Staffs Act passed in Senate
Senators have ditched amendments to legislation designed to create a legal framework for ministers to appoint experts and political advisers.
They passed the Premier, Ministers and Opposition Leader Personal Staffs Act 2019 after MPs rejected a reworded version proposed by the Upper House.
James Jardine, an independent senator, said that although the Senate could “dig its heels in” on the amendments — intended to ensure the Bill achieved its goals, the result would be a delay in the transparency offered by the legislation.
He explained: “The Government could simply wait one year, put the Bill forward for Royal Assent and move on, but we would have delayed for a further year the requirement for a report to be prepared, as outlined in Clause 9.
“That is to say, it would not be until possibly March 2021 before we would see any report details. Is that what we want? I don’t think so.
“If we did that we would, as the saying goes, be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
The senator added: “Calm heads and a sensible approach is what are called for here. There is simply nothing to be gained by ‘ping-ponging’ Clause 9 back and forth between the two Houses or rejecting the Bill in its entirety.
“We will have achieved nothing except to delay for an even longer period of time the openness and transparency that we all wish for.”
Nick Kempe, the One Bermuda Alliance Senate leader, last month moved an amendment to the Bill after it was passed by MPs in May.
The change he proposed 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 approved the amendment and outvoted objections from Government members six to five.
The amended Bill was returned to the House of Assembly for MPs to consider but it was rejected.
David Burt, the Premier, said the changes were “unnecessary” and accused the OBA of “throwing” the amendments at the Government without consultation.
Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the public works minister, hit out at the OBA and independent senators who had voted in favour of the amendments and accused James Jardine, an independent senator, of having “an unblemished record of voting with the Opposition”.
Mr Jardine told the Senate yesterday: “It was clear from the outset that the concepts of openness and transparency were shared by all in the Legislature, both here and in another place.
“The amendments that were put forward by the Senate at its meeting two weeks ago seemed to me to be reasonable.
“The amendments suggested by the Senate did not mean that Clause 9 was rejected in its entirety. Far from it. However, those amendments have been rejected by a majority of members in another place and so we are left to consider the motion before us today.”
Mr Kempe said the amendments were in line with the intention of the Bill and if the Government senators felt “ambushed” in the Senate they could have asked to rise and report progress.
Mr Kempe said: “The point is the amendment was about getting it right.”
But he said the OBA would not vote against the original Act.
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