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Burt rebukes Burch for ‘Indian’ slur

David Burt

David Burt, the Premier, distanced himself yesterday from a statement made in the House of Assembly by one of his Cabinet ministers, which involved a reference to the ethnic origin of the next Chief Justice.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, mentioned Indian-born Narinder Hargun, who has Bermudian status and will take over the island’s top legal job next month, during an attack on outgoing Chief Justice Ian Kawaley over his criticism of staffing levels in the court system.

Colonel Burch told MPs on Friday: “In all of these things that we do, at least as I see it, you must leave a legacy and if you want that legacy to be something people remember fondly, regardless of their political persuasion, you must produce somebody to take your place other than an Indian.”

Mr Burt said last night: “In the course of debates in the House of Assembly, members often express themselves in terms which, upon reflection, are not best-placed to convey the point being made.

“This is not unique to one political party and I have discussed with the minister and my colleagues generally the need to elevate debates and communicate effectively on the good work we are doing on behalf of the people of Bermuda.”

Mr Burt was speaking after he posted a picture of himself on Twitter yesterday with Suresh Nichani, of RootCorp, a firm that describes itself as a “leading Indo-Western investment manager”.

RootCorp, according to the website of its spin-off company Real Assets, was incorporated outside of the United States in 2007 as an “Indo-British partnership founded by the Nichani Group, an Indian family office and investments powerhouse” and Savills Investment Management, a subsidiary of Savills plc.

Mr Burt tweeted: “After meeting at Ethereal Summit in NYC, I welcomed Suresh Nichani of RootCorp who is setting up a company in Bermuda, creating more jobs and opportunities for Bermudians.”

The Premier said after Mr Hargun’s appointment was announced by John Rankin, the Governor, that it was an “affront” to the Government but did not say why he objected to his elevation to Chief Justice. His statement last night came as the Human Rights Commission revealed it had contacted the Government after members of the public “expressed concern” over Colonel Burch’s comments.

HRC chairwoman Tawana Tannock said the commission “invited the Government to join us in promoting public discourse that does not devolve into inflammatory, vexatious or harmful words in respect of an individual’s actual or perceived national origin, race, political opinion or any other protected ground under the Human Rights Act.”

She added: “Ever mindful of the nature of many of the comments that The Royal Gazette allows online, we also invite The Royal Gazette to join us in encouraging healthy and respectful public debate on issues of importance to our island home.”

Lynne Winfield, president of anti-racism charity Curb, denied Colonel Burch had been xenophobic or racist.

She said: “This is not racism or xenophobia rearing its head, as if Colonel Burch had referred to an Englishman, American, Canadian instead, would the reaction be the same?

“Being pro-Bermudian does not make you anti-foreigner, and he stated [on ZBM News] that Bermuda would always need foreigners.

“Given our history of exclusion, wanting born Bermudians trained and prepared to have access and opportunities is not being racist, it’s being realistic given the history of discrimination and marginalisation and cognisant to the fact that you need proactive actions in place to ensure this, eg succession planning.”

Jeanne Atherden, leader of the Opposition, said: “It is difficult to understand Minister Burch’s remark as anything other than a slur against Mr Hargun based on his ethnicity. If this is what he means, then his statement is completely unacceptable and he must explain himself.

“If he cannot, or if he refuses to explain himself, then the minister needs to be called out, both by his PLP colleagues and by the wider Bermudian community. Mr Hargun’s appointment is within the appointment guidelines and the language and reference made by minister Burch was offensive.”

Trevor Moniz, the Shadow Attorney-General, said Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House, should have ordered Colonel Burch to withdraw his remarks.

Mr Moniz said: “It was obviously out of order. What did his ethnicity have to do with it? He is eminently qualified.”

Mr Moniz added: “The Progressive Labour Party are a black nationalist party, so they are looking at people who originated here. That’s what they want to see.”

Colonel Burch told ZBM News on Monday: “I didn’t make comments against non-Bermudians. I take a little bit of offence at the suggestion that I’m anti-foreigner because I’m pro-Bermudian. You are never going to get me to apologise for that.”