There's no shortage of complaints these days about out-of-control Government spending.

I'm not talking about the typical grousing about Government spending too much money. I'm talking about genuine, literal, out-of-control spending, where the Government can't keep track of where the money went and why it disappeared.

The Government's most ardent supporters insist it's all lies, misrepresentations and general hysteria, with a dollop of racism thrown in.

But even if every single accusation was an absolute fabrication, and the only thing we believed were statements made by loyal PLP Cabinet Ministers or the Premier himself, then we've still got a major problem that urgently needs to be fixed.

So let's fix it.


We cannot keep going on like this. With Government revenues shrinking away because of the global economic downturn, collapsing tourism and any number of other factors, we don't have the luxury of shovelling the public's money down the drain in an uncontrolled kind of way.

Finance Minister Paula Cox told the House of Assembly last week that the Government's capital spending was $45 million higher than the budget called for. That's 30 per cent over what the Government had agreed and committed to spending.

At the same time, Ms Cox announced that the Government's net public debt had risen by 73 per cent - in the space of one single year - increasing by $204.9 million.

Even the most primitive form of mathematical logic tells you this cannot continue.

It is easy to by sympathetic about the slide in revenues. The world's economy HAS been in a mess, everybody and his brother wants and needs tax relief, tourism continues to struggle despite often heroic efforts.

But the endless overspending and lack of accountability on Government's big expensive building projects is totally inexcusable.

A long stream of over-budget behind-schedule projects, failed contractors, and secretive and non-competitive contract award practices, have caught the Government out time and time again... and cost the taxpayer millions upon millions of dollars.

Yet nothing seems to change.

Last month, for example, the new cruise terminal at Dockyard was shown to have been 70 per cent over its budget, with costs going from $35 million to $60 million.

The Housing Corporation, the new Berkeley senior secondary school, the combined courthouse-police station... Does nobody learn from anything?

Last year, Auditor General Larry Dennis had this to say about his audit of Government's consolidated fund:

"My extended audit procedures revealed persuasive evidence of inappropriate behaviour and seriously compromised internal control systems.


"The internal controls that should have prevented such behaviour were rendered ineffective by ministerial intervention and failure by senior civil servants to carry out their responsibilities, and in some cases, to resist actual or perceived ministerial pressure."

Mr. Dennis, as everybody knows, was subject to the most vicious vilification by Government leaders. They accused him of everything, but mostly of being a racist, unprofessional and an anti-Government campaigner.

But I kind of hoped that, beneath the bluster, Government was paying attention. After all, the less money they wasted, the more money they'd have to spend on things the country really wanted and needed.

Apparently not.

Last week, the new Auditor General Heather Matthews (not racist, I hope, or unprofessional or anti-Government) released her report on the consolidated budget.

She described "serious internal control deficiencies in the management of various capital projects."

"...These deficiencies led me to question the appropriateness of certain transactions and the underlying value of the assets at March 31, 2009."

For the second year in a row, Government's consolidated Fund received only a "qualified audit".

Ms. Cox, last week, put as positive a gloss on things as she could, emphasizing repeatedly that Bermuda has been badly affected by the global economic downturn.

That's completely true.

But the economic downturn - and the fact that there are things that will hurt Bermuda despite our best efforts - are exactly the reason we need to get control of our contracting and spending.

When money was pouring in, maybe it didn't matter so much.

But now it really does matter: the debt is rising, the income is falling. The list of expensive projects we need to help our citizens, revive tourism, rebuild crumbling hospitals and the Causeways, fight crime, and pay for ever-more-costly health care, is growing longer all the times.

The list of projects that have gone wrong is getting longer all the time too.

There's been a lot of arguing and name-calling, and plenty of disagreements over how, exactly, to describe what's gone wrong.

Is it mismanagement, cronyism, incompetence, corruption, criminality, or just the same thing that used to happen under the UBP?

Doesn't matter. You can call it what you will. The fact of the matter is that huge amounts of money are being thrown away for no good purpose, eroding faith and confidence in government, and leaving less money for things we really need.

Now that a lot less money is coming in, we can't afford to treat it lightly. Unregulated spending has to stop. It's time for government to start governing.