The debate last Thursday in the House of Assembly drew a sharp rebuke from a previous target of Auditor General Sonia Webster.

On Tuesday, the Beacon received a statement from a London public relations firm on behalf of EZ Shipping Limited, which took aim at Ms. Webster’s scathing 2022 audit on its contracts to provide barges to the government during the pandemic.

The statement from Maltin PR — which describes itself as a “litigation public relations firm” — claimed that EZ Shipping had commissioned an “independent expert forensic accountant” to review Ms. Webster’s report on the barges.

“The forensic accountant’s report found that the auditor general’s work was defective, failed to meet international standards, and was inadequate,” according to the statement.

However, EZ Shipping declined to provide the forensic accountant’s report, according to Maltin PR partner James Lynch, who sent the statement.

Mitch Turnbull

The statement also criticised opposition member Mitch Turnbull (R-D2) for his contribution to last Thursday’s HOA debate about the auditor general’s report on the HOA Covid-19 Assistance Grants Programme.

“Mr. Turnbull told the assembly [last Thursday] that the processes adopted by the auditor general failed to meet the international industry standards and were woefully lacking,” the statement claimed. “Yet in March earlier this year, Mr. Turnbull championed the [auditor general’s report on EZ Shipping] and criticised other members of the assembly who had challenged aspects of the report.

“Mr. Turnbull has changed his tune after becoming the subject of the assistance grants programme [audit]. He has turned on the auditor general and dismissed her efforts.”

November report

Ms. Webster’s November report on EZ Shipping’s contracts stated that government paid $2.04 million to the company to rent barges for five months of border security services in 2020 and 2021 — including $738,000 for about two months when the barges were no longer in use.

The report added that then-Premier Andrew Fahie engaged the barges without approval from the governor, the Cabinet or the National Security Council, and that the deal was extended twice with no written request for continuation or report on effectiveness.

“No evidence has been presented to support statements regarding the effectiveness of the barges,” the report stated, adding, “In addition, the continuance of illicit activities was evident in drug busts that occurred during the period the barges were in use.”

In light of her findings, Ms. Webster recommended that the Attorney General’s Chambers assess whether government should pursue the recovery of money paid to EZ Shipping when the vessels were not in use. She also advised the police and the director of public prosecutions to review whether any offences may have been committed.

‘Reputational damage’

The Tuesday statement from EZ Shipping claimed the firm has “been the subject of rumour, innuendo, and reputational damage from a flawed report process” that denied the company a right to “provide evidence” before the publication of the report.

“All we ask for is the facts to be fairly, objectively and independently assessed, which we are confident will show that we fully complied with our contractual obligations,” the statement noted.

Mr. Turnbull and Ms. Webster declined to respond.