Webb quits Cabinet

Bermuda Tourism Minister Renee Webb resigned from Cabinet yesterday citing "irreconcilable differences" with Premier Alex Scott over his leadership style.

She said she did not feel she was treated properly as a woman and a professional and revealed she had tried to resign twice before but was talked out of it.

  • Renee Webb

    Renee Webb

Bermuda Tourism Minister Renee Webb resigned from Cabinet yesterday citing "irreconcilable differences" with Premier Alex Scott over his leadership style.

She said she did not feel she was treated properly as a woman and a professional and revealed she had tried to resign twice before but was talked out of it.

Ms Webb said the Progressive Labour Party had in some ways "lost its way" in not tackling pressing social issues, and she was disappointed it had not taken greater steps towards black economic empowerment.

Ms Webb denied her decision was linked to the awarding of the lease of Stonington Beach Hotel, which was under her ministry, to businessman John Jefferis.

Auditor General Larry Dennis two weeks ago branded the process as unfair and said it should have been put out to tender again because the deal Mr. Jefferis secured was so fundamentally different from that originally envisaged in the heads of agreement.

Mr. Jefferis saved millions on the deal by radically renegotiating terms with a committee reporting to Tourism after he was selected to more than double the lease from 21 years to 50, get a five year rent holiday, get 1.9 acres of waterfront land with two cottages and a further four acres, and obtain the right to build and sell condominiums.

Deputy Premier Dr. Ewart Brown will take over as Tourism Minister while retaining his Transport portfolio.

Michael Scott becomes Telecommunications Minister and Attorney General Larry Mussenden takes over Mr. Scott's old position as Legislative Affairs Minister.

The United Bermuda Party said Ms Webb should have sacked over the Stonington "fiasco" and her past record, but it said she should not be a "fall guy" for the Stonington deal.

The entire Cabinet approved the deal to lease Stonington to Mr. Jefferis' company Coco Reef and all had to take responsibility, said UBP spokesman Jamahl Simmons.

Ms Webb confirmed reports that she had resigned and stressed that she had not been fired.

"It had nothing to do with the job, absolutely nothing," said Ms Webb yesterday.

"I think everyone was happy with my performance as a Minister. Being a Cabinet Minister was more than just a Ministry. I have resigned. I thought hard and long about it and I think it was the right thing to do and I am pleased with the decision."

Ms Webb added that she will continue on as an MP and serve her constituency, but she had found it untenable to continue as a Cabinet Minister. "I loved my job as a Minister. No, I wasn't fired and there was no reason for me to resign over my job - I loved my job."

Pressed on the reasons for her resignation, she said: "Irreconcilable differences with the Premier. It's been going on for a long time."

She said she had attempted to resign three times but was talked out of it by her colleagues.

"It was a decision that I thought hard and long about - I think it was the right thing for me to do," she continued.

"I loved my job, I loved the challenges. I absolutely loved the challenges of the Ministry and I think I have laid the groundwork within the Ministry of Tourism. It is doing well and as long as the vision is continued, we should continue to do well for the country."

Asked her reaction to the Premier's choice of her successor, Ms Webb said: "I'm sure Mr. Brown will do a good job. He's been wanting to be Tourism Minister ever since the Cabinet was appointed last year and I m sure he's very capable of doing a good job."

She said her colleagues were "shocked" at her resignation.

"They told me not to go, of course. This is the third time I was going to resign. I was talked out of it a couple of times and this time I thought I wouldn't tell anybody, but it had nothing to do with job responsibilities."

She told ZBM last night there was a perception that black people must be corrupt, and she said she stood by her comments that she wanted more people who "look like me" to get contracts.

"I don't regret it at all. My biggest regret is that we don't have more black businesses to award business to," she said.

"I live by that statement and wish it was the mainstream policy of this Government."

She added: "The way I thought I was treated as a woman and professional I did not feel my contribution was validated. I said what I think (at Cabinet) and people can take it or leave it, it was the response I got that didn't appreciate it.

"In many ways we are losing our way. We are not addressing a lot of issues and addressing them quickly. You can't please all the people all the time, you have to do what you believe is right.

"You have to run the country in the interests of the majority. You will always have a minority who are upset by every issue.

"It upsets people. Bermuda is moving at such a slow pace you have to take the bull by the horns, and no apologies for it."

Denying her resignation had anything to do with Stonington - which was formerly owned and operated by Bermuda College before being transferred to Tourism - Ms Webb said: "The timing obviously is off because people will speculate it was to do with Stonington.

"Just to make that clear, the selection committee was set up by the former minister David Allen 18 months before I was minister.

"The decision to award the contract was made in November and I was appointed minister in December. That had nothing to do with me. And it was a contract between Bermuda College and Coco Reef, so that speculation can be taken off the table. It is not a work related issue at all."

In fact, Ms Webb was appointed Tourism Minister in October 2002 and the contract was awarded by a joint Tourism and Education committee to Coco Reef in December 2002.

The decision was made public on January 6, 2003 in a joint Press statement by Ms Webb and then Education Minister Paula Cox. Between January 2003 and June 2003 when the lease was signed, Mr. Jefferis negotiated with the Stonington Beach Hotel Company, which was set up to oversee the transfer of the hotel, and with civil servants.

The company included former Tourism Director Judith Hall-Bean, Education Secretary Michelle Khaldun, Bermuda College Board of Governors Raymond Tannock, and lawyer Paul King. The company approved the lease which was then presented to the Ministry of Tourism to go to Cabinet for Cabinet approval.

Premier Scott said yesterday: "She tendered her resignation this afternoon and we accepted it with regret.

"I would rather leave any explanation to her. It came as a surprise to myself and we did have a conversation, at the conclusion of which she handed me her resignation."

But he denied that he had irreconcilable differences with any of the Cabinet members and said he had had no problems with Ms Webb's performance.

"She carried forward and carried about many of the initiatives put in place by Mr. David Allen. That's not to say that she did not bring her own stamp to Tourism, she brought a sense of efficiency and direction to tourism.

"She's very talented, very bright, capable and has a lot of energy. She did some of her best work in Telecommunications but that's just my opinion. She's talented, but ironically her constituents will benefit they will benefit of her time and her talents full time."

Mr. Scott said that handing Dr. Brown the Tourism portfolio was an interim move and that the two would discuss it when Dr. Brown returns to the Island.

But he noted that the development, while unplanned, has resulted in a smaller Cabinet which has been a key goal of the ruling party. And he said there was a natural synergy between Tourism and Transport where Dr. Brown has been quite effective. "Cabinet has become tighter and that is the direction we are looking at going," the Premier said. "In politics you learn to accept what is delivered and as I say we accept with regret. We accepted it and we had to cut the cloth accordingly, we had to bring the Government's resources together so that Cabinet wouldn't miss a beat."

UBP spokesman Mr. Simmons said: "Based on the Minister's track record the Premier should have asked for her resignation some time ago.

"The recent Stonington fiasco, the mishandling of the Hardell dispute, in addition to repeated allegations of staff mistreatment, all stand as reasonable grounds for dismissal.

"However, it is the concern of the UBP that former Minister Webb is not made the 'fall guy' for the improprieties surrounding the awarding of the Stonington contract to Coco Reef.

"The public must not forget that the former Minister of Education Paula Cox had to approve the granting of that controversial lease. Furthermore, Senator Raymond Tannock, the Chairman for the Bermuda College and Vice Chairman, Attorney General Larry Mussendon signed off on the Coco Reef lease without consulting the Board.

"Quite simply, the Stonington fiasco should not be hung around the neck of former Minister Webb alone. At the end, the improprieties arising from the granting of the Stonington contract stem from a Cabinet decision and the responsibility should be borne by the Premier and his Cabinet."

Bermuda Hotel Association chief executive John Harvey said: "It was very surprising. We worked very well with Minister Webb through BHA and Bermuda Alliance for Tourism and I thought she was very focussed and had a keen desire to get things done.

"Equally, we have worked with Dr. Brown over the airlines and we find him not only to be aggressive but to be forward thinking and innovative.

"It is bittersweet. You lose one minister who is focussed and get another one who is equally focussed."

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