Restoring our trust
September 3, 2011
When the PLP was elected in 1998 there was a feeling of joy throughout Bermuda. The party that had fought so hard for the people was now going to govern for the people.
It was widely believed that the elected members of the PLP could be trusted to do their best for the common man because they were the common man. And so we gave them our trust.
But try as we may, that trust is nowhere to be found today.
The problem is not that the PLP Government made mistakes — indeed they did, but we all do. Well intended human mistakes are inevitable and forgivable.
The problem is that the transgressions of the PLP Government were often tainted with a cloud of corruption, and that taint undermined our trust. Worst of all, instead of regaining that trust by providing full disclosure of what happened and purging the guilty party, the PLP Government simply refused to answer pertinent questions posed by both the Opposition and the media. They simply said, “That's a Plantation Question” and ended the discussion.
With each successive refusal to give us transparency, our trust of the Brown/Cox Government diminished until there was nothing left.
It wasn't simply that there were so many scandals. It was that there was never a full investigation by Finance Minister Cox showing transparency.
With the exception of the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal that involved former Premier Ewart Brown profiting from a conflict-of-interest sale of his property to the Bermuda Housing Corporation, each scandal was merely pushed into a dark closet of non-disclosure without providing the Bermuda public with the names of those who profited from such transactions. From the Global Hue billing scandal to the firing of the New York tourism staff who dared question overbilling, from the Berkeley Institute fiasco to the Port Royal Golf Course non-tenders, from the Heritage Wharf billing scandal to the Courthouse building cost overruns, and from the confiscation of the Bermuda Cement Company to the present TCD scandal — nothing was investigated to the extent that we ever knew which, if any, Cabinet insiders were profiting from all these transactions, and, if there had been mishandling of funds, no legal proceedings were launched to get our missing hundreds of millions of dollars back.
The Bermuda Constitution requires that each Member of the House and Senate publish a notice in the Official Gazette of any interest they have in a government contract, and failure to do so within seven days of acquiring such interest disqualifies such Member or Senator from the Legislature.
The problem with this Constitutional safeguard against insider dealing is that if a Minister is a dishonest crook, he can simply hide his interest by secretly holding shares in a company through a trust and then not disclose that interest when he grants that company a government contract. In other words, the law only catches a dishonest crook if he is honest enough to disclose his dishonesty. Hardly a satisfactory method of deterring Cabinet Ministers from stealing our money.
After years of pressure from the Opposition and the media, Premier Cox finally agreed to enact “good governance” legislation to firm up bidding requirements on government contracts. But she knows, as does every Bermuda lawyer, that such legislation will do little to stop the continuation of the scandals that have tarnished the PLP because she failed to include the required legal mechanisms to effectively investigate and prosecute dishonest Ministers who secretly hold shares in companies to whom they grant government contracts.
If Premier Cox really wanted to regain the trust of the Bermuda public, she would do two very simple things. First, she would authorise a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate each of the scandals of the last eight years, with full power to subpoena witnesses and financial records. In other words, the Commission would have the power to follow the money not just to the contractors who were awarded these scandal-tainted contracts but to continue following the money through their bank records and shareholder registries to see if any PLP Cabinet Ministers received a share of the illicit profits. These contracts collectively amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. At a minimum, we want back any amounts that went to Government insiders in breach of the Constitution.
Second, Premier Cox would beef up the present Government contracting requirements so that each bidding company would be required to disclose all of their direct and indirect shareholders under a sworn statement, with failure to make proper disclosure constituting grounds for forfeiture of all profits on the project.
Premier Cox has the opportunity to restore the people's trust in Government, which has diminished so greatly during the Brown/Cox years. Whether she takes that opportunity to finally provide transparency of all questionable transactions over the last eight years or simply continues to expect our trust without transparency, remains to be seen.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
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