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Rolfe Commissiong: release of resignation letter was wrong and unethical

Rolfe Commissiong, a former Progressive Labour Party MP, criticised David Burt, the Premier, over his resignation in August (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Former MP Rolfe Commissiong today branded the release of his resignation letter by David Burt, the Premier, as “unethical” and insisted he did not write it and only signed it under “extreme duress”.

Mr Commissiong, who was unveiled as the Government Senate Leader and a minister last month before he was stripped of the posts three days later, said he understood that his resignation was unavoidable in the wake of public pressure after “inappropriate” behaviour towards a female civil servant two years earlier became public knowledge.

But he said he had no part in the writing of the resignation letter and did not consent to Mr Burt’s release of it to the public.

He also contradicted Mr Burt’s claim that he was informed of the controversy in mid-August.

Mr Commissiong said he was “convinced” Mr Burt “would have had to have known about this”.

Mr Burt said in late August he had been told of it the week before and had written to the Speaker of the House for an explanation.

Dennis Lister, the Speaker, declined to comment yesterday.

He added: “If Mr Commissiong feels he needs to say what he needs to say, he has a right like anybody.”

Mr Commissiong said: “What many do not know is that the resignation letter itself was released without my consent by the Premier, which was unethical in my view.

“It also speaks to a lack of honesty and forthrightness on his part.

“For the record, neither did I write it and I was refused the ability to offer a crucial amendment to provide much needed context to what amounts to his statement to himself.”

He added: “It was made crystal clear to me during our meeting that if I did not sign the letter in question, I would receive no future consideration from the Premier or his government in any matter.

“In a small country as is Bermuda, where government looms large over so much of everyday life, the Premier’s threat was not just a threat I could take lightly.

“But again, even after having signed it under those conditions should that letter have been made public in such a dishonourable and deceitful manner?”

Mr Commissiong also questioned if his resignation was deliberately handled in a way designed to “destroy” him and his family.

He said he had been subjected to defamatory online posts in the weeks since he quit from people on “both sides of the aisle”.

Mr Commissiong admitted that he made a “woeful mistake” when he made an inappropriate comment to a female civil servant.

But he said the matter was resolved through mediation, and that he had given the woman a written apology that she accepted.

Mr Commissiong added: “I am now also convinced that the Premier would have had to have known about this as it was unfolding in the House of Assembly, as the former Government Whip [Lawrence Scott] was intimately involved in the process.

“These detractors all weaponised this disclosure for their own specific agendas without regard or respect for the wishes of confidentiality expressed by the two parties involved.

“I remained and my family remained silent through it all until today. But what I will say is that this ordeal has been a learning experience that I am keen to continue.

“I have been able already to get a better understanding of issues related to gender sensitivity and sexism.”

Mr Scott declined to comment.

The statement also lashed out at an unnamed party colleague.

Jamahl Simmons, a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, tweeted that “misogyny has no place in the house of Dame Lois” in the wake of Mr Commissiong’s appointment to the Senate.

Although the tweet did not identify Mr Commissiong, the former MP said he believed it had been done “with the full approval of the Premier”.

Mr Simmons also declined to comment.

Mr Commissiong made the statement this afternoon at his Warwick house, but declined to answer questions.

He said the statement was “very long, and I think it covers many of the key issues”.

He added: “This may not be the last word. I hope it will be, but I have not ruled out coming back to the public domain at a future point.”

He said the row, which included an attack on him by the activist group Social Justice Bermuda, was a “national soap opera” that had deflected from more serious issues during the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Commissiong, who has a wife and daughter, added: “We have to change our behaviour, including myself, as men, and I am working on that.”

Mr Burt said tonight: “Let me be clear - Rolfe’s letter was released with his full knowledge.

“We met that day for a considerable time to deal with what were incredibly difficult circumstances.

“One of the reasons for the extended time for our meeting was because of prolonged discussions on the precise language of his letter which would be released publicly.”

Mr Burt added: “There is nothing to be gained by rehashing these issues. My position, which I made clear at the time, is that I was compelled to act based on new information that had come to my attention.

“The firm stance I took on these matters is a reflection of the seriousness with which I personally, and the Government in particular, view the importance of the respectful treatment of women.

“I wish Mr Commissiong and his family the very best while the Government will remain focused on delivering economic recovery, education reform, a living wage and working to protect Bermuda from a second wave of the coronavirus.”

A spokeswoman for the PLP thanked Mr Commissiong for his service to the party.

But she added: “It is unfortunate that this matter is being rehashed, particularly for the victims involved in this very serious matter.”

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Published November 03, 2020 at 6:15 pm (Updated November 03, 2020 at 7:17 pm)

Rolfe Commissiong: release of resignation letter was wrong and unethical

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