Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Submission from Geoffrey C Parker Sr, President, Voters' Rights Association, Bermuda

  With reference to the subject of security and good governance of the Overseas Territories—BERMUDA.

  To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. We humbly take this opportunity to make the submissions below for your review and action, upon the invitation by the Deputy Governor of Bermuda, Mark Capes, published in the Bermuda daily Royal Gazette newspaper on 10 July 2007. We understand that the period for acceptance of written submissions has been extended until 31 January 2008, and pray that this information will arrive in time.

  Our submissions will provide information on the following subjects that we believe are of great concern to Bermudians and so should be addressed by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

  1.  A Voters' Bill of Rights enshrined in Bermuda's Constitutional Order to ensure that the People have control of their government and not the reverse, as currently obtains.

  2.  Reforms to the Parliamentary Election Act: in particular to voters' registration, to reduce the opportunity of the voter fraud that appears to exist. In particular we recommend that an independent authority should conduct an audit of the voting in the recent General Election [December 18th, 2007] to determine the number of illegal voters in each constituency in which candidates won by small margins, say, 10% or less. Where the numbers of illegal voters exceeded the difference between the winner and loser of any constituency, the result should be voided and a new election for that constituency should take place after removal of those illegal voters from the register of voters.

  3.  A constitutional Election Commission of independent individuals to administer, supervise and report on all facets of the election and polling process including an audit on each constituency to ensure no voter fraud took place.

  4.  Fixed Parliamentary Term Elections to remove the political advantage gained for the Government.

  5.  Absentee Balloting to enfranchise Bermudians resident outside or temporarily absent from Bermuda, as they currently are when they are overseas at school, on business, in hospital or on holiday, etc.

  6.  Reform the broadcasting legislation to prevent the contravention of the regulations of the blatant sort that occurred during this past General Election, creating a major unfair advantage for the governing party.

  7.  A constitutional Ombudsman with power to investigate the activities of all members of Government including the Premier and Cabinet Members, to stop abuse of power, as no one should be above the law.

  8.  The removal of the Office of Attorney General from direct political influence, as presently exists, in order to provide a fair judicial system expected by the People under the law.

  9.  The reform of the weak Bermuda laws on corruption so that local anti-corruption legislation mirrors that of the UK Legislation and complies with United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

  10.  Investigation by an independent authority, of the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal and all persons involved that have allegedly benefited. We support the Opposition's call for a Royal Commission to get to the truth in this and any other irregularities, misuse and abuse of power and public funds that may be brought forward from the Auditor General or other credible sources.

  11.  Review and reform the Human Rights Commission to eliminate political influence.

  12.  Investigation by an independent authority of the case of Mr. Harold Joseph Darrell in his seven-year fight to bring a claim of discrimination against the Bank of Bermuda. This claim had been agreed to by the Human Rights Commission but its progress has been consistently blocked by alleged political influence and subterfuge.

  13.  Enhancement of the powers and independence of the Auditor General to insulate that office from harassment and intimidation by the Government.

  14.  Legislation to ensure fiscal accountability by Civil Servants, Government, the Premier, the Cabinet and all Parliamentarians, to reduce waste of tax revenue on policies and perks that are not in Bermuda's best interest or that of the tax payer.

  15.  Establish an independent, possibly constitutional, committee or commission to oversee fairness in government purchases and contracts. Presently major construction contracts are going to the same contractors who are personal friends of the Premier. One was involved in the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal and one is alleged to be in a cooperative venture with the Premier in another island in the Caribbean. These associations have raised questions about the fairness of the current system by many of the Bermuda tax payers.

  16.  Improvement of the Bermuda Police Service to ensure public safety and to reduce the political influence over the Police Administration that is generally perceived by the Bermuda public.

  17.  Confirmation that the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights apply to Bermuda, particularly, Article 20.2, which states that Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law. We recommend that Bermuda adopt the UK's position on the promotion of swastikas, black power salutes, cross burning and other demonstrations of political hatred. The recent General Election saw unchecked racial hatred expressed against whites in speeches by the Premier and candidates, which shocked this community.

  18.  "Whistle blowers" legislation to ensure that the truth is brought out and justice served.

  19.  Review and reform of General and Special Orders for the Civil Service. Currently civil servants are not allowed to join or support political groups, including the neutral, non-partisan Voters' Rights Association. We are aware that the regulations have affected spouses of civil servants who are fearful that their joining could be detrimental to their civil servant spouse. We feel this is a Civil Rights issue that must be addressed.

  20.  Review the results and costs of the public education system over the past decade in comparison with local private education. As the quality of education affects the quality of the economic and social environment any falling behind in any area has a negative affect on the overall performance and stability of the country.

  21.  Investigation by an independent authority of the Rebecca Middleton murder case and all other unsolved murder cases to determine whether the investigative arm [the Police Service] and the judiciary [the Courts] have functioned as expected by the People of Bermuda and determine and implement any reforms to improve the process to ensure justice is done. To determine if compensation is due to the victims estate for those cases in which major errors by the Police and Courts have taken place and justice is not served.

  The Voters' Rights Association hopes that, based upon your review of all of the above submissions and supporting data, you find sufficient reason to make a lengthy visit to Bermuda to hold public hearings on all of the above issues and any others that may have been brought forward by others.

  We have some serious problems here in Bermuda. Our island had been evolving quietly until a group of individuals within the Progressive Labour Party [PLP] decided it was now, as they put it, "pay back time". They ousted two former premiers and have now ensconced themselves in an almost untouchable situation to do as they wish, to spend as much as they wish, ignoring all the basic principles of democracy and the laws of natural justice.

  To quote one of our well-known and highly respected attorneys, Mr. Michael J. Spurling: "We are witnessing the erosion of the rule of law, constitutional rights, individual political rights and the progress made over the past 50 years in terms of civil rights and social cohesion and complete disdain, if not contempt, and adverse consequence for contrary opinion".

  Bermuda is just a month or so along since the General Election and many foreign long-term residents are contemplating their future. Small and medium size international exempt companies have begun downsizing or relocating as the political climate and unworkable immigration policies are taking their toll on the patience of multinational business. Although new business continues to arrive we fear it will not be long before the word gets around that Bermuda is now "unfriendly" to international business. Trust for the new government of Dr Brown has been eroding.

  The newly introduced amoral [Americanisation] approach to politics in Bermuda has frightened many people who have nowhere else to go. Under the Westminster system of winner take all, allowing the winner to do as it wishes for five years, a run away government can bring a country like Bermuda to its knees very quickly. When that happens the quality of life in this island will be hugely and quickly affected, particularly those retired with fixed incomes. With the Bermuda Social Insurance scheme impossible to fix, many of the lower and middle class will be the first to feel the economic downturn. The number one industry is the international business that can move its business with a click of a button, leaving thousands of Bermudians out of work and no chance of getting a job. This is where we are heading. The attached comments from the President of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce provides food for thought.

  During the run up to the recent General Election the Voters' Rights Association offered to facilitate debates on the issues for each constituency and at the end of the campaign there was to be a Leaders debate on national TV. The United Bermuda Party agreed but the Progressive Labour Party declined, thus providing no democratic debates on issues for the people to decide. The Progressive Labour Party stirred their supporters with racially divisive rhetoric and allegedly padded several constituencies. This was not democracy at work! This is not the real Bermuda that the People of Bermuda know and expect.

  We have to have checks and balances that place the People in control of their destiny instead of at the mercy of a Premier and six hand picked Cabinet Members who dictate to the people. At the moment the Bermuda Constitution offers no way out of this distressing situation except through an appeal to the Mother Country to take note of the deterioration and offer assistance through reforms designed to protect the Bermuda people, not the Political Parties for whom the Constitutional Order of 1968 was written.

  The Constitution was written 40 years ago for a two party system. The ordinary man in the street is excluded from any participation in the political process except in national and bye elections. There is no positive right in the Constitution of every Bermudian, in all circumstances, to vote—just the right to elect a candidate if ordinarily resident and present in Bermuda on the Advanced or National Polling Day. This restricted right to vote does not suffice in this age of globalization, international business and movement of people. Bermuda's people want and deserve political rights, they want to have a say in the determining of their future. The Voters' Rights Association has arisen in response to this need.

  The UK Government has the right of intervention to ensure the people under their jurisdiction are properly governed. At the moment Bermuda is not properly governed and a full commission of enquiry will bear that out. After all, is this not the main reason for this Overseas Territories Audit: to find out exactly what is going on to prove that good governance and security for the people exists, and if not, make the required reforms to get good governance back on track?

  The division codified by party politics over the past 40 years has now become a huge chasm and the government appears uninterested in building any bridges. Dame Jennifer Smith was ousted from the Premiership by Dr Brown and company on the night she won the PLP's second term. Dr Brown's famous words at the time to the public were ..."We had to mislead you!". However, he did not get the nod from his party and William Alex Scott was chosen as the Premier, with Dr Brown as Deputy.

  Just short of three years later Dr Brown took over the Premiership through a simple vote at a PLP delegates conference. Mr Scott, an honourable man, had put in place a Sustainable Development Initiative that brought the people together on the many issues facing Bermuda's future. He also had other programmes he intended to move on to in order to try and heal the great divide within this country. When Mr Scott was removed from office all such programmes were sidelined or halted. The Sustainability Initiative was truncated and the huge cost and effort that had gone into it was basically wasted.

  Dr Brown's government seems uninterested in healing this country, and instead seems intent in exploiting divisions. Instead of preserving open space the Brown government has doled out Special Development Orders [SDO's] for new construction, in several cases by-passing the planning requirements established in law. Despite environmental protests, most projects approved by SDO's have been to the detriment of Bermuda's environment and prospects for sustainability. With just 20 square miles of land Bermuda's survival in the future is dependent upon the checks and balances of a sensible and sustainable approach. With global warming and sea levels rising it is estimated that in less than 50 years the size of Bermuda could be cut by a third through erosion and flooding of the many low areas in and around the Island. The airport itself would disappear. To ignore the obvious is folly, yet long term planning for such calamities is not on the political agenda.

  The Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal implicated Dr Brown (prior to his becoming Premier) and several other sitting parliamentarians in what was termed "unethical but not illegal" dealings. The Police alleged that unknown individuals had stolen a comprehensive dossier on the scandal from Police Headquarters and leaked various aspects of the contents that were then published in the press. The Premier Dr Brown, through his political appointee the Attorney General, and the Police Commissioner worked closely together to delay or stop further publication, going as far as the Privy Council to delay the publication, presumably so it would not affect the upcoming election. We see this as evidence of a continuing erosion of the rule and respect for law.

  We need increasing accountability and stability to ensure our future. At the moment the current government is preaching black power, anti-white rhetoric. Over the past few years the government has introduced programmes in the public schools that arguably are developing a negative image of the white population among young children. The Premier has intimated that they will continue to make the whites feel uncomfortable. Such a stance must be in contravention of the United Nations International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, Article 20.2.

  The Voters' Rights Association identified an average inaccuracy of 8% in the Parliamentary Voters' Register. Such inaccuracy in the recent election should have triggered the Opposition to demand an audit to identify the number of illegal voters in the close decision constituencies [say 10% and less] and if the number was more than the difference in the win then the results should be made void and new bye elections required with those illegal voters removed from the register. We understand that in one constituency that voter challenges were ignored contrary to the law. In this same district a large number of basically homeless people were moved into the constituency just weeks before the election and were not allowed visits by the Opposition Candidate. These affronts to democracy desperately need your inquiry.

  We believe that your Committee should by now begin to get a picture of the growing problems in Bermuda where the expectations of good governance requires the Committee's investigation and intervention.

  The Voters' Rights Association prays that the House of Commons will take note of the foregoing and will review the supporting submissions that follow.[258] We fervently hope that the House of Commons will agree, at the very least, to send a delegation to Bermuda to discover the truth and initiate suitable reforms.

31 January 2008

258   Documents not published as publicly available. Back

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