The Bermuda premier Ewart Brown shut down parliamentary debate last month

A string of recent political controversies surrounding the ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP) in Bermuda has left the island’s business community feeling “uncomfortable”.

Premier Ewart Brown last month shut down a parliamentary debate in the House of Assembly – adding that the government will do the same “every time there is the implication or insinuation of something dishonest or corrupt” by the opposition.

The opposition United Bermuda Party (UBP) was further alarmed when the Speaker of the House of Assembly announced the government would not have to answer questions tabled in the previous parliamentary session. The Speaker of the House is a PLP MP whose job it is to ensure fairness and parliamentary rules are observed.

The Speaker said he had not approved the remarks issued in a press statement and attributed to him which appeared to shut down scrutiny of government. He quickly reversed the previous statement issued by the government’s press department.

"I can assure all honourable members that this parliamentary democracy remains a paramount objective and that the integrity and the independent rule of the Speaker will continue to be maintained," said Speaker Stanley Lowe.

“Many of us feel uncomfortable about what is happening politically in Bermuda. Shutting down debate in parliament is not what is supposed to happen in a democracy

A reinsurance executive

The UBP’s questions covered spiralling spending on international travel by government ministers and officials.

Dr Brown has alleged the opposition and media are involved in a campaign to smear the island’s reputation.

Last Friday, the Premier announced he would be appointing a leading US public relations firm to “implement a media campaign to counter the destructive imagery promoted by the opposition and its assembled media forces”.

“Many of us feel uncomfortable about what is happening politically in Bermuda,” said one senior executive of a reinsurance company. “Shutting down debate in parliament is not what is supposed to happen in a democracy.

“Then hiring a PR firm from the US – it will cost the taxpayer millions of dollars and be a waste. The government has also taken away its advertising for the daily newspaper. It has tried to gag the media through the highest courts and failed.”

“None of what has been happening in the House of Assembly is good for Bermuda and its image

A reinsurance executive

While the executive said he did not like what was going on, it was not enough to make companies like his want to leave. He said problems with work permits just made them outsource jobs to other countries, but overall Bermuda was still a good place to do business.

Another reinsurance executive said: “None of what has been happening in the House of Assembly is good for Bermuda and its image. Brown needs to answer these questions –many of which are legitimate – not shut down debate. The problem is half of the government supports Brown and the other half are too scared of him to do anything about it.”

Robin Spencer-Arscott, who runs a consultancy firm used by reinsurers and organises the World Insurance Forum every two years, is one of the few businessmen able to speak out as he is Bermudian.

“Personally I am devastated about what has been happening,” he said. “I am extremely confused about why the Premier is bringing in a PR firm – what for?”

Spencer-Arscott added that no spinning from Brown would avoid the truth about what is happening coming out. “It is all a big smokescreen to keep voters happy.”