PLP might end boycott of Parliament this week
Progressive Labour Party MPs will not abstain from Parliament indefinitely when it comes to key legislation, according to Shadow Immigration Minister Walton Brown.
His remarks came on the eve of a protest at Government House, which The Royal Gazette understands could disrupt public transport later today.
Mr Brown said the Opposition might even return to this Friday's session, despite last week's walkout in protest of Governor George Fergusson's decision not to endorse the PLP-led call for an investigation into alleged land thefts.
“Obviously we are not going to remain absent from Parliament. There are many things that we're going to accomplish and we will continue with that,” the Pembroke Central MP said.
“We may well be back this Friday. We will discuss it — that's a matter for the party to consider; we will meet and come to a decision on it.
“We're not going to shirk our responsibility when it comes to important legislation that needs to be addressed. But people need to remember that protest is part of democracy. Democracy isn't just about what we do in Parliament on Fridays — one of our rights is the right to protest.”
Opposition leader Marc Bean declined to comment on the issue, ahead of today's peaceful march on Government House.
Mr Brown called the march “necessary”, explaining: “When you have little other power, protest is what we have to do.”
He dismissed any suggestion that by boycotting Parliament, the Opposition had failed to do the people's business.
“None of it was legislation that we had any strong objection to — and even if we had, it wouldn't have made any difference,” he said, noting the governing One Bermuda Alliance commands a comfortable majority in the House of Assembly.
In light of the OBA's majority, Mr Brown called Mr Fergusson's remarks “disingenuous” after the Governor said he hadn't rejected out of hand the idea of a Commission — and that he'd be willing to consider it “if the House gave a clear indication of the terms of reference and of the proposed means of funding the Commission”.
Mr Brown responded: “I think he's being disingenuous — he knows very well that if it goes back to Parliament it is unlikely to pass, just based on numbers.
“Secondly, in sending anything back to Parliament, the Governor has effectively rejected the express will of the people.
“Thirdly, the Governor has no real authority to assess the merits of the respective claims. That's entirely a matter for a Commission of Inquiry.”
He said he'd met with Mr Fergusson after the debate in Parliament, accompanied by Shadow Attorney General Michael Scott, and had been asked for specific information to back up claims that Bermudians had been swindled out of property through a collusion of lawyers and realtors — and that these cases “intersected with the political realm”.
The Governor was supplied with details, including “names of individuals as well as institutions and companies”.
“Obviously, I can't reveal these to the public. That would be a subject to litigation. But for Mr Fergusson to say he hasn't seen evidence is not true.”
As for the matter of funding, which Mr Fergusson referenced in his request for clarity, Mr Brown said that during his discussion the Governor had dismissed the question as “a red herring”.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Leader took to the airwaves yesterday, telling talk radio host Sherri Simmons he felt the Mr Fergusson had been in collusion with the OBA — although Mr Bean maintained he was speaking from a position of “passion, not anger”.
Accusing the OBA of “lying and cheating since before they became Government”, Mr Bean added: “We have to wonder where does that support come from.”
Mr Bean claimed the Governor's decision to reject the Commission was based on a desire to protect the “vested interests” of others, suggesting pressure would have been put on him by those who might lose out financially.
He said Mr Brown and Mr Scott “felt uncomfortable” with the line of questioning during their meeting with the Governor, who it was clear had already met with others.
“He was seeking to whitewash the decision,” claimed Mr Bean.
He said he and his colleagues were affronted by the Governor's approach, adding: “Who do you think you are trying to fool?”
Referring to the Governor's statement asking for clearer terms of reference, Mr Bean said: “I think the terms are clear. If he listened for the seven hours of debate or five hours of debate, it would have been clear that there was enough information to convene a commission.”
He accused the OBA of being in an “apparent partnership with Government House over the last 18 months”.
Asked how long his MPs would be boycotting Parliament, he replied: “I can't say clearly how long we will continue this boycott of Parliament, okay, because there are multiple issues.
“When we said that Parliament has been reduced to a sham and a farce, it's not just because of this one occasion but a continuum of occasions that have occurred within and outside Parliament.”
Today's protest is planned for 5:30pm at the Langton Hill entrance to Government House, and for security and safety reasons will stop at the main stairwell, where the group hopes to meet Deputy Governor Ginny Ferson.
Both the Throne Speech and the opening session of Parliament have been boycotted by an Opposition party before: the United Bermuda Party did exactly that on October 27, 2000.
UBP MPs were criticised as disrespectful by Progressive Labour Party Premier Jennifer Smith for the move, undertaken in response to constitutional changes they felt had been “railroaded” on the electorate.
Again, the principles of democracy were invoked, with the UBP’s CV (Jim) Woolridge declaring: “We were conscious of the need to maintain the democratic principle, because only then will the people of the country have any respect for elected people.”
In response to Ms Smith’s criticism, the then UBP leader Pamela Gordon hit back that as Opposition, the PLP hadn’t appeared for the Throne Speech of November 9, 1973.
“At that time, they said they had boycotted the speech on a matter of principle because they did not want to break a picket line organised by the Public Service Association,” Ms Gordon said.
“What is the difference this time? We boycotted the speech on a matter of principle to the way the Constitutional changes were being processed. We meant no disrespect to the Queen or the Governor.”