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OBA claims House process was abused

OBA leader: Jeanne Atherden said her party had “grave concerns” (File photograph)

Tabling and passing of legislation on the same day sets a “dangerous precedent”, the Leader of the Opposition has warned.

Jeanne Atherden said that the One Bermuda Alliance had “grave concerns about the abuse of process” which saw two Bills introduced, debated and passed in the House of Assembly last Friday instead of after a two-week space for consideration.

Ms Atherden said: “To do all three readings in one day is exceptional and is based on great national importance and urgency.”

She added: “Not being allowed that process and being required to just agree to the passing of legislation without having the opportunity to properly consider it is a dangerous precedent and leads the way for the law of unintended consequences to come into play.”

Ms Atherden said Bills were usually tabled and then debated after a two-week review period.

She added that the period was sometimes shortened to a single week for “uncontroversial and urgent” matters.

Ms Atherden said that the OBA had agreed in July to last Friday’s extra sitting for Caribbean Financial Action Task Force-related Bills to be debated.

The Bermuda Housing Amendment Act 2018 and the Road Traffic Amendment and Validation Act 2018 were also both tabled and passed on Friday.

The housing legislation will exempt the Bermuda Housing Corporation from stamp duty and land tax for the conversion of the Grand Atlantic into a hotel.

It is understood the road traffic legislation will mean roadside breath test checkpoints can be set up as soon as they have been gazetted by the national security minister, without having to wait for the House of Assembly to approve it after the summer break.

Ms Atherden said the Opposition was given only 36 hours notice of the other two Bills.

She added: “From the onset, in my discussions with the Premier and the Speaker, I made it clear that 36 hours’ notice was not in good faith as it was not the reason why we were having the unaccustomed sitting of Parliament.

“For the Speaker and the Premier to go forth in this matter brings the House into further disrepute.

“The potential impact of passing legislation that has not been properly vetted, meaning there is potential for bad legislation to become law, has caused us to raise concerns about suspending the Standing Orders of the House of Assembly, to table and debate legislation.

“The changes that had to be made to the road sobriety legislation are indicative of the unintended consequences of rushed legislation.”

Ms Atherden added: “Let us not forget the people of Bermuda who elected their MPs to represent their interests.

“They have a right to consider and make their views known in that two-week period.

“They have now been denied that by those PLP MPs they elected to represent them.

“That is simply not good enough. The conduct by the Government in this last week and the unnecessary sitting of the Senate on August 8 just speaks to a larger issue of not respecting people’s time or the legislative process.

“Quite possibly, the first the public will hear about these Bills is after they are passed from a press statement or a story in the media.”

Ms Atherden added: “High on the list of changes being contemplated over the break should be the protection of the Standing Orders of the House so that democracy is not trampled just because Government has a large majority.

“The Speaker is the keeper of the process and haste makes waste as we see persistent legislative amendments coming to the floor of the House.”

A government spokesperson said: “The Road Traffic Amendment and Validation Act 2018 was read, debated and passed without objection. This validates the current orders and will allow the Government to commence roadside sobriety testing.”

They added that the Bermuda Housing Amendment Act 2018 would allow the process of converting the Grand Atlantic property into a boutique condo-hotel to begin.

“If this was not done on Friday, the project could have been delayed until next year,” they said.

“This project will create job opportunities for Bermudians and that is why we ensured the legislation was passed before the summer recess.”

The spokesperson said that when the Opposition were informed last Wednesday that the Bills would be read, debated and voted on during the final session in the House, they were advised that public officers could walk them through the amendments and answer any questions.

“The Opposition members declined this offer. Nonetheless, both Bills passed without objection,” they said.