Burgess under pressure from PLP colleagues
Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess is being pressured by his own parliamentary colleagues to resign his Cabinet position.
And in what could well be the first for Bermuda, Mr Burgess may well have to appear before the Public Accounts Committee.
Mr Burgess issued a statement yesterday which reported that he had informed a special Parliamentary Caucus of his position with respect to the Auditor General’s Special Report on the Misuse of Public Funds.
“I was frank and forthright in the meeting and after I gave my presentation I invited questions from my colleagues. It was a productive and informative meeting.”
But the view shared by the majority of those who attended the meeting was that he resign, according to some reports.
“It seemed that the majority leaned toward him handing in his resignation,” said one insider.
The Royal Gazette was told, insisted he had done nothing wrong.
The meeting took place at the Progressive Labour Party headquarters Alaska Hall, was well attended and lasted several hours.
A number of people suggested that Mr Burgess resign, saying it would be better for the PLP given the looming General Election.
Premier Paula Cox is reported to have listened carefully.
Mr Burgess continued to refuse to speak to this newspaper when approached about his statement yesterday.
He is of the view that the paper is out to destroy him.
The Deputy Premier is a focal point of the Auditor General’s damning report which details how the Bermuda Land Development Company paid $160,000 in consultancy fees to its own chairman and deputy chairman. The Auditor General described the matter as a “fundamental conflict of interest”.
And Mr Burgess who, as Public Works Minister, was responsible for the BLDC took no action, according to the Auditor General even when the Premier asked that the pair be removed from their positions.
Another matter reported by the Auditor General was that more than $30,000 in public funds was spent on the private legal fees of former Premier Ewart Brown and Mr Burgess.
And she recommended that the PAC look into the matter.
“Nobody is beyond the scope of the committee,” said its Chairman Bob Richards yesterday.
Mr Richards reiterated earlier statements that the PAC would make it a priority to look into the Auditor General’s Special Report and hold meetings in public.
Asked if the PAC had the power to call Cabinet Ministers, Mr Richards said that question had been researched with respect to another matter.
“I don’t know that Ministers have ever been called before this committee, but we have researched the matter and I cannot find any legislative authority that prevents us from interviewing anybody,” said Mr Richards.
“I think I am correct in saying that (former British Prime Minister) Tony Blair testified before one of the parliamentary committees so I believe parliamentary committees have the remit to try to get to the bottom of this and we’ll do what is best for the people of Bermuda.”
The release of the report by the Auditor General before the House of Assembly resumed did not go unnoticed by House Speaker Stanley Lowe.
He told the House yesterday morning that while Mrs Matthews was well within her legal remit to release the report publicly, he would have preferred that it had been released while the House was in session.
Mr Burgess himself echoed that point in his statement yesterday afternoon.
“Normally such a report by the Auditor General would be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for consideration and then a response tabled in the House of Parliament followed by an official response made on behalf of the Government by the Premier. In this case, the normal protocol was not followed,” Mr Burgess said.
Mr Richards agreed that the normal procedure would be to table such reports in the House first but that was not a requirement.
“This particular report has been delayed a long time,” he noted.
“There are quite a few more (reports) still outstanding. Quite frankly, I didn’t know this one existed until it happened.”
Mr Burgess’s statement also suggested, without being specific, that he may have done things differently in hindsight.
“I informed my colleagues that had I the information I have today, some months ago, there are some actions I would have taken, but we all know hindsight is always better than foresight. Having said that, I continue to support the Premier’s effort in promoting good governance in Bermuda.”
“As has been noted previously, the Premier removed the Bermuda Land Development Company, Bermuda Housing Corporation and West End Development Corporation from the remit of the Ministry of Public Works and transferred them to the Ministry of Environment, Planning and Infrastructure Strategy. They were subsequently returned to the Ministry of Public Works.”