The ink may be dry on Premier David Burt’s appointment of Rolfe Commissiong as the new Government Leader in the Senate and a Cabinet Minister, but that’s not the case in the court of public opinion.
Hard on the heels of the announcement at Government House a local pressure group slammed the Premier for appointing a former Progressive Labour Party MP who resigned and stood down as a candidate in the October 1 General Election, to avoid being a “distraction” due to allegations of harrassment.
Social Justice Bermuda (SJB) “urgently” called for Commissiong’s appointment to be rescinded, after listening “in abject horror” to the announcement that he is now the Minister of Community and Sports – a job previously held by Lovitta Foggo.
“About a month ago, when confronted about these allegations, Mr Commissiong agreed that his behaviour had been inappropriate, resigned so as not be ‘a distraction’, only to now be appointed to key roles by Premier David Burt, who had previously said this issue ‘is something that I take very seriously’,” the group said.
The MP resigned back in August as the Pembroke South East PLP candidate in the last General Election when the incident that occurred two years ago was made public.
Admittedly Mr Commissiong said: “I made a comment I shouldn’t have. I made a mistake, I apologised.
“For the good of the party, and Bermudians who deserve strong leadership in these trying times, I have chosen not to be a distraction. To that end, I will not be a candidate in the General Election,” said Mr Commisiong.
“The affected party and I entered into a legally binding confidentiality agreement which prohibits me from speaking further. The matter has been settled and it is closed.”
But that did not sit well with the SJB, prompting the group to say: “Sadly, it appears he does not take it seriously enough. It truly begs the question with 30 MPs to choose from and a slate of talented party members as options for the Senate, why was this man given such an important ministerial role? This is not a good start for this team that has pledged to rebuild Bermuda with Bermudians at heart.
“As a lobby and advocacy group that is pressuring for fair and equal representation and governance, we share the concerns of many Bermudians about the lack of a strong Opposition.
“All that said, we have been eager to get started working with the Government, especially as they have been very welcoming to us and were the only party to reach out to SJB in advance of the election,” the group added.
In follow up to the fallout, Mr Burt was quoted as saying: “I will judge Senator Commissiong by his work going forward. Like other ministers, he will have to adhere to the standards of office and any breaches of such will be enforced without fear or favour.”
Meanwhile, the appointment has generated a lot of noise on the local social media circuit, including a post by former One Bermuda Alliance leader Michael Dunkley.
On his Facebook page, shortly after the announcement was made, Mr Dunkley wrote: “Shocking news today with the announcement of the next Cabinet that former MP Commissiong would be the Government Leader in the Senate and Minister for Community Affairs!
Highlights of Social Justice Bermuda’s Full Statement:
Over the last week, Social Justice Bermuda along with the rest of the island reflected on the election results that saw the Progressive Labour Party emerge with 30 seats, over 80% of the Members of Parliament.
Even though many SJB members were individually supportive of the PLP, as a lobby and advocacy group that is pressuring for fair and equal representation and governance, we share the concerns of many Bermudians about the lack of a strong Opposition.
As several people expressed on social media, citizen action groups like ours will have an even greater role to play as part of a collective responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable.
The group said they “listened in abject horror” as Rolfe Commissiong “an unelected member of the party, was appointed as the new Minister of Community Affairs and Sports and Senate Leader, despite the still-unaddressed allegations.”
About a month ago, when confronted about these allegations, Mr Commissioning agreed that his behaviour had been inappropriate, resigned so as not to be a ‘distraction’, only to now be appointed to key roles by Premier David Burt, who’d previously said this issue “is something that I take very seriously”.
Sadly, it appears he does not take it seriously enough. It truly begs the question, with 30 MPs to choose from and a slate of talented party members as options for the Senate, why was this man given such an important Ministerial role?
This is not a good start for this team that has pledged to ‘rebuild Bermuda with Bermudians at heart’.
Social Justice Bermuda urgently calls for this selection to be rescinded, and a response from the PLP Government to reassure the women of this country that it is indeed committed to addressing the rampant sexism and harassment that they experience on a daily basis.
We also want to highlight the recent commitment by the Speaker of the House to table the Ministers and Members Code of Conduct and wish for it to be reviewed and implemented by the end of 2020 to include language that will safeguard civil servants as well as members of the house from future incidents of this nature.
With this decision by the government, we would like to amend our own platform, which calls for gender equality lessons within the education system, as clearly we must now expand this curriculum to include sessions with the Government themselves.
Premier David Burt’s Statement:
The standards demanded of those of us in public office are high ones. In every walk of life individuals must conduct themselves in keeping with the expectations of a modern and civil society. When people fall short, processes and people are in place to ensure accountability and where possible resolution.
The matter in question was addressed via an established protocol administered within the Public Service and the department in question. I have not been made privy to the specific file on the issue, as it is not something to which I would have access, but the assurances given to me by those charged with addressing what was an inappropriate comment indicate that this issue was resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.
If that is not the case and further action is demanded then there is every right for any person to pursue that further action without interference or undue public scrutiny.
I will judge Senator Commissiong by his work going forward. Like all other ministers he will have to adhere to the standards of office and any breaches of such will be enforced without fear or favour.
The government and party I am privileged to lead has a proud history of women in leadership and key roles. To this end, my goal is to ensure there is a work environment where women are respected and treated fairly and professionally.
- Top Feature Photo Courtesy of TNN