Updating MPs on the progress made to date on “laying the foundation of Government Reform”, Minister Lovitta Foggo told her parliamentary colleagues that it’s “all about modernization and change”. The end goal, she said, will be “to enact substantive and meaningful changes for the betterment of Bermuda”.
In a Ministerial Statement made on Friday, she her Ministry “has started to build the foundation for change within the Government on a framework of accountability, collaboration, transparency, and integrity”. And she said the Code of Conduct for MPs has been updated and strengthened, as part of the “demands to modernise the Government requires a strengthening of the leadership by empowering the Legislature to have a more robust role”.
“Aside from passing laws”, she said: “One of the functions of the Legislature is to scrutinize Government operations and administration. “Such scrutiny and oversight by this Honourable House is an area that the former Government opted to reject. It is one of the many recommendations that were set aside.”
She reiterated Government’s commitment “to implement the SAGE Commission’s recommendation to establish three permanent Parliamentary Oversight Committees in order to improve governance, reduce waste and increase efficiency”. But she said: “The establishment of a parliamentary committee is a matter for the Speaker and not the policymakers.
Nonetheless, she told MPs that over the past few months, she has “become a fierce advocate for the establishment of these committees.” And as Minister she said she was “committed to working with the Legislature to ensure that these committees are realised”.
“It is envisaged that both Ministers and technical officers will be called before these committees to report on details related to programmes and policies that fall under their Ministerial remit. The Committees will be empowered to make recommendations that will support and inform programme and service delivery and the Government’s reform agenda. The aim is to hold Ministers accountable at all levels,” she added.
The Ministerial Code of Conduct has been updated “to ensure that Cabinet is held to the highest ethical standards” and strengthened. In addition to the Register of Members’ Interests, she said: “More rigid disclosure requirements for Ministers have been established.
“Ministers have historically been required to surrender only gifts valued in excess of $250, however Ministers have not traditionally been required to disclose gifts of a lesser value.
“The now amended Ministerial Code of Conduct, which is expected to be tabled for information… in the coming weeks, requires a Minister, as soon as possible after the receipt of all gifts of any value, to disclose the gift to the Permanent Secretary. Further, a Minister will also be required to disclose all hospitality from any source which might reasonably be thought to influence Ministerial action in any manner.
On that note she asked MPs to recall the now infamous case of ‘Jetgate’, “private air transportation and complimentary high-end dinners to discuss potential business, such as casinos or gaming, were accepted by a previous administration”.
“The amended Code requires that a Minister must immediately disclose such hospitality,” said Ms Foggo. “An official disclosure form will be created and distributed electronically to each Minister and Ministry to ensure that this mandate is operationalized.
“Transparency and integrity in office are at the heart of this endeavour,” she said. “Not only has the Ministerial Code of Conduct been updated but Ministers were required to participate in a training session, wherein the contents of the Ministerial Code of Conduct were presented and clarified as required. Ministerial briefings on Project Management and Procurement.
“The Code of Project Management and Procurement has now been finalized and will be tabled… for information in the coming weeks,” she added.
The new Code also “sets out the requirements and procedures for the procurement of goods and services for the Government that must be met and followed by all public officers”, to ensure that “the Government’s producrement activities achieve the best value for money while being fair, ethical and transparent”, and “good governance standards and to use its purchasing power to create opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups”.
“To this end, preference in the awarding of contracts will be given to small and medium-sized businesses and business with a well-established Bermudian employment base…. to modernize Government procurement practices and stimulate innovation.”
And a provision for unsolicited proposals has therefore been incorporated into the policy. “Such a provision seeks to increase transparency and ensure fairness in the handling of unsolicited proposals,” said the Minister. And “a process has been set out for the receipt and examination of proposals that are submitted… such as the Aecon/CCC proposal to redevelop the airport”. “This will ensure that in the future any such proposals will be handled in a fair and transparent manner.
“The supremacy of Cabinet in Bermuda’s system of government is a long-settled position,” Ms Foggo said. “In recent years there has been a very public attempt to enjoin senior civil servants with Cabinet and to make them responsible for the decisions of Cabinet. This is fundamentally wrong and contrary to a core tenet of our style of government.
“Therefore, the Code contains a provision that recognizes the authority of the Cabinet and seeks to make Cabinet accountable for its decisions subject to documenting the rationale. This provision is intended to relieve senior Civil Servants of the obligation to justify decisions of Cabinet.”
From now on: “The Office of Project Management and Procurement will collaborate with the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation and other groups to educate small and medium-sized business owners and entrepreneurs on the Government’s tendering requirements, and to make them aware of potential public sector contracting opportunities.”
The Government has also “committed to seek the extension of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption to Bermuda”. To meet “certain requirements”, the Government “will continue along the path to develop a new unified and comprehensive procurement legislative framework”, to replace “the relevant sections of the Public Treasury (Administration and Payments) Act 1969 and the Good Governance Acts of 2011 and 2012, respectively”.
In the coming weeks the Minister said: “Implementation will commence with a clear training programme for Accounting Officers and Comptrollers. Subsequently, other public officers with responsibility for engaging in purchasing and tendering activities will receive instruction on the Code’s requirements.”
Ms Foggo concluded: “Since we became Government, we have worked tirelessly to put steps and safeguards in place to ensure that the integrity of the public office is upheld.
“This Government is committed to good governance, good government, and ensuring that the operations and financial affairs of all public authorities are open and transparent.”