Corruption? Premier joins the attack

Mid Ocean News (01 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Premier joins the attack and tries to dismiss the Opposition with spin

TRUST me, Mr. Editor, I am not making this up: but for the second consecutive week there were two pieces of legislation (agreed), one take note motion (no vote required), a short motion to adjourn, and we were done for another day in the House on the Hill. It was déjà vu all over again, as Yogi once famously said – and just to be clear, Mr. Editor, that’s Mr. Yogi Berra of baseball fame, and not the cartoon bear of TV fame.

Now that said, we still weren’t off the Hill, and out of the House, much before nine in the evening. It wasn’t the legislation that detained us. It was the Opposition’s take note motion on anti-corruption legislation in other jurisdictions and the question of whether there was any benefit to enacting similar legislation in Bermuda. That’s where we had some debate. Sort of. You see only three members from the Government benches spoke, and I bet the first two, who did speak, were wishing the third had not. Renee was at it again, Mr. Editor, speaking out after the dream team for this debate of Scott & Scott (a.k.a. the Premier the Man and his Ministerial namesake, Michael) attempted to open and close the defence for the Government.

It was the Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons who started it all. It was his motion and he spoke first. He had a sample piece of legislation from Jamaica (The Corruption Prevention Act) for members to consider. He described it as “no nonsense legislation” “draconian even” which set some pretty high standards which had to be followed by all public servants in Jamaica.

The Premier, The Number One Scott, in reply saw no need for any such legislation in Bermuda. There was no evidence of any corruption in Bermuda or, as he put it at one stage, “no corruption of any significance”, and again at another stage of his speech “not that rampant”.

The real corruption, the Premier started spinning, was the campaign which the Opposition UBP was waging on the PLP Government.
There was no need for any such legislation, he argued, but by persisting the UBP was seeking to taint people’s thinking to make them think that there was corruption where there wasn’t any.

“It’s dangerous campaign to embark upon”, said the Premier. He said that he was concerned about the danger of putting the country’s good name at risk by debating the subject. His coup de grace: “That’s gutter politics. That’s low, and that’s corrupt”.

Number One Scott got strong support from Scott Number Two. “What is the real rationale for bringing this matter to the highest court of the land?”, asked Minister Michael Scott – rhetorically, of course, because he then proceeded to try and answer his own question.

He pointed to the Criminal Code which already made theft, fraud and corruption criminal offences. There was a Ministerial Code as well on conflicts of interest. There was no need for any new legislation.

This was simply part of a campaign to criticise, undermine and smear the good name of the Government. He wasn’t impressed with the campaign. “I can’t say it’s been master-minded by the Opposition, more like mini-minded”, he joked. Great Scott, you might say, and his Mini-Me.

Meanwhile, my colleagues weren’t having any of it. Period.
Pat Gordon Pamplin said that the Premier’s spinning was impressive –with tongue firmly in cheek, Mr. Editor – and for her it was like watching a ballet student see how many spins she can get in a pirouette, without collapsing from dizziness.

Deputy Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert reminded the PLP of the recent reports of the Auditor General. There was a long dirty laundry list and he quoted from the latest report from the Auditor General dated January 2005 on Government finances: -

“The number of apparent or alleged frauds and misappropriations that have come to light in recent years in Government entities concerns me greatly. I worry lest it indicates a growing culture of opportunism or dishonesty by some in the public service.”

Nobody was naming any names. But Mr. Furbert was clear: “We must act to save ourselves from ourselves”. His colleague David Dodwell underscored the importance of not only debating the subject, but acting on it. “It will send the right message”, he said, “and the right message attracts the right people”.

Trevor Moniz tried another tact. He tried to taunt the PLP members out of their seats. “You’re running scared”, he repeatedly declared - looking and speaking straight across the floor at Deputy Premier Dr. Ewart Brown.

“The Premier is saying that we’re being mischievous”, said Mr. Moniz, “but we didn’t make up the Pay to Play scandal or the mess at the Bermuda Housing Corporation”.

But they wouldn’t budge, to speak, Mr. Editor - except for Renee.
Quite matter of factly, the former Minister rose from the backbenches to tell us that she would welcome any such legislation which would more precisely define what constitutes corruption, and which would address what to date has been too much a matter of perception. “I don’t believe anybody would be opposed”, said Ms. Webb. Oh, really?
You might say Renee made sure the PLP didn’t come out of this debate Scott free.

Backed up

BACK to Yogi Berra, Mr. Editor, and another one of his witticisms: I don’t where we’re going, but I think we’re making good time.

Amendments to two pieces of legislation, Overseas and Exempted Partnership Acts, breezed through, without objection, and with comment only from the Minister Paula Cox and her Shadow Dr. Gibbons. Both of them agreed the changes were a matter of bringing the legislation up-to-date and keeping Bermuda competitive as an international jurisdiction. It was Dr. Gibbons who wondered if we really were making good time. He noted the changes were recommendations arising out of the BIBA Legislative Change Committee Report 2003. However, the Minister did not take too kindly to the criticism, saying that a steady flow of legislation has been finding its way through her Ministry to the floor of the House, but that there was other “domestic legislation” and occasionally the Ministry had to take its turn in the queue. I can only think that the queue must have been backed up, pretty good. It’s not like they have been overworking us with legislation – and the truth is that the day they were the only two pieces eligible for debate and passage.

Joining the queue

BUT like I told you last week, Mr. Editor, all that’s about to change. With four weeks until Cup Match, we are about to go on overload with several pieces of important and lengthy legislation. I told you last week about the long-overdue PACE (118 pages) and Bail Act (23 pages). They have been joined now by other connected and consequential legislation - Criminal Code Amendment (No.2 ) Act (47 pages), Criminal Law (Abolition of Distinction Between Felony and Misdemeanour) Act and Interpretation Amendment Act . Not to mention the re-introduction of the controversial GPS Bill and further amendments to the Commission For Unity and Racial Equality Act to give the CURE more powers to obtain more information from employers. It’s starting to look like long days and nights ahead as members will be asked to push all of this (and maybe more, depending on the length of that queue) before we break for a summer recess. It’s a shame really, that we end up having to do important business, the country’s business, this way – and with what? A total of four lawyers in the House? Good luck, people.

Quick witted

SERIOUSLY though, you also need a sense of humour to survive on the Hill and a quick wit can keep you going that much longer. Three of the best from last week: -

The Premier was extolling the electronic media on the speed at which they report big news stories (after first criticising the press for the failure to undertake investigative journalism of substance).
Gary Moreno of ZBM would be on the air in a flash with breaking headlines, said the Premier, “with film at five”.

He was reminded that their TV newscasts aren’t shown at five.

“Then six o’clock”, the Man corrected himself.

“Actually Mr. Premier it’s seven and midnight”, came another reminder from the Opposition benches, “but that’s all right you keep watching the news at six.”

****

Renee Webb was on a roll and making a point about the only people, in her view, who seemed to be getting richer under the PLP Government.

“And Mr. Speaker”, she declared, “they are not people who look like me and you”.

“Oh”, commented Mr. Speaker Lowe, but high enough to be heard, “but you and I are not that dark, are we?”

****

The Doctor was in the House when Louise Jackson, standing up for her seniors again, complained about doctors who were now charging the full cost of an office visit and leaving it to seniors to recover payment under the HIP programme from Government.

“Sounds to me like pay to play”, shouted out Dr. Brown – to laughter all around.

I suppose he should know, Mr Editor – as a medical practitioner, of course.

Required reading

TIP of the week: There’s a small new book out which I have been recommending to colleagues that is required reading for listeners of the debates in the House on the Hill.

It’s handy pocket size guide of 67 pages that won’t take you that long to wade through and you will likely find it helpful if not instructive. It’s written by Harry G. Frankfurt -no hot dog he, rather a renowned moral philosopher and a Professor Emeritus of Princeton University no less. The title, Mr. Editor? Well, let’s just say that like the subject itself, you will almost certainly recognise it when you see it.

LAST line to Mr. Berra and a favourite of mine: when you come to a fork in the road take it. Until next week then, Mr. Editor, until next week.

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