DeSilva offers ‘hanky-panky’ explanation
A taxpayer-funded cruise trip to Bermuda allowed the tourism minister to investigate alleged “hanky-panky” in the industry, he told MPs.
Zane DeSilva said that technical officers insisted he took a trip from New Jersey last month that cost almost $4,000 so that he could see the cause for concern himself.
The minister added that he did not like cruises and revealed that his mystery shopper experience included travelling incognito in a taxi with a former football team-mate who failed to identify him.
He was responding to questions from Michael Dunkley, a One Bermuda Alliance backbencher, in the House of Assembly on Friday after it emerged that Mr DeSilva went on the Royal Caribbean vessel Anthem of the Seas from August 24 to 29.
The “cruise passenger experience observation” trip included shopping on the island, taking the public bus to Horseshoe Bay, and a taxi ride to visit Hamilton, the Crystal Caves, Tobacco Bay and St George's.
Mr DeSilva claimed there was a good reason why there had not yet been any public announcement about the results of his fact-finding mission.
He said technical officers had provided information over several months but “almost demanded that I see if for myself”.
The minister explained: “In the cruise space right now, there is a bit of, what I might call, a little hanky-panky going on.
“It's a little something-something going on and let me say this, it's costing Bermudians jobs, it's causing businesses to close.”
Mr DeSilva said he was being “measured” because he had yet to finish collating information.
He added that technical officers had themselves taken secret voyages.
Mr Dunkley earlier claimed “you can't make this stuff up”.
The MP questioned how “one of the most recognisable people in Bermuda” could travel incognito on public transport.
He explained: “I waited for a ministerial statement today to provide some backdrop to it because it seems that the minister had so much fun as this mysterious shopper that there had to be some earth-shattering information that was passed on to make Bermuda better.
“A mystery shopper clearly is a tool that is used with some success in areas, but typically it is by somebody who is unknown and somebody who has some experience in that area.”
Mr Dunkley wanted to know who provided the advice to take the cruise, what information was found and, “more importantly”, if Mr DeSilva “was ever undercover during the trip ... especially in Bermuda”.
He added: “Did taxi drivers know who he was?”
Mr DeSilva replied: “I was undercover.” He said: “I got in a taxi with a guy that I played football with for three years and he didn't know it was me.”
The minister, who last played organised football in the mid-1980s, assured MPs he would provide greater detail later.
He explained that he had donated more than $1 million to organisations in Bermuda.
Mr DeSilva added: “If the Honourable Member, Michael Dunkley, thinks that Zane DeSilva took a cruise on the taxpayers' dime because I'm short of a dollar or two ... and to insinuate that I went on a jolly because I wanted to use taxpayers' money ... really?
“Let me make something clear, I don't like cruises.”
In conclusion, he said: “I want to assure the people of this country that I have not and never will abuse my power as a minister to use taxpayers' money for anything privately in my life.”
He added: “Just for the record, since I've been an MP or minister, I've never kept my wages since I've been in this position. Ever. I donate it every year.”