A Question of Judgement

The allegations that have reportedly been made by David Bolden about former Premier, Ewart Brown, certainly raise an eyebrow and beckon a chorus of “here we go again” among many in the community. It is encouraging to know that the police have moved swiftly to investigate the matter and we can only hope that they (and any legal process) will bring the entire matter to light so all are clear about what really happened.

The best we can all do is reserve judgment until the findings are revealed, tempting though it might be to do otherwise. The parties involved deserve this consideration.

However… There is something that caught my eye when reading the article that warrants comment. It concerns lawyer Mark Pettingill’s representation of Dr. Brown.  This was a somewhat surprising revelation and I am wondering just what the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) really think about it. It certainly seems a rather curious move on the part of Mr. Pettingill. He is a politician in the Opposition party (I take it we can safely call the OBA “the” Opposition now), and he is representing Dr. Brown, who has been a key, and sometimes controversial, figure from the ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP).

Dr. Brown is entitled to choose whatever lawyer he wants to represent him and Mr. Pettingill can, generally, accept whoever he wants as a client. Professionally, there is nothing “wrong” with Mr. Pettingill representing Dr. Brown. Let’s face it, in a small island like Bermuda, where lives are so intertwined, we are often faced with situations like this, where we have to consider whether conducting business with some people or organisations in any way represents a conflict of interest. Some of these situations are relatively benign and others are more glaring and even stir debate as to whether they are, indeed, a conflict of interest or ethics. For some, Mr. Pettingill’s representation of Dr. Brown might well fall within this “debatable” category. It seems a natural dilemma for Bermuda’s part-time politicians who wear two hats – one of professional and one of politician.

The particulars of the allegations concerning Dr. Brown likely make Mr. Pettingill’s choice appear even more questionable in the eyes of his constituents and the public at large. People in Bermuda seem to have had enough of anything that suggests any impropriety or a lack of transparency or good governance – especially where political leaders are concerned. Unfortunately, the allegations made in this situation speak to such concerns. Further, many residents have often perceived Dr. Brown as a divisive or controversial figure during his tenure as Premier and there have been previous questions about the way he chose to govern. Now, with these latest allegations, those negative perceptions are bound to resurface among residents. How does this play out for Mr. Pettingill in his role as a Member of Parliament within the Opposition, OBA? Does it affect his credibility in this regard among residents? It is a slippery slope, perhaps, and the answer, no doubt, rests with the court of public opinion as the people of Bermuda make their own assessment of the situation. Certainly, if the outcome of the investigation is not in Dr. Brown’s favour, then Mr. Pettingill’s representation might be viewed even worse by some.

On a more optimistic note, it could be asserted that Mr. Pettingill’s representation of Dr. Brown is a case of offering the best defence possible to clear an innocent person’s name and to champion truth and fairness. It could be argued that this is in keeping with a philosophy that is committed to transparency, objectivity, and the protection of all people – even those we might disagree with at times. After all, there is no need for politicians on opposing sides to be acrimonious with each other; and I would expect there will be occasions when they do engage in some form of business with each other; but they must be extremely careful about just what this business is and how it fits with their political platforms and leanings. I do not know Mr. Pettingill, so I cannot speak to his character or motives, although I do sense he does care about Bermuda. I certainly applaud him if the philosophy just described is his own, but I would be concerned about whether this professional decision is something that ends up affecting the level of confidence or trust that the Bermuda electorate might have in him; or how it reflects on his party.

Which brings me to the OBA. Whatever the outcome, this situation presents an opportunity for the party to reflect and decide on whether it needs to put in place any guidelines for its representatives to avoid or effectively address such dilemmas. As a fledgling party which is putting itself forward as something new and different – a party which aims to “renew confidence” – it can ill-afford to give the impression that it does not live up to its aims. After all, the party does say on its website that, “We will ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between our public duties and our private interests, financial or otherwise.” Given this, it would be best to not leave any semblance of doubt in the minds of the public; and with part-time politicians, some formal guidelines are surely in order. The OBA must be very careful about its image, as should any other party, given that politics has as much (or more) to do with image, than substance, at times, whether we like it or not. So far, the OBA is looking very professional and progressive, but there are still many who are sitting on the fence and waiting to see just what the OBA is about and whether they really do offer anything new. It is those people who the OBA must be particularly mindful of as they seek to increase their supporters. Ensuring there is little or no doubt about what it stands for in the minds of the public remains critical – even more so at such an early stage of the party’s existence.

As for the investigation, let’s hope there is no truth to the allegations, not just for Dr. Brown’s sake, but for Bermuda. Now, more than ever, it is particularly pertinent that the valuable Bermuda brand is well protected and there is no further damage to the island’s international reputation.

People are watching.

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~ by Carol-Ann Simmons on June 20, 2011.

2 Responses to “A Question of Judgement”

  1. This is a rather well thought out and gentle response to what is a blatant conflict of interest and betrayal of the mandate an MP is charged with. If as an MP one is responsible for representing their constituents interests then it is clear that the opposition is charged with monitoring the activities of the ruling party – in fact they are being paid to do so. They are essentially an auditor of all activities. An auditor is meant to be independent – in this case the auditor is now in the employ of the person they are charged with auditing . If the ex Premier should find himself guilty of criminal activity then this opposition MP is in the even more precarious position of potentially receiving funds that have been gained unlawfully. The opposition needs to take a stand on this if they have any hope of being considered a viable alternative. They better hurry up or their auditing capabilities will be called into serious question.

  2. Thanks for sharing your views on this. At the very least, perhaps better judgement can be exercised in the future and guidelines can be established to encourage same.

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