Former AG should have ‘known better’
Contacting a civil servant for information was wrong, new Attorney General says
By Ayo Johnson
Shadow Attorney General Kim Wilson was wrong to approach a civil servant for information, Attorney General Mark Pettingill says.
Mr Pettingill rejected claims by the Opposition Progressive Labour Party that Government had engaged in a witch hunt over the matter.
On Wednesday, we reported that a civil servant in the Attorney General’s Chambers had been disciplined for responding to an e-mailed question from former boss Ms Wilson about the post of executive assistant to the Attorney General.
Shadow Finance Minister David Burt subsequently alleged on ZBM News that the Government had engaged in a witch hunt after the civil servant tried to “serve the public interest” by giving information to the Opposition.
“This all stemmed from a debate in the House where the Attorney General hired his private secretary from his old company into his office.
“There was debate as to whether it was a public service position, whether it was a consultant position, whether it was advertised.
“Information was given to a Member of the House of Assembly” which proved that Mr Pettingill had made incorrect statements, Mr Burt said.
“One would think that it is in the public interest for a Minister of Government to be telling the truth when they speak about issues in the House of Assembly.
“So I think it is very disturbing that a witch hunt then ensued to try to find out who may have been telling the Opposition that the One Bermuda Alliance was not being truthful to the people of Bermuda.”
Mr Burt went on to say that it was “shocking” that the civil servant’s name had been leaked to this newspaper.
“It’s attempting to serve as a warning to the civil service that you better watch what you say and who you say it to because no matter if it’s in the public interest we can go after you and we can discipline you.”
The One Bermuda Alliance had “championed whistle-blowing” but “seems to be disregarding the very premise of whistle-blowing”.
Mr Pettingill said: “There was no witch hunt by the OBA or anything like that,” said Mr Pettingill. adding that Mr Burt “is the spin doctor for the PLP — one of the better ones. By that I mean don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story”.
“There are rules that apply to the civil service — very, very strict rules, and I feel that one of the civil servants was thrown under the bus by an incitement from an Opposition member who should have known better than to be reaching out to get any information from a civil servant.”
He said: “That puts the civil servant, especially if you’ve been their boss, in a very bad position. In the UK, and places like that, that would be dealt with in relation to the person who did that, the Opposition member, as a serious thing.
“It shouldn’t be done. It’s not what the information was or what it pertain to, it’s the mere fact of trying to incite that disclosure.”
Ms Wilson, as a former Attorney General should “know better than reaching out and asking for information, any information” no matter how minor, Mr Pettingill continued.
“It’s the principle and the rules are very, very strict. They are not the government rules. Those are the standing rules of the civil service. That everyone knows, everybody signs up to.
“So the OBA Government — and this is where the nonsense is — can’t come in and do a witch hunt. We can’t do an investigation.”
He continued: “To my mind, the focus being on the civil servant on that issue is entirely wrong. The focus should be on what instigated that issue and that was instigated by the conduct of the Opposition.”
Mr Burt would not respond to Mr Pettingill’s comments. Nor would he explain his allegation that the OBA had not been truthful.
Ms Wilson did not respond to our request for comment for this story.
But last week she said she had been acting to clarify a matter of public importance and that she did not think it was a question of whether she had acted ethically.