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.