Premier defends Cabinet swap
David Burt insisted last night that his decision to sack Walton Brown from Cabinet and replace him with Wayne Furbert was “in the best interests of the Government” and was not because of a difference of opinion over the direction of the ruling party.
The Premier told The Royal Gazette: “The [Progressive Labour Party] is blessed with talent. We have 30 persons in our parliamentary group. Without the Speaker, that’s 29.
“As the term in government goes on, you use the different talents on your teams at different points in time. We have a big squad and not everyone can be on the field at the same point in time.”
Mr Burt added that Mr Brown, who served less than six months as the Minister for the Cabinet Office, after losing the home affairs brief last November, was not relegated to the back benches over a “question of policy”.
He said: “Walton and I have been close for an incredibly long time. He is my family’s Member of Parliament; he represents my area.
“I’ve canvassed with Walton and been involved in the PLP with Walton for a long time, and I have the highest respect for Walton.
“But these jobs are never easy and the conversation, which we had yesterday [Monday] morning, is never an easy conversation.
“As the leader of the Government, the decision I made was in the best interests of the Government and, from my view, there were different skill sets that could be brought to bear.”
Mr Burt said Mr Furbert, a former United Bermuda Party leader, had performed well as junior finance minister since October 2017.
“The Cabinet Office has responsibility for economic development and Wayne will assist in those matters, just as Walton did,” he added.
One PLP insider said Mr Furbert may have got the job because of Mr Burt’s crusade to open up the banking sector in an attempt to make the island a leader in financial technology such as bitcoin and blockchain.
The source said Mr Furbert, an accountant who also has a degree in e-business, could be used to help to spearhead the fintech drive from inside the Cabinet Office.
“Mr Furbert will be joining the Cabinet and you can see opportunities for his financial experience being deemed more significant than Mr Brown’s skills at this time,” the source said.
A government insider said Mr Brown was effectively demoted in November, when he was replaced as the Minister of Home Affairs by Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier.
That source said he was sidelined then because his approach to immigration and international business didn’t tally with that of Mr Burt.
The source added: “I don’t know of any conflicts in terms of direction or vision now.”
Several PLP supporters said they were not pleased to see another former UBP Cabinet minister join the PLP cabinet, along with Jamahl Simmons, the Minister without Portfolio.
One said: “The PLP used to represent labour, workers. I am not sure where they even stand any more. To see two [former UBP ministers] in Cabinet, I don’t feel comfortable with it.”
Two other party supporters queried Mr Furbert’s promotion, comparing how he switched political parties with Mr Brown’s lifelong commitment to the PLP.
Mr Burt batted away that criticism.
“Wayne Furbert has been a member of the PLP at least ten years,” he said. “Those are things which are more topics for social media and blog chatter.
“This is [the] serious business of government so, from where I stand, Wayne has demonstrated his hard work ethic as my junior minister.
“As we move forward implementing a lot of the items in government reform, he will be an excellent measure of assistance in the Cabinet Office as we deal with these particular matters.”
The Premier added that the Government was looking at “making things more electronic, eliminating paper in public service”.
He said: “There’s a number of things to make sure the public service can serve Bermuda more efficiently. That requires intense focus and, with his experience on the [Government] Efficiency Committee, Wayne will be able to greatly assist in driving forward that effort.”
Mr Burt reduced the number of government ministries from 11 to ten in November, but the number of ministers rose to 12, increasing the Cabinet salary bill.
Former PLP leader Marc Bean suggested yesterday that the Premier should get rid of two or three ministers and make Cabinet take a 20 per cent pay cut.
He said there was “nothing to criticise” about the Premier’s decision to replace Mr Brown with Mr Furbert, as that was “his prerogative”.
He added: “In terms of the Cabinet shuffle, what really needs to be done is for the size of Cabinet to be reduced, by at least two or three posts.
“In addition to that, by leading by example and showing fiscal responsibility, it would be wise for the Premier to have his Cabinet ministers take a 20 per cent reduction in their ministerial pay.
“That would indicate where the Government wants to take the country in terms of stimulating economic growth and jobs.”
Mr Burt said: “The Government will be judged by how we deliver.
“We will not be judged by how many Cabinet ministers there are. We will be judged by how we deliver and that is what we are focused on.”