Activist group protests Commissiong appointment

  • Into Cabinet: veteran activist and politician Rolfe Commissiong, who stepped down in August from running in this month’s General Election, swears the senator’s oath of allegiance at Government House yesterday, October 8, 2020 (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Into Cabinet: veteran activist and politician Rolfe Commissiong, who stepped down in August from running in this month’s General Election, swears the senator’s oath of allegiance at Government House yesterday, October 8, 2020 (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A pressure group last night slammed the appointment to Senate of a former MP who stood down as an election candidate amid controversy over an “inappropriate remark”.

Social Justice Bermuda, inspired by the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement, said that it “urgently calls” for the appointment of Rolfe Commissiong to be rescinded.

The group said it “listened in abject horror” as Mr Commissiong was yesterday given a Senate seat and made the community affairs and sports minister in the new Cabinet.

It added: “About a month ago, when confronted about these allegations, Mr Commissiong agreed that his behaviour had been inappropriate, resigned so as not be ‘a distraction’, only to now be appointed to key roles by Premier David Burt, who had previously said this issue ‘is something that I take very seriously’.”

Commissiong, an MP for eight years, resigned in August as the Pembroke South East Progressive Labour Party candidate in last week’s General Election after the incident from two years ago was made public.

He said at the time: “I made a comment I shouldn’t have. I made a mistake, I apologised.

“For the good of the party, and Bermudians who deserve strong leadership in these trying times, I have chosen not to be a distraction. To that end, I will not be a candidate in the General Election.”

He added: “The affected party and I entered into a legally binding confidentiality agreement which prohibits me from speaking further. The matter has been settled and it is closed.”

The announcement came after Mr Burt said he had asked for “an explanation” about a harassment accusation that was made against a PLP MP in the last Parliament.

But SJB said: “Sadly, it appears he does not take it seriously enough. It truly begs the question with 30 MPs to choose from and a slate of talented party members as options for the Senate, why was this man given such an important ministerial role? This is not a good start for this team that has pledged to rebuild Bermuda with Bermudians at heart.”

The group said many members of SJB were supportive of the PLP. It added: “As a lobby and advocacy group that is pressuring for fair and equal representation and governance, we share the concerns of many Bermudians about the lack of a strong Opposition.”

SJB added that pressure groups would have “an even greater role” in holding elected representatives to account after the 30-6 landslide over the One Bermuda Alliance.

But the group said: “All that said, we have been eager to get started working with the Government, especially as they have been very welcoming to us and were the only party to reach out to SJB in advance of the election.”

Mr Commissiong could not be contacted for comment last night, but Mr Burt said: “The Government and party I am privileged to lead has a proud history of women in leadership and key roles. To this end, my goal is to ensure there is a work environment where women are respected and treated fairly and professionally.”

He explained that while the inappropriate comment had been addressed by “established protocol” in the Public Service, and that he had been assured the issue had been “resolved to the satisfaction of all parties”.

Mr Burt added: “I will judge senator Commissiong by his work going forward. Like other ministers, he will have to adhere to the standards of office and any breaches of such will be enforced without fear or favour.”

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Published Oct 9, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 9, 2020 at 7:57 am)

Activist group protests Commissiong appointment

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