June 13, 2007

The BHC Genie can't be put back in the bottle

The Royal Gazette
Opinion (13 June, 2007)

Two weeks on, conversation in Bermuda continues to revolve around the details of the leaked BHC Police Report, compounded by the Government’s legal effort to silence any further public discussion of the scandalous revelations contained in the Mid Ocean News of June 1st, 2007 – and presumably any new leaks from the report.

And, two weeks on, every allegation which the Police detailed in the leaked report, remains unanswered – every one. Now, only one week later we have a new twist in the Government corruption scandal; Government MP Nelson Bascome was arrested and reportedly charged with Official Corruption (ie. in his duties as a Minister) and theft – matters separate from the BHC investigation.

While Dr. Brown can posture and buy time through contrived confrontations with the Governor and legal maneuvers, the genie can’t be put back in the bottle, the allegations can’t be retracted and new details are almost certain to emerge. You can gag the local press of you want, but we live in the internet age. Dr. Brown can’t press rewind.

Regardless of how this scandal develops over the coming days, weeks and months, the ramifications of the allegations in the Police report will be far reaching.

Firstly, they put to the test one of the underpinnings of modern democracies – that is the idea that Governments should be “of the people, by the people, for the people”; it’s the ‘for the people’ that seems to have been thrown by the wayside. The un-answered revelations reveal suspected behaviour which if true, would fail even the poorest ethical tests.

The longer these allegations go unaddressed by Dr. Brown, Mr. Bascome and others named in the report, the more they’ll be deemed to have substance – gag order or not – and the more the public should demand answers.

So far, Dr. Brown’s defence has been more interesting for what he hasn’t said than what he has. What has not been said is that the suspicious relationships and incidents that the Police uncovered did not exist; that is the glaring omission of the Premier’s sole comment on this matter. What has been said is sorely lacking in substance, but revealing in that it speaks to the double standard and hypocrisy of Dr. Brown’s brand of politics.

Dr. Brown advanced some rather weak yet novel defences in his non-rebuttal rebuttal of June 1st to The Mid Ocean News revelations; standards which he clearly believes are not universal.

Firstly, let’s dismiss the outright false and desperate claim that the report ‘exonerated’ those implicated. Quite the contrary, the report raised serious allegations that the Police wanted to pursue further as potentially criminal offences – but were prevented from doing so.

Secondly, the Premier made the following declaration:

On a personal note, I give my fellow Bermudians the assurance that my professional practice and my business interests have long provided me quite adequately with the means to live in relative comfort.

I am blessed with the good fortune of being married to a businesswoman of independent income. I have absolutely no need to seek to improve my net worth by any questionable actions. I deserve to be given credit for being sensible enough to keep my hands clean and my character beyond question.

What’s notable here is that the Premier doesn’t say that “I’ve kept my hands clean, the multiple allegations in the Police report weren’t true”, instead he vaguely pleads for the benefit of the doubt, saying that he deserves “credit for being sensible enough to keep my hands clean…” Deserves credit? Not after that report. The public deserves answers.

We deserve to know if public officials were engaged in the behaviour the Police uncovered (which can’t currently be repeated due to the impending ruling on the gag order) or not. Considered in a political context, that argument is weak and reveals a whole ‘lotta hypocrisy.

Firstly, the argument that Dr. Brown and his wife make too much money for him to be corrupt just doesn’t hold up, even to the gentlest probing. The line of reasoning is essentially that rich people cannot be corrupt, because they don’t need the money.

Most of us weren’t born yesterday and therefore are aware that greed knows no boundaries. Most of us are also aware that the past decade has seen some of the most fabulously wealthy individuals convicted of corruption (Enron, Worldcom, Tyco for example). So it’s not hard to prove that living in ‘relative comfort’, or even ‘extreme luxury’, doesn’t immunize someone against corrupt behaviour.

Secondly, and here’s the hypocrisy, Dr. Brown routinely attempts to turn the tables on his political opponents and avoid his own dubious actions (Pay to Play, T.H.E. Foundation, Kurron Shares hospital contract, Medical Clinic Closure etc.) by labeling his critics as corrupt, most recently Michael Dunkley and Grant Gibbons; two of his favourite targets.

It’s safe to say that both Mr. Dunkley and Dr. Gibbons live in the ‘relative comfort’ that Dr. Brown speaks of. Therefore – according to Dr. Brown’s own defence – they should likewise deserve credit for ‘keeping their hands clean’. He’s never afforded them that. In fact, it’s safe to say that they live in probably a little bit more ‘relative comfort’ than Dr. Brown, which according to Dr. Brown makes them less likely to be corrupt; because the more wealthy you are the less corrupt you become, right Dr. Brown? The Premier wouldn’t believe his own defence if used by others so why should we believe it in his?

Furthermore the BHC Police Report contains very specific allegations, ones apparently supported by documentation, something Dr. Brown’s attacks against his political opponents have always lacked; innuendo and wishful thinking is a sufficient foundation for Dr. Brown to throw the corruption charge around.

In fact, his latest broadside against Michael Dunkley – that the UBP gave Dunkley’s Dairy a legislated ‘virtual monopoly’ in milk production – is a flat out lie; one delivered under the protection of Parliamentary Privilege where an MP can’t be sued for slander or libel*. [Quite the opposite, the legislation actually protected dairy farmers from monopolistic behaviour and was supported by Dr. Brown and the PLP.]

While Dr. Brown professes outrage that the BHC Police report ‘defamed him’ (isn’t it only defamatory and character assassination if untrue?), he’s quite capable of defaming others on far less substantial evidence. At least those he’s targeted don’t hide behind the convenient ‘Plantation’ defence; they stand up and rebut the accusations

This hypocrisy on matters of defamation and the presumption of innocence was further highlighted by the Premier’s statement on MP Nelson Bascome’s arrest last week. The Premier characterised Mr. Bascome’s plight as a ‘human tragedy’ and pleaded for the benefit of the presumption of innocence for his colleague:

"This is a deeply regrettable development and a human tragedy. We must allow the law to take its course. However, we must not forget he is innocent unless guilt is determined by the courts. Every accused person is entitled to that."

How does Dr. Brown reconcile that statement with his regular and unsupported public characterization of his political opponents and critics as corrupt? The Premier has never afforded his political opponents the presumption of innocence; individuals he attacks relentlessly for fabricated incidents that have therefore never come before the court let alone the Police, allegations that he never backs up with specifics and that he delivers under the cloak of Parliamentary Privilege.

Even more hypocritical is the frequent defence we hear that because the Police Report is four years old and no-one was charged, that they are ancient history and we should move on. This rings particularly hollow when you consider that the PLP’s political strategy is founded on dredging up things that happened not four – but four hundred years ago in many cases – and attempting to attach them to those who didn’t perpetrate them.

In PLP-time four years is an eternity, too long for them to be held to account for their own actions, while four hundred years is not long enough for their opponents to answer for the actions of others.

If Dr. Brown continues to avoid answering the specifics of The Mid Ocean News reports, one can only conclude that the New Bermuda is intended to be the worst of the Old Bermuda but in someone else’s image.

It would seem that the public is expected to tolerate – or outright ignore – today’s corruption while remain outraged about yesterday’s. Or, as someone said to me not long ago, the message being sent to the voter by the PLP leadership is “Wouldn’t you rather we ripped you off?” To which the only reasonable response is: “We’d rather not be ripped off. Period.”

[* CORRECTION: The attack on Dunkley's Dairy was delivered via a press statement, not in Parliament with Parliamentary Privilege. It was the "Racist Dog" attack on Grant Gibbons which took place in Parliament.]

Posted by Christian S. Dunleavy