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OBA’s Jones ‘maybe 70% satisfied’ with JSC report on December 2 protest

Marcus Jones, the Shadow Minister for Economic Development and member of the joint select committee that investigated the events of December 2. (File photograph)

Politics irrevocably tainted a review of the events of December 2, 2016 – such that two One Bermuda Alliance senators involved saw no point in attempting a report of their own.

“At some, what are you going to gain?” asked Ben Smith, who with Marcus Jones served on a parliamentary joint select committee that filed its report on the day’s events in May 2019.

“Either way, it just becomes a political football.”

Both senators said having Parliament investigate an incident in which sitting MPs had supported the blocking of the House of Assembly by protesters had hampered the JSC from the outset.

Mr Jones, the Shadow Minister for Economic Development, said: “Neither political side was 100 per cent happy with the report. Politics is an exercise in compromise.

“I can say, at least for myself, I was really focused on wanting to have a report I could sign off on that had buy-in from independents, the Progressive Labour Party, the One Bermuda Alliance, to demonstrate to the country that we were willing to take off our political hats.”

He added: “During that time, the country was so divided – we didn’t want to put gas on a fire that was already blazing.”

Mr Jones said he was at best “maybe 70 per cent satisfied” with the report.

“The option of a minority report was on the table. We could have taken it if we wanted to.”

The two said they were disillusioned with the process.

Mr Smith said: “The truth is, I don’t think anything was really resolved.

“I don’t think we have resolved the fact that you can put together this type of move, use citizens and put them in harm’s way – what needed to be resolved is we should never have had political gains put people in harm’s way.

“So much wasted time went into the report. We spent a lot of time asking people for interviews and having them not come in.”

Mr Smith said he was frustrated by the JSC’s focus on the day itself, instead of members having the latitude to look into the build-up to the protest.

“We should have been figuring out the solutions,” he said. “If you’re organising this kind of protest, you have to let everybody understand it’s breaking the law and bad things can happen to you.”

He added: “There were decisions made that put political gain over community safety – and it worked.”

Mr Jones said a “glaring” fault of the JSC was its failure to interview David Burt, then the Leader of the Opposition.

The JSC demanded to interview the police “gold commander” who helped direct the botched attempt to clear the gates of Parliament, only to have the then Police Commissioner, Stephen Corbishley, block them when he was refused permission to remain while evidence was given.

Mr Jones said that even Government House was unable to press police into co-operating.

“It appeared that it was the police hierarchy that was reluctant to be candid and transparent,” he said.

“Especially from an organisation that continually begs and pleads for the public to give evidence and provide information about crimes.”

Opposition membership on the JSC also went through changes: originally Andrew Simons was appointed until Jeanne Atherden, then the Opposition leader, replaced him in the Senate with Robyn Swan.

Mr Smith, then an MP, recalled: “Robyn was put on but never attended a meeting. Another switch happened, and that’s when we got Marcus.”

Neither of them were present on December 2, and both were new to politics.

Mr Smith said: “One of the reasons the OBA wanted me on the committee was I would have a completely unbiased view. I had not been part of the process.

“It was a good starting point, but the flip side is I didn’t have the background of how politics works.”

Both said they were unhappy with the compensation payments to protesters that resulted in non-disclosure agreements being signed.

Mr Jones said: “If the purpose in wanting to get to the bottom of this is for the country to heal, that’s a worthy motivation to dig deeper.

“The answers are there, but I don’t think you’ll get answers that all sides of the political divide will agree on. The need to add a political twist to it is nauseating.”