Fuss about cops exposes rift between island's leaders
Wednesday, December 2, 2009 10:41 AM
All the recent fuss about crime, policing, accountability and responsibility have exposed the now very noticeable weakness and disconnect in Bermuda's top national management.
It is way past time for national profiling and personal and petty play-acting to stop.
From Albania to Zimbabwe, none of the 200 countries in the world has a perfect system of governance.
Bermuda is not "another world". Our system was set up in 1968 under an Order in Council called the Bermuda Constitutional Order, 1968 [BCO 1968].
Our system was patched in 1979 and tweaked in 2002. With the two fixes, BCO 1968 still works much the way its writers intended.
Oops! I should say that BCO 1968 CAN still work the way its writers intended.
The writers were people like Dame Lois Browne-Evans, Sir Henry Tucker and other luminaries from both sides of Bermuda's racial, cultural, and political divide and BCO 1968 was a document that sought to provide a framework within which law, order and justice would prevail.
Since 1968, with three assassinations, four national riots and disturbances, 10 Premiers or equivalents, 11 Governors, 11 elections, one referendum, one general strike, one change in ruling parties, one march on Government House, countless marches on Parliament, BCO 1968 has - through it all - still worked as intended and designed.
In fact, given the huge social changes and the enormous increase in national and personal wealth and the massive expansion of national infrastructure that took place between 1968 and 2008, BCO 1968 has worked remarkably well.
Look at Hamilton's changing new skyline, see the Bermudians driving BMW's and taking cruises. Bermudians have benefited.
Four decades on, we are one of the top five wealthiest populations in this 200-country world.
So why all the recent fuss over the Governor and his responsibility for the police?
BCO 1968 established a clear process for managing the police and other matters.
The process mandated that there should be regular liaison between the Governor and the elected political persons.
The critical mechanism was the Governor's Council. This council, GovCo, was designed as the forum within which matters relating to internal security and any of the Governor's 'reserved powers' could be tackled.
BCO 1968 says GovCo consists of the Governor, the Premier and not less than two (or more than three) other ministers. Secretary and minute-taker was to be the Secretary to the Cabinet.
In essence, GovCo was a supra-Cabinet. The writers of BCO 1968 intended that the Governor should have the power to request a meeting of GovCo but the Premier could refuse to meet. However, the Premier can demand a meeting and the Governor can not refuse.
The writers intended that the Premier and his ministers, as GovCo, should have regular formal 'business of the country' meetings with the Governor.
What could GovCo discuss? Whatever the Premier, sometimes the Governor, wanted to. Taking refugees from Guantanamo? Britain's tax policies regarding Bermuda? Policing?
The Premier was empowered to set the agenda and focus on any matters he chose.
What has happened at 32N64W?
From 1999, the ruling PLP largely withdrew from the GovCo process that, from 1968 to 1998, had worked relatively well.
During those 30 years, two Government leaders and five Premiers had to deal with getting a Governor recalled, Bermuda being kicked out of Sterling and ensuring changes in U.K. laws did not result in Brits being able to flood into Bermuda.
Why did the GovCo process break down? Because a succession of PLP Premiers chose not to use this constitutional process.
Their choice was unilateral and deliberate. PLP Premiers, almost by definition, are pro-independence. So PLP Premiers elect, and have elected, to work with minimal reference to the Governor.
The last two Premiers saw little purpose in GovCo.
The current Premier, the eighth Premier and tenth overall leader, has taken this even further by making it clear he has difficulty in working with a Governor.
Now, after more than 10 years of this unused Constitutional process, we're all feeling the day-to-day consequences of that hidden decision.
Having broken a relationship with the Governor and not using the constitutional tool that was specifically designed to permit full and proper interaction with Bermuda's Police Force, today's Premier and one of his ministers are complaining about the operational management of it.
Today's politicians complain that a process specifically belonging to them and intended for their specific use is not working.
Their complaints about the Governor are disingenuous and misdirected.
The Governor would be acting outside his constitutional authority and responsibilities if he responded to the pressures of politicians of any party who personally approach him and remonstrate with him through any medium other than that set out in BCO 1968. The Governor lives and operates within the confines of BCO 1968.
On the other hand, as shown by recent events, the Premier can punch big holes in BCO 1968 and, effectively, go unsanctioned.
Past events have shown and proven the Governor and Premier operate under two different standards and levels of accountability - with one standard clearly lower than the other.
We would be wise to hold the Premier to the same high quality and standard of accountability to which the Governor is held.
The Premier - any Premier - should stay within Bermuda's existing constitution and correctly use BCO 1968.
If the Premier doesn't like BCO 1968, he should seek to change the constitution. He should ask us if we agree to a change so he can behave differently.
But if he won't put it to the vote, then the Premier must live and work with BCO 1968 as it is.
As they'd say in old St. David's, especially after a few bumpers,"If yuh can't pee an' yuh won't poo, 'den stop makin' all 'dose bleddy nyses an' get off de potty!"