A few observations about independent Cox
Paula Cox’s recent resignation from the Progressive Labour Party demands our attention for more than a few reasons, but there are at least three key observations that must be made.
The first observation is regarding the candidate selection process. During the PLP’s June 15 press conference, a member of the media asked Opposition leader David Burt why the candidate selection process is a secret and appears to be shrouded in mystery.
In reply, Burt stated that it is not a secret, but we will not be discussing party processes with the media.
As was rightly pointed out by the media, it is hard to understand the difference between a secret and the PLP’s refusal to be transparent about which rules were applied in its candidate selection process.
Instead of simplistically stating the rule that grants the party executive the right to overrule a branch selection decision, the public were treated to a meandering answer about unknown rules being changed. For this reason alone, a cloud now remains over the legitimacy of Cox’s rejection, and voters should be extremely concerned about what may be an arbitrary decision selectively to follow or reject rules in the PLP’s constitution.
The second observation is regarding the public’s reaction to Cox. Her resignation letter could hardly be seen as an attack on the PLP. Like Terry Lister, her decision to run as an independent was presented as a matter of principle and not as a spiteful attack against the party. Nevertheless, she has been savaged by so many since announcing her decision.
When a party member resigns while attacking their former party, it should be no surprise that party supporters attack them. Hypocrisy is the norm, especially in these circumstances. But given that Cox resigned in such a dignified and ethical manner, it is reprehensible to see her character attacked and track record trodden upon.
The third and most critical observation has to do with good governance and what a future PLP government would look like. During the PLP’s June 27 press conference, the Opposition declared that the PLP has been humbled by the 2012 election loss, and that the PLP will not let Bermudians down in the future. That claim can be tested by reviewing who is representing the PLP in the 2017 General Election.
What we must not forget is that Cox became premier in October 2010, which was around the same time that major good governance concerns were being raised by the Auditor-General, opposition MPs and the media. In fact, the Auditor-General’s special report on the TCD building construction was released during the same month.
In February 2011, Cox made several significant changes. Not only did she dispose of former premier Ewart Brown’s bodyguards, she also terminated several controversial consultancies and contracts from Brown’s administration. It should be noted that several of those highly paid consultants were PLP MPs, and many of those contracts have been deemed highly questionable by the Commission of Inquiry.
Most importantly, by the middle of 2011, Cox was setting up the Office of Project Management and Procurement. This move was intended to reel in highly questionable expenditure. Additionally, Cox was bringing forth measures to provide protection for whistleblowers, and we had the introduction of the Good Governance Act 2011.
In July 2012, the Public Accounts Committee released a report on alleged cronyism at the Bermuda Land Development Company and multiple good governance issues at the Department of Tourism. Cox’s response was not one of denial, but one of acceptance and willingness to correct prior deficiencies.
Many would say that Paula Cox’s efforts were too little too late, and that she was too passive as Brown’s Minister of Finance. Nevertheless, what is undeniable is that as premier she made great strides to steer the PLP into good governance waters. During her short time, she made significant efforts to do the right thing.
Fast forward to 2017 and the PLP’s response to good governance is the complete reverse. PLP MPs facing the Commission of Inquiry dismissed controversial conduct with accusations of racism. Inexplicable contract decisions were defended as justifiable pro-black ministerial decisions. The Government’s civil trials have also been dismissed as nothing but racist, political electioneering.
Here lies the irony. Cox was the one PLP leader to acknowledge and attempt to do something about the PLP’s poor governance, but now the PLP is pressing ahead without her as if her good governance reforms were unnecessary.
Voters should take heed that, while Cox cannot find a seat at the table, it is those good governance offenders who should be credited the most for the PLP losing the last election, and who remain fully welcomed and entrenched within the PLP’s machinery.
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