Independent MP Terry Lister is calling on Government and the Opposition to meet and change the wording of the gaming referendum in order to save the future of democracy in the country.

Terry Lister made the plea yesterday as the row over Government’s decision to scrap the gaming referendum escalated.

Describing himself as “very angry” at the turn of events, Mr Lister, former PLP Cabinet minister, said Government should redraft the referendum question. He also called for a conscience vote by all MPs, rather than on party lines.

“Both political parties had committed to a referendum for two years. There had been no indication that this would not happen,” said Mr Lister. “In fact, when the time to debate the referendum bill came up on the Order Paper, the Premier rose and said he would carry the bill over. 

“I was surprised but no indication was given that there was anything untoward afoot. 

“Additionally, there were entities that were asking Government to bypass the referendum and to take the matter to Parliament. In response, the Premier had forcefully stated less than two weeks ago that there would be a referendum.”

Mr Lister told the Sun: “As I have become more aware of the behind- the-scenes goings-on, I have moved from being surprised to be very angry. I am angry that the people of Bermuda have been robbed of speaking for themselves on this most important issue, under the guise of a threat that few saw, understood, could measure and feared. The people of Bermuda have every right to feel disrespected by this turn of events.  

“There was an expectation that they would make this decision. I believe this decision will change Bermuda forever — some believe for the better, some believe for the worse. This being so, the people should have the vote and make the decision for themselves. 

“The public can canvas their MPs, but what is the MP who — representing 1,200 voters, and who gets 60 calls, 35 for and 25 against — supposed to do when casting his vote? Clearly the people should speak for themselves.”

The decision to scrap the referendum would only lead to a general distrust of Government, he said.

“...Government has backtracked or broken eight significant promises in the year that they have been in office,” he said. “This can only happen so often before the people lose faith in the Government. 

“The economic situation that the country faces requires everyone pulling in the same direction, but this only happens when each person trusts the next person. 

“The ethics of the OBA have to be called into question. It appears that the ends are far more important than the means. It appears that there is a developing culture of ‘it doesn’t matter how you get to your goal, as long as you get there’. This isn’t what the people expect from their government.

“I firmly believe the OBA took this course of action because the community spoke against the question that had been posed by the referendum bill (‘Do you favour the introduction of regulated casino gaming for the purposes of creating new jobs for Bermudians and encouraging hotel development?’).”

Mr Lister said: “The proper thing for the Government to do was to study the question and to redraft it, or to take an amendment during the debate.  

“I had planned to table the following amendment — ‘Do you favour legalized gambling in Bermuda?’ This is a simple yes/no question producing no interpretation issues.

“The Premier said that the PLP were going to take actions that would cause the referendum to fail. What he should have done was to call the Opposition Leader and ask for a meeting of six people: himself, the Attorney General, the Minister of Tourism and Transport, along with the Opposition Leader, his Deputy Leader and the Shadow Finance Minister...The group should have been able to agree on an acceptable referendum question. Once this had been achieved the referendum was safe to proceed.”

Mr Lister said: “I am calling on the Government to have such a meeting now. To save the Government’s relationship with the people, the two parties need to negotiate this matter. For Government to refuse to act is a further show of disregard for the people.”

He added: “This vote... has to be a conscience vote. Each [MP] must vote as he or she believes Bermuda will be best served. To simply follow a party line would be wrong.”