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Commission of Inquiry final report fingers ex-UDP Ministers for taking advantage of pre-election fire sale; says regulations were not followed

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Posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2022. 2:34 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Members of the outgoing Dean Barrow administration appear to have helped themselves to Government assets including vehicles in a “completely unbridled exercise of power by the former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance” and in one instance, is suspected to have abetted potential illegality, according to the report submitted to Government by the recently concluded Commission Of Inquiry.

The Commission of Inquiry’s final report has found, per paragraph 12 on page three, that neither the former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance nor the then and current Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight, could identify or discover applicable regulations governing sales contracts by the Government for sales of its assets, resorting to outlining and rationalizing the practice employed by the Ministry in the time period. That the applicable regulations in the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act, Financial Orders and Stores Orders Regulations were essentially ignored by public officers and their bosses aside, it said, leads to the conclusion that “the executions of sales of government assets during the relevant period were all in breach of applicable regulations and well-known tendering procedures.”

The Government had no list of its vehicle fleet, nor value; there was no effort to allow competitive bidding, advertisement for sale, nor effort to estimate the market value of each vehicle in fixing prices; instead, most were declared unserviceable when in many cases they were not. The result was sales to “most favored persons” and loss of revenue to the national coffers.

The Commission further found that in several cases, persons with obvious political connections to the former administration bought vehicles in others’ names to mask their involvement, facilitated by the Ministry of Finance. The Government also entered contracts with outgoing and in two cases, current members of the National Assembly which would have jeopardized, if known at the time, their qualification to sit in the Assembly per the Constitution, the Commissioners said.

It names these persons as former Deputy Prime Minister Hugo Patt; incumbent Senator and former Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte (for computer equipment and furniture, not vehicles); and former Ministers Anthony (Boots) Martinez, Dr. Carla Barnett, and Dr. Angel Campos [confused with educator Dr. Angel Cal in the transcript]. Two others were named as “more likely than not” to have been the beneficiaries of purchases in other’s names: Frank “Pawpa” Mena through his driver; and Godwin Hulse through a third party. Patt and Martinez testified publicly at the inquiry; the others did not.

However, while the commissioners found that those in authority flagrantly violated the regulations with no apparent detection, and that those violations may have extended to actionable criminal offenses at the material times, the statute of limitations has expired for most of them.

One instance that could still be investigated is what the Commission described as “[facilitation of] the use of the sale of a motor vehicle to launder the proceeds of a bribe arising from the sale of Government lands authorized and executed by [Hugo Patt] in favour [of] one Zhourong (Kelvin) Li.”

The Commission does recommend investigation of any connection between the Patt sale of a Toyota Tacoma and land sales to Li, “with a view to prosecution.”

The Clerk of the National Assembly, currently Eddie Webster, is tasked with initiating action “to determine the qualification of Hugo Patt and Michael Peyrefitte to continue to sit in the National Assembly in light of the contracts to purchase government assets disclosed to the Commission. Also, he is to establish a reporting system with the Ministry of Finance for continuously monitoring the existence of any such contracts in future.”

As to legislation, the Finance and Audit Reform Act is to be amended “to expand the regulations governing the sale of government assets to better regulate such sales and to mandate the keeping of an asset register showing acquisition costs and tracking the depreciated values of government vehicles. The Act should also be amended to charge the Auditor General with specific responsibility to audit sales of government vehicles quarterly and mandating the certification of all sales as compliant with regulations and the reporting of all transgressions of the regulations to the National Assembly and/or other relevant authorities for any necessary legal action including the prompt institution of civil and/or criminal proceedings.”

The Report was submitted last Friday.

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