Submission from Mr John Barritt JP MP,
Opposition House Leader and Party Whip, Bermuda
I write with reference to the on-going inquiry
of the Foreign Affairs Committee into security and good governance
of the Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom, of which Bermuda
is one, and in my capacity as Opposition House Leader and party
whip for the United Bermuda Party.
I attach for the Committee's review and consideration
a submission on behalf of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition here
in Bermuda whichas you will note above also features
1. Whilst we in the Opposition United Bermuda
Party recognise that many of the matters to which we wish to draw
to the committee's attention are matters for the Legislature of
Bermuda, we nonetheless do so because they should, in our view,
form a part of your review and assessment as they pertain to the
issues of transparency and accountability in the Overseas Territories
[in our case Bermuda] as well to standards of governance.
2. We do not believe the Legislature is
as effective as it should be or could be. For instance, it has
been some thirty (30) years since the Rules ("Rules")
of the House of Assembly of Bermuda ("House") were reviewed
3. Three of the more important standing
committees of the House still meet in private: the Private Bills
Committee, the Joint Select Committee on the Register of Members'
Interests and the Public Accounts Committee ("PAC").
4. It is in our view unacceptable that committees
of the House continue to sit in camera. It is certainly contrary
to widespread modern parliamentary practice. It is also contrary
to the Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures ("Recommended
Benchmarks") which were the outcome of a Study Group hosted
(ironically) by the Legislature of Bermuda on behalf of the Commonwealth
Parliamentary Association and the World Bank Institute with support
from the United Nations Development Programme, the European Parliament
and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs:
See The Parliamentarian 2007/Issue One, pp 21-24.
5. Not surprisingly, PAC itself recently
recommended that its meetings be open to press and public, but
the committee's recommendation failed to obtain the necessary
support from the Rules and Privileges Committee of the House which
is controlled by a majority of Government members.
6. PAC has an important role to play in
monitoring Government expenditure and following up on matters
raised by the Auditor General in his annual report, as well as
in any other special reports issued by his office from time to
time. Unfortunately it is not as active and as effective as it
should be. Whilst the PAC is chaired by an Opposition member [typically
the shadow spokesman for finance] meetings sometimes fail for
lack of a quorum. Membership is currently set at five memberstwo
from the Opposition and three from Government. The committee's
work can be stymied should the Government members decline to attend:
a quorum is three (3). PAC recommended in its 2004 report that
the quorum remain at three (3), but that the membership be increased
to seven (7), one additional member for each of Government and
Opposition. This recommendation has not been acted on.
7. The Rules governing the practice of asking
Parliamentary questions ("PQs") are also out-dated.
Questions are required to be submitted in writing ten (10) days
in advance. The Rules limit each member to three questions for
oral answer per sitting day: the House normally only meets once
a week when in session except for a two week period following
presentation of the Government Budget when it meets three days
a week ("Budget Debate"). The Speaker has also ruled
that no Minister can be asked more than three questions per sitting
day, which constitutes a further limitation as some Ministers
have responsibility for multiple departments.
8. The transparency and accountability that
comes from asking PQs is further limited because questions that
cannot be asked and answered within the first hour of meeting
are reduced to writing and thus there is no opportunity for supplementary
questions on the floor of the House. There is no sanction for
Ministers who decline to answer questions or defer them to when
they prefer to answer them. On the other hand, Government Ministers
are at liberty in the first hour to read Ministerial statements
which are not subject at that time to either question or debate:
[although the statements can become the subject of comment, much
later in the day, at the end of the day of meeting on the motion
to adjourn when members are free to speak on any subject for up
to twenty (20) minutes].
9. The annual Budget Debate is limited to
a maximum of 42 hours debate in committee of the whole House,
"unless the House otherwise agrees". While the Opposition
has the right to determine the order in which the heads of expenditure
are considered, your committee should be aware of the stultifying
practice which has been allowed to develop over the years: which
is the reading of voluminous briefs prepared by civil servants
for Ministers to read, at length, and for hours, literally, all
with the effect to stifling debate and preventing a close examination
of line items of expenditure. It hardly makes possible the meaningful
oversight which might reasonably be expectedand requiredin
a modern parliamentary jurisdiction: see Recommended Benchmarks,
7, Oversight Function. This practice also underscores the growing
need for a more active PAC and meetings open to the public and
10. The Opposition has attempted to institute
change in the above areas, but on each occasion over the past
eight years, those recommendations have been referred by motion
in the House to the Rules and Privileges Committee where they
have not found favour with a committee that is subject to a Government
11. The Legislature of Bermuda continues
to be treated as another Government department, the responsibility
for which is assigned to a Government Minister. This practice
neither enhances nor facilitates the development of an independent
Legislature and calls into question whether the Legislature is
or can be subject to undue political pressure or interference
12. We believe a modern parliamentary jurisdictionwhich
Bermuda aspires to beshould either by legislation or resolution
establish an independent (of the executive) and/or corporate body
(which is also bi-partisan in composition) to be responsible for
the provision of services and funding entitlements for parliamentary
purposes as well as providing for the overall governance of Parliament:
see Recommended Benchmarks, 5.4. Organisation and Management.
13. While there is provision in the Rules
governing the behaviour of members inside the House, the enforcement
of which is left to the Speaker or the person in the chair at
the relevant time, there is no written code of conduct to which
members are expected to adhere and by which they can be judged
by the public. This too, should be a feature of a modern parliamentary
jurisdiction: see Recommended Benchmarks, 10. Ethical Governance,
14. There is a Register of Members' Interests
("the Register") under which members are expected to
voluntarily disclose required, relevant financial assets and holdings.
The Clerk to the Legislature maintains the Register but there
is no sanction should a member decline to make disclosure. The
Register is made available for public inspection.
15. The Rules do provide that "no member
shall vote on any question in which he has a direct or pecuniary
interest, peculiar to such member as distinguished from the public
at large". Members are expected to voluntarily disclose that
interest or be challenged by any other member prior to any vote.
The Speaker then rules whether or not the member can vote.
16. There is also the matter of disclosure
of interests as required under the Bermuda Constitution Order
1968 ("the Order") with respect to Government contracts,
the relevant two sections of which read as follows:
"30 (6) Subject to such exceptions
and limitations as may be prescribed by the Legislature, a person
shall not be qualified to be elected as a member of the House
of Assembly if he has an interest in any Government contract and
has not, within seven days of his nomination as a candidate for
election, disclosed the nature of the contract and his interest
therein by means of a notice published in the Gazette or in a
newspaper published and circulating in Bermuda".
"31 (1) The seat of a member of
either House shall become vacant
(f) subject to such exceptions
and limitations as may be prescribed by the Legislature, if he
acquires an interest in any Government contract and has not, within
seven days of acquiring that interest, disclosed the nature of
the contract and his interest therein by means of a notice published
in the Gazette or in a newspaper published and circulating in
A number of exceptions and limitations are prescribed
by section 10 of the Legislature (Qualification and Disqualification)
Act 1968 ("the Act").
17. There is however, no established independent
mechanism for oversight and enforcement when it comes to disclosure
of relevant interests and any conflicts that may arise as a result.
The potential for conflict is likely in a small community like
Bermuda where members of the House are typically part-time and
are permitted to pursue their private businesses interests and
professions during their tenure in office. We believe that a strengthening
of oversight and enforcement is required, again in keeping with
modern practice: see Recommended Benchmarks, 10 Ethical Governance,
specifically 10.1.3. and 10.1.4.
18. As a matter of good practice, we support
the stated intention of Her Majesty's UK Government to extend
the UN Convention Against Corruption to Bermuda and other Overseas
Territories. It is our understanding that this has been discussed
with the Overseas Territories at recent Consultative Conferences
and believe that it may well facilitate the introduction and development
of "Integrity In Public Service" Legislation in Bermuda.
In light of recent experience in Bermuda with a Government-funded
quango (Bermuda Housing Corporation) and allegations of improprieties
that warranted criminal investigation, as well as the Auditor
General's reported concerns about a "growing culture of opportunity
for dishonesty" within government, it is clear that our anti-corruption
legislative framework needs to be overhauled and modernised.
19. The committee may not be aware of the
Opposition United Bermuda Party's position generally on matters
of good governance and so I attach for your information and review
a copy of the relevant section party's platform at the last election
These obviously represent some of the reforms and changes which
we would have instituted had we been elected the Government, and
might reasonably be regarded as our recommendations for consideration
by the committee in its deliberations.
20. On the matter of any future constitutional
change, I also attach for the committee's information and review
a copy of a letter dated 28 January 2004, from then Opposition
Leader Dr the Hon Grant Gibbons to then Governor of Bermuda, Sir
John Vereker, which fairly sets out position today of the United
Bermuda Party on how it should be undertaken.
31 January 2008
255 Not printed as publicly available. Back