Richards declined to speak to elections committee
Finance Minister Bob Richards has declined to give evidence to a parliamentary select committee on elections.
The bipartisan committee, chaired by Opposition MP Walton Brown, was formed, primarily, to determine what election candidates are required to declare about their business interests before an election.
Shadow Education Minister Mr Brown told The Royal Gazette that the Minister was invited to give evidence last week but turned down the request.
He said: “Minister Bob Richards has declined to attend. His position is that he has already explained himself on this matter in the House of Assembly and that we should check the Hansard [the printed transcript of parliamentary debates].”
Mr Richards explained in an e-mail to this newspaper yesterday: “I have not refused to give evidence. There is no evidence to give, only opinions. My opinion on this matter was clearly stated in a speech I gave in Parliament on the motion by Wayne Furbert in the last session, stating that consultants who are paid more than $50k should be brought to the House. My statement is in the Hansard.”
Mr Brown tabled a motion in Parliament earlier this year calling for the select committee to be set up to look at statutory requirements for pre-election disclosure, claiming the issue had “entered into a murky area and that needs to be resolved”.
His comments followed a claim by the Progressive Labour Party, which paid for a newspaper advert listing its candidates' interests before last December's election, that the One Bermuda Alliance had failed to be transparent and to comply with section 30 (6) of the Constitution, which requires the disclosure.
The PLP alleged that OBA candidates Mr Richards and Jeff Sousa, who both won their seats, had an interest in companies which held government contracts and should be disqualified for failing to disclose that.
The OBA disputed that claim and, on July 5, Mr Richards told the House that the “rather obscure” Legislature (Qualification and Disqualification) Act listed various exceptions to the requirement under the Constitution.
According to Hansard, he told MPs: “The point is that it lists all these exceptions except for one thing. One type of transaction it leaves out and that is a transaction between the Government and a political insider. That is what this is driving at — political insiders having contracts with the Government.”
He added: “That is important because when you have a contract, a no-bid contract, with a political insider, what it means is that nobody else in the public even knew that an
opportunity existed, much less had a chance to take that opportunity. That is the essential point here.”
Mr Richards said yesterday that the company he had an interest in won the business through a public RFP [request for proposal], hence did not qualify as an “interest” under the exceptions of the Legislature (Qualification and Disqualification) Act.
He agreed that he could not be deemed a political insider at the time, as he was a member of the then-Opposition.
Mr Brown's select committee held several sessions last week, which heard evidence from former Premier Alex Scott, former OBA leader John Barritt and parliamentary registrar Randy Scott.
It has until February to complete its work and report to Parliament.
Useful website: www.parliament.bm.