Premier David Burt’s decision to pull the plug on the Throne Speech and the pomp and pageantry that comes with the Reconvening of Parliament, has erupted into a war of words.
This after Jamahl Simmons, the Minister without Portfolio, stated that the PLP administration decided to save “the over $10,000 spent on the pomp and ceremony”.
By “continuing to sit in the legislature”, he said the Government would “deliver for the people of Bermuda”, as opposed to having the traditional Throne Speech delivered by the Governor.
He was responding to One Bermuda Alliance MP Susan Jackson, who accused the Premier of “displaying concerning behaviours by manipulating how and when the House of Parliament conducts the peoples’ business”.
But Mr Simmons said the OBA was merely “whining about government extending this session to conduct the people’s business, working through the traditional parliamentary break”.
In a statement released Thursday evening, Opposition Leader Craig Cannonier said it was “extremely concerning” that the Government appeared too broke to host the Throne Speech event.
“That is something the public should be very worried about indeed.
“Why can’t it afford $10,000? Is because of the $1.2 million given to former premier Ewart Brown?
“Is it due to the $300,000 extra in ministerial payroll — which is benefiting the same minister who tries to persuade us that cancelling the speech is saving money?”
“It is just a weak excuse — and we can all see through that,” he said.
He noted that as of last November, the Premier’s Cabinet reshuffle in dollars and cents, “the ministerial salary bill by $221,851, to $1,338,964”.
In terms of costs he said: “The OBA is not concerned with pomp and ceremony, if the cost is the reason then let’s get rid of the pomp.
“As far as we are concerned the Premier could address the House and read it himself.
“As I have stated, a good leader lays out their plans clearly and communicates them effectively with all stakeholders — not just the party faithful.
“The Throne Speech also shows the Government is being transparent and is prepared to accept scrutiny.
“At a time when Bermudians are struggling to pay bills they need a vision and a leader to deliver that vision.
“The Premier has let down his people.”
His comments were echoed by OBA Whip, Susan Jackson, who said the Premier’s decision was “anti-democratic” and “designed to avoid his responsibilities to Bermuda’s citizens and parliamentary colleagues”.
“The Premier clearly makes up his own rules as he goes. He relies on traditional parliamentary Standing Orders when the rules meet his needs and appears to discard the rules when they don’t,” she said.
“Imagine a football game and the Captain starts changing the rules mid-game? Well this is what’s happening.
“We’ve seen the Premier arguing with the Speaker about introducing legislation without warning and when the Speaker said ‘no’, David Burt held a vote to overrule him and we still haven’t seen the planned legislation. Conveniently, that session wasn’t broadcast live or recorded by Hansard.
“Parliamentarians were called back early for a special parliamentary session in September to discuss legislation of national importance; Immigration and Caroline Bay, but here we are in mid-October and the legislation still hasn’t been passed or tabled,” she added.
“Parliamentarians are committed to do the work, but the latest manipulation of the House of Parliament by the Premier, leaves the entire country wondering what’s next?
“Without a rule book and without knowledge of what the government plans next, sends a message that democracy is threatened and the Premier can do whatever he wants.
“Why should people care? Because this is an abuse of power, it drastically reduces everybody’s ability to know what’s happening in our own country and understanding how new laws and changes to existing laws impact our daily lives.
“This is waking up every morning not sure what to expect as we go about our daily lives.
“This is much more serious than no Throne Speech ceremony or unexpected parliamentary sessions.
“We’re all of a new generation but it’s a democratic right to be informed of all the new rules not just one at a time at the whim of the Premier– what we care about is fair play for every single person on this island,” said Ms Jackson.
“Unfortunately, the Premier is conducting his business and depending on unconditional loyalty to support changes that may hurt the very people he was voted in to protect.
“Now we have a five year plan without any understanding of what’s happening now.”
By announcing the Government’s plans for 2020 at the PLP conference next week was “not the same as broadcasting the plan to the entire country”, she added.
“This is a snub to the entire country and again shows extremely poor leadership – the PLP is the Government of Bermuda and should be talking to all Bermudians not a select few party members. That’s what good leaders with nothing to hide do.”
She concluded: “The Premier needs to address this country with a plan we can all follow and if he wants to change the rules of the game, he needs to tell the country and Parliament the complete game plan. We have got to get this Island out of a deep economic mess.”
Responding to her remarks, Minister Simmons said: “It seems as if the OBA is just the Party of ‘No’.
“No to a living wage. No to affordable healthcare. No to putting Bermudians first.
“And when they aren’t saying no, all that emanates from the OBA are personal attacks and whining.
“One day they are whining about being forced to cut short their summer vacation for a necessary Parliamentary session to do the people’s business.
“Then another day they are whining about government extending this session to conduct the people’s business, working through the traditional parliamentary break and saving taxpayers thousands of dollars on a ceremony,” he added.
“We will not be distracted by an opposition that offers Bermudians nothing but whining and impotent efforts to delay the execution of our agenda.”