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Airport deal was ‘a grossly misconceived contract’ – Michael Scott

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MP and lawyer Michael Scott argues with a police officer at the December, 2016 protests. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Politics played a role in the Progressive Labour Party’s targeting of the One Bermuda Alliance’s airport development – but former MP Michael Scott insisted the project was foremost “an inherently bad deal for the country”.

The former PLP Attorney-General said his party, when in opposition, “recognised the airport deal’s importance to the then-government’s electoral prospects”.

“I’d say that everything is politics, obviously.

“But at the same time, it was a grossly misconceived contract.”

He added: “I don’t believe for a minute that it came with the prospects of shifting the OBA into a win.”

Mr Scott said the 2014 announcement by Bob Richards, the OBA finance minister, of a deal to build a new airport terminal without incurring further debt to Bermuda was aimed at keeping the party, narrowly elected two years earlier, in government for another round.

“The OBA was using it as the vehicle to ride to happy-happy land,” he said.

“There was political usefulness to the OBA of the airport, and Bob Richards being the lucky minister who saves his government.”

He added that David Burt, then the Opposition leader, as well as “any reasonable politician on the PLP side detected that”.

Police and protesters clash outside the House of Assembly on December 2 (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

But Mr Scott said the $250 million airport deal with Canadian Commercial Corporation had made the island “a pawn in an international geopolitical game”.

“The airport looks nice today.

“It’s the underpinning of the contract – that’s what people were protesting.”

Mr Scott, who left politics in 2020, was speaking ahead of the five-year anniversary of the protest outside the House of Assembly that turned violent when police tried to forcibly remove demonstrators blocking MPs from Parliament.

He said he had joined the protest with no expectation of violence.

Early that afternoon he looked on with “horror” as police tussled with protesters, with some officers using pepper spray, including on seniors.

Mr Scott said there was “absolutely” a case to be pursued against police for using excessive force.

He was a starting member of the parliamentary joint select committee that reviewed the events of December 2, and said part of the motive for the JSC’s report was to prevent a repeat of the day’s heavy-handed police tactics.

“Training should carve out the early use of Captor spray in an arrest.

“The police need to ensure they police with the consent of the community. If they become combatants, they will lose the consent.”

He pointed out that Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights broadly covered the right to freedom of assembly and association.

Mr Scott also said the JSC report pointed to “a serious cover-up” of events that day.

Ultimately Mr Scott, a lawyer, had to step down from the JSC because he had defended a protester as his client in court.

But he remains convinced senior members of the Government leant on Randy Horton, the Speaker of the House, to go ahead with Parliament that day – even though Mr Horton has denied being pressured.

“I’m not surprised he denied it,” Mr Scott said. “But the report reflects pressure from the government of the day. They were furious.”

He said there was “anger in the bloodstream of government” after police did nothing to break up protests that blocked off Parliament to legislators in March of that year, in opposition to the OBA’s Pathways to Status immigration reforms.

“The theme of pressure is, I think, the central issue in this December 2 tragedy,” Mr Scott said.

He also said that with only one clerk inside, there was insufficient staff for Parliament to proceed in any event.

Mr Scott was away from Bermuda during the riots of 1977, which broke out on the same day 39 years earlier.

But he said the 2016 clash reminded him of the Belco riots of 1965.

Afterwards, Mr Scott and the Speaker met Michael DeSilva, the Police Commissioner.

“I asked Commissioner DeSilva the basis for this madness, and he was equally horrified. I believe he was relieved to stand down all further police deployment.”

Mr Scott said his suspicions of political interference in the police actions at the apex of the December 2 confrontation came from confronting officers and asking them why they were taking on protesters.

“It was clear their hearts were not in this matter,” he said.

Michael Scott, a former Progressive Labour Party minister, reflects on December 2, 2016 (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

The Speaker of the House changed his mind three times on December 2 about whether to allow Parliament to proceed.

Mr Scott considers this evidence of the pressure Mr Horton was under in his conversations with senior members of Government.

But he said he could not imagine the Speaker resorting to moving the day’s parliamentary business to another location, even though it could have been done.

“That would have attacked the integrity of the session,” he said.

“It’s wrong. In a civilised democracy, you do not have to run around when there are issues in the citizenry that are intractable.

“You try to work out what are the citizens’ demands and concerns.”