We have reported extensively about the injustice and egregious lack of transparency surrounding the government’s Covid-19 economic stimulus package.
The reality, it seems, is even worse than we thought.
Our jaws dropped last week week when Auditor General Sonia Webster told the Commission of Inquiry about her investigation into parts of the stimulus, including the programme that disbursed more than $5 million in grants that were supposed to go to farmers and fishers.
Among her findings:
• she believes Premier’s Office officials deliberately tried to block her from accessing the information she needed;
• the Premier’s Office administered the farmer and fisher grant programme, excluding the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration;
• some farmer grants apparently were inflated by the Premier’s Office to be greater than requested, with one applicant receiving more than $13,000 after requesting $50.99 for a roll of barbed wire and $371 to build a fence;
• 11 of 22 purported farms selected for site visits could not be located;
• about half the farmer grant recipients weren’t registered as farmers at the Department of Agriculture;
• more than half the fisher grant recipients weren’t registered in government’s database, and more was paid to unlicensed fishers than licensed ones;
• in at least one instance, three people received fisher grants for the same boat; and
• ultimately, the Premier’s Office failed to use Cabinet procedures for implementing and monitoring the stimulus, and millions in public money were disbursed without sufficient oversight.
The list goes on, and it should make taxpayers furious — especially at a time when thousands of residents have lost jobs or otherwise have struggled due to the pandemic.
The good news is that Ms. Webster clearly is continuing to fearlessly carry out her duty as a government watchdog, as she has done for many years.
Her stimulus investigations had not been disclosed to the public before this week, but most of the other information from her two days of testimony would have come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the news in recent years.
The Office of the Auditor General has consistently published detailed and valuable reports that have repeatedly shone a glaring spotlight on egregious governance failings.
Over and over again, it has railed against wastage of public funds; lack of transparency; contract splitting; ministerial interference; cronyism and other issues.
Unfortunately — as she testified this week and as she has often noted in her reports — elected leaders and other public officers rarely heed her calls for reform.
Instead, they proceed with business as usual, and she goes on making the same recommendations year after year.
Though most of her testimony this week was not new, it was deeply unsettling to hear her tick off one failure after another for hours on end.
Perhaps that was the kick the territory needs to bring about real change.
A good place to start would be for government to provide the public with a detailed accounting of all the spending for the $62.9 million stimulus programme.
Premier Andrew Fahie has promised one, but we are still waiting. He has a lot of explaining to do.