‘Govt broke the law’

Pintard lashes govt on Bermuda debacle | PM says govt will be repaid for his travel expenses

Opposition Leader Michael Pintard declared in the House of Assembly yesterday that the government “broke the law” in funding a political trip to Bermuda, then having the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) reimburse it for the charter flight.

After Pintard spoke, Prime Minister Philip Davis explained the series of events that led to his travels to address a political convention there last week, and indicated that the government will also be reimbursed for his personal expenses.

Pintard then asked him to point to the law or financial protocols under which the decision was made for the PLP to pay the government back for the trip.

Davis did not answer.

Earlier, Pintard told the House, “It is a breach of the law to have a government pay for a political trip and to be reimbursed by a political organization.

“It is a breach of the law. The question is, will heads roll as a result of it?”

Last Wednesday, Davis and a delegation of government and PLP officials traveled aboard a Western Air chartered plane to Bermuda where he addressed the convention of the Progressive Labour Party, and returned on Thursday.

Amid questions and controversy surrounding the political trip, the PLP on Tuesday night released a picture of a check in the amount of $24,750, drawn from a FirstCaribbean International Bank account, and dated October 21 (a day after the delegation’s return).

Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Director of Communications Latrae Rahming said on that same date that the PLP paid for the trip, but at no point did he explain that OPM paid for it and had been (or would be) reimbursed by the party.

Rahming suggested the trip was a PLP matter, but Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell called it an official trip.

Addressing the issue in the House of Assembly after Pintard raised this issue yesterday, Davis said Pintard was failing to demonstrate a clear understanding of the Westminster system.

The prime minister explained that while he was in Austin, Texas, attending a crypto conference earlier this year, Bermudan Premier David Burt invited him to make an “official visit” to Bermuda.

He said Burt suggested he come while the Bermuda PLP is having its political convention in October.

“The office of the premier of Bermuda was in contact with the foreign affairs ministry to ensure that I will still come,” Davis said.

“I then said I would go to travel as prime minister … you can’t separate the two.”

Davis said that to travel commercial to Bermuda he would have had to spend one night in New York going and one night coming back, which would have meant he had too much time out of the country.

“And so, we then explored the possibility of a charter,” he said.

“It started off on $150,000 or so and then that’s when the trip started slipping out of my mind. We were able to use a Bahamian aircraft, Western Air, who agreed to the trip at a reasonable cost.

“By this time, this was like two days before the trip, I was thinking whether I was about to postpone the trip for another time, but since we were able to do that, that’s how it evolved and I was going as the prime minister of the country.

“In the meantime, the premier also invited the PLP because the PLP of Bermuda, which was formed by the PLP in The Bahamas, they invited the PLP to come as well.

“…So, once they said they were coming as well, I said OK, they can come. We had a 50-seater plane that was being chartered and they came, so I then said we will reckon.”

The prime minister added, “By the time I decided the PLP will join me, the arrangement for the charter had been paid for by the government.

“The day I was leaving, I left instructions with my senior policy advisor (Jerome Fitzgerald) because of the fact that PLPs were going to be on the flight, too, to make sure that we will pay for the charter, at least, and make the arrangements.

“When we get into Bermuda, we will pay for the hotels and we will reckon and reimburse whenever we get all of the receipts and that was what the position [was], so that is what was done.

“At the end of the day, the question is who will pay for it? The government will not pay for it.

“In fact, I’ve decided that they will not take care of whatever I went for. I will pay for myself. We will do the reckoning and at the end of the reckoning, you will see.”

Davis did not say how much the total trip cost and when the government will be fully reimbursed.

Before the prime minister spoke, Pintard said the Davis administration is keen on co-mingling government business with party business.

Pintard questioned, Who authorized the payment? Who authorized the Ministry of Finance [to pay] for the trip? Was it the minister of finance? Was it the financial secretary? Who authorized the treasurer to cut the check?

“Under what circumstances can a public official pay for a private situation and then have some people later on say, ‘No problem, man; I got you. I [will] pay for it’?

“Which law, which set of protocols, permit this government [to] make that happen? Which?”

Pintard asked the government to lay on the table of the House all correspondence related to the trip, including invoices and evidence of payments made.

No such documents were laid.

“If the party was paying for the trip, then that should have been stated clearly from the beginning and maintained throughout this discussion,” Pintard said.

The prime minister’s delegation included Rahming; former Prime Minister Perry Christie; PLP Secretary General Barbara Cartwright; PLP member Telia Saunders; Minister of Transport and Housing JoBeth Coleby-Davis; Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister Myles LaRoda; Parliamentary Secretary Leon Lundy; PLP Senators Barry Griffin and Quinton Lightbourne; OPM Policy Advisor Kevin Simmons; OPM Permanent Secretary Creswell Sturrup and their aides.

When contacted by The Nassau Guardian yesterday, Sturrup refused to answer any questions concerning his travels, including whether the PLP will also be reimbursing the government for his travel expenses.

He said all questions should be asked of the communications director and hung up before The Guardian could ask him directly whether he thought it appropriate as permanent secretary to attend a political event in Bermuda.

When questions were put to him, Rahming said, “Once the PM spoke in Parliament on the matter, I really have nothing more to add.”

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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