Press Secretary Clint Watson. (File photo)
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
FINANCE officials are in the midst of a full review of emergency COVID-19 spending to ascertain the amount of public funds spent by the Minnis administration before it left office, according to Press Secretary Clint Watson.
Mr Watson yesterday said financial experts were in the process of combing through records to determine the value of that spending.
While in opposition, Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis questioned this spending and why the government had refused to particularly reveal associated vendors, among other things.
Asked by The Tribune whether the government had yet to compile a dollar value of the emergency spending, Mr Watson said: “It is something that we are checking into.
“There was no defined amount and so what it requires is us having our financial experts to go and look through and identify what was done under emergency spending. What was done as far as the food security programme and who those vendors are and so we have engaged that already.
“We spoke to the financial secretary who has said that he has a team who are going to look through and identify these amounts so we can get a handle on it.”
He continued: “Of course you know the Davis administration – it’s a question that was asked when the administration would have been in opposition. It would have been, who are these vendors and what was sent to them and so that’s something that we have asked our financial team to look at and to give us an answer on.
“We are told that a full review according to the financial secretary is being done and a report will be made available on the emergency spending during the pandemic.”
In a report from the International Monetary Fund back in January, the Minnis administration pledged that the Auditor General would probe all COVID-19 related spending and revenue losses in a bid to uncover any “irregularities.”.
The fund, in a newly-released full Article IV report on The Bahamas, said at the time that this effort – which will see the Auditor General complete his investigation of pandemic-related actions taken in the prior 2019-2020 fiscal year by March 2021 – was key to fostering public trust in the government and ensuring value for money was obtained for every dollar spent.
Later in August, Mr Davis called for more accountability and transparency by the Minnis administration on the awarding of COVID-19 related contracts.
“It is relevant, I think, to note here that since last March, he (then-Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis) has had the power to reward his political donors and insiders with pandemic spending contracts – without being transparent or accountable and without having to debate his choices in this House or defend his decisions to the public,” Mr Davis said at the time.
“The anti-corruption non-profit group Transparency International has said COVID-19 is a corruption crisis as well as a health and economic crisis.
“In their report they talk about the importance of ensuring that funds for COVID treatment and relief are ‘not lost to corruption and reach the intended recipients’.”
He added: “So on the one hand, we have Transparency International recommending that countries ensure open and transparent contracting. And then on the other hand, the competent authority has so far refused to answer the simplest questions from the Bahamian public—questions, like who was paid how much, and for what? Millions borrowed in the name of the people—don’t the people deserve answers?”
Tribune Business also reported the government had failed to meet the Auditor General’s demand to provide ownership details on all the companies awarded COVID-related contracts despite this being deemed “pivotal” to good governance.
The revelation was in the Office of the Auditor General’s report on how the government used the proceeds from last June’s emergency $250m International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan that kept the country and government afloat during the pandemic’s peak. It also reveals its request for information on who beneficially owns these entities remains “pending”.