By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamians must "start raising hell" over recent revelations of government waste, fraud and questionable contracts, a governance reformer urging: "We've got to move past this horrible era."
Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance's (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas desperately needed "to turn the corner" on practices that had caused "so many third world countries to go down in flames".
He warned that Bahamian society "cannot survive" unless it halts "the blatant waste of taxpayer dollars", which is threatening "to drag all of us down with it" through ever-increasing taxes, inferior public services and the undermining of a meritocracy.
Mr Myers' comments came after the Auditor General's report for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, tabled in the House of Assembly last week, revealed multiple incidents of fraud, corruption, waste of taxpayer funds and public sector mismanagement resulting from the absence of weak controls and inadequate supervision.
The report disclosed that the shredding of documents to cover up fraudulent activities was "a matter of routine" at the Department of Social Services, while the Post Office Savings Bank was possibly the world's only financial institution not to know how much money it holds on behalf of depositors.
The Auditor-General also cited missing funds that could not be accounted for at the Road Traffic Department, along with instances of licensing fee evasion, duplicated licence slips and fraudulent insurance certificates.
That report's release followed the tabling of two assessments in the House of Assembly that questioned whether the Ministry of Finance obtained "value for money" on a computer supply contract and deal to rent three apartments to house foreign consultants. (see story HERE)
FTI Consulting, the Bahamian accounting and advisory firm that investigated the Ministry's procurement processes and contract awards on the Auditor General's behalf, said neither deal was put out to competitive bidding with the Government's Tenders Board is routinely bypassed in the awarding of contracts that should go before it.
While not commenting on the specifics of all these findings and the Auditor General's report, Mr Myers said successive governments - as well as the public service generally - needed to be held accountable for the way in which they have used taxpayer monies.
He also called on the Ministry of Finance to "answer" why the contracts analysed by FTI Consulting had not been put out to competitive tender via public bidding, and why it had seemingly failed to follow its own rules over the awards.
"It's the people's money. Where's the accountability and responsibility of the public sector to the people and the people's money?," Mr Myers asked. "It's our money they're spending. If you didn't do your job back then you should be held accountable.
"We've got to move past this horrible era of governance. It's our money that they're spending and throwing away. It's sickening. The only way we're going to return to the equitable enforcement of the rule of law is if this is done. There has to be a line in the sand that can't be crossed. They should be held to task. It's just ridiculous."
Mr Myers said Bahamians must demand accountability from present and former governments, regardless of political leanings and whether they were FNM or PLP administrations.
He emphasised that it was in every citizen's interest to demand higher standards from politicians and the public service, otherwise their financial well-being will be directly impacted - as it already has been - through higher taxes to pay for excessive and wasteful government spending.
"We've got to get this out of the system," Mr Myers told Tribune Business last week. "It's just killing us. This is why so many third world countries go down in flames: The blatant waste of taxpayers' dollars. It drags countries down.
"Bahamians need to be starting to raise hell. We've got to turn the corner. The country cannot survive. It will drag us all down with it. Those benefiting from it don't care."
Mr Myers agreed that the reports exposed the need to strengthen, and "beef up", proposed legal reforms to overhaul public procurement processes throughout the Government. It also, he added, highlighted why the Government needed to push forward with other legislation to protect so-called "whistleblowers", and create an Integrity Commission and Ombudsman's office.
"These matters highlight the need for greater transparency in the public procurement process, as well as the even greater need for a State Sectors Act that would prohibit ministers meddling in the affairs of the public sector process," the ORG principal said.
"The management and administration of each government ministry must be the business of the executives of the ministries, and they are to be held accountable to run these ministries in accordance with establish budgets and specific protocols. It is the job of the Minister to establish the overall objectives to be carried out and then see to it that they are done. This being similar to a Board and the management team within the private sector."