Premier: Lessons learned from Jetgate
Lessons have been learned from the “Jetgate” affair, and the public will be made fully aware when Ministers travel in future, said Premier Craig Cannonier.
But with the Premier insisting that no code of conduct had been breached, it is unclear whether Government would make the same decisions again.
And Mr Cannonier has described as “inaccurate” this newspaper’s report that Cabinet had not been informed of the trip.
“All travel that the Cabinet Ministers do, the Cabinet always knows that they are travelling,” he said.
“They were aware of the trip. We didn’t say we were going on a private jet per se, but they were aware we were going away. Obviously if we go away we have to have people filling in our positions — there’s three of us — so you can quickly deduce from that Cabinet knew.”
Mr Cannonier also said that Cabinet was aware that the three were meeting people who “wanted to know more about Bermuda”.
“It was just an exchange of information,” he said. “There was no need to go any further.”
Government came under fire when it emerged that the Premier, the Tourism Minister and the Attorney General had been flown in a private jet to a Washington DC meeting to meet an investment group.
The meeting lasted five hours but the trio stayed two nights — all at the investors’ expense. The Opposition Progressive Labour Party has charged that the Ministerial Code of Conduct had been breached.
Asked if he would make the same decisions should the same circumstances present themselves in the future, the Premier said: “There’s much to be learned from this here.
“One of the things that we were already working on, is how do we get a web page up that would show when Ministers are travelling, and give an approximation of cost for that trip and really what’s going on. So we’re working on that as we speak.
“As we go forward that’s something that would help with the transparency. I recognise that this area may have seemed a bit grey for many people. But its important for the public to know that we sought counsel, we got the legal counsel that we knew we were not contravening anything. So we went on and did our business.”
Mr Cannonier said it was also important to note that he is the chairman of the Economic Development Committee. “We’re always looking for opportunities to meet with people and talk with people about Bermuda and the prospects of Bermuda,” he said.
“The Economic Development Committee was advised once we returned that there would be potential, possibly, of people interested.”
Economic Development Minister Grant Gibbons told
The Royal Gazette on Sunday that he was not aware of the trip. Three other Cabinet Ministers declined to comment when asked if they knew about the trip.
Mr Cannonier said: “Let’s clarify. He was aware of the trip. He wasn’t aware of the details of the trip. Again, in Cabinet, those who have been there, we exchange information as to who’s going to be where. So Cabinet knew that Ministers will be going away.”
Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell speculated that Dr Gibbons may have been absent when the Cabinet discussed the fact that they would be off Island.
“No question that he was informed of the meeting because he is the lead economic development Minister.”
Mr Crockwell added: “Projects do not come to the EDC (the Economic Development Committee) unless there is an official application.
“Basically, it was conversations had been had. We don’t know what is going to ensue but we just wanted the committee to know that this had happened. The reason why there had been no formal report is because no application was ever made.”
Cabinet meets every Tuesday, with minutes produced the following week.
Mr Crockwell could not say when Dr Gibbons was informed, but he said that not every Cabinet meeting item is minuted.
“The point that the Premier has made is that no Minister travels without their colleagues being aware of that,” he said.
Pressed on whether he would allow private interests to pay for Government travel again, the Premier said: “I think it’s clear. We haven’t violated any laws here. We haven’t violated any code of ethics or any code here. We’re in good stead here. So as we go forward we’ll make sure that we go over every trip with a fine tooth comb to ensure that the public is aware.”
Government formed the Economic Development Committee to facilitate development projects by cutting red tape. It meets weekly and includes the Ministries of Tourism, Home Affairs, Public Works, Finance and Economic Development.
To view the interview go to www.theroyalgazette.com