Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Premier Brown Still Has Problems in Bermuda

Bermuda continues to deal with the Uighur issue today. Yesterday there were protests and demands for Premier Ewart Brown's resignation.

Today, the Governor of Bermuda, Sir Richard Gozney said "that Premier Ewart Brown’s direct negotiations with the US to bring the Muslims to the Island — a process Sir Richard described as an 'exchange of notes' — breached section 62 of the Bermuda Constitution. Because it breaches the Constitution, this exchange of notes which was negotiated and sent on June 10, was in our view, invalid. In other words, the Bermuda Government’s action to solicit the arrival of the four Uighurs was unacceptable. I talked to the Bermuda Government yesterday, June 16, and suggested to them that they should now consider carefully their next steps.”

The protest seems to be not so much about the Uighurs themselves, but about Brown's violation of the constitution. The only complaint about the Uighurs so far that I can find is the issue of citizenship. The Royal Gazette quoted one protester yesterday who said
"it is ridiculous to give people long-term status before they have arrived — some people have been waiting 20 years."

Today's editorial in the Bermuda Royal Gazette outlines the problem:

On Friday afternoon, Premier Dr. Ewart Brown told the House of Assembly that Police Commissioner George Jackson had carried out a security assessment on the four Uighurs brought to Bermuda from Guantánamo Bay a day earlier.

Mr. Jackson, he said, had concluded that "there is absolutely no security risk". Yesterday, Mr. Jackson and Governor Sir Richard Gozney said that Dr. Brown's statement was untrue and misleading.

Mr. Jackson, who only learned of the arrival of the Uighurs on Thursday (presumably along with the rest of Bermuda or just before) in fact told Sir Richard and Public Safety Minister Sen. David Burch on Friday that the men were "a high risk".

And yet Dr. Brown told the House of Assembly that afternoon that Mr Jackson said the men posed "absolutely no risk".

Last night, Dr. Brown's spokesman said that the Premier was briefed by Sen. Burch on the Police Commissioner's preliminary assessment and that the Premier's comment in the House was consistent with the content of the Minister's briefing.

As of 8 p.m. last night, Sen. Burch had not responded to requests for clarification, but no doubt will do so today.

So, according to the Premier, Sen. Burch either received different information from Mr. Jackson than Mr. Jackson now says he delivered, misinterpreted what Mr. Jackson told him, or Sen. Burch outright lied to the Premier, which seems unlikely.


What is unquestioned is that Premier Brown misled the House of Assembly, even if he did so unknowingly.

Under the Westminster system, the one thing that you cannot do is lie to your colleagues. Parliamentary privilege means that you can accuse people of all sorts of heinous acts. But you are expected to tell the truth.

If lying in Parliament was acceptable, then the whole foundation of parliamentary democracy would collapse. If Cabinet Ministers and MPs regularly lied about their actions, laws and policies, then those very actions, laws and decisions would be meaningless.

That's why Parliaments are so strict on this point. Erskine May's 'Parliamentary Procedure' has this to say: "It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity."

If Dr. Brown unknowingly misled the House then he needs to correct himself, and quickly.

The Royal Gazette isn't the only paper speaking out against Brown. The Bermuda Sun also has a piece laying out the complain against Brown:

Whether it is liked or not, the Bermuda Constitutional Order, 1968 [BCO 1968] is Bermuda's Constitution. As such, it defines where power resides, and in whose hands those powers reside. Under BCO 1968, power and responsibilities are clearly set out.

In originating and then arriving at a final arrangement with a foreign power without properly involving the U.K. authorities - as is required by BCO 1968, the Premier acted beyond and outside his constitutional authority. He acted outside the law. In principle and in detail, this action is the same as that of any other person acting beyond and outside the law - the Court Street gunman, for example.

The people in Bermuda seem ready for the most part to welcome and support the Uighurs. But, is Team Obama doing anything to straighten out this diplomatic mess they've created in Bermuda and the UK? Are they even "deeply troubled" by it? Or would that be "meddling"? Meanwhile, the Uighurs are living on your taxpayer dime in a guesthouse overlooking the ocean and enjoying the amenities of Bermuda. Sort of like Gitmo, but not.

1 comment:

Red said...

Looks like the international trend is to buck one's constitution. Poor Bermuda. I'd be hollering too. What a minute what am I saying? I'm paying for those clowns to live there! Let the hollering commence...