Statement on Direct Action for PATI

The below is my ‘press release’ concerning my ‘sit-in’ yesterday at the Ministry of Home Affairs.  As I was doing my best to tweet as it went down, the media was already aware of what was going on, but were not able to contact me until after it was over.  I felt it best to be as clear as possible about what happened in order to reduce misunderstandings.

Statement on Direct Action for PATI

Earlier today I was involved in a direct action initiative at the Ministry of Home Affairs, in Sofia House on Church Street.

I went to the Ministry of Home Affairs in order to achieve two objectives:

1) Get clarification from the Minister concerning his recent statements on ‘policing’ the internet.

2) Ensure the public release of the policy review document which informed the recent decision by the Minister to abolish term limits.

As I discovered that the Minister was off-island, I decided that it would be impossible to achieve the first objective, and instead focused on the second.

Prior to going to the Ministry I made inquiries concerning PATI and the proper process by which to initiate a PATI request concerning the policy review.  I was informed that PATI is not operational and, indeed, was essentially dormant at the moment, pending instruction from the new government.

I decided at this point that I would go to the Ministry and I would not leave until I had either a commitment on their part to release the policy review, or a written statement on why the policy review would not be made public.  I understand that the Minister was not present, but understood that the acting Minister or Premier would be able to instruct the Civil Servants on this matter.

I was initially told by the staff that they would make an appointment for me to discuss this issue with the PS.  I agreed to this, but insisted that I would wait until the PS returned from lunch and ensure she understood my position.  On her return, I provided my contact information with her, but insisted I would not leave until given a written statement about whether or not the policy review could be released, and if not, why not; or a written statement of when the appointment would be.

The PS refused to give me either, and I insisted on staying in the Ministry until either of the above was forthcoming.  I was presented with a written statement confirming that she had met with me, and taken my details for an appointment, but not the details of an appointment itself.

I sat in the waiting area at the front, reading a paper.  I was informed that if I did not leave promptly that security would be called.  I repeated my earlier position.

Some time later, the police arrived.  There were at least seven police who responded, four in fluorescent jackets, and three additional in black vests.  I believe there were more police, possibly up to nine, but as I was somewhat distracted by their arrival I cannot be sure.  I took a picture of the first four police as they arrived, but was unable to take further photos.

I was approached by two officers, while the rest stood behind them.  They asked me what I was doing, and I told them that I was waiting for a written statement concerning my freedom of information request.  They asked me some additional questions which seemed irrelevant to the matter at hand.  I distinctly remember them being particularly interested in where I was employed.

I was informed by one officer that if I did not leave immediately that I would be arrested.  I asked for clarification on what legal basis I would be arrested for simply sitting quietly in a waiting room of a public ministry awaiting a written statement.  I was informed that I was to be arrested under the Summary Offences Act for obstruction, I believe, of business.  I pointed out that I was in no way obstructing the civil servants from their business, any more the coat rack or empty seats also in the waiting room.

I admit I also noted that it seemed a tad over the top to send at least seven police officers to deal with this issue, as it seemed that their skills would be better served elsewhere, and that one or two officers would have been sufficient for this incident.

As I was about to be arrested, Minister Dunkley arrived and asked to speak with me privately.  I insisted on a police officer being present to take notes and as a witness, and once this was agreed, I agreed to speak with the Minister in the boardroom.

After discussing why I was there and in this situation, Minister Dunkley, the acting Minister for Minister Fahy, offered a compromise.  I was given his word that he would ensure the policy review in question would be given to me, and thus the public, if I agreed to cease my sit-down.  Taking the Minister by his word, I complied with this deal, and was promptly escorted out of the Ministry and building.

I would like to make two points here:

1) The civil servants involved were pleasant and professional.  I understand they were simply doing their job, and I hope they also understand that I was just doing my job as an active citizen in the democratic process.

2) The police themselves acted politely, and despite the situation, I understand they too were simply doing their job.

I would also like to note that at the moment I have a neutral position concerning term limits and their continuation or abolishment.

My concern however was that they were abolished despite the OBA stating as a pre-election pledge that they would suspend term limits for two years and engage in a thorough review involving consultation with key stakeholders.

As a member of the public I consider myself a key stakeholder, and feel that I was not consulted.  I also feel that the policy review that informed the abolishing of the term limits policy should be in the public domain, if for nothing else it would serve to dispel some of the myths concerning the term limits policy, and ensure that the Government is held accountable for their actions.  It would also serve as an educational document in this sense.

There are consequences when a Government breaks its promises, and the failure to consult with all stakeholders, including the wider public, especially when it involves a serious breach of the public’s trust (in terms of their pre-election pledge) warrants the release of this policy review to the public.

I would also like to point out that at no time did I, in my belief, engage in any violent conduct.  My ‘protest’ consisted of discussing the issue with the civil servants in a friendly manner and sitting in a waiting room quietly reading an article on urban planning.

PATI remains inoperational, despite being passed some years ago.  While this is partially the failure of the past Government, as well as the immense task involved in making it operational, I was hopeful that a Government elected on the basis of inclusiveness and transparency – in the spirit of PATI – would be more open to the public release of such a policy review.

I encourage other citizens to also engage in peaceful acts calling for the Government to move swiftly in terms of PATI in general, and in releasing this policy review in particular.

I will be holding Minister Dunkley – and by extension the OBA Government – to its word on the release of this policy review.


4 thoughts on “Statement on Direct Action for PATI

  1. I am struggling to understand why you just didn’t email the Minister. You also must have known that the PS is not going to commit without reference to the Minister.

    And finally, whilst I know you have been away in Edinburgh for some time, you have been on the island over the last few years. I also can’t believe that there wasn’t one instance with the last Govt where you didn’t feel equally aggrieved. Yet, I don’t recall you staging a sit in at the appropriate office.

  2. Mike,

    My sentiments.

    I just find it hard to fathom that this was a genuine case of trying to push for a more inclusive Government.

    Where were you and why were you so silent on matters that NO ONE was consulted on during the previous administration’s reign? Examples could include the 2010 payroll and foreign currency purchase tax hikes, the introduction of land licenses and the actual implementation of term limits in the first place.

    Sorry Starling but you when to the Ministry simply agitate and gain some media attention against a Government that you utter disdain for. Why else would you feel the need to tweet and run to the media, before even speaking to the Minister? The Minister is not on island and thus could not be there to authorize the report to be given to any guy off the street at this point in time.

    It reeks of politricks as you could have expressed such concerns over perceived secrecy for many years now as there have been more than enough examples from the past administration.

    But hey at least you got yourself in the media.

  3. Just some points of clarification:

    1) I did not go to the media with this. I was tweeting my actions in the midst of it, after they threatened me with security. I felt it would be prudent to have some evidence of my actions for legal purposes. I did tweet Bernews about it for the sake of getting an answer about legal rights, as I figured they may know.

    The media did however contact me after the event, I assume from seeing my tweets, and I understood they were going to run a story. I thought it would be prudent in that event to provide them with a statement, and did so accordingly.

    2) I am still canvassing and a number of my constituents had raised concerns about this issue – about the OBA breaking their election promise, about the lack of consultation, about the lack of the policy review in the public domain and about PATI in general.

    I gave them my word that on Tuesday I would go to the Ministry and I would not leave until I had secured the release of the document, or a written statement explaining why it would not be released. I fulfill my word when I give it.

    3) I was not aware the Minister was off-island when I committed myself to this action. Nonetheless, I was aware that in the Minister’s absence an acting Minister or the Premier would be able to intervene and direct the PS or other Civil Servants.

    4) While my actions may be right or wrong, and both are arguable (and I admit I could have approached it differently, or planned it better) I believe that in the long-term my actions will contribute to a more accountable and transparent government for the island.

    I believe it will also lead to smarter policy-making on the part of the Government (whoever is in power) with a commitment to greater public consultation. I also believe that in the long-term my actions may contribute to a greater level of political activism and critical thinking and involvement regarding politics in our island.

    I believe this will be the case regardless of whether my actions are ultimately considered right or wrong.

    5) I have been active in critiquing Government since 1998, although I did this in different ways at different times depending on the situation and options available to me.

    I have often been the only voice of dissent in internal PLP meetings when I was a member, I have criticised them in public, and taken part in non-violent direct actions against the Government, be it in the form of revealing information (the initial ‘leak’ of Southlands for example), taking part in industrial action and other organised labour activities (including workplace occupation and strikes/demonstrations – including while in the Regiment), and demonstrations against imperialist wars (including demonstrations at the US Consulate and Government House), as well as other matters, including but not limited to issues of sexual orientation in Bermuda, the replacement of the monarchy with a republic and for a secular Bermuda.

    I have also been involved in non-violent direct action internationally, in Canada, the USA, the UK and south-east Asia, all since 1997.

    While not all of these have reached public consciousness in Bermuda, to accuse me of only becoming an activist since the OBA came to power in December 2012 is, to me at least, laughable.

  4. Pingback: 2013 Media Articles | Vote Jonathan Starling

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