Politics

Burgess: BLDC heads were maligned by report

  • White's Island, leased to the anti-gang group Cartel until a 2014 court ruling (File photograph)

Derrick Burgess yesterday insisted that there were no wrongdoings by the board, chair or deputy chair of the Bermuda Land Development Company when he was public works minister.

The Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly said an Auditor-General’s report, which revealed that chairman Edward Saunders and deputy chairman Pastor Leroy Bean netted a total of $160,230 through their work with the publicly funded company, “was designed to ruin and demean the character and the integrity of the board and particular of the chair and the deputy chair”.

Mr Burgess added: “I really wanted to get that clear because there was no wrongdoings by the chair, no wrongdoings by the deputy chair, and those who know should understand that.”

In the Auditor’s Special Report on the Misuse of Public Funds, released in January 2012, Heather Jacobs Matthews detailed how the BLDC, which Mr Burgess was responsible for, paid consultancy fees to the chairman and deputy chairman of its own board despite being warned more than once of a potential conflict of interest.

During Friday’s motion to adjourn, Derrick Burgess explained how Mr Saunders and Mr Bean came to work at the BLDC and how they “cleaned up the place”.

Mr Burgess said: “They were put there to do a duty under the minister at the time that happened to be Derrick Burgess.”

He added that the board made a decision to remunerate them and that the chair and deputy chair had no involvement in this.

Mr Burgess said KPMG did a report and a report was also made to the Minister of Finance “unbeknown” to him.

He added that the board hired a law firm to check they had done everything by the book.

“And the law firm concluded that what was done by the board was correct, in fact was within the by-laws of the company and also in the 1981 Companies Act.”

But he said it was “amazing” that the law firm’s report was never included in that of the Auditor-General.

He added: “That report was designed to ruin and demean the character and the integrity of the board and particular of the chair and the deputy chair.”

In March last year, Mr Burgess made a 17-page response to the Auditor-General’s Report, in which he disputed her findings in relation to his dealing with BLDC.

Mr Burgess said Mrs Matthews’s claim that he gave directives to the BLDC which breached legislation governing that quango were a “fallacy or a fairytale”.

Speaking in the House on Friday, Mr Burgess also accused the former One Bermuda Alliance government of targeting Mr Bean with its investigation into a lease for White’s Island, which had been granted to the pastor for the use of his anti-gang charity Cartel.

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley ruled in 2014 that the lease, which had been intended to cover a period of 21 years less one day, was void because it had not received Cabinet and legislative approval.

The inclusion of an automatic renewal clause took the lease over 21 years, which meant it was not valid without the approval.

Although Mr Burgess argued via affidavit that the inclusion of the clause had been an “oversight/misunderstanding”, Mr Justice Kawaley did not accept it as a mere clerical error.

Mr Burgess said on Friday that the Ministry of Sports and Development had been tasked with finding a location for the programme but all leases had to be signed by the Minister of Public Works.

Mr Burgess, who was public works minister at the time, added: “And they gave him a lease and the lease wasn’t in compliance with the way the leases are supposed to put out — no big thing, no big issue, no illegal thing happened there — something that could’ve been managed and fixed.

“But when the OBA government took power, the only lease that they investigated was White’s Island.

“It’s a lease that if the government of that day were interested in saving those children as Pastor Bean was, they would have fixed that.

“They were just out to ruin, discredit, demean the character and integrity of Pastor Bean.”

Shadow economic development minister Grant Gibbons countered that the “OBA government was prepared to do nothing of the sort”.

He said: “My understanding was the member he is talking about actually was trying to sublease the island to somebody else.”

But Mr Burgess responded: “That is not so. That’s the first I’ve ever heard of that. How could the member sublease when it’s in the contract that you cannot sublease?”