the Progressive Liberal Party in opposition voted for the Public Procurement Bill in 2021, the Davis administration has largely disregarded key provisions of the act, which came into force just over two weeks before the 2021 general election.
“What they are doing on that side is hiding what they are doing with the people’s money, which is why they refuse to comply with it,” Pintard said.
He added, “In our view, this administration is falling short in terms of what they have attempted to do with the Procurement Act.
“… [I]n terms of the Public Finance Management Act, it is interesting that they removed the penalties.
“They are very good at finding ways that others pay penalties for what they believe to be malfeasance, but since they are in the chair now, they are making sure that they gut this legislation, so that if ever – some would even say whenever – they have to face the music, certain penalties are not available and some would say the music should have been faced with the Bermuda trip, but nothing has happened, borrowed money from the Central Bank.”
The opposition leader was making a direct reference to two controversies that ensnared the Davis administration in recent months.
In October, the government agreed to reimburse the public purse after the media revealed the prime minister had led a delegation to Bermuda for a political trip on the people’s dime.
On a matter related to the Central Bank, the government last month conceded that the bank could not “technically” remit $232 million of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Special Drawing Rights (SDR) to the government because the Central Bank Act prohibited it, leading the government to issue an amendment to the act to “clean up” the transaction and make the law change “retroactive”.
Yesterday, Pintard continued to accuse the government of secrecy in the award of contracts, given that it has not been adhering to the reporting provisions in the current Public Procurement Act.
“This is an administration that does not want to tell us who all they have been giving contracts to,” he said.
“That’s what it boils down to and I wonder if there’s a retroactive provision somewhere here to go back and cover all that they have not said here today. We do not know when we approved this money here who they have spent this money with for the last 18 months. That’s what the issue is.”
Prime Minister Philip Davis previously promised to provide a full report to Parliament on contract awards since his party formed the government in 2021.
Yesterday, he assured that there is no ulterior motive in the legislative changes brought.
“The passage of replacement legislation is necessary to fulfill the promise of effective public financial management, efficient public procurement processes, and more transparent and fair governance for all,” Davis said.