Hard on the heels of the resignation of Gaming Commission Chairman Alan Dunch, Tourism Minister Jamahl Simmons stated outright yesterday that “the tail will not wag the dog in this Government”.
Speaking at a news conference convened by the Premier at the Cabinet Office to announce former Magistrate Cheryly-Ann Mapp as the new commission Chairwoman, the Minister also stated in no uncertain terms that independent entities funded by taxpayer money out of the public purse, will be held accountable in a “mutually respectful relationship” with the Government.
“We are providing funding for these entities and while we will respect their independence, which should be based on their expertise in their respective fields, there has to be a measure of policy direction when and if necessary,” said the Minister.
His comments were echoed by Premier David Burt, who said his Cabinet fully supports Ms Mapp and the Government’s approach to casino gaming.
“The Progressive Labour Party government wants to ensure that we have a partner in the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission who is able to work with us, executing our vision for casino gaming – gaming that works for the benefit of the many,” Premier Burt said.
“It is important that commissions and organisations which are created by Acts of Parliament and are funded by the taxpayer work cooperatively with policymakers, which in this care are the persons behind me who were chosen by the people of Bermuda on July 18th.
“This government will not be in control of the day-to-day operations of the casino gaming commission.
“To say the Government is taking away the independence of the commission is not true. It is necessary for the Government to have a working relationship with the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.”
Minister Simmons, who recently tabled a Bill that empowers him to sack commission members, said he would only give “legal policy directions” to the commission, with “protections” to ensure no political interference.
“When it comes to investigations, when it comes to the general actions of the commission, that’s off limits, completely off limits,” he said.
“I just think it’s important that right now, today, that we look ahead to the future. Right now we have an opportunity to have a mutually trustworthy and respectful relationship and work as partners. And I think that that’s where we’re looking ahead to the future.”
He noted that the commission will have the same protection that the Bermuda Monetary Authority (BMA) has.
“That’s the model we’re looking at alongside of the Singapore legislation. I think that nobody questions the autonomy and the authority that the BMA has. But I think it’s important to note when you have a mutually respectful relationship based on trust these things don’t become an issue. And I think that part of the reason why Ms Mapp was chosen was because of her strength of character, her integrity and I can assure you she can stand very firm against any form of interference.
“I can’t speak to the OBAs reasoning for an OBA Bill that we’re subjected to today, but what I can speak to however is this, these were political appointees, they were not appointed by the Governor, they were not appointed by God.
“They were political appointees and the tradition of political appointments is when there is a change of government you offer your resignation to the incoming government. And so we recognise the Westminster system and most local systems recognise the proper behaviour when there’s a change of government and there has been a change,” he said.
“At the moment we have a mutually respectful relationship based on trust. The answer is that at the moment there is a mutually respectful trustworthy relationship.”
Asked by the newspaper reporter if there wasn’t a respectful trustworthy relationship with the outgoing chairman, the Minister replied: “You might very well think that.
“I think that it must be understood clearly the tail will not wag the dog in this Government. We are providing funding for these entities and while we respect their independence, which should be based on their expertise and their ability in these fields, there has to be a measure of policy direction when – if necessary. And when we look at the relationships we work best when we work together and I think that’s the message today.”
At that point, Premier Burt stepped to the microphones to reiterate what he said in his prepared statement.
“This Government is acutely aware of its responsibilities in the way in which it continues to act. And just let me say as I’ve said to many persons and I will say to yourself and other members of the media who would seem to want to promulgate stories and accusations of corruption and/or otherwise the fact why we are here today is because in a lack of a mutually beneficial and trustworthy relationship between organs that are created by acts of Parliament, funded by taxpayers and working in a cooperative fashion.
“It is very interesting that we are treated to front page stories in The Royal Gazette speaking about anti-money laundering and the question about regulations of betting shops when the Casino Gaming Commission itself has decided to push back against attempts for them to regulate betting shops,” he said.
“What I’m going to say is very clear and unequivocal that this Government understands its responsibility, this Government will continue to operate in a fashion and with the highest ethical standards and no organization, no person or people who feel the need to try to tear down this Government, the Government that represents the people of this country, or its reputation will be the ones that succeed,” the Premier said.
“In the end, we will stand on our record of transparency, our record of accountability and we will fulfill the mandate which was given to us by the people on July 18th.”
Ms Mapp stated that the first order of business would be to meet with members of the commission and staff “in order to establish what the priorities shall be” and to “look at the transitional objectives” and make a plan going forward.
“This is not the first regulatory authority. We have the BMA and like the BMA, which is obviously the authority that I’m most familiar with, I would expect the relationship between the Government and the Gaming Commission to be on a similar term as far as an autonomy is concerned and independence. And certainly anyone who knows me knows that I’m an independent thinker and I believe in communication and transparency.”
Mr Dunch’s resignation takes effect on December 6th.
- Photos by Stephan Raynor Courtesy of DCI