PWC integrity report: Unauthorized payments Tourist Bureau exceed million guilders

POSTED: 10/4/14 11:07 AM

St. Maarten – The Tourist Bureau made in 2010 unauthorized payments for an amount of more than 1.1 million guilders (approximately $633,000). This appears from a case study in the PriceWaterhousCoopers integrity report. In November 2010, the director of the Tourist Bureau, Regina Labega, and marketing manager Edward Dest were suspended by then Minister Franklin Meyers. Dest will stand trial before the end of March, while Labega – who has been identified as a suspect in court – has not been summoned yet.

A senior official at the ministry of justice told the PWC-consultants “there is so much evidence” to support the corruption allegations against the department head (Labega – ed.) but that the investigation “appears to be ongoing.”

The PWC-consultants –senior researcher Sunita Saligram and seasoned investigator Sam Nazarro – obtained an undated internal investigation report and email correspondence related to the investigation. This report states that the department head and an employee received $1,250 in reimbursements for a trip for which they had not received the required permission from the Executive Council.

Another report states that the department head and an employee “reportedly organized at least 184,081 guilders in payments from the government office US affiliate to a destination management company from June 2009 until January 2010 without obtaining approval from the Executive Council or the director of resource.”

This observation is consistent with the charges the Public Prosecutor’s Office had brought against Edward Dest in a case wherein Labega has been mentioned as a suspect. The government office the report mentions is the New York-based office the Tourist Bureau maintained at the time.

For the year 2010, the Executive Council approved 82,210 guilders for a publishing company. The New York office paid $10,000 and later $4,300 from this amount without permission. In the summons that contains the charges against Dest, mentions House of Nehesi as the publishing company. “Open source information appears to link an individual with the publishing and destination management companies, and this individual was reported in many firsthand accounts to be in a close personal relationship with the department head,” the PWC-report states.

The PWC-report furthermore states that the department head “co-organized payments of $16,608 for computers iPads and other items to what appears to be an IT-company.” The purchase included fifteen iPads, “which could not be accounted for,” according to the internal report the PWC-consultants obtained.

This internal report, which was most likely provided to PWC by the former head of finance, Bas Roorda,  notes that the purchase of computers and IT equipment must always be approved by the ICT-section head and that the government office needs prior approval for payments. The New York office furthermore paid “107,008 guilders ($59,781) to an individual between 2009 and June 2010 without necessary approval.”

Other payments from the New York office include a restaurant bill of $2,544 for a Christmas dinner (according to the Dest-summons at the Fusion restaurant), unauthorized travel by a colleague of Labega to Panama via Aruba in October 2010, unauthorized travel by Labega for $3,900, presentations and food paid without permission for 156,047 guilders ($87,176)and 61,734 guilders ($34,488) paid to the Westin Hotel without permission.

The report concludes that the unauthorized payments amount to 875,911 guilders, while there were also unauthorized commitments for 257,929 guilders.

In December 2010, Minister Meyers withdrew the suspension of Dest and Labega, according to the PWC-report “on the basis of insufficient grounds/lack of evidence.”

Labega is currently director of the airport. “Other than temporary suspension, no other disciplinary sanction was placed against either employee, according to a Ministry of General Affairs official,” the PWC-report states. At the time the report was written, the court date for Edward Dest had not been made public yet.

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