Abuse of privileges

  • Firing blanks: Derrick Burgess used parliamentary privilege to attack the reputation of incoming Chief Justice Narinder Hargun (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Firing blanks: Derrick Burgess used parliamentary privilege to attack the reputation of incoming Chief Justice Narinder Hargun (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Since David Burt threw his toys out of the pram in reaction to the appointment of Narinder Hargun as the next Chief Justice, the media have been consistent in asking, “Why?”

Why is the Government so opposed to someone who comes with impeccable credentials and who so impressed the Judicial and Legal Services Committee, winning its critical recommendation?

Apart from the sometimes alpha-male posturing that goes on within the walls of the House of Assembly, this has been the only time that the Premier has wavered in a quite impressive ten months whose highlights have been many — in particular when he has had to represent the country’s interests overseas.

But on this one, he has remained quiet after his opening salvo.

The dummy was spat out and discarded.

We were told that no more explanation would be forthcoming on this subject — what was done was done.

That notwithstanding, the elephant in the room has always been Hargun’s appearance in the summer and autumn of 2016 among a four-man panel that oversaw the Commission of Inquiry, whose remit was to look into the findings of the Auditor-General’s report on the Consolidated Fund for the financial years 2010 through 2012.

It was not until last week in the House, where parliamentary privilege is a slanderer’s best friend, that the elephant was affixed with bells and whistles, and attended to with the most odious of lipstick.

That is where Derrick Burgess and Zane DeSilva used their privilege to attempt to tear strips out of the reputation of Hargun, who will be elevated to the highest court in the land by the end of this month nonetheless.

The charges against him?

One, that he is not black — hardly a crime.

And, two, that he refused to recuse himself from the commission after its chairman, Sir Anthony Evans, appeared to launch a pre-emptive strike on the first day of hearings in October 2016.

Who could ever forget Burgess’s “I’m before a lynch mob” and “You are trying to beat me down like a slave” quotes?

He most certainly hasn’t. They are to be recalled as reference points whenever Burgess doth protest too much.

Because this has everything to do with race, much as the awarding of contracts that landed the Government in a mess of cost overruns had everything to do with race — a rebalancing of past practices of “injustice” where blacks had been denied a piece of the economic pie.

In admitting playing the race card, which was in keeping with a mandate reiterated in November 2002 under the premiership of Dame Jennifer Smith, Burgess told the commission: “I sought wherever possible to give genuine consideration to [giving] small and medium-sized black Bermudian companies a real chance to win government contracts that in my view they had been deliberately excluded from in the past. To achieve that, I saw it as my duty to assist those bidders to compete on a level playing field. There may have been occasions when all the dots and crosses on a bid contract were not made, perhaps through inexperience, but I saw no difficulty in helping them remedy small failings in the bidding process, provided I thought they could do the work.”

There is so much in that statement alone that would call Burgess’s conduct as a Cabinet minister into question, not least positioning himself to overrule technical advice from the appointed experts.

It was wholly appropriate, then, that he be brought before the commission to answer some questions, most of which were asked by Hargun.

While Sir Anthony’s “straightforward fraud” comment even before a witness had been called is regrettable, the facts as presented to him cannot be denied.

The Port Royal Golf Course board of trustees paid $10,000 of public money to a company awarded a contract for goods, so the company could in turn pay that money as a “finder’s fee” to a board of trustees member, whose name was intentionally absented from the invoice.

DeSilva was a member of that board, which makes him taking to his feet to become the second government MP after the Deputy Speaker to attempt to assassinate Hargun’s character entirely predictable.

He was not called as a witness before the commission but admits having been in attendance so as to form an opinion of Hargun’s suitability as Chief Justice.

To hear him speak, it is unconscionable that anyone would vet Hargun for such a position, let alone get up to the supposed collusion to make “the PLP look as bad as you can”.

But the Judicial and Legal Services Committee is convinced, the Governor is convinced and so, too, is the Bermuda Bar Association, which said in a statement: “Mr Hargun is a former president of the Bermuda Bar Association and he has been a leading commercial attorney for the last 35 years, involved in many leading commercial and other cases in Bermuda, and he enjoys the widespread respect of his peers for his integrity and legal acumen.

“He comes with a wealth of experience to the post which will serve the judiciary well. No doubt, with Mr Hargun at the helm, we can be assured that the high standards currently held by Bermuda’s judiciary and court officials will continue.”

There really does not need to be much more said.

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Published May 11, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated May 10, 2018 at 7:14 pm)

Abuse of privileges

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