‘Good governance has been a priority since November 2010’ Kim Wilson
Good governance has been a priority for the Progressive Labour Party since Paula Cox became Premier, Senate Leader Kim Wilson said yesterday.
The Economy Minister said the Good Governance Act proves the commitment the PLP has shown to accountability and transparency since Ms Cox succeeded Ewart Brown eight months ago.
“This bill represents a watershed moment for the Government as good governance has been a priority since November 2010,” she told the Senate.
“This Bill underscores our commitment to enact measures geared to strengthen financial accountability in Government and to enhance our governance framework.
“We wish to communicate a strong and clear message to the public that Government has zero tolerance for behaviour and practices that do not accord with the highest standards of good governance.”
The Act, which was unanimously passed in the Senate yesterday, gives more teeth to Financial Instructions and procurement, outlaws non-compliance with Financial Instructions and procurement best practice, strengthens the authority of Internal Audit and protects whistleblowers.
Sen Wilson said: “Building open government is an important goal for all countries, including Bermuda, and it must be addressed as a strategic priority if Bermuda is to continue to be regarded as a premier international financial centre.
“Transparency and accountability; fairness and equity; efficiency and effectiveness; respect for the rule of law; and high standards of ethical behaviour are all values that should now be given legislative substance and are the underlying principles of the legislation that is being proposed.”
She defended the PLP's overall record on good governance, adding: “There is incontrovertible evidence that this Government has demonstrated that it has remained steadfast in its determination to introduce measures to enhance good governance.
“We have mapped out a plan to achieve this and stayed the course.”
She said efforts included establishing the Ombudsman, internal audit legislation and the Internal Audit Department; public access to information legislation; and money laundering and proceeds of crime legislation.
The PLP issued a statement last night listing other moves, such as increasing the independence of the Office of the Auditor General.
“The Progressive Labour Party applauds the introduction of the Good Governance Act 2011, which will further enhance and encourage transparency, accountability and responsibility in the governing of our Island,” it stated.
During the Senate debate, One Bermuda Alliance Senator Kathy Michelmore said her party is fully supportive of the Good Governance Act.
She said people are concerned over how the public purse is managed and that they are getting good value for money through a transparent process.
Noting grave concerns over the handling of the emissions testing project under Dr Brown's Ministry of Tourism and Transport, Sen Michelmore said: “The public needs to be reassured that won't happen again.”
Government Senator Jonathan Smith said the amendment wasn't a first, it was simply improving the system already in place.
He said: “When it comes to Government expenditure, the taxpayers of the country have every right to know where their dollar is going. Money is being spent all the time and there are many systems in place.
“This amendment raises the bar. It's part of a larger package, not just a knee-jerk reaction to anything that has happened. The Premier mentioned this in the Throne Speech and nine months later we have it. It's a promise made and a promise kept”.
Government Senator Cromwell Shakir said the Act would give people “a great feeling and great respect for Government”.
He said: “We are trying to give the public what they deserve. I am happy that this Government is listening.
“Many have suffered in the history of Bermuda. We're talking about unfair practices established from the inception of this island”.
Government Senator LaVerne Furbert said the Good Governance Act was long over-due, as “corruption was around long before the PLP came to power”.
She read out the over-run figures of capital projects, as compiled by BIU president Chris Furbert. She said the figures showed the biggest over-spends were made by the then United Bermuda Party rather than the PLP.
Sen Furbert said: “When we hear talk about costs over-running, we're not just speaking about this Government. Over-runs have always been a problem.”
Sen Furbert also talked about people being “blackballed by the UBP” and how she once wasn't allowed to work at the Bermuda Housing Corporation “because she was a member of the PLP and may give information about the BHC to the PLP”.
She added: “We have all heard over the airwaves and in the blogs that this Government is stealing money, taking care of family and friends and lining its own pockets.
“Yet we are the Government who has put forward this legislation, we are the Government that has endeavoured to be transparent”.
Government Senator David Burt said the Act would add to the controls already in place to make them “very effective”.
He said: “This is not an introduction, it's been going on a long-time. But in 2011 it will not just be wrong, it will be illegal”.
OBA Senator Michael Dunkley said the public had been asking for “more care and attention” with regards to how the public purse is managed.
He added that he found it “very amusing” that the PLP had started casting aspersions. He said seeing Government members “patting themselves on the back and banging themselves on the chest” meant two things; there must be an election coming and they must be trying to defend the record.
Sen Dunkley said: “This is a good piece of legislation, we support it…but we don't need to go back and point the finger. No-one is clean, it's all tit-for-tat.
“We are here now and we have some real challenges”.
Independent Senator Walwyn Hughes said he agreed to the tightening up of the law, but said it would mean little unless it was adhered to.
He said: “It's one thing to tighten up or enhance, but we all know many, many laws are overlooked. We have to not just tighten things on paper, but also in practice”.
Independent Senator Joan Dillas-Wright said she was pleased the controls that already existed were being tightened up.