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PLP denies Senate amendments to advisers Act

David Burt, the Premier (File photograph)

The Progressive Labour Party has denied the Senate’s attempt to change legislation over the appointment of staff by Cabinet ministers.

The Senate had returned the Premier, Ministers and Opposition Leader Personal Staffs Act to the House of Assembly earlier this month, after claiming it did not go far enough to strengthen good governance.

However, PLP MPs supported a bid from David Burt, the Premier, to reject the Senate’s amendments yesterday.

Mr Burt called the changes “unnecessary” and scolded the Opposition for “throwing” the amendments at the Government without consultation.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the public works minister, hit out at the One Bermuda Alliance and independent senators who had voted in favour of the amendments proposed by Opposition senator Nick Kempe.

Colonel Burch told the House: “We are not rejecting good governance. We are rejecting duplicity and conspiracy.”

He added: “If you want good governance, you would have consulted with the government leader in the Senate before you ambushed them on the floor.”

Colonel Burch accused James Jardine, an independent senator, of having “an unblemished record of voting with the Opposition”.

He added: “He gives them advice, and I am not going to sit idly by.”

Craig Cannonier, the Opposition leader, told MPs: “This was simply something we believed to be harmless and in the vein of good governance.

“We thought this would be a good amendment and not egregious duplicity.”

Mr Cannonier told The Royal Gazette that Colonel Burch’s broadside at Mr Jardine was “ridiculous”.

“He is one of the most objective people I know in the Senate,” he said.

“The minister said nothing about the independent senators who are female and black. He pointed out the white man. Whenever this government finds itself in a pickle, it reverts to conspiracy and race.”

Mr Cannonier added: “When you’re debating on the floor, things come up that you didn’t notice.”

He said a “loophole” in the original Bill meant that Mr Burt would issue a report in March on the consultants hired over the past year.

“Any consultants hired before that, which we know were hired, we will not have to report them.”

On the floor of the House, Mr Burt said: “I find it absolutely, positively rich coming from the Opposition talking about good governance when we are talking about a Bill that for the first time brings to this place public disclosure.”

The legislation, passed by MPs last month, enshrines in law the chance for Cabinet ministers to appoint experts and political advisers.

It means an annual report tabled in Parliament will include the name, job description and pay of everyone appointed from the previous January to December.

Mr Kempe’s amendment would have extended that to include everyone who had been a staff member in the previous fiscal year.

The senator had complained that the wording of the Bill would fail to include people who were appointed two years previously and continued in their roles.

However, Mr Burt told MPs yesterday: “I do not consider these amendments necessary at this time.”

Mr Burt said if the Opposition had wanted amendments, it could have tabled them.

The Premier told The Royal Gazette: “We have bent over backwards to work with the Opposition, including providing briefs on Bills and making our technical officers available.

“To get lectured on transparency when this Bill is introducing transparency that was never there before is ludicrous.”

Mr Burt called it “a difference of opinion” and said the Opposition had “a narrow interpretation” of the legislation, adding: “We believe what’s written is sufficient.”

Mr Burt’s move to reject the amendments was passed, with a message to be sent to the Senate that the original Bill would stay as printed.

Contacted for comment, Mr Jardine called Colonel Burch’s remarks “disappointing and unfortunate, but I guess that’s politics”.

He added: “The minister has obviously forgotten December 2017 when I voted with the Government on a major piece of legislation and supported the domestic partnership legislation.

“When the PLP were in Opposition, there were occasions when I voted with them against OBA Bills. I take great care in my research and make a decision accordingly.”

Mr Jardine said none of the senators had seen Mr Kempe’s amendments until the morning that the Senate convened.

“There was no collusion of any sort,” he said, calling them “straightforward and simple amendments”.

Joan Dillas Wright, the independent president of the Senate, said the Bill would return to the Upper House at next meeting, adding: “If the amendments were rejected, it will have to go to the Governor in its original form.”