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PLP raise ‘Jetgate’ questions in Senate

A Gulf Stream 200, similar to the one used to transport the Premier and two of his Ministers to a Washington DC

Opposition Senators had their say on the “jetgate” affair yesterday, criticising Government for risking the country’s reputation and calling for full disclosure about the affair.But Government maintained its position that there had been no breach of the code of conduct and no wrongdoing when the Premier and two Ministers allowed themselves to be flown by private jet, entertained and accommodated for two nights in March, to attend a five-hour meeting.Senator Marc Daniels led the Opposition charge with a speech advocating the public’s right to a full account of the circumstances surrounding Ministers’ engagement with the “jetgate” investors.“When certain decisions and steps are taken by the leaders of our country that can bring our reputation into disrepute or raise question marks, we have to pause for concern,” he said.Sen Daniels was careful to point out he was not suggesting malfeasance. “As a lawyer, I have no evidential basis to do so and based on my knowledge of some of the individuals I wouldn’t take that as a first step. But there are certain concerns as it relates to what I may only dub as the jet-setters. Because there are negative inferences that may be drawn with respect to individual integrity and certainly the integrity of the team when we look at collective Cabinet responsibility and certainly matters which seem to have been brushed under the carpet.”Sen Daniels then suggested that the Attorney General may not have been aware of the Ministerial Code of Conduct as he had publicly told this newspaper last month that a code should be considered.He quoted sections of the code which restrict Ministers from accepting offers of travel, gifts or hospitality.“These are rules. Rules which are in fact in place and which have not changed for quite some time,” he said.“The reality is that the Ministers not only travelled on a private jet and didn’t just go away for a matter of a few hours, and return, to save time. The Ministers actually would have stayed in hotels, had food allowances given to them and perhaps treated to quite nice meals and wine and other alcohol beverages.”He dismissed the argument that taxpayer dollars were saved, saying the circumstances could end up “thwarting the efforts of others” who might feel that they were at a disadvantage.And he took aim at the Attorney General Mark Pettingill’s judgement over the matter.“The Attorney General should have known that this was, if not a breach, very close to a breach. And where we have a grey area, it would have been prudent and wise to say ‘this is a no fly-zone. We shouldn’t take this opportunity’.”Sen Daniels also dismissed the argument that the trip was normal business practice.“With the greatest of respect, the Government is not a business that is truly focused on profits for shareholders, it is about accountability across the board.”And he reminded the Senate of the One Bermuda Alliance’s promise to uphold the highest ethical standards.“The fact that there were all these perks involved, inherently, suggests that this is different from any conversation that could have been conducted on a telephone call, skype call, video conference,” he said.He said concerns were also raised over the fact that the Minister responsible for Economic Development was not in the know about the meeting.“So it would appear that there are three rogue members that ventured on their own — which leaves question marks and eyebrows to be raised.”He noted that the Premier reported that work permits had been discussed at the meeting and demanded to know from Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy whether he was privy to the meeting.“We know there were at least five various meetings or plane arrivals on Island so we have to ask questions — who was having discussions with who, were there intentions for any other individuals to travel abroad with the other three and whether or not we are being told the full story.“The simple reality is the Government has to practice what it preaches. This is not a matter of national security, but a matter of the right to know.”Sen Daniels also dismissed references to the behaviour of the former Government in responding to criticisms over “jetgate”.“The constant references to the past and what would have happened are neither here nor there,” he said. “The reality is that this Government is charged with leading us into the future.”Said Sen Fahy said there had been no wrongdoing. “No bids were made, no RFPs issued, there had been no expectations of favours, nothing.”

A ‘fabricated controversy’, says Fahy

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy views as “irrelevant” questions about the “jetgate” trip.

He was first asked when he knew that three of his colleagues had jetted off to Washington DC at potential investors’ expense.

“It’s irrelevant. I’m not privy to talk about what was discussed in Cabinet or any economic development committee meeting,” he said.

“Meetings in Cabinet are by their very nature secret. That is what Cabinet is - to have discussions in confidence, and that are confidential. It’s not for the general public to have the ins and outs of who knew when and what. It’s irrelevant.”

He said he did not attend the meeting and has never met the investors concerned.

Sen Fahy described the scandal as a “fabricated controversy”.

“The Premier has made a statement on this. He’s explained exactly what happened. We’ve made it clear there was no bid, no RFP, no expectation of a favour in return for visiting with these individuals nothing of the sort,” he said repeating his argument made in the Senate sitting.

“Business is done by meeting with potential investors. That’s it. And a manufactured conspiracy to say that some members that went were members of a previous political party is a complete nonsense.”

He insisted the trip was not a breach of the Code of Conduct for ministers.

The Premier came under fire when it emerged that he, the Attorney General and the Tourism Minister had been flown in a private jet to Washington DC for a meeting with potential investors.

The three stayed two nights all at the investors’ expense.

Asked if he would have gone on the private jet, if asked, Sen Fahy said: “It’s irrelevant.”