Wedderburn case bears close scrutiny
“You can’t just tell the people one thing, and then you turn around and contradict the same thing, and turn us into clowns.” — Beres Hammond
On May 10, 2019, it was reported by The Royal Gazette that the Tawanna Wedderburn judicial review court documents allege that there is a connection between her termination and David Burt and others interfering in the day-to-day management of the Bermuda Health Council to push taxpayer funds to Ewart Brown. The judicial review also alleges that other members of the Progressive Labour Party government benefited.
Mr Burt said: “The allegations are strongly denied, and they will be defended in the appropriate forum.”
By way of history, Dr Brown held an epic press conference in January 2018 when he aired his grievance against the BHeC. He singled out Mrs Wedderburn among others to be “remembered” — as if to mark them for some future event.
We then recall that in early December 2018, a press release circulated that Mrs Wedderburn had “separated” from the BHeC. At the time, many eyebrows were raised in surprise and rumours began to spread for months after.
Her husband then published a sensational letter (“A husband’s outrage”) at the end of January 2019 to express his displeasure over how she was “mercilessly fired”, contradicting the official announcement that the separation was amicable.
He was not only incensed, but it seemed like the system was trying to muzzle a man with vicarious knowledge of where the bodies are buried and the next heist.
He also asked a very pertinent question: “Why the rush to get rid of her now? Why now? Why now?”
That question should be resonating with all of us now because of the controversial Health Insurance Amendment Bill 2019 that has just been passed by the PLP government in super-quick time. The Government rammed this Bill through the Parliament unusually fast. With a 25–11 majority in Parliament, Bermudians should be asking, why the rush and why now.
The Wedderburn case should cause us openly to pay attention. We cannot simply bury our heads and wish away its unpleasant and inconvenient implications. In fact, when these types of allegations are made, we should all be on high alert as a nation.
A few of the allegations made by Mrs Wedderburn are:
• She was unlawfully terminated because the council was tainted by bias
• She was fired because she was obstructive to certain political intentions
• She was fired because she was protecting the public against decisions favouring certain individuals and healthcare providers
Additionally, she alleges that the health minister approved her termination before investigating why the recommendation was made.
Her husband summarised for us what she was told during her termination meeting. He said she was told, “Our future plans require new leadership, so here’s the 26 weeks’ maximum settlement you would get at the Employment Tribunal. Take it before we change our minds. You have one week to decide and a few minutes to clear your things from the office.”
This is the same PLP government led by Mr Burt who said on the TNN Facebook page last month, after Butterfield Bank staff were made redundant: “My heart goes out to those persons who intended on going to work today to provide for their families and found out that they no longer had a job.”
The Premier added: “This was not in keeping with best level of corporate responsibility.”
His response seems quite contradictory when comparing what happened with Mrs Wedderburn while she was under his leadership and what he expects of other employers towards their employees.
To make matters worse, the PLP replaced Mrs Wedderburn with an expatriate. Shocking, I know, but true.
Didn’t the PLP promise to fight for Bermudian jobs? I am sure that if the One Bermuda Alliance did this, it would be rightfully called anti-Bermudian. However, the PLP government can do this and everyone turns a blind eye and becomes mute.
The PLP backbenchers, who used to stand up and march for Bermudians while in opposition, are all asleep at the wheel or complicit.
In her role as the chief executive of the BHeC, Mrs Wedderburn held the highest position in the watchdog agency of paramount importance to Bermuda’s healthcare system and our economy. She is highly respected for how she carried out her role at the council and highly regarded for her integrity. This suggests that there were very persuasive reasons for her dismissal or a dangerously nefarious one for her termination.
The Premier responded to the allegations by stating that the council is subject to ministerial direction and is not an independent regulator. Legally, I do not claim to know how that term is defined, but I do know that quangos provide an essential service. Governments deem them so by creating them and then funding them to be autonomous and free of political interference as those circumstances allow. For the Premier to respond to the litigation allegations in such typically dismissive defiance is telling.
Arguably, the political opposition and the PLP backbenchers play the most important watchdog role of all. They are supposed to sound the alarm loudest when evidence suggests that our Cabinet has breached the public trust and sirens should be blaring when there is evidence it has been flagrantly violated.
When credible allegations are made that public servants are fired because they will not yield to pressure to line the pockets of politicians, we should be in overdrive. If the BHeC debacle does not qualify as a national scandal, it is looming as a national disgrace with serious consequences for our political culture, our government leadership and our country.
This matter is before the courts and we must respect the process. However, we should not be complacent, silent and immobile with important issues when the stakes are so high. We should all be paying very close attention. Our media and politicians should relentlessly, albeit responsibly, communicate with the public to ensure that the outcome exonerates us for getting to the bottom of it.
“Corruption” is an ugly word. We should all be very wary of using it. However, as a nation, we can ill afford to be complacent about it with our economy in such a fragile state. We were recently blacklisted by the European Union and moved to a grey list. Never has our government’s reputation been more vital to our future as a nation.
Amid the roar of silence, the Wedderburns have their home up for sale to fight this alleged injustice. The Health Insurance Amendment Bill so hastily passed will cause our health insurance premiums to significantly increase from June 1, 2019. Is this the PLP that the country voted for? I have asked this question before (“Are we witnessing a coup by stealth?”).
• Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017