Senate has decisive say on political advisers
Senators have voted to change legislation that enshrines in law the chance for Cabinet ministers to appoint experts and political advisers.
Nick Kempe, of the One Bermuda Alliance, moved an amendment to the Premier, Ministers and Opposition Leader Personal Staffs Act 2019, which was passed by MPs last month.
It would mean that the law stated an annual report tabled in Parliament will include the name, job description and pay of everyone who had been a staff member as defined in the Act in the previous fiscal year, instead of only those appointed from the previous January to December.
Opposition and independent senators joined forces to approve the amendment, outvoting the objections of government members six to five.
Vance Campbell, the Progressive Labour Party’s finance spokesman in the Senate, presented the Bill for its second reading in the upper house yesterday.
He said it was largely similar to the Premier and Opposition Leader Personal Staffs Act 1983 but provided that ministers, with written approval from the Premier, could hire up to two members of personal staff to offer political or other expert advice, in line with the Ministerial Code of Conduct.
Mr Kempe, the shadow finance minister, said the original version of the Bill stated that the annual report “only names those people that were appointed during the previous year”.
He added: “That manner of wording would fail to publish on report people that had been appointed, say, two years ago but continued as a personal staff member of a minister or the Premier or the Opposition Leader.”
Mr Kempe also pointed out that ministerial personal staff would be deemed government employees for the purposes of healthcare and pension obligations “when they were not before”.
Mr Campbell read from a member’s proof of the Hansard record of the House of Assembly from May 31, when he said David Burt, the Premier, told MPs: “I will state the undertaking which I will give, and given that the Hansard is recording this, on each and every time that this report is given, it will show the persons who were hired under this Act, under that calendar year whether or not they were appointed that year or appointed the year before and all the rest.”
Mr Campbell said that based on that commitment, government senators saw no reason for making any amendment.
Mr Kempe said the “whole point” of the proposed legislation was to strengthen existing practices and suggested there was an opportunity to “correct it while we can”. He added: “Having the assurance of a person is a far less important layer of good governance for the public than actually codifying that undertaking in the Bill that we’re debating today.”
His amendment also stated that the annual report would be laid in Parliament on or before May 31, instead of March 31, to align with the fiscal year and that it would include the “gross” remuneration “for the entire fiscal year”.
The amended Bill will be returned to the House of Assembly for MPs’ agreement.