Disgraced ministers quit Cabinet
The under-fire national security minister and the tourism and transport minister were forced last night to quit their jobs after uproar over a weekend party at a plush restaurant that breached Covid-19 regulations.
Wayne Caines, the national security minister, and Zane DeSilva, the tourism and transport minister, left the Cabinet after they accepted an “invitation to resign” from David Burt, the Premier.
Mr Burt acted after a party at the Blu Grill and Restaurant in Warwick, attended by the two on Friday night, drew a barrage of criticism for breaches of Covid-19 health restrictions.
He said: “The events of this weekend seen widely on social media did not represent this government's months of struggle and hard work to keep Bermuda safe.
“Every citizen has been forced to make significant changes in how we live, work and socialise; ministers are no different. It is this that I communicated to ministers DeSilva and Caines.”
Mr Burt added he was “frustrated and immensely disappointed that this incident has deprived the community of two extremely hard-working and dedicated ministers”.
He said both had worked “tirelessly” during the pandemic to keep the public safe and support economic recovery.
He added: “Their energy and zeal demonstrated a genuine care and concern for the people of Bermuda. I will remain For ever grateful for their contributions.”
Mr Burt, who reshuffled the Cabinet only last month, said he would replace the two in “the coming days”.
He added: “Make no mistake, our commitment is unchanged and each day continues to be devoted to doing the best that we can to create opportunities for Bermudians.”
The shock resignations came just hours after Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, demanded that Mr Burt fire the two ministers.
Mr Cannonier said after the pair quit: “It would be disingenuous for me to call for their resignations and not believe it should happen.
“Am I surprised? The right thing is the right thing. I called for it because it should happen.”
The dinner at the luxury restaurant — said by a Progressive Labour Party insider to be a 57th birthday party for Mr DeSilva's wife, Joanne — was slammed for a failure to stick to strict Covid-19 health regulations after footage of the event was posted on social media.
The party was said to be a private fundraiser for the charity Meals on Wheels.
But the PLP source added use of the charity's name was “a deflection, no doubt about it”.
Peter Smith, the president of Paget-based Meals on Wheels, said the charity was “not involved” in last Friday night's bash.
The event was organised by Zarabi Entertainment, which said on Friday that $10,000 had been raised.
The PLP source claimed that Zarabi Entertainment was operated by Mr DeSilva's daughter, Zarah, with her reggae artist husband Collie Buddz.
Mr Smith said: “Meals on Wheels is fortunate to receive many donations from the community, and we are grateful for them.
“Often the fundraising goes without our knowledge and without our being involved. That was the case here.”
A notice in the Official Gazette published by the Ministry of National Security last Thursday gave permission for the gathering of more than 50 people for fundraising purposes.
But the source said the charitable motive was a “bait and switch”.
The insider added: “It was clearly Joanne DeSilva's birthday party.
“The optics of having a big party when Bermuda is suffering and they see the elite breaking the rules, you have to come out and say this is for charity.”
Both ministers appeared to disregard rules on social-distancing and the need to wear masks at the event.
Blu admitted last night there had been a failure in social-distancing, but claimed it had happened late in the evening.
The statement, from restaurant operator the MEF group, added that the restaurant would close for two days for staff training.
Mr Caines and Mr DeSilva did not respond to requests for comment by press time, but the former later apologised to the country.
“The events surrounding the charitable dinner have become a significant distraction for the Government,” he said in a statement.
“Tonight I tendered my resignation to the Premier. It has been an honour to serve the people of Bermuda as the Minister of National Security.”
Mr Caines is no stranger to controversy — he faced calls for his resignation two years ago after he asked a young woman assistant at London breakfast cereal restaurant the Cereal Killer Café if they had any “titty milk”.
Mr Caines, who was in England on government business, posted the exchange to his Instagram account.
The video clip was later spread across social media and condemned as unacceptable.
Mr Caines later said that he was “deeply disappointed” in himself and “100 per cent apologetic”.
The pair joined several high-profile government ministers and advisers around the world forced to step down after they were found to have broken Covid-19 restrictions.
David Clark, the New Zealand health minister, resigned this month after he was revealed to have breached the country's lockdown twice.
Neil Ferguson, a professor at Imperial College London, stepped down as the Government's coronavirus adviser after he was visited over a lockdown by a woman with whom he was having an affair.
Dominic Cummings, a political strategist for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is still under pressure to quit after it was discovered he had broken lockdown restrictions and driven from London to visit his parents' farm in Durham, in the North of England.
There have also been calls for the Metropolitan Police to reopen an investigation into Mr Cummings's movements.
The Chief Medical Officer in Scotland, Catherine Calderwood, quit her job in April after she twice visited a holiday home in Fife in breach of stay-at-home orders.
Mr Burt has stuck to a tough line on masks in his public statements on Covid-19, as has Mr Caines on social media.
Mr Caines has in the past criticised crowds of people who breached the rules at beaches, on party buses and in restaurants.
A tweet from the minister in May read: “Any restaurant that allows customers to breach the rules will be shut down!”
Mr Cannonier accused Mr Caines and Mr DeSilva of “hypocrisy” for breaking “their own government's protocols”.
He added: “It was minister Caines who publicly berated the owner of Mr Chicken for its customers not practising social-distancing.
“Minister Caines was willing to go as far as shutting down that business.”
Mr Cannonier said the Opposition was aware that the Department of Health had launched an investigation into the Blu event.
Zarabi Entertainment could not be contacted for comment.
A spokeswoman for the MEF group played down the incident.
She said: “The sit-down dinner proceeded without any incident during the two-hour period — however, at the end of the evening, a surprise saxophonist played as some guests were leaving and, in the excitement, social-distancing was not maintained.”
But one video clip appeared to show servers and guests moving around tables without masks while the dinner was under way.
Phase 4 regulations listed on the Government's website ruled that customers “must wear masks/face coverings at all times when not seated at a table or when moving around the venue”.
The website added: “Staff must wear masks/face coverings at all times.”