By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Democratic National Alliance (DNA) yesterday called on the government to table “its promised compendium of anti-corruption laws” and “fully enact” the Freedom of Information Act in the wake of a Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) audit which found numerous irregularities and lax oversight in the company.
In a statement, DNA Leader Chris Mortimer said while the revelations at BPL were appalling, they were “not surprising”.
“Wednesday’s headlines surrounding the management and issuance of contracts at Bahamas Power & Light are just the latest in a string of revelations which have come out of BPL this year and while we continue to be appalled by the obvious mismanagement and abuse of processes at the company, the Democratic National Alliance is not surprised,” the statement said.
“Multiple audits of the goings on at BPL have uncovered a culture of theft and corruption which has persisted across multiple administrations. Sadly, those allegedly responsible continue to avoid justice leaving the Bahamian people holding the bag.”
Mr Mortimer said while politicians and their friends and families have “allegedly lined their pockets with millions” the Bahamian people are left to cover the cost.
“We the people have been left to bear the burden of a broken system and exorbitant bills,” he said.
“Under the oversight of successive administrations, BPL has devolved into nothing more than a breeding ground for unsavoury characters who have robbed the company blind and all but crippled our electricity grid. The DNA again calls on the government to table its promised compendium of anti-corruption laws. Coupled with a Whistleblower’s Act and fully enacted Freedom of Information legislation, BPL and the country as a whole can finally move away from the culture of corruption which has kept us stagnant for decades.”
On Wednesday, The Tribune exclusively revealed the Ernst & Young (EY) audit into operations at BPL that identified numerous irregularities, including payouts to some companies that were not registered with the Corporate Business Registry and more than $3m in payouts to vendors with tax identification number (TIN) anomalies.
The auditors, in some cases, found a “lack of supporting documentation for payments remitted to vendors,” invoice dates months apart although they are sequential, “vendor invoices containing an invalid or no tax identification number,” “inconsistencies across vendor invoices,” and “no evidence of existence of vendors at the Bahamian Corporate Business Registry,” among other issues.
The revelations, gleaned as part of a probe into an alleged fraud scheme at BPL, paints a picture of a company riddled with internal control woes.
The audit also flagged numerous “irregularities” in the way contracts were awarded by the former Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) since 2012, including lack of due diligence leading contracts being awarded to companies “owned by public officials or BEC board members.”
The audit also outlines several instances when the tender process at BEC was not followed, noting EY identified three contracts with a value in excess of $100,000 for which no formal tender had been performed.
The investigation also looked into 11 employees who allegedly helped facilitate a scheme that defrauded the company of nearly $2m.
The 11 employees facilitated the fraud by recording, printing, signing and vetting fraudulent cheques or invoices, signing cheque registers for fraudulent cheques, creating fictitious vendors, putting their signatures on fictitious invoices and facilitating concealment of the fraud, the audit noted.
It’s not clear investigators found all 11 employees to be active participants in the scheme, and Minister of Works Desmond Bannister has said the audit has exonerated some of them.
During EY’s interview with one of the employees, the person “became agitated and suggested that ‘Everyone is trying to get money out of BEC.’
“When pressed further,” EY noted, the employee “alluded to politicians and senior executives who are benefiting personally from BPL. She refused to provide further details, however.”