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MPs clash over ‘entourage’ claim

One Bermuda Alliance backbencher Trevor Moniz (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The selection of consultants and advisers for the Premier, Opposition leader and ministers is to be set in law in a Bill passed on Friday by MPs.

It came under fire from the Opposition as enabling ministers to appoint themselves an “entourage”.

But David Burt, the Premier, called the criticism “misinformed” and “making a political meal” of the issue.

The Premier and Opposition leader are to appoint “such number of persons as he deems fit”, while ministers, with the Premier’s approval, can take on one or two personal staff.

Under the Premier, Ministers and Opposition Leader Personal Staffs Act, their payment shall not exceed a cap designated by the legislature. Personal staff would not be part of the public service, but would be treated as government employees for pension payments and payroll tax, as well as having access to government health insurance.

The Bill also affords advisers access to confidential information to carry out their work.

It provides for an annual report detailing the appointments, including pay, to be brought to the House by the Premier “on or before” March 31.

Mr Burt told the House that a code of conduct for “special advisers” had been drafted, and would be shared with the public.

Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, queried the need for an annual report, while Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the shadow health minister, said the announcements of an appointment would be better made “up front”.

Mr Cannonier said while he welcomed an annual report, when appointments are made, announcements should be made in the House “to avoid rumours and rhetoric” in the past.

Trevor Moniz, a One Bermuda Alliance backbencher, went on the attack over taking on government staff when “this country is in economic trouble”.

Mr Moniz said there had been cases of “nepotism”, adding: “The people have seen through it.”

He said of the government side: “They see this as a rearguard action to paper over the cracks.”

Sylvan Richards, the shadow environment minister, told the House: “Where this government is falling down is staffing levels.”

Mr Burt responded: “There is no entourage. This is putting a structure around a particular process.”

He called it “offensive” to suggest nepotism in hiring personal staff. Mr Burt said: “Ministers have to trust the person who is their personal staff. Personal staffs have access to minister’s e-mail accounts.”

He added that ministers would not be expected to hire people they did not know and give them access to personal information.

Mr Burt said while there were no immediate plans to expand personal staff, he encouraged ministers to have personal staff so they can focus on transformational initiatives and not on matters that would not necessarily require their attention.

On the issue of reporting appointments as they were made, the Premier said: “We felt it makes the most sense to lay it out in one document on an annual basis — and that is the decision we have come to.”