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Select committees get the green light

Three joint select committees designed to boost government efficiency are to be set up.

The committees — a recommendation of the Sage report on good government — got the green light after MPs backed a change to standing orders of the House of Assembly.

A report also proposed the introduction of a regular period where members can quiz the Premier.

Michael Weeks, the PLP MP, who opened the debate, said the Premier’s question time would last up to 30 minutes and be held on the second Friday of each month.

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, One Bermuda Alliance MP, said some of the recommendations, including that members’ detail travel expenditures inside 21 days, should be standard practice.

But she added that the Government’s back bench could potentially monopolise the time with prepared questions. Ms Gordon-Pamplin said: “There could be a value to the Premier’s question time. It’s something that needs to be clarified as we go forward.”

Kim Swan, Progressive Labour Party MP, said he could not believe that there could be any objections from the Opposition for the opportunity to hear the Premier.

He added: “It runs afoul of democracy to suggest that.”

Scott Simmons, PLP MP, said he felt the Premier’s question period was “absolutely needed”.

Mr Simmons said that the period allowed for the public to be kept informed on Government business.

Grant Gibbons, OBA MP, questioned if it was the Government’s intention to refer a “significant number” of Bills to the three committees.

He added: “That could potentially slow down the process of the House quite a bit.”

Diallo Rabain, Minister of Education, slammed the Opposition for failing to exist as a strong voice. Mr Rabain said: “We are now two-and-a-half months into this session, and I can count on one hand the amount of Parliamentary questions that have come from that side.

“Don’t ask what the Premier’s question session is going to be like if you are in an Opposition that can’t figure out one question to ask the Premier of this country, about this country, every two weeks.”

Michael Dunkley, the former premier, said he had no problem with the Premier’s question period “as long as it’s set up to be productive”.

Mr Dunkley added that any new committees must be effective.

He said: “We’re asking to form committees to assume responsibility we have to meet. If we’re going to do it, then we have to set up in the right way.”

Mr Dunkley added that recent Parliamentary committees — including one established on sexual predators — had not done the work they were created to do.

Jean Atherden, Opposition leader, said the Premier’s question period is a good thing.

She explained: “It means that going forward I will have the opportunity to ask the questions.”

Ms Atherden added that she did not think anyone could object to members having to submit travel expenses within three weeks.

She said: “The people’s monies have been spent, and therefore it’s important to hear about it.”

David Burt, the Premier, said that he was surprised by the length of the debate.

Mr Burt added that he was interested to hear former OBA premier Mr Dunkley remind the House that Randy Horton, former Speaker of the House, wanted to implement the Premier’s question period three years ago.

He said: “Some may argue that maybe that Premier did not want to be questioned during question time, and that’s the reason it didn’t move forward.”

Mr Burt added that the Government was not afraid of the Premier’s question time “because we have nothing to hide”.