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House: Ministerial questions

Ministerial Questions from the House of Assembly on Friday, July 26

Questions to David Burt, the Premier, on the management of Pati requests

Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition: “Our Premier mentioned that there was a frequency of Pati requests and I guess what I was trying to understand was is the issue a frequency of the number of Pati requests or was it the magnitude of getting to the answers of these? Because the example that he gives is with the health ministry. Is that the norm or is it a combination?”

Mr Burt, the Premier: “As the former Honourable Premier would know, members of the Cabinet are not intimately involved in the responses to Pati requests, so from that I'm not going to necessarily try to commit myself to a particular answer. What I can say in the broad aspect is that there have been departments who have hired temporary additional staff just to deal with Pati requests and the sheer volume and/or breadth of them. What we're looking to do is examine how we can deal with these better administratively so that the work of government can continue and to ensure that the legitimate work in fulfilling the government's agenda, which is to deliver for the people of Bermuda, is not sidetracked by the volume and breadth of some of the questions of which are asked.”

Mr Cannonier: “In the statement it says this is Pati request 341 since 2014, which you worked out to be about 75 requests per year. Considering that the Premier also mentioned that some of these objectives of weaponising were to a political end, can he tell us whether or not he believes that there's been an increase of Pati requests since becoming Government with an average of about 75, if we take that number into consideration?”

Mr Burt: “I think that the answer of which the Honourable Member knows is in the public domain and would be in the report of the information commissioner.”

Jeanne Atherden, a One Bermuda Alliance backbencher: “On page 2 you make reference to the amount of information that was required to be furnished with respect to this Pati request number 31 about daycare centres. Can you indicate whether daycare centres are subject to review and licencing now?”

Mr Burt: “I don't want to speak on a matter that is not underneath my remit. Standing orders would allow me to defer to the Minister of Health, but as you know the Minister of Health is not here today. I'm happy to ask the Minister of Health to try to get an answer to the Honourable Member.”

Ms Atherden: “My other question relates to the fact that isn't this the type of information that the Ministry would want to track to be used when daycare centres are licensed?”

Mr Burt: “I cannot speak to the content of what was released nor the request. What I can speak to you is what was in my statement — an example of issues where there is an incredible volume of work, where you're talking about policy analysts who are trying to work on important initiatives that are being sidetracked in order to deal with volumes of extensive requests. In addition to the fact of budget resources, which when you're talking about the Ministry of Health can be used for a lot of other matters which are being dedicated to these particular items. We are going to review what is taking place to insure that we can, as was in my statement, meet the original goal and intent of the act — to ensure that we provide information but to make sure that it does not cause civil servants to not give full and impartial advice which would allow the best decision-making in public office and also not sidetrack legitimate work of the government.”

Ms Atherden: “On page 4 the Premier is indicating that he had some concerns about the trend in terms of the use of information and he expressed some concerns about giving the public the right obtain access to information. I guess my question to the Premier is that performance indicators have usually been used so that the public gets an appreciation of what a particular ministry is doing. Would the Premier not consider that perhaps the performance indicators, if they were increased, would allow the public to get more information about what was happening and therefore they would need to have as many Pati requests?”

Mr Burt: “The question itself calls for conjecture, I'm just trying to answer statements on a factual basis.”

Ms Atherden: “As it relates to the statement that the Premier made with respect to persons engaging in asking questions which seem to have some sort of hidden motive — on what basis would the Premier decide that this wasn't a useful question that the public wants to know in terms of what the departments are actually doing?”

Mr Burt: “I'm trying to provide factual information in response to the question of the statements on Pati. She's asking a question about performance measures and other things, which I'm not prepared at this point in time to get into at level of conjecture. It's her opinion — I have the opinion that is stated in my statement.”

Susan Jackson, the Opposition Whip and Shadow Minister of Government Reform: “I'm just wondering what's been done to open data to the public just to have some of this data open and readily available for the public to access?”

Mr Burt: “Though that answer's not directly related to my statement as the Minister has a responsibility for information technology for the government I'm happy to share with the Honourable Member that the e-commerce advisory board underneath my direction is pursuing an open data initiative where we're looking at exposing multitudes of government data to the public, which is not something that is currently being done now, and I can undertake to the Honourable Member to make a statement on that either in September or November when there's more information available.”

Scott Pearman, the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs: “In respect to Pati it requires the government to share with the public documents that the public is legally entitled to see. If the public is legally entitled to see these documents how is that ‘gotcha journalism or wanton political use of Pati' as you say in your statement?”

Mr Burt: “As people know there have been documents which have been released from public officers which were not supposed to be released, as per the law. The fact is, as I indicated in my statement, the Pati regime is there for the provision of information but in cases as a Government you must admit when things are not working in the best interest of the country. No one wants information to be disclose which is not supposed to be disclosed legally under law. That is what we are speaking about.”

Mr Pearman: “The example you just gave is an example of a mistake being made by a member of government or civil service. My question was how are documents that the public is legally entitled to see ‘gotcha journalism' to use your word, or ‘wanton political use of Pati', to use your words?”

Mr Burt: “What I can tell you is that when, for instance, Pati requests are used up here in political debates as opposed to regular questions it would seem that they were being used for political purposes.”

Mr Pearman: “Does the Premier not think it's a good idea that documents that should be legally available to the public should also be available to members of Parliament so that we may debate them?”

Mr Burt: “Mr Speaker, he asked the question earlier about my opinion on what I said about wanton political abuse and I answered the question precisely.”

Ms Atherden: “Does the Premier not feel that the public is interested in information about complaints about daycare centres and that's information that the public should ask for?”

Mr Burt: “I cannot answer that question, I'm sorry.”

Questions to Mr Burt on the post-Brexit working group

Cole Simons, the Shadow Minister of Education: “Premier, you indicated that ‘HM Treasury has confirmed that Bermuda's EU Solvency II equivalence will automatically be maintained between Bermuda and the UK'. Will the EU also automatically maintain this Solvency upon exiting Brexit?”

Mr Burt: “There is no change in the relationship between Bermuda and the European Union regarding Solvency II.”

Ms Jackson: “I was just curious whether the committee that's going to be created will get paid?”

Mr Burt: “Not in consideration under this time but depending on the volume of work they may be.”

Ms Jackson: “The UK and Brussels offices, which have Kimberley Durant in the UK and Renée Webb at Brussels, what involvement will those offices have with this post-Brexit working group?”

Mr Burt: “I do believe that the statement refers to the work of the London office and making sure that the Brexit matters are managed from that perspective. And I'm certain that the EU's representatives will be involved as well, but this is primarily a UK matter. The only provision on this issue with the EU with regards to Solvency II, a matter which the Minister of Finance and myself upon our last visit to the United Kingdom were able to resolve.”

Mr Pearman: “The Premier has said in his statement today how this is all new territory with Britain leaving the EU. Is the Premier supportive of Britain leaving the EU?”

Mr Burt: “I have no opinion on what the people of the United Kingdom wish to decide for themselves just like I wish that the United Kingdom House of Commons will stay out of our business.”

Mr Pearman: “Obviously the issue does have an impact on Bermudians as well and as you pointed out in your statement the decision to leave will impact upon us, so presumably you do have an opinion if it impacts upon Bermudians.”

Mr Burt: “I refer the Honourable Member from Constituency 22 to the answer I gave moments ago.”

Mr Pearman: “Will there be a requirement for this committee to attend and meet with any committees in the UK as part of this process?”

Mr Burt: “Not a vision at this time. I would only imagine that work can be considered from a London office but if there is a need then that travel will occur. We do not know what position Brexit may create; we are talking uncharted territory. There could be lots of different things, but what is prudent for the Government is to, as we have in this particular instance, involve us, involve the Opposition, involve the business community and the third sector to ensure that the entire country is considering the matters which may come down the pipe. We don't know what will happen, but it's better for us to examine the consequences of the various options so that we can have a position on a way to move forward as a country. As the Honourable Opposition leader stated when he was asked by the media regarding what he could hope for from the new Prime Minister and he said that he would hope that they stay out of our affairs, it is the exact same thing that I would hope. But if the Government changes they may choose not to.”

Questions to Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development forum

Mr Cannonier: “On page 2 the Honourable Member mentions some of the significant amendments that are under consideration and it goes into holdings and finance and leasing. In our history with the OECD and what's happening also with the EU I was a bit curious as to whether or not the subject of a public register or beneficial ownership has come up with the OECD? We know that regimes are heading towards and that way, it that something that they also would be looking at?”

Mr Dickinson: “The issue of beneficial ownership is one that, in my short nine months of experience, has been a constant. There has been continued pressure on overseas territories and crown dependencies around the issue of beneficial ownership. We remain steadfast in our view because we have a register and I think we have a register that is more robust than anybody else's. So our view is that when there's a standard around disclosing of registers and a standard around what should be contained in those registers then we will make ours accessible like everybody else should.”

Mr Cannonier: “We know that the EU has set a date deadline. Has the OECD set a date deadline concerning this matter?”

Mr Dickinson: “I believe there is talk around 2022 I think.”

Mr Pearman: “Would the minister agree with me that the fact that Bermuda's had a registry since the 1940s that's available and accessible by foreign tax bodies and indeed by any court requests in a normal and proper manner?”

Mr Dickinson: “I would wholeheartedly agree with the member.”

Questions to Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, on policing plan

Michael Dunkley, an OBA backbencher: “The Honourable Minister says that ‘there is indication that the levels of offending is decreasing as evidenced by reduced road traffic casualties reported to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital' as he refers to roadside sobriety. In light of the recently released statistics from KEMH which shows that cases referred to both the Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Centre and the emergency department have increased from 129 in April to 165 in May to 200 in June. What evidence does the Minister refer to in his assumption of reduced road traffic casualties?”

Mr Caines: “The information that we received from the Bermuda Police Service in conjunction with the Bermuda Hospitals Board is that the numbers are decreased when they are compared by year with reference to accidents that involve driving whilst impaired. This isn't an overall sense of road traffic accidents, we're saying specifically there's been a decrease in traffic accidents that are related to matters that have to deal with driving whilst impaired.”

Mr Dunkley: “On the same page going up a paragraph the Honourable Minister talks about a joint maritime presence between the Royal Bermuda Regiment and the Coastguard element with the Bermuda Police Service. Could the Honourable Minister inform the Honourable House which budget heads these joint services are coming out of and has a budget been agreed?”

Mr Caines: “As the former Minister of National Security would know the RBR has a marine element to it. The BPS has a marine element. This joint service simply is them using the marine section of the Regiment and the marine section of the BPS in joint operations. It doesn't necessary necessarily mean that they're sharing budgets or sharing vehicles. What it's simply saying is that when they're planning to be on the water operationally they'll be working together.”

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Published July 30, 2019 at 1:45 pm (Updated July 30, 2019 at 1:45 pm)

House: Ministerial questions

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