Stand up and fight Dr. Brown's petty tyranny
If the Premier succeeds in muzzling the UBP, he gains a free pass to do whatever he pleases
Wednesday, May 28, 2008 11:37 AM
On Friday in the House of Assembly, Premier Dr. Brown made an extraordinary move. Rather than answer questions aimed at penetrating the fog surrounding the history of government concessions to the Coco Reef Hotel, he shut down debate.
What was most extraordinary was the reason given for the shutdown. Premier Brown refused to answer questions because, he said, Opposition MPs had insinuated or implied that there was something dishonest or corrupt in the way Coco Reef was being dealt with by the government.
Even more extraordinary, he threatened to shut down debate whenever in the future Opposition MP's make allegations of impropriety. If his threats are successful, the Premier will insure for himself a free pass to do anything improper, safe in the knowledge that Opposition parliamentarians won't speak out.
It is an outrageous proposition and it raises the question of whether government MPs have already been bullied into silence about improprieties. It certainly would explain why few PLP party members dare speak out in public. The Premier has shown that he is willing to go to any lengths to prevent disclosure or questioning of wrongdoing.
There are those who rush to remind us that the UBP was guilty of similar behaviour when they were the government. Assuming this is true, if the UBP's conduct was so reprehensible, what on earth is the PLP's possible justification for repeating it?
And do PLP supporters want to provide the next government with the same lame justification for future unethical conduct?
Suggestions that the UBP should respond to the Premier's threat by boycotting Parliament are, in my view, impractical. Premier Brown and his coterie would like nothing better than for the UBP to fold up its tents, either as a party or as a parliamentary force. I would remind UBP parliamentarians that they asked for and received voters' endorsement at the last general election. They now have an obligation to carry out the duty they asked for. While they may make a point by boycotting, they would, in effect, be giving over their power to debate to the Premier.
Instead, the Opposition should redouble its efforts and engage every Parliamentary avenue to negate this threat: extend its research, probe more deeply into every item on the Parliamentary Order Paper, make intense use of Parliamentary Questions to expose whatever it is the Premier wants kept under wraps, hold press conferences, conduct hearings. In essence, they should become a genuine shadow of the government, holding the government to account where account is called for, and showing by example how a government should perform.
The Opposition could not have asked for a better opportunity to rise and fill what is essentially a void in credible leadership. We are at a crucial crossroad for the future of our island. This is no time to resort to political gamesmanship. This is not a time to be faint of heart. It is the time for leaders in every sphere of our community to stand and be counted.
We must identify the Premier's actions for what they are - petty tyranny. We must renounce the trend toward the trashing of the orderly parliamentary conduct of the people's business.
The Premier's actions have gone beyond being an embarrassment to his party; they now threaten to become an embarrassment to Bermuda and even to the august Parliamentary tradition of Westminster in the U.K. I would imagine that official U.K. observers of the Overseas Territories are stunned at this corruption of Parliamentary procedure - if they are not, they ought to be.
For all its faults, Westminster assures the electorate that its representatives cannot be silenced. Attempts to silence Bermuda's MPs cannot be ignored.
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