Veteran UBP MP Maxwell Burgess took the mounting crisis within the Opposition in a new direction yesterday, when he blamed its apparent meltdown on the poor leadership skills of Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert.

Mr. Burgess conceded if he had not supported Mr. Furbert a year ago, he would not have been voted in as leader.

But one year later, Mr. Burgess said Mr. Furbert "now has a record." And he added: "The record speaks for itself."

Mr. Burgess called on the UBP to "do the right thing" and deal with the leadership. He made the accusation yesterday at a press conference at the House of Assembly called to announce his decision to step down as MP Smith's South at the next general election.

Rumours have been rife that Mr. Burgess was about to bolt from the UBP, but yesterday he made it clear he intends to remain a party member.

And he hinted he might even change his mind if the UBP addresses the leadership issue.

It's the first public admission of what party insiders have been saying privately for several months now - that Wayne Furbert is simply not cutting it as leader, especially now that the ruling PLP has replaced Alex Scott with Dr. Ewart Brown.

One veteran UBP member told the Bermuda Sun the current crisis within the UBP, brought on by the resignations of MP Jamahl Simmons and chairman Gwyneth Rawlins, had less to do with their claims of racism within the party than the poor leadership skills of Mr. Furbert.

Mr. Burgess' comments support that view. They are even all the more telling because he and Mr. Furbert are friends and have been running mates in previous elections.

Mr. Burgess began his press conference by berating the party leadership over its handling of news of his plan to resign as MP. He said Mr. Furbert had agreed he could inform his constituents first before any public announcement.

Leadership question

But the UBP announced Mr. Burgess's plans to resign at an earlier press conference yesterday. Mr. Burgess said that showed a level of disrespect of the party leadership for him and he sympathized with claims of disrespect levelled by Mr. Simmons and Ms Rawlins.

Mr. Burgess went on: "It seems to me that the United Bermuda Party must confront this question of capable leadership head on."

He called on the party "to come together forthwith and put the question of leadership squarely on the table, not for Maxwell Burgess, not for Wayne Furbert, but for Bermuda.

"Failure to get it right sells Bermuda down the tubes," he said.

He said he would do all he can to help the UBP "get competent capable leadership in place so as to afford Bermuda every opportunity to be able to have a viable Opposition"

Mr. Burgess also said the defection of Mr. Simmons and the resignation of Ms Rawlins would not have happened under the leadership of Dr. Grant Gibbons, who Mr. Furbert replaced, or Sir John Swan.

"Grant Gibbons understands Bermuda," he said. "He understands the importance of ensuring that you keep the party together as you go forward."

Mr. Burgess also put forward another reason for his decision to resign as an MP - he wants to devote more time to his sewage treatment business.

In response, Mr. Furbert said last night: "We have been friends for a long time; we live a stone's throw from each other, we helped to win the election for the UBP in 1993."

But he said he had the support of his colleagues within the party.

He said: "He [Mr. Burgess] feels that I betrayed him by letting out that information [of his resignation]."

He said the party made the decision to reveal his resignation at the press conference. He had tried to inform Mr. Burgess beforehand, but was unable to make contact with him.