BIU president denies threatening Premier with withdrawal of union votes
Bermuda Industrial Union President Chris Furbert has denied electronic media reports that he threatened Premier Paula Cox with the loss of BIU members’ votes should Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess be removed from Cabinet.
In a statement released yesterday afternoon, Mr Furbert acknowledged attending a ruling party Central Committee meeting with BIU members to show support for Mr Burgess.
The statement said the group, members of the Progressive Labour Party, attended the meeting because of a report in this newspaper which quoted a party insider as saying that the majority of the PLP parliamentary caucus appeared to want Mr Burgess to hand in his resignation.
“Mr Furbert asserted that he and other BIU members had attended the meeting so that they could show their support to Mr Burgess who is a former BIU President,” according to the BIU statement.
“He said that during the meeting he did voice his support for Mr Burgess remaining as a member of the Cabinet and Deputy Leader of the Party.”
Electronic media had reported that Mr Furbert had threatened that the PLP would lose BIU support at the general election.
“The BIU would not and could not direct their members as to who they should vote for as this is a private and personal decision,” the statement continues.
“Mr Furbert stated that he is a life member of the PLP and has run as a candidate for the Party on more than one occasion.
“He emphasised that his public and private support for Premier Cox and the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party is unwavering.”
Mr Burgess’ future as a Cabinet Minister has been the focus of much speculation since the release of a damning report by the Auditor General 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.
The Premier then transferred several quangos, including the BLDC, from the purview of the Public Works Ministry to the Infrastructure Ministry.
Mr Burgess, who now serves as Transport Minister, has since stated that he did not believe any wrongdoing took place. He also pointed to the fact that he had asked for a review of the actions of the BLDC board, and that review found that its decisions were lawful.
But members of his own parliamentary group are reported to have pressured him to hand in his resignation. A key concern is that he ignored a directive from the Premier and has yet to adequately explain why, in their view.
A number of his detractors have suggested that the Deputy Premier’s union base is one factor preventing the Premier from implementing any further sanctions. Another factor, they say, is the expectation from the PLP rank and file that the Deputy Leader is automatically the Deputy Premier and a member of Cabinet.
While some consider Mr Burgess an embarrassing liability as the general election looms, the Premier herself has defended her Ministers.
“I don’t think you have seen anything to date which indicates that any of the Ministers have done anything unlawful,” she said at a candidate unveiling this week.
“But we are not prepared to let it stand there. What we have done is to take it to another frontier and raise the bar and to say that we are seeking to turn the page by improving our raft of legislation, both in terms of regulations, adherence to financial instructions and in terms of good codes of practice.”
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.