It’s ‘power, power, power’, Swan says of Burt keeping finance
A controversial decision by David Burt to hold on to the finance portfolio as well as the top job in government showed his interest was control, the island’s longest-serving premier has claimed.
Sir John Swan, Bermuda’s elder statesman, said the Premier’s decision had destroyed checks and balances in the system and suggested the move ran counter to the spirit of the Constitution.
Sir John said: “It’s power, power, power.
“The lesson here is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
“The Premier appoints chairmen of boards and various other things – and now dispenses money as well, as finance minister.
“I think it has a risk of overreach – there are no checks and balances.
“It should be what’s best for the country, not what’s best in his mind.
“He gave up tourism, but he has a strong back bench.”
Sir John, who led a United Bermuda Party Government between 1982 and 1995 and who earlier warned of a drift into dictatorship, said the Constitution intended the roles of premier and finance minister to be separate.
He added: “The Constitution says the Premier and the Minister of Finance are the ones in Cabinet who must be elected.
“The Constitution intended those two people would be separate to ensure that there were checks and balances.
Mr Burt took over the finance role after Curtis Dickinson, who had held the job, quit in February – only days before the Budget statement – after a clash over financial backing for the redevelopment of the Fairmont Southampton.
Many at the time believed it was a temporary expedient to steer the Budget through the House of Assembly.
But Mr Burt later reshuffled the Cabinet and made it clear it would be a long term arrangement as he was “the best” fit for the role.
Sir John said: “Before Mr Dickinson was appointed, the Premier was Minister of Finance as well and he himself recognised that they were two onerous tasks and to give both the attention they needed, the two should be separate – that’s when he brought in Curtis Dickinson.”
He added: “The Premier’s office and the finance ministry both have awesome powers on their own.”
Mr Burt relinquished the tourism portfolio in the reshuffle and appointed backbencher Vance Campbell to the post.
The Opposition One Bermuda Alliance has also raised a red flag over Mr Burt holding the finance portfolio while also being the Premier.
Mr Burt could face an attempt to oust him at the Progressive Labour Party’s annual delegates’ conference in October after a string of controversies in recent months.
Ewart Brown, who was PLP premier between 2006 and 2010, said the party was unpredictable.
Dr Brown said: “One thing about the PLP is that you can’t predict it too well.
“Things happen in the PLP – there could be a leadership challenge, there may not be, that is just the way the PLP goes.
“When I challenged, some people thought it was not the right thing to do – but, that’s politics.
“That’s the excitement of politics.
“People disagree about things and then you use the process to see if you can work your way through.”
Dr Brown added that he thought Mr Burt had held on to the two top jobs in Cabinet because of the lack of a suitable candidate.
He said: “I believe he is doing what he thinks is the best thing.
“Unfortunately, Bermuda, in governmental terms, does not suffer from a surplus of talent.”