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Opposition alleges misuse of public funds

The Opposition has accused Cabinet ministers of misusing public funds to post political advertisements on social media before the General Election.

Trevor Moniz, the former Attorney-General who stepped down as an MP this month and is now acting chairman of the One Bermuda Alliance, raised a red flag yesterday about posts on the official Bermuda Government Twitter and Instagram accounts, which used the hashtag #ThreeYearsofSuccess.

He claimed they were a “betrayal of the people” and a breach of the ministerial code of conduct, which should be investigated.

But David Burt, the Premier, dismissed the allegation at a government press conference, describing it as “small political chatter” and insisting there was no breach of the code.

He said the social-media posts were drafted for the third anniversary of the Progressive Labour Party's election last month, but there was “some delay over Cup Match and other things in so far as getting those things out”.

Mr Burt, who called the General Election on August 21, added: “But they were matters that were posted on site before the election. This is not advertising. This is standard information that is given.”

The posts appeared on Twitter and Instagram on August 19, 20 and 25.

They featured photographs of Mr Burt and Cabinet ministers Kim Wilson, Renée Ming, Wayne Furbert and Diallo Rabain.

The posts highlighted “key initiatives and successes that we are proud to have delivered for the people of Bermuda”.

A couple of Twitter users highlighted that the posts appeared to be political.

One wrote: “Hmm, using government resources for PLP propaganda. Interesting approach.”

Mr Moniz said: “The use of government money for political ads before and, even more shockingly, after the [election] writ is dropped, is sleazy and shameful.

“This behaviour shows a lack of integrity and is a misuse of government funds.”

Mr Moniz noted that the ministerial code of conduct states that “ministers must not use ministerial resources for party political purposes”.

The code says: “They must uphold the political impartiality of the Civil Service and should refrain from asking civil servants to act in any way which would bring them into conflict with the Civil Service conditions of employment and code of conduct.”

Mr Moniz said: “It's astonishing that the Premier tells us he is calling a General Election to save money then goes on to spend the people's money on these blatantly political adverts.

“Unfortunately, this is the kind of hypocrisy we have come to expect from the Premier.”

He said Mr Burt would have known on August 19 that he was about to call an election and should not have allowed the posts to run.

The PLP issued a statement that did not directly address the Twitter and Instagram posts.

It said: “The PLP believes it's important for the Government to communicate its accomplishments to the people.

“We often hear from the Opposition that the Government is ‘not doing anything' and it is the responsibility of the Government to communicate how it is serving the people. That's what leadership is all about.”

The party said the Government had released “helpful information” on the coronavirus, interest-free loans for seniors, Bermuda Arts Council grants and the tax holiday for start-up businesses.

It added: “In these times of Covid and the economic recovery, it is more important than ever before that people are aware of what the Government is doing and what resources are available to them.

“Even though we're in election season, we are still focused like a laser beam on the economic recovery and making sure Bermudians know that resources are available to help.”

Separately, a government spokeswoman said the graphics used in the posts were created as part of a Department of Communications project that started in June.

She said posting them on social media was delayed because of other priorities, including the need to provide regular updates on the coronavirus crisis.

The government spokeswoman said: “The mission of the Department of Communications is to be the trusted source of communications for Bermuda.

“One of the department's key objectives is to develop and implement strategic communications campaigns.

“Therefore, providing details and information of government programmes, policies and services is at the core of the work they do. This includes highlighting government and employee successes.”

To read Trevor Moniz's statement and the PLP statement in full, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”

Betrayal of the people: One Bermuda Alliance acting chairman Trevor Moniz (File photograph)

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Published August 28, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated August 28, 2020 at 9:03 am)

Opposition alleges misuse of public funds

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