By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government will now consider whether to launch a forensic audit into the National Sports Authority for legal basis to recover funds, Finance Minister K Peter Turnquest said yesterday.
His comments come as former Sports Minister Dr Danny Johnson defended the ministry’s accomplishments in a letter to the editor, stating he took “full and unmitigated” responsibility for the conduct of affairs, administration and protocols of the Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture during his tenure.
Dr Johnson underscored his pride in his ministry’s creation and development of a “Sports in Paradise” brand that staged over 17 international events locally, and made reference to a “petty, jaundiced, unprincipled, evil and destructive agenda”.
“We are proud of the long walk we took to the further development of this economic tier in sports and entertainment,” Dr Johnson wrote.
“Sadly, there exists in our country a petty, jaundiced, unprincipled, evil and destructive agenda of some who feel it is their political duty to use school book typesets and student companion questions to muddy the water and make what is good and noble and wholesome seem untoward.”
The former sports minister added he was not surprised by the “recent back jumping exercise of others to pay homage and obedience to their political masters,” and appealed for young Bahamians to be given a change to be the best in the sporting industry.
Meanwhile, Mr Turnquest said the deliberation was being undertaken in consultation with the internal audit department, financial experts and the Office of the Attorney General.
It follows the tabling of Auditor General Terrance Bastian’s NSA audit, which covered the operations of the authority from July 2011 to December 2017 and revealed the authority’s financial allocation increased by more than $3.3m during the election fiscal year.
Mr Bastian highlighted irregularities in the payment of employees, an “unusual” handling of petty cash, and stated the organisation’s accounting practices had apparent weaknesses and did not fully comply with regulations and the weaknesses.
“The report on the NSA highlights a number of concerns and weaknesses in internal controls and operational procedures under the last administration and the former NSA board of directors,” Mr Turnquest said.
“In conjunction with our internal audit department, financial experts and the Office of the Attorney General, this administration will now have to consider those procedures necessary to strengthen the weaknesses noted and to consider the evidential support for a forensic audit to determine if a legal basis exists to seek recovery of payments made for works not completed or services not delivered.”
The findings were rebuffed by Progressive Liberal Party Chairman and Senator Fred Mitchell, who in response to a statement by the governing party suggested political collusion.
Reflecting on the NSA report in a statement last week, Free National Movement Chairman Carl Culmer said the Christie administration’s “negligence” was still making headlines two years since they were voted out of office.
Mr Culmer further claimed subsequent audit reports have shown the opposition party’s “corruption stretched to nearly every aspect of government.”
Mr Mitchell accused Mr Culmer of playing “team tag” with Mr Bastian, adding that the auditor general’s reports commissioned by the FNM were “never what it seems”.
“The public should not hold their breaths to find the truth on these matters from the FNM. The PLP does not control the files,” Mr Mitchell said.
The PLP chairman also referenced the government’s cancellation of its hosting agreement for the IAAF World Relays, which he said was “the opportunity of a life time for the Bahamas.”
“Like the entire FNM, the FNM chairman is visionless and hopelessly out of touch with modern realities,” Mr Mitchell continued.
“We simply say in response to the audit that an audit can only speak to what the auditor found on the day he showed up. The PLP knows from other examples of this auditor’s work that the evidence to support the expenditure was probably right there in plain sight but either was not revealed or some reason went south on the day the audits took place.
“The government of the day, the FNM must say what happened to the records. They are masters of convenient amnesia and lost files. Just remember the Oban missing file,” Mr Mitchell added.
For his part, Mr Turnquest called the PLP chairman’s comments an “unwarranted and unsubstantiated” attack on the integrity of Mr Bastian, whom he noted held a constitutional protected position.
“The public must question what (the PLP) seeks to hide and whether there are other similar situations that need to be investigated,” Mr Turnquest added.
However, advocates for reform have contended the only way to deliver “real change” was the passage of legislation that held senior civil servants and public sector managers truly accountable for the loss of taxpayer dollars.
Robert Myers, principal with the Organisation for Responsible Governance (ORG), said the scenario outlined at the NSA was bound to be repeated time and time again unless the government “gets out ahead of it” through legal measures that are actually enforced.