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We need an honest conversation

“It is not the role of the Auditor-General to report on the very many things that are right in the financial affairs of the public sector. The Audit Act requires his reports to focus mainly on observed problems and deficiencies. Accordingly his reports identify deficiencies in accounting and accountability systems.”

— PLP Reply to the Auditor-General Report, February 19, 2010

Bermuda, we need to have an honest conversation about how we resolve our political differences lest we devolve into complete anarchy.

Over the weekend, I viewed three videos of politicians or police having conversations with protesters who were barring entry to entrances to the House of Assembly. And, during each encounter, it was made very clear that:

• Protesters were not going to move

• Any attempt to gain access to the gates would be met by physical force

Maybe it's just me, but I don't find anything peaceful about a threat of violence. If you want to march around the House of Assembly, no violence is involved. If you want to carry signs, sing songs or beat drums, no violence is involved. If you want to debate in the House of Assembly, no violence is involved. But the moment that you threaten to hit someone, violence has been introduced and thus your actions are no longer peaceful.

Many protesters backed those threats up when the police arrived in numbers. Here, too, we need to have an honest conversation. The police did not show up with riot shields and gas masks. If they did possess batons, I did not see them wielding them. There were no dogs, no hoses or weapons fired, either. From what I can tell, they showed up in defensive gear, and at least some of them had possessed pepper spray. So, when we refer to them as a riot squad, we really need to put that label into perspective.

We also need to acknowledge that the police did not come to stop the protest or to arrest protesters. Their only objective was to gain access to Parliament so that our collective democratic right to elect persons to represent us is protected. But by shutting down the House of Assembly, those 300 protesters decided that the democratic rights of 40,000 voters are to be suspended until the “corporation” of Progressive Labour Party, Bermuda Industrial Union, Bermuda Public Services Union and the People's Campaign sees fit to reinstate them. This is utterly unacceptable. Without question, a full investigation into police and protester conduct needs to take place. On the one hand, we have claims that the police employed disproportionate force on certain protesters. On the other hand, we have the belief that protesters should have been allowed to do anything to police officers without being met with force. Both the police and the protesters need to understand that their conduct has consequences, and misconduct by both parties needs to be addressed.

For those who care about the law, and how it pertains to protesting peacefully, the Centre for Justice's opinion needs to be read. Although Venous Memari made clear what it legally means to be engaging in a riot, there is still a strong need to look at the long history of struggle for equal rights.

Slavery used to be legal. Segregation used to be legal. Apartheid used to be legal. It is therefore impossible for me to accept that court law should sit above moral law if court laws are themselves immoral.

Finally, we have to be honest about the PLP's new demand that the Auditor-General conduct an independent review of the airport contract before it is agreed by the Government. Back in February 2010, the PLP issued a preliminary reply to the Auditor-General's Report, and made clear that the Auditor-General's role is one that is focused on observed problems and deficiencies in accounting and accountability systems. It is therefore illogical for the PLP to now cast the Auditor-General as a government consultant who should review projects in advance.

What is more hypocritical, though, is that the PLP is putting any faith in the Auditor-General at all. In January 2012, the PLP took great exception to the Auditor-General's Special Report and sought to malign that office by claiming that it was colluding with the Opposition of the day:

“The UBP/OBA, the Auditor-General and the media appear to be allergic to the truth. They seem united unfairly jumping to rash conclusions that seem inappropriately political.”

As if that was not bad enough, the PLP went on to claim that the Auditor-General's report should not be trusted:

“It's time for the Auditor-General to be objective in her reports and focus on the facts as opposed to subjective commentary. The Bermudian public deserves objectivity, and the Auditor-General must do better in that regard.”

So, I must ask, is it not utterly disingenuous for the PLP to malign and to condemn the Auditor-General for issuing reports that were critical of the PLP, but now it is seeking the Auditor-General's guidance even though we already have two independent reports on the proposed contract?

Of course, it is.

To reach out to Bryant Trew, e-mail bryanttrew@mac.com

Protesters and police clash outside the House of Assembly last Friday (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published December 07, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated December 07, 2016 at 9:22 am)

We need an honest conversation

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