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Opposition MPs grill Premier over ‘Jetgate’

Opposition MPs lambasted Government for what they dubbed “Jetgate” — the decision by three Cabinet Ministers to allow themselves to be flown on a private jet to a meeting in Washington, DC, by a group of investors.

The PLP charged that the Ministers had engaged in a clear breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct, violated the Good Governance Act, and had put Bermuda’s reputation at risk.

But Shadow Tourism Minister Wayne Furbert was also forced to admit that he, too, had allowed an investor to pay for his travel to a meeting when he was in the Cabinet.

Yesterday’s proceedings in the House of Assembly saw Premier Craig Cannonier admit that he, Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell, and Attorney General Mark Pettingill stayed in Washington DC for two nights, at the investors’ expense.

The day began with questions being fired at the Premier about the trip after it was raised by Opposition Leader Marc Bean as a matter of urgent public importance.

Under questioning by Mr Bean, the Premier agreed that the Ministerial Code of Conduct, which states that offers of travel from non-governmental organisations should not normally be accepted, had not been revised.

But the Premier said he had taken the advice of the Attorney General on the matter and was assured that the trip did not present a conflict.

Mr Bean then asked why the three Ministers had ignored the section of the Code which states that Ministers should not accept favours from parties in negotiations with, or seeking to enter into a contract, with the Government.

“This was basically an exchange of information. There was no negotiation,” the Premier responded.

Shadow Finance Minister David Burt pointed out that the Premier had already stated publicly that the investors were interested in doing business in Bermuda.

“The Premier and the Ministers did not violate the Code,” insisted Mr Cannonier.

But the Premier admitted that the Attorney General did not advise him of Bermuda’s obligations under international conventions intended to combat bribery and promote good governance.

“His counsel was that we were not breaking any code of conduct,” he said.

“Do you still have confidence in your Attorney General or might you appoint another,” asked Shadow Attorney General Kim Wilson. The Premier declined to respond. He also refused to disclose the identity of the investors saying it was confidential.

Mr Cannonier gave a “personal explanation” after the lunch break to explain the circumstances of the trip (see sidebar).

He said that he had been approached by a “wealthy individual from Maryland” who had asked to meet him, the Tourism Minister and the Attorney General in his offices in Washington, DC.

“This gentleman stated that he had extensive experience in the gaming industry and wanted to share with the Government his views regarding gaming’s potential to help revitalise our tourism industry and generate jobs for Bermudians.”

He said: “I do recognise that accepting the invitation to visit the investor group can be viewed in the negative. I appreciate these concerns. As always, we have Bermuda’s best interest at heart, and we will continue on with the important business of restoring jobs and generating opportunities for the people of Bermuda.”

Opposition members hammered home their argument when they raised the issue again during the motion to adjourn.

They questioned why civil servants were not involved if it was Government business, decried the Premier’s refusal to disclose the identity of the investors and said the trip betrayed Government’s failure to live up to their election promise of conducting business in an ethical manner.

“We all want Bermuda to succeed. The challenge is that in the process of saving money, the Government has compromised the entire process,” said Shadow Finance Minister David Burt.

“You cannot meet with individuals — have individuals pay for a 48-hour junket to Washington DC give information exchange for something that in the future is going to be subject to a RFP.”

He continued: “If these individuals were to bid the entire deal is compromised. We will open ourselves to litigation in an RFP process because Ministers of Government at the highest level met with people who were bidding on Government projects.”

Mr Burt said that Government Ministers had acted improperly and made it less likely to attract investments for the Club Med property. And he criticised Mr Cannonier’s statement to this newspaper that Ministers were not part of the tendering process.

“Did the Premier just say those three Ministers are going to recuse themselves when this thing goes to Cabinet?” he asked.

“An undeclared trip which was only disclosed by a leak, paid for by developers where Government property and activity which is currently illegal in these islands is being discussed — a 48-hour junket without civil servants where people are looking to do business in Bermuda — is branded as nothing wrong.”

Nice way to travel: Private jets at the LF Wade International Airport

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Published June 01, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 31, 2013 at 11:33 pm)

Opposition MPs grill Premier over ‘Jetgate’

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