Minister Without Portfolio, Mr. DeSilva

The RG is reporting that Mr. DeSilva has been appointed to Cabinet as a Minister Without Portfolio today. Mr. DeSilva’s elevation will no doubt be highly controversial within the Party, especially within the backbenchers of the parliamentary caucus, even if the Party as a whole puts forward a united front of self-congratulation.

I want to make it clear that I have nothing against Mr. DeSilva. I have always found him to be extremely nice whenever I have met him, and I think he has a great sense of humour too for what its worth. However he has also been a bit of a controversial political figure, implicated in several accusations of corruption, and there are some who have regarded him as nothing more than an opportunist within the Party and a lackey of Dr. Brown. His elevation will reinforce those views in many, both inside and outside of the Party.

I have always regarded the position of a Minister Without Portfolio to be little more than a form of political patronage and a tactic to boost ones support within Cabinet – they come usually as rewards for loyalty, and to increase loyal support within Cabinet. A Minister Without Portfolio is an MP who is allowed to sit and vote within Cabinet and who receives (as I understand it) the wages of a part-time Minister ($100k) in addition to the basic MPs salary of about $60k, although the Minister has no responsibilities whatsoever. Usually they serve as Junior Ministers, but to be frank a Junior Minister does as much or as little as they please.

In a period where Bermuda is facing a decidedly negative economic climate, with many workers worried about their job security and pension funds, and after the Government has pledged to cut spending which, among other things like canceling the St. Georges ferry, has led to increased tension amongst government workers, this appointment will be looked at badly. There will be many who will argue that there is one rule for the average worker and another for the ‘big men’, and this may even contribute to the threat of industrial action in the near future.

Had Mr. DeSilva been appointed a Ministry, such as the Ministry of Transport or even the Ministry of Sport (currently joined with Environment) then any criticism would have been reduced. Handing over the Ministry of Transport could have actually benefited Dr. Brown (who currently holds that portfolio), allowing him to focus more on Tourism and the various projects he has committed himself to in his final year as Premier (by his own words). That he has instead handed Mr. DeSilva a non-Ministry Ministerial position will lead most to view the appointment as blatant patronage, both as a reward for Mr. DeSilva’s loyalty and to bolster Dr. Brown’s support within Cabinet. That Dr. Brown has vowed to pursue a pro-gambling agenda before he steps down in October 2010, an agenda for which he has faced opposition within Cabinet and the backbench, will not escape the attention of many.

Dr. Brown may find that his decision to elevate Mr. DeSilva to Cabinet, without a Ministry, may prove to have some unfortunate repercussions for his plans, and he will have to work hard to dismiss criticisms of patronage and poli-tricks.

13 thoughts on “Minister Without Portfolio, Mr. DeSilva

  1. I beg to differ in some areas Jonathan.
    Many Ministers begin their cabinet careers as Minister without Portfolio. This is to give them some experience in Cabinet without being tied to or responsible for a certain post. Once they seem to be familiar or ready for promotion they are then elevated to an actual Ministry. Yes Mr Desilva has been the subject of accusations, but some sectors of the community have basically attacked every PLP politician in some regard. So that is neither here nor there.

    With regard to how the remainder of the PLP will feel, i dont think there will be much backlash. The group that called for Dr Brown’s ousting cannot be surprised that they weren’t selected, so that takes them out of the equation. That leaves only a select few to choose from.

    mr. Desilva has shown himself to be a hardworker, both inside the party and outside the party. And while some may have initially had their doubts about his commitment, he has shown an unwavering commitment to the PLP.

  2. There is already the category of Junior Minister for the tasks you describe Ken. Plus the Constitution has ample coverage for temporary Ministers.

    There should not be Ministers without Portfolio – it’s just stacking the deck to protect the lame duck.

    The argument a few years ago was that we needed to raise ministerial pay commensurate with their duties, but have a smaller Cabinet: we now have 11 people in Cabinet.

  3. Jonathan,

    I attended Zane DeSilva’s swearing-in ceremony today for several reasons. (1), Zane gave my son his first summer job while he was still a college student and that was long before he entered politics or even had his own company, (2) anytime that I have called Zane and asked he if would be willing to hire someone that has come to the Union because they’re out of work, he tries to accomodate us a much as possible; (3) Zane is one of the most hard-working MP’s that I’ve seen next to Derrick Burgess, and (4) I genuinely like Zane.

    I can tell you that I have been to several “swearing-in” ceremonies at Government House, but this was the first time that I have seen such a large contingent of Branch members. They had to actually bring in more seats to accommodate the people that were there. Even the Premier was surprised when he entered the room and saw the number of people present.

    You should also know that it was not mere coincidence that Zane was able to unseat David Dodwell in what was a traditional UPB seat in the 2007 election. Zane worked hard then, and he continues to work hard.

    As I see it, the only reason that Minister DeSilva has been a “controversial figure” is because some people cannot accept that a white person would join the PLP unless, as your posters say “he’s involved in teh friends and family plan”. Tomorrow these people will be saying the same thing about Jonathan Smith who recently joined the Party.

    It is my understanding that the position of “Minister without Portfolio” plays an integral part in the Cabinet. For example, Walter Roban was Minister without Portfolio and ended up have to act at the Minister of Health (upon Minister Nelson Bascome’s death, and Minister of Home Affairs, Immigration & Labour, when Col. Burch was taken ill. Certainly, having acted in those positions, benefitted him and the people of Bermuda now that he is indeed the Minister of Health.

    I do not think that there is one PLP MP, Cabinet Minister, or member, that would deny that Zane DeSilva is one of the hardest working Members of Parliament. I think most of us are celebrating his “promotion” tonight.

    Zane DeSilva is not the first person to he handed a “non-Ministerial” post in Bermuda politics, and I doubt he will be the last, no matter which party is successful at the polls at the next election.

    By the way Jonathan, Zane has more to offer Bermuda than a great sense of humour.

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  5. @ Ken – With all due respect I tend to err on the side of Chas with the reference to appointing individuals as Junior Minister as the appropriate route for training individuals for full Ministerial posts. Unless I have a totally flawed understanding of Cabinet, one doesn’t need all that much training to learn how to participate in a meeting. What they do need preparation for is how to be a Minister and familiarity with the Ministries. Taking on the role of Junior Minister, where one can choose the degree of ones involvement, is the best way for one to develop ones abilities as a Minister and to demonstrate ones capability for it.

    As I stressed there will probably not be that much of a backlash in a formal sense, however there will be some grassroots skepticism here.

    I’ve also stressed that my criticism is not anything personal towards Mr. DeSilva; I’ve always found him to be a nice guy and actually quite down to earth – I quite like him to be honest. However surely you can see how some will look at him as an opportunist and this appointment as patronage and a tactic by Dr. Brown to boost his support within Cabinet.

  6. @ LaVerne – As I’ve said, I quite like the guy on a personal level, and I don’t doubt his hard-working ability whatsoever. What I do question is why he wasn’t appointed as a Junior Minister first?

    I do not doubt that there have been other Ministers Without Portfolio, although I am pointing out how it will be regarded with skepticism, and yeah, I think the whole idea of such a post is bumpkin and a form of patronage and vote-rigging.

  7. Hi LaVerne,

    Actually I did not write anything about Mr. Roban being appointed as Minister Without Portfolio. If you go back you’ll see that at that time I had announced that my blog would be dormant as I worked on my dissertation.

    I did refer to Mr. Roban shortly after his appointment in reference to the highly publicised email from him to Claire Smith which developed out of the June protests, but the focus of that post was the email in question and not his appointment.

    I was shook out of my dormancy by the untimely death of Mr. Bascome, and shortly after I criticised Mr. Roban’s being appointed Minister of Health because I thought he was better suited for an alternative ministry (and stressed that he deserved a Ministry, just one that suited him).

  8. the people of bda need to protest all this mismanagement of he public purse when the queen arrives and demand a royal comission into bermudas governance over the past 50 yrs.

    time to protest to the queen

    we need the same level of investigation that the cayman islands recieved to once and for all clear the plps tarnishing reputation.

    time to protest to the queen

    power to the people

  9. bermuda needs a new minister without portfolio cause we obviously are not wasting enough money on the current ministers 🙂 who all do a piss poor job on protecting the public purse and truly representing the interests of the grass root bermudian.

    yet another kick back to a good ole boy, that takes more money from the people in bermuda that actually need the money

    @ yes minister

    as for zanes commitment to the plp…has he unionized his staff yet?

    what a joke

  10. Pingback: Minister Without Portfolio, Mr. DeSilva « "Catch a fire" | Drakz News Station

  11. As head of one of the largest (non unionised) construction companies, he is in a position to have serious conflicts such as acting as Minister of the Environment or Works and Engineering in the actual Minister’s absence. Wouldn’t he be allowed for example to review plans, proposed developments, costs etc of rival firms? Don’t repeat the well worn out “well the UBP did it”, now is 11 years on and it is time to be mature and if anything needs to be said it would be “the UBP did it and it was wrong. We shall not repeat those actions”. Otherwise why not just vote the UBP back in to continue the status quo?

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