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Government has right to protect reputation

Dear Sir,

I suppose finance minister ET “Bob” Richards should be applauded for deciding, after all, to pay for the cost of the lawsuit against Jason Hayward.

But it doesn’t really matter who pays as long as the lawsuit proceeds.

The only important thing about the issue is this: Bob Richards, as the Minister of Finance, must not allow what Mr Hayward said — that the Minister of Finance of Bermuda is corrupt — to stand.

This is a matter of reputation, Bermuda’s reputation, as represented by a minister of the Government, and defending that reputation against defamation. Defamation means the false injury of the good reputation of another.

Mr Hayward appeared on a paid-for TV broadcast and repeatedly called the finance minister of Bermuda “corrupt”. Corrupt means guilty of dishonest practices such as bribery.

The minister demanded an apology from Mr Hayward and the Bermuda Broadcasting Corporation, which aired the programme.

Bermuda Broadcasting apologised; Mr Hayward did not. The minister subsequently filed a defamation suit to protect his reputation as Minister of Finance, but also that of the Government of Bermuda.

An issue such as this has become political — no surprise there — but let’s be clear about how it reveals the gap between belief and opportunism in David Burt, who led the Opposition charge against the use of public funds to defend the finance minister’s reputation.

Mr Burt’s position on the issue runs counter to his previous position on such matters. As chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr Burt submitted a report last year acknowledging the need to allow the Government to support any civil action “against anyone who defames or damages the reputation or credibility of the minister when he or she is carrying out his or her duties”.

Mr Burt might counter that financial instructions had not yet been changed to allow the Government to support such action.

That’s a legitimate concern, but it does not mean the Government of Bermuda should be powerless to take action against defamatory accusations. Indeed, I would say that the Government has every right to protect its reputation, for the sake of the good name of Bermuda, no matter what its financial instructions say or do not say.

This is what Mr Richards’s suit aims to do.

Whether he pays for it or the Government pays for it doesn’t really matter, as long as the good reputation of the man in control of the Island’s finances is upheld.

This is a matter of public interest and it is now for the courts to decide.