My guess is that a lot of people are reading the story about Sylan Richards’ trip to Rio for the Olympics are saying that compared to the problems Bermuda faces it is storm in a teacup.
But it’s not, is it? There is a very important principle at stake and one that is made worse by the OBA’s promise not to be profligate with the public purse.
Whichever way you look at Rio-gate (can’t resist, we haven’t had a gate for ages….) it appears to be a case of ‘do as I say and not as I do’.
A quick recap. It emerges that Sports Minister Mr Richards and his PS spent more than $30k on a trip to Rio, with the high cost being blamed on a last minute booking.
Then it emerges that former Sports Minister Patricia Gordon Pamplin had also booked an Olympic trip when she was still the Minister (she was later moved in a reshuffle.) She showed some foresight at least and spent in the region of $6K.
Clearly existing in a communications dark hole, they both went.
Now the RG has got the answers to a PATI request (thank goodness for PATI) and, if the story is accurate, those answers are stunning.
If you don’t want to read the full story, this is the crux: One document showed that Mr Richards and Mr Carey requested reimbursement for stays in separate four-star hotels from August 4 to 22, despite arriving in Rio de Janeiro on the morning of August 5 and flying back to Bermuda on the evening of August 14.
The RG says: When contacted about the discrepancy between the hotel dates and the flight dates, a Government spokeswoman said: “Official hotel rooms were only available on a block basis for the entire Olympics.”
The paper contacted the hotels concerned and it is reported that: Staff at both establishments denied that they had only allowed block bookings during the Olympic Games, adding that they always accepted bookings of any duration.
Again so many questions. And here are some more:
- If it really was only possible to block book, why go, realizing the cost was going to be exorbitant, with rooms being left empty and a lot of money wasted.
- If it was possible to book for desired dates why was the booking made for an extended period of time?
- Above – but why not at least donate the rooms to athletes’ families as a goodwill gesture?
Charitable grants are being cut, budgets are being squeezed and Government needs to be seen to be setting a good example – it needs to be leading by example.
I’ve read comments that say the buck should stop with the person who booked the trip. It is nonsense – and not fair – to blame the pen-pusher for doing as they were told.
I hope the Premier is apocalyptic with rage – he should be for a variety of reasons.
Many await a statement – which I am sure will come via DCI and will not be in person – but given so much damage has been done there can really be only one conclusion.
UPDATE: a statement from the Minister:
As the Minister for Social Development & Sports I wish to clarify incorrect and misleading information that has been put into the public domain by Royal Gazette Reporter Adam Zacharias in the Friday October 28th edition of the Royal Gazette.
For the record, hotel accommodations at the 2016 Rio Olympics for me and my Permanent Secretary were arranged by the Bermuda Olympic Association (BOA), as per the normal procedure. My Ministry did not directly make reservations at the 2 hotels in question as may have been assumed by the reporter who contacted the hotels in Rio for information. The BOA had to prepay for a block of rooms for dignitaries, including its own officials.
When it was determined that me and my Permanent Secretary would be attending the Olympics, the BOA identified available hotel rooms that had already been reserved and prepaid in full for 18 nights by the BOA. The BOA then advised us that it was not possible to book rooms for the portion of the time that my Permanent Secretary and I would be in Rio which was for 9 nights from August 5 to August 14, 2016.
As the block of rooms had been prepaid in full by the BOA, the Government accepted and payment was made to the BOA for two rooms for my Permanent Secretary and I for the full 18 nights from August 4 to August 22, 2016.
However, my Permanent Secretary and I were in Rio supporting our athletes for nine days from August 5 to August 14.