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PLP blasts ‘belittling’ Ombudsman criticism

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Minister of Home Affairs Michael Fahy (File photo)

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy defended his criticism of a recent Ombudsman’s report after coming under fire in the Senate.

Speaking during the motion to adjourn, Opposition Senate Leader Diallo Rabain called Sen Fahy’s statement on the subject “belittling and uncalled for”, noting the accusations of maladministration and unprofessionalism.

Sen Rabain said there have been several incidents in which there has been a difference of opinion between the Government of the day and the Ombudsman, but Sen Fahy’s statement further eroded the government’s trust deficit.

“The comment for me that displayed a level of arrogance was when the Minister stated that it appeared that the Ombudsman [Victoria Pearman] was upset, and while I know many of us disagree, one of the hallmarks of these chambers and other places is learning how to disagree amicably.

“When I went back and reread the report trying to see where this language would have come from, I drew a blank. I see a report that they did an investigation, reported on what they found out and made some recommendations.

“To try to sum up the report in that fashion is, in my opinion, belittling and the Ombudsman’s office deserves more respect than that, in my opinion.”

He said he could not find anything to support the “personal remarks” or the rationale behind it, saying he was expecting to hear Sen Fahy respond by citing past statements from the previous administration.

Responding to the comments, Sen Fahy told the chamber: “I have to say I find it amusing to a point that the previous government did in fact behave abominably over a 14-year period and have the audacity to come and lecture this Government.

“If people find my remarks to be arrogant, that’s sad, but I think that anybody, any department that has wrongly been accused of maladministration, deserves a defence of the minister in charge. I will accept when things don’t go correctly, and when you think of the number of decisions made by the Department of Immigration on a daily basis, on a yearly basis, some decisions will be right and some will be wrong. This decision, that was made by me, was the right decision.”

The Ombudsman’s report, tabled in the House of Assembly on Friday, detailed an incident when someone identified only as a Bermudian professional applied for a job and did not receive a response from the employer. She learnt a work permit had been issued.

Questioned by the department, the employer had said it received no Bermudian applicants for the post.

An investigation later revealed that the employer’s agent had closed the mailbox for the advertised post one day early. While the department recommended the work permit be revoked, the Minister refused the recommendation.

The Ombudsman’s report found that there had been maladministration in the department, making several recommendations including that the department write the complainant a without-prejudice apology, including the reasons for the Minister’s decision, looking carefully at the employer’s future actions and amending work permit advertising guidelines.

Sen Fahy, however, described the report as a “farce”, complaining that the Ombudsman had attached the complainant in communications in an attempt to bind the department to the recommendations.

He said that there was no legal requirement to give the reasons for his decision and he had instructed the department to watch the actions of the employer before the recommendations were made.

However, he said the department did take on the recommended amendments to the advertising guidelines, including them in the most recent work permit policy.

He explained that he had looked into the complaint and had come to the conclusion that the agent had closed the mailbox early in error, and that the professional did not have the necessary qualifications for the advertised post.

Yesterday afternoon, Sen Fahy refused to confirm or deny the identity of the employer or the professional involved in the dispute saying that it would be “wholly irresponsible” for the department to do so.

“It is up to the persons who were the subject matter of the Ombudsman’s report to decide whether to respond to any queries regarding their identity,” he said.

In response to questions posed by The Royal Gazette, he added: “It is important to note that I have never actually met the employer in this matter or the complainant.

“I remain satisfied that the work undertaken in this matter was done professionally and according to the relevant legislation and policies in place at the time.”

Opposition Senate Leader Diallo Rabain (File photo)