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The politics of misinformation

A House divided: David Burt, the Premier, has been challenged to explain his comments of March 9 during the motion to adjourn when he implied that the former government had threatened relations with the US over the Lahey Clinic civil lawsuit(Photograph supplied)

“At times, just as it is wise to give a fish some line to get hooked, it is also prudent to let a politician talk.”

Recently, after comments by Zane DeSilva regarding the relationship between the United States and Bermuda, and any treaty violations against the One Bermuda Alliance government on the motion to adjourn, I rose to set the record straight — correcting the comments and reflecting on the alarming remarks by the Premier during the MTA on March 9.

First, I agree with the Premier when he said at that time, and Hansard records it on page 106 of that sitting, “people must be held to account for their actions”.

Yes. Everyone. No matter who you are.

During that MTA, the Premier misled the House, either intentionally or unintentionally, with his comments in regard the OBA government putting at risk our treaty relationship with the United States.

Let me explain and elaborate.

If you refer to the Hansard for the day, the Premier is quoted: “Well, the fact of the matter is that there was a complaint by the US Department of Justice, which was sent to the OBA government, that the information used in their civil case came through a mutual legal assistance treaty request. And that information should not have been used in a civil case.”

The Premier goes on to say: “ ... these are the facts, Mr Speaker, and there is not a single person on that side who sat in Cabinet who will stand to a point of order. Because they know it to be true.”

Well, I did not stand to a point of order because at times, just as it is wise to give a fish some line to get hooked, it is also prudent to let a politician talk.

The Premier goes on to say in the Hansard on page 108: “ ... The fact of the matter is that there was a complaint by the US Department of Justice that the OBA government used information that was received in a mutual legal assistance for a civil matter. Those are the facts.”

And on page 109, the Premier says: “ ... this is a very important matter, which can have an impact on our relationship.”

Members of the House will recall that the Premier showed the e-mail in question to the Speaker. It was an e-mail that was leaked from Chambers and given to a Progressive Labour Party Opposition member at the time.

So the end of story, perhaps? Well, not quite so fast.

What the Premier did not tell the House, or the people of Bermuda, was that within a very short period of time, about 24 hours, there were other exchanges by e-mail that cleared up this matter to the satisfaction of the DoJ.

Yes, “that cleared up the matter”.

These are the real facts of this matter; not what the Premier stated on March 9.

There were in fact other important exchanges of e-mails that the Premier failed to mention.

Within 24 hours of receiving the original e-mail from the DoJ in chambers, a reply had been sent back explaining the matter, and within the same 24 hours the DoJ had replied that all was well.

This is a totally different set of “facts” to the misinformation provided to the House by the Premier and DeSilva, the former minister.

During my comments on the MTA, Wayne Caines rose to challenge my record of the e-mails. The Speaker verified my information as correct. He noted the e-mails could be deemed “sensitive” and thus he did not ask for them to be tabled, but he has seen “the paper trail”.

So the question must be put: did the Premier, and now MP Desilva, mislead the House purposely or did the Honourable Members not check for further correspondence. If the latter, then one would rightly question how anyone would not check for the full train of information.

After all, that is the natural course of action to take and certainly, in such an important matter, it is inconceivable that this was not done.

I suggest that the Premier’s MTA on March 9 was pure politics of misinformation at best.

To put it bluntly, the Honourable Members have misled the House and the country, as there was never any issue between Bermuda and the US. The Premier simply made it up and the former minister followed along.

Can you imagine? Simply making up a serious allegation such as this.

Bringing into question our relationship with the United States of America for political posturing?

Now if this was a mistake because the Premier was given bad advice, heads should roll — if not, the Cabinet, back bench and the rest of Bermuda should question the integrity of the Premier and now MP DeSilva, who willingly misled the House and the people of Bermuda. For what reason, I do not know.

To stand on the floor of the House and make very strong allegations impacting our relationship with our closest neighbour, and the strongest country in the world, is beyond belief.

The Premier and MP Desilva owe this House and the people of Bermuda an explanation.

I started with a quote from the Premier and I will end with the same quote but in full context: ” ... so when you decide to risk the relationship that we have with our No 1 trading partner by using information that is received from a federal Grand Jury that is shared with you for mutual legal assistance, and then you take that information and use it in a civil trial and you attract the attention of the US Department of Justice who is asking, why are you doing this? People need to be held to account for their actions.”

I have shown the Premier’s allegations, and those of MP Desilva, to be incorrect.

When an Honourable Member stands in the House and uses one e-mail, but fails to mention two further e-mails important to this matter, someone needs to be held to account. I trust the Premier will clear up this matter.

Michael Dunkley is the Shadow Minister of National Security and the MP for Smith’s North (Constituency 10)