Politics

Burch faces court over Sandys 360 stance

  • Act of defiance: Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works

The Government’s refusal to release a financial report into a failed sports centre that cost taxpayers millions of dollars could end up in court.

Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez told the Department of Public Lands and Buildings to disclose the report on Sandys 360 by audit firm KPMG to The Royal Gazette by July 8, but it did not comply with her order.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, told Parliament last Friday that the Government disagreed with her decision and had advised her “that we will not release the KPMG report, as it was not commissioned by, nor is it the property of”, the department.

Ms Gutierrez said this week that she would follow the normal procedures set out in the Information Commissioner’s Office Reviews Policy and Handbook to enforce her decision, as with any other case.

The handbook states that if a public authority tells the ICO in writing it does not intend to comply with a decision, the commissioner “may move immediately to judicial proceedings to enforce the decision at the expiry of the deadline for compliance”.

If the public authority does not give written notice, the ICO can send reminder letters to the head of the public authority, which in this case is the permanent secretary of public works, allowing a further 15 days to satisfy the order.

“Where appropriate, the Information Commissioner may discuss the matter with the ICO’s legal counsel and instruct them to initiate judicial enforcement proceedings,” states the handbook.

It adds that public authorities which object to a decision from the commissioner can seek a judicial review.

Taxpayers funded Sandys 360 to the tune of at least $5.3 million, and possibly even more, before it closed its doors because of financial problems in November 2013.

Although Colonel Burch referred to the KPMG document in the House of Assembly as the “2016 financial report” it was actually completed in 2014.

The Royal Gazette asked Sandys 360 managing director Melvyn Bassett and chairman Stanley Lee on December 1, 2015 for the report’s conclusions.

Mr Lee replied the next day: “Maybe you should approach Government for a copy of the report, since they initiated the process.”

His suggestion prompted the newspaper’s Pati request for the report, submitted soon after to the Government.

Ms Gutierrez issued her decision ordering the release of the KPMG report on May 27 this year.

Opposition MP Trevor Moniz took Colonel Burch to task for his statement on Sandys 360 during last Friday’s motion to adjourn debate.

He accused the minister of launching a “scurrilous attack” on Ms Gutierrez and said Colonel Burch had got his “law entirely mixed up” and was not supposed to get involved with Pati requests.

“If the Information Commissioner rules that a document be released, it must be released,” Mr Moniz said.

“An order of the Information Commissioner … has the same weight as an order of the Supreme Court. Government is bound by that order.”

Mr Moniz was works minister when Sandys 360 was shuttered. He told The Royal Gazette last year that the Government ceased all payments to the centre after the KPMG report showed the state of its finances.

He told MPs on Friday: “If it’s a report that I commissioned, I see no reason why it can’t be released.”