This is a follow-up from my previous post concerning the issue. Here I will look at the conflict of interest itself – from a political perspective – and the infighting within the PLP that the diverging positions between the Leader and Deputy Leader would seem to indicate.
Conflict of Interest
The parties immediately involved in the ‘BLDC Scandal’ have, so far, been adamant that they were acting within the by-laws of the BLDC’s constitution, as well as the Company Act. To this end they have bolstered their argument with claims that two independent firms, KPMG and the Trott & Duncan law firm, had been consulted on the very issue and agreed that, within the BLDC’s constitution, they were acting ‘legally’, although even here one gets the impression that these companies felt that the actions were contrary to the spirit of the law.
I am neither a legal expert, or privy to the BLDC’s constitution and by-laws, so I cannot comment expertly here. I will note that the Auditor’s report raises enough flags to me (concerning questionable – and unratified – ammendments to the their written code, as well as non-compliance with Financial Instructions) to make me concerned.
The actual legality of the conflict of interest issue notwithstanding, it should have been obvious to all involved, especially with the criticisms of PLP actions at least since Dr. Brown’s premiership, that such an action would be perceived negatively by the public. At the very least one would have expected that such actions would be seized upon by the Opposition for political purposes.
That the three core individuals implicated are all heavily involved in politics (a Cabinet Minister and Deputy Leader of the Party, and two PLP branch chairman, one of which intends to run for parliament and made that intention clear years ago) just makes this even more damming. Such politically involved individuals should have been aware of the political fall-out they risked, and that they either did and went ahead with it or that they didn’t consider the implications makes one wonder whether they should even be involved in politics in the first place.
One should also note the geographical ‘base’ of all three involved, all being involved in the branches of Hamilton Parish and St. George’s South. One cannot help but feel there was some organised attempt to develop a power-base there for future political favours or positioning. At the very least one wonders of cronyism and that the three should also have been aware of such accusations.
To summarise, whether or not there was any wrongdoing – and as it stands there seems to be more wrongdoing than not, be it by incompetence or malice – the parties involved should have been astute enough to be aware of the poltiical risks they were taking. They should have been able to predict the possible consequences and an astute politician (formal or informal) should have been able to realise maybe they shouldn’t sully their reputation in this manner.
Conflict of interest? Perhaps. Lack of political smarts? Definitely. Political reputations damaged? Absolutely.
And for the aspiring MP, Mr. Bean, perhaps he’s crashed before even taking off. And this is unfortunate, as I have held Mr. Bean and Mr. Burgess in high regard over the years. I remain hopeful that they can extricate themselves from this, but their responses so far have only done more harm and failed to mitigate the situation.
A PLP Schism?
Since the BLDC report came out there has been a rather startling unveiling of what appears – at least superficially – an internal struggle within the Party. It appears that the Deputy Leader has acted in direct contravention to the orders and intentions of the Leader, and has even sought to undermine – through contradiction – the Leaders’ position in the media.
This has been all the more compounded by the rush of pro-PLP voices in the comments sections of Bernews and the RG to defend the Deputy Leader’s actions. In doing so they have inadverdently been criticising the Leader. I don’t think that this indicates a groundswell of support coalescing around Mr. Burgess against Ms. Cox though.
Rather, I think that the pro-PLP voices had not realised that the Leader was being contradicted by the Deputy Leader and instead jumped to the defence of the ‘Party’ without a full critical review of the entire situation and the Auditor’s report itself. Had they done so – and considered how their defence of the Deputy Leader constituted an attack on the Leader – I think they would have had to pause and develop either a more nuanced defence or choose a side.
As is, events have moved somewhat quicker than my writing. It appears that the momentum within the Party proper is siding with the Leader and the Deputy Leader’s position is becoming rather shaky – at least going by this report where the Deputy Leader is being urged to resign.
This goes back to the political fall-out of the BLDC actions. The PLP – or at least Ms. Cox – seems quite aware that the image of the Party has been tarnished (rightly or wrongly) by a number of scandals (perceived or real) and that this makes for a huge challenge in the upcoming General Election.
Since her election to Leader Ms. Cox has made a number of strategic and tactical corrections to the Party, notably boosting Good Governance legislation, encouraging more centrist (and many would have presumed pro-OBAers) to join the Party (as Senators or candidates) and, behind the scenes (as seen in the Auditor’s report) sought to counter politically damaging situations.
If the PLP is to win the next election they need to undermine the key strategy of the OBA, which will be to play on people’s dismay at these mounting scandals associated with the PLP. The PLP also needs to present a credible economic narrative and vision.
Ms. Cox would seem to have been trying to correct course with the above intentions. Actions like the BLDC and the responses (and involvement) or Party members and the Deputy Leader risk undermining all her corrective measures. Whether the damage is too great to be corrected in time for the election, and whether the push-back internally will be too great to overcome, remains to be seen. But something has to give.