Government whip Glenn Blakeney has turned the tables on the Opposition United Bermuda Party, saying it was using parliamentary privilege as a veil to accuse the PLP government of corruption, without having to substantiate its claims.

He also said the UBP's accusations were a smoke screen for its own internal problems.

But Mr. Blakeney, the MP for Devonshire North Central, also made the surprise admission that he doesn't know the "intricacies" of the deal that Government has made with Coco Reef Hotel.

The deal that Premier Dr. Brown has made with Coco Reef and its CEO John Jefferis was the subject of a controversial parliamentary session in Parliament that was cut short on Friday.

Under discussion was a Hotel Concessions (Coco Reef Resort) Order 2008, which led to calls from the UBP for more information about concessions Coco Reef would receive along with a claim the concessions were an election payback.

Mr. Jefferis, who has business interests in the Caribbean, is known to be a close friend of the PLP's political advisor Roy Boyke, who is based in Trinidad, according to political sources, who did not want to be identified yesterday.

Stung by the Opposition's accusation the deal is an election payback, Dr. Brown refused to entertain further questions, which ended the debate.

According to a report in The Royal Gazette, Dr. Brown said the PLP will engage in debate and will not suppress it, "but every time there is the implication or insinuation of something dishonest or corrupt mentioned by members of the other side, we will shut down the debate."

The UBP said the ending of the debate which closed Parliament, was "an affront to democracy and the people of Bermuda."

Yesterday, Mr. Blakeney said the Opposition seems "hell-bent on maligning the Government with rhetorical aspirations around the idea of dishonesty and corruption and that is bordering on criminal, when you have the insulation of privilege of the House for the words that you speak."

He added: "If the Opposition continues without substantiation to suggest Government is doing things that are untoward any particular way they can expect the same type of response in future."

He said the PLP is not going to be treated like a government in waiting.

"We are the government and we are running the country," he said. "I don't think there are too many places in the world where you can see a government run as efficiently and effectively in the face of all kinds of challenges as regards the buoyancy and the prudent running of our economy."

'Not privy to the intricacies'

When asked if Dr. Brown plans to make the information the UBP is requesting public, Mr. Blakeney said Dr. Brown is committed to public access to information.

As to what is contained in the Coco Reef deal, he said: "Suffice it to say, I am not privy to the intricacies of that arrangement."

Asked whether as an MP he should have knowledge of the concessions being extended to Coco Reef, he said "absolutely", but he did not know what the circumstances of the contract were.

He also said not all government contracts are "necessarily subject to public scrutiny because of certain levels of intelligence."

He said that in the U.S., as an example, certain papers are sealed for a certain number of years.

Yesterday, assistant clerk to the legislature said the controversial bill is to be tabled in the Senate today.

When asked for a comment about Friday's debate, Government House said in an email: "Individual parliaments create their own procedures and thus precedents, under the guidance of the Speaker. Few would impugn the principle of parliamentary privilege but it is for Mr. Speaker to rule on its application."

UBP leader Kim Swan put out this statement last night: "We appreciate the Government's sensitivity when it comes to allegations of corruption. In this instance, it appears they want the UBP to point out specific instances as they relate to concessions being given to the Coco Reef Hotel.

"The PLP Government does not need us to allege impropriety in this matter. All they need to do is refer back to the 2004 Special Report of the Auditor General which drew the following conclusions about the Stonington Beach Hotel Lease:

The lease that was eventually executed with Coco Reef 'was so materially different' from the terms put to short-listed bidders that 'the tendering process was effectively compromised;'

The Auditor General said he did not believe the lease letting met 'the test of fair, open... practice' as stipulated by the Government's own financial rules;

He said the final differences in the deal - including the addition of ocean-front and woodland reserve lands, reduced rents, a longer lease period and the right to develop and sell condominiums - made it considerably more beneficial to Coco Reef than anything envisioned in the original tender;

Because of this, he said, the lease should have been re-tendered.

"The Auditor General's findings are the starting point for a host of legitimate questions about the use of public land and public assets for private gain. We think the Government owes the public an explanation why this particular lease holder continues to get such special treatment.

"Unfortunately, or conveniently, the Premier shut down debate on Friday, thus side stepping the questions we raised on the floor of the House of Assembly."