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Election 2020: Commissiong falls on his sword

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A Progressive Labour Party politician who sat in the House of Assembly for almost eight years announced yesterday that he will not stand in the October 1 General Election.

Rolfe Commissiong, who was the MP for Pembroke South East before Parliament was dissolved last week, said he chose not to “be a distraction” after an incident from two years ago was made public.

He added: “I made a comment I shouldn't have. I made a mistake, I apologised.

“For the good of the party, and Bermudians who deserve strong leadership in these trying times, I have chosen not to be a distraction.

“To that end, I will not be a candidate in the General Election.”

The announcement came after David Burt, the Premier, said he had asked for “an explanation” about a harassment accusation that was made against a PLP MP in the last Parliament.

Mr Commissiong said yesterday: “The incident in question refers to a matter that took place two years ago.

“The affected party and I entered into a legally binding confidentiality agreement which prohibits me from speaking further. The matter has been settled and it is closed.

“I understand that last week was the first time the Premier was made aware and he immediately addressed the issue with me.

“The appearance of this issue two years after it had been fully resolved reflects political motives of undisclosed parties who are seeking to discredit me and the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party for their own ends.”

He added: “Out of respect for my family and all the parties involved, I ask that our privacy be respected.

“It has been a pleasure to serve the people in Pembroke South East and I look forward to supporting the new candidate who I know will serve them well.”

Mr Burt was asked on Thursday about reports of a complaint lodged with a senior civil servant and the Speaker of the House against a PLP MP “alleging harassment”.

The Premier said: “I was made aware of these complaints at no time earlier than last week Wednesday.

“I sent a letter to the Speaker of the House today to ask for an explanation.

“It is something that I take very seriously.”

Mr Burt declined to comment at the time on whether the then unnamed MP could be a candidate in the General Election, which was announced on August 21.

He said: “Without any facts of any case, I am not going to pass judgment on anyone.

“What I will do is examine; that is the reason why I've written to the Speaker of the House to ask for the information.

“I became aware of this last week and I consider it incredibly serious.

“The Progressive Labour Party has put in place a policy, a code of conduct, which specifically prohibits or has strong action against harassment.

“It is not something that was known to me prior. If it was something known to me prior, we would have acted.”

The Royal Gazette asked the PLP yesterday why the Premier, who is the leader of the party, found out about the incident two years after it happened, as well as when the Speaker first became aware of the complaint.

A PLP spokeswoman replied: “Out of respect for the families and all involved, we will not comment further.“

Dennis Lister, the Speaker in the last Parliament, could not be contacted for comment.

Mr Commissiong was first elected to represent Pembroke South East in 2012 when he took 385 votes to 293 for One Bermuda Alliance candidate Jeff Baron.

He increased the margin with 538 votes in July 2017 against the OBA's Rodney Smith, who took 228 votes.

Mr Commissiong championed the need for a living wage and was appointed chairman of the bipartisan parliamentary joint select committee set up to look at the question.

He later talked about his relief that the committee's recommendations were approved in 2018.

Legislators backed the Employment (Wage Commission) Act in 2019, designed to set up a commission to recommend a minimum hourly wage and a living wage.

To read Rolfe Commissiong's statement in full, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”

Off the benches: Rolfe Commissiong has committed to not being a distraction (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Off the benches: Rolfe Commissiong has committed to not being a distraction (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)
In the beginning: Rolfe Commissiong with Paula Cox, the former Premier, at the announcement of his candidacy for Pembroke South East in advance of the December 2012 General Election (File photograph)

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Published August 29, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated August 29, 2020 at 9:00 am)

Election 2020: Commissiong falls on his sword

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