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Bermuda treated like a stepchild, says Bean

Bermuda has been treated “like a stepchild” with the appointment of Gitanjali Gutiérrez as the Island's first information commissioner, over the preferred candidates chosen by the Bermuda Government in consultation with the Opposition.

Marc Bean, leader of the Progressive Labour Party, declined yesterday to name the favoured candidate who had been passed over, but said that Governor George Fergusson has “conducted his own interview and made his own decision, which was not the first choice of the selection panel”.

Mr Bean said: “The other two are Bermudian; Ms Gutiérrez is the spouse of a Bermudian.”

Ms Gutiérrez, previously a senior lawyer at the Centre for Constitutional Rights in the United States, was originally second in line for the $180,000-a-year independent position, created under the Public Access to Information Act 2010 (PATI), which comes into effect on April 1.

The appointment, announced last Friday, was subject to the final decision of Mr Fergusson, who selected her.

As a matter of privilege during that day's sitting of the House of Assembly, Mr Bean asked Premier Michael Dunkley for additional information about the appointment, which he described as “contrary” to the recommendation that he had vouched for and signed off on after consultation.

Mr Dunkley replied as background that “a couple of weeks ago, the selection panel met and made recommendations”.

Protocol is to consult with the Opposition leader first and then submit the recommendations for the Governor's approval, Mr Dunkley said — similar to the appointment of the ombudsman.

“There were three candidates listed in order of preference, as recommended by the selection panel,” Mr Dunkley said.

The Governor subsequently announced an appointment, which was “not the top preference”.

The announcement prompted Walton Brown, the Shadow Minister for External Affairs and Immigration, to accuse Mr Fergusson of acting against Bermuda's interests.

Mr Brown observed during the Reply to the Budget that Bermuda faces hostility from powerful overseas jurisdictions bent on branding the Island as a tax haven to be “shut down”.

Mr Brown said: “As a British Overseas Territory, the British Government has a constitutional responsibility to look after our best interests, but the UK is not our friend.

“The Governor, we have seen — his decision was announced today — acting in interests contrary to Bermuda. Not just once, but three times. Let's not forget that this House passed a motion to create a commission of inquiry; the Governor said no.”

Randy Horton, Speaker of the House, intervened to warn Mr Brown to rein it in, as open criticism of the Governor is not permitted in the House.

Mr Brown then put forward a motion that the standing orders prohibiting him from continuing be suspended, “to allow for a proper debate that relates to our ability to talk about the Governor as is common practice in Parliament, as a motion before the House”.

However, Mr Horton instructed him to move on with his remarks. Mr Brown protested that he had put forward a motion.

“So we have procedures that don't always get adhered to,” he said. “I will make note that the motion was not allowed to be discussed.”

Mr Brown added: “We come here and act as if we have the power to do all kinds of things, and the British Government — I won't say Governor — can say ‘No, we're not going to do it'.”

The Opposition leader told the House that “we fool ourselves into believing we are a democracy”.

He confirmed that it had been the information commissioner's appointment that prompted him to call for a suspension of the standing order.

Asked about the matter, Mr Dunkley directed questions to public affairs officer Nea Talbot, who in turn referred this newspaper to Government House.

Mr Fergusson is off the Island, but Deputy Governor Ginny Ferson said: “The Governor was presented with a shortlist of several excellent recommended candidates which had been agreed by the Premier and Leader of the Opposition. The Governor has been pleased to appoint one of the persons on that list — Ms Gutiérrez — who is exceptionally well qualified, with a wide range of very relevant experience in the field of freedom of information matters. It would not be appropriate to go into the relative merits of the candidates in public.”

Ms Gutiérrez's appointment came into effect yesterday.

At the close of last Friday's sitting of the House, Mr Bean told Members of Parliament that it marked the “second, third, maybe fourth time” that a recommendation had been overturned by “another place, up on the hill, by the UK representative”.

Telling Mr Dunkley that the Opposition would walk “side by side” if the Government took the lead, Mr Bean added: “As far as we are concerned, especially with the external threats we face and the obvious stepchild relationship that we have with the UK, that it is time for us to seriously consider taking that extra step.”

He suggested the appointment of Sir John Swan or “a knight or dame of the British Empire who is Bermudian” to deliver the Throne Speech in November — a person with “the requisite sensitivity to the people on this country”.

Unhappy: PLP leader Marc Bean

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Published March 03, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated March 03, 2015 at 12:31 am)

Bermuda treated like a stepchild, says Bean

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