Jeff Sousa should not be in The House — MP claims
A Government MP should not be sitting in the House, Opposition MP Walton Brown has said.
Mr Brown said that — according to legal opinion — One Bermuda Alliance backbencher Jeff Sousa should be disqualified due to a failure to disclose Government contracts he held in the run-up to the 2012 general election.
The Progressive Labour Party MP added that Mr Sousa had declined to appear in front of a select committee set up to investigate election rules.
Mr Brown said that Mr Sousa was “in contravention of the Bermuda Constitution and that matter needs to be addressed”.
“I am looking for something because there is an obligation under the Constitution, a commitment to openness and transparency,” he said Mr Brown. “There is an obligation to have something.”
Mr Brown was speaking before MPs backed a majority report from the select committee on elections.
He told MPs during Friday's sitting of the House that he was not aware of specifics in the case of Finance Minister Bob Richards, who was also accused of failing to make a declaration of Government contracts.
But he added he was aware, through his position with Bermuda College in 2012, that Mr Sousa, who owns a landscaping firm, had a contract with the college.
Mr Brown said: “That's a clear case of a Member as a candidate having an interest in a Government contract and not disclosing it.”
Mr Brown and former PLP Attorney General Kim Wilson, with OBA MPs Glen Smith, Susan Jackson and Jeanne Atherden, all sat on the committee.
The two PLP members prepared a minority report, which claimed Finance Minister Bob Richards and Mr Sousa had breached the rules on disclosure of contracts prior to the last general election and may not have the right to sit in Parliament as a result.
And their report asked Parliament to “bring clarity on the eligibility” of both OBA MPs to retain their seats.
The majority report, backed by all the members of the committee, concluded that candidates should disclose any interest in Government contracts “in the interests of full disclosure, transparency and accountability”.
The committee, through the Centre for Justice, also obtained an opinion from English Queen's Counsel James Goudie, who said that candidates should publish an interest if they were a director, officer, manager and the beneficial owners of ten percent of a company's issued capital.
Other positions which would require disclosure were those who were a “beneficial owner of more than 50 percent of the company's issued capital or can exercise more than 50 percent of the voting rights or can directly or indirectly control the company”.
Mr Goudie added legislation should be tightened up to remove any ambiguities and to ensure the requirement is policed and enforced.
Mr Brown said neither MP had agreed to appear in front of the committee.
Two other MPs, Government MP Sylvan Richards and the PLP's Zane DeSilva also declined to attend.
He added: “I hope that going forward we never again have a situation where we have Members who have interests in Government contracts who do not disclose it without consequence.”
Mr Brown said that he had signed affidavits from members of the public who confirmed that they had been offered inducements for their votes — although he declined to identify the constituencies.
“We cannot have elections that are determined by how much money people put into people's pockets. That takes us back to a time and a place I'm sure we do not want to revisit.”
Ms Atherden, now Minister of Health, said that some who appeared before the committee said that they had made declarations “in an abundance of caution”, not because they were sure it was “the letter of the law”.
But she added: “We don't want that type of greyness — we want to try to have things more clearly defined.”
Attorney General Trevor Moniz said that it was open to anyone to bring an action in the courts to challenge the election of an MP.
“These Members shouldn't be coming to this House to try to exercise through the back door what they are unwilling to do through the front door,” said Mr Moniz.