Jonathan Starling: Thoughts On Airport Emails

May 14, 2015

[Opinion column written by Jonathan Starling]

Whether one agrees with the questions being raised by the People’s Campaign or not, I think we can all agree that their initiative in obtaining these documents – through the Canadian Freedom of Information laws – has greatly contributed to our understanding of how this particular deal has progressed and how this Government is operating.

It is the responsibility of the people to approach these documents with their critical thinking caps on, review all the evidence – including the ‘expert’ analysis from the media and politicians – and draw their own conclusions.

Smoking Guns?

I have not had the opportunity to review all 2000 pages of this document cache.  At the time of writing I have only had the opportunity to read the 40 or so documents highlighted by the People’s Campaign out of the entire cache.

From these readings I do not see any smoking guns of corruption or criminal actions.

I do see reasons to be even more suspect of the entire process and to question the competence of the Minister of Finance – or shall I say the Minister of Fuzziness?

It seems clear, to me, that several of those involved in the deal have acted in a very cynical manner, be it in plans to ‘front’ Aecon using CCC logos and letterheads, ‘planting’ questions, manipulating the media or creating a paper trail, apparently retroactively, to justify the selection of Aecon by CCC for the project.

The Minister of Finance’s apparent willingness to have ‘fuzzied up’ numbers, apparently to help sell the project [presumably to the public?], can’t help but come across as a cynical ploy, and one that will inevitably lead to his credibility being questioned on all future numbers he presents.

And just how his predecessor, former Premier Paula Cox, was haunted by her ‘cog’ gaffe, Minister Richards will almost certainly be haunted by his ‘fuzzied up’ remark.

There does appear to be reasons to conclude that there has been a deliberate misleading of parliament and the electorate by the Minister.  Questions remain about his full role in the process regarding Aecon and whether he misled parliament on that matter.  That he does mislead on the nature of the deal as privatisation does seem clear.

Aecon seems to have been of the understanding from the very beginning that the deal was about privatisation, while the Minister has sought to call it anything but.

Playing Chicken

One of the most interesting aspects is the apparent game of chicken that Aecon, CCC and the Bermuda Government played with the UK Government.

From the exchanges it seems clear that the UK Government was opposed to the process being engaged in, apparently for the same reasons it nixed a near identical process in the Cayman Islands.

The UK opposed that deal primarily as it failed to apply best practice, as per the UK’s Treasury ‘Green Book’, on appraisal and evaluation in central government – which should be followed in this situation.  The UK guidelines clearly state that, in a situation like this, the correct approach should be an open tendering process with at least three bids.

Aecon, CCC and the Bermuda Government appear to have taken a page out of ‘Yes Minister’ and forced the UK Government’s hand by announcing the deal as a fait accompli, in advance of the UK’s formal decision on the matter, causing some degree of friction.

Not only does this seem a calculated attempt to secure the Bermuda deal, but also to create a precedent for CCC to revisit the nixed Cayman deal.

I am not convinced from my reading of these documents – which are heavily redacted, preventing a holistic reading – that there’s evidence of corruption. Is there evidence of fraud?  Possibly.  Is there evidence of misleading parliament?  I think so.  Is there reason to question the Minister’s competency or willingness to fuzzy up numbers?  Certainly.

I do think there are enough question marks around this deal to justify putting it on hold and, at the very least, allowing a more detailed and transparent investigation of its handling.

More appropriately, if the decision is that a PPP is the best way to develop a new airport, then the process needs to be started from scratch and in accordance with international best practice, including an open tendering process.

Campaign Finance Laws

There’s no evidence that any of the parties involved in this airport deal were financial donors to the OBA, unlike the revelations of Jet Gate.

On the flipside, there’s no evidence they weren’t either, and due to the question marks about the deal already, and in light of Jet Gate, this will no doubt feature in the rumour mill.

It’s time for us to modernise our laws in many areas, be it corruption, fraud or electoral reform – and, in the wake of Jet Gate, there’s a clear need for campaign finance laws to ensure accountability and transparency.

While our country faces an economic deficit, we also face a rather catastrophic trust deficit as a result of the current Government’s actions – or at least failure to live up to the expectations they themselves encouraged the people to hold in the OBA.

Introducing campaign finance laws, including caps and disclosure, is one vital step to reducing the trust deficit that we have regarding both the OBA in particular, and politics in general.

- Jonathan Starling

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Comments (31)

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  1. hmmm says:

    Shame you couldn’t just stick to a true unbiased assessment and leave it at that.

    YOu said “From these readings I do not see any smoking guns of corruption or criminal actions.”

    You suspecting, or WANTING to find something, shows what your true motivation is…and it isn’t for the betterment of Bermuda and its people.

    • serengeti says:

      Yep. I love the bit about how “there is no evidence they were OBA donors…but there’s no evidence that they weren’t either”.
      Totally creating innuendo out of absolutely nothing.

      And the bit about “in the wake of jetgate.. a need for campaign finance laws”. Nothing about it also being the wake of the million dollar donations to the PLP by overseas interests, the $200k clothing allowances to PLP Premiers from overseas donors, etc.

      • Zevon says:

        Yes. That’s a bit like saying “there’s no evidence that Jonathan Starling robbed a bank. But there’s no evidence that he didn’t either. Hmmmmm.”
        Comes across as a bit unfair, doesn’t it Jonathan.

    • Regina says:

      Exactly. And please explain how one can write an opinion piece on a document that one hasn’t even fully read?? Baffles the mind! I mean seriously, that’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard!

    • Unbelievable says:

      To JS:

      Shame on you for drawing conclusions from reading 2% of what was provided. If you want take time to write an opinion piece, at least do your due diligence and take the time to read all of the docs that that were provided.

      Next time, take the time out to read the entire cache and then write an opinion on that. I did and I formed my own opinion on ALL of information that was provided.

      Drawing conclusions on a mix of media reports, anti-goverment summaries and assumptions is not only foolish but lazy.

  2. BTCHECKER says:

    Fair enough. I think we need answers on this but I also think the entire package should be read for context. when to find the time…

    • It’s over, believe me. The airport will be built whether this bie’ Jonathon Starling and others want to accept it or not.
      In quoting him: “I have not had the opportunity to review all 2000 pages of this document cache. At the time of writing I have only had the opportunity to read the 40 or so documents highlighted by the People’s Campaign out of the entire cache.
      From these readings I do not see any smoking guns of corruption or criminal actions.”

  3. hmmm says:

    I don’t think the ministers comments are in the same ball park.
    Cog v fuzzy.

    One was resolving self of all financial responsibility to protect the public purse.

    The other referred to not having full and clear financial numbers available at that moment in time.

    • hmmm says:

      I don’t know how you interpreted them JS, but that is how most people did.

  4. Really??? says:

    I rarely agree with Jonathan Starling, but in this instance I beleive that he is spot on (Lord have mercy, I am actually agreeing with Jonathan Starling!!!!)

    • hmmm says:

      What eaxactly are you in agreement with and why?

    • Regina says:

      So did YOU read the entire document?

  5. SANDGROWNAN says:

    “the revelations of Jet Gate.”

    By using *gate you invalidate everything you say. And you weaken the argument by saying “..apparently retroactively,”

    Now now comrade, I know that’s what you want to see, but how did you deduce that?

  6. Jeremy Deacon says:

    Good read and thank you Jonathan for this it helps put some thing in context and perspective. I am finding this whole issue confusing (mainly due to the external noises surrounding it) and am struggling to take a position locally.
    I agree, however, agree totally with this:
    “It seems clear, to me, that several of those involved in the deal have acted in a very cynical manner, be it in plans to ‘front’ Aecon using CCC logos and letterheads, ‘planting’ questions, manipulating the media or creating a paper trail, apparently retroactively, to justify the selection of Aecon by CCC for the project.”
    Cog and Fuzzy – sounds like a children’s cartoon, no?

    • Accurate says:

      Very cynical and very expedient was exactly what was required Jeremy. Let’s see what happens when we slow all this down and float an RFP that takes it’s sweet time. “The problem came when making projections based on a 30 year trajectory”. Now which direction do you think those numbers were headed?

      Anyway – ‘places gentleman, the Captain want’s a nice waltz to keep the passengers calm’.

    • We the People (1st!!) says:

      I agree this is a good read. Unfortunately, too many people commenting on here are commenting from a position of bias and any attempt to have meaningful dialog on the topic at hand always seems futile.

      First, you do not need to read an entire 2,000 page document to see red flags (questionable conversations) on the pages one has read.

      As Jonathan pointed out and I agree with both of you. I think the following are ligament points that need to be questioned and answered.
      -plans to ‘front’ Aecon using CCC logos and letterheads. Why the need to ‘front’?
      -‘planting’ questions.
      -manipulating the media
      -creating a paper trail, apparently retroactively, to justify the selection of Aecon by CCC for the project.

      I also agree with Jonathan, at this time “I do not see any smoking guns of corruption or criminal actions.” However, there are some questions of unethical behaviour and somebody trying to mislead the people.

      Many people thought JetGate was a non-issue but we had two high ranking people resign as a result.

      It would be so nice for those attacking the person that wrote an option piece, that attempts to have a conversation about a legit issue, actually attack the points being made in the article.

      So; hmmm, Unbelievable, Regina, Raymond Ray. Where do you stand on these issues?
      -plans to ‘front’ Aecon using CCC logos and letterheads. Why the need to ‘front’?
      -‘planting’ questions.
      -manipulating the media
      -creating a paper trail, apparently retroactively, to justify the selection of Aecon by CCC for the project.

      With all due respect, if you don’t understand why these points maybe considered questionable, or red flagged, I can attempt to explain it to you.

      Any yes, it is possible to have questions, a raised eyebrow, red flags, on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or whatever number of pages someone has read without reading the entire document. Think about it, it really is possible.

  7. Christopher Nororius says:

    Just like JS, I openly admit to not having read the whole column above, just the first paragraph. That was enough for me.

    People’s Complainers have embarrassed themselves yet again. Send the preacher packin I’d say.

  8. AFronter says:

    Don’t you think the people’s campaign is really just a front for the unions so that they can use it as a cover, making sure they can use its name?

    • Unbelievable says:

      It’s a front for the unions and the PLP. It’s all the same: the Combined Opposition.

  9. Just a matter of time says:

    Wow the responses on this board are amazing. JS welcome to our world, ‘our’ meaning left of the center. So let me get this straight. Min Richards can make a huge quarter billion dollar no bid deal based on conflict of interest and a hell bent foreign company practically making up the rules as they go to get this wonderfully luxurious gig. Min Richards claims fuzziness while in a position whose responsibility is to oversee the public purse and also claims of not seeing or knowing all of the facts of this matter but is proceeding anyway. And the OBA supporters are ok with it?

    Actually you know what? I am guessing that many OBA supporters DO NOT agree with their Deputy Premier/Min of Finance’s methods. And they feel helpless and slink into stewed silence. Most important is the resounding silence of other OBA leaders including our Premier. Crickets. Reminds me of that infamous Front Street town hall meeting last year at Pier 6 where Min Richards took all the heat and his colleagues just sat there watching him go down in flames saying and doing nothing to help. Nice. They would rather the PLP, PC and Union to take all the hits which they obviously have the courage to do and more. And I for one admire their courage and the courage of the people to rightfully protest (as opposed to Min Richards calling it a ‘showdown’) because that’s what it always takes to effect change. History has proven it time and again.

    A bit of an aside. I always notice that when the heat is piled on from the Opposition for better accountability, instead of looking at the matter of being right or wrong for the country moving forward, it gets personal and the intelligence insults inevitably raises its head with additionally more code phrases given such as: ‘they don’t have a clue’. ‘they don’t understand how things work’. ‘brainless’ ‘clueless’ etc,etc. Yet we have a Minister that claims ‘fuzziness’ and lack of knowledge for many details for this huge money deal. Gotcha.

  10. Alvin Williams says:

    Fuzzy economics as it turns out is a term is used in financial circles; but it is used to deceive potential investors. In other words one could end up in jail or if you are living in China executed; Something for this government’s current finance minister to think about.

  11. Vote for Me says:

    All,
    I find some of the comments above disingenuous. How many of us form opinions based on media reports? How many form opinions about budget speeches, throne speeches or what is said in the House of Assembly without listening to the entire debate etc.

    Notwithstanding anything else, it is clear that the integrity of CCC and Aecon must be questioned if they conspired to allow the use of CCC letterhead instead of Aecon’s letterhead for any communication to the Bermuda Government or any of their representatives. Reading all 2,000 pages of the emails is not necessary for such a conclusion.

    Similarly, it is not necessary to read all 2,000 pages of the emails to conclude the MP Richards is being truthful about his knowledge of Aecon. By his own admission, he was as much in the dark about Aecon’s involvement as anyone else until his meeting on June 4th in Toronto.

    My request is for all of us to be a little more critical in our thinking in the midst of a barrage of conflicting information, which is being politicized by both parties.

    • serengeti says:

      Kind of like how the People’s Campaign is a mouthpiece for the PLP? Is that what you mean?

  12. Joonya says:

    FFS! Can we just move on? This Govt chose to build a new errport without increasing our monster debt created by the PLP. Can we just let them get to it. FFS

  13. Chaos Theory says:

    I wonder whether it was Mr Starling who made the application to the Canadian authorities to the information? It sounds like something he would have done, and his email requests to CCC would seem to bear that out.

    If that is correct, then an op ed piece like this seems a bit strange.

    Unlike Mr Starling, I have read a substantial number of the original emails (not just the Combined Opposition’s extracts), and I think he has found the wrong tree and is doing a lot of barking ! – mind you, that does appear to be standard operating procedure for the Combined Opposition.

    • LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL says:

      But did you read all 2k pages?

  14. Alex says:

    Thanks, Jonathan. Whether people like to believe it or not, I think you try your best to present an unbiased account when writing your articles and I for one appreciate that you are generally even handed when it comes to doling out criticisms.

    These ‘bloggers’ like to complain but I don’t see (almost) any using their real names or contributing more than one sided, one paragraph attacks in defence of their own biased opinions, which I’d say is about as useless as ‘contributing’ to free speech gets..

    Thanks for sharing.

  15. Lawry says:

    The lack of transparency is the issue here. Clearly a lot of projects through the years have bitten the dust because for their various reasons, entrenched Busy Body Brigades have screamed blue murder – witness Ritz Carlton fiasco as far back as Jim Woolridge’s time, and I could name similar shootings in our foot for each year thereafter. So it seems the Finance Minister choose to bypass the drama, still a bad move in a so-called democracy. Bob, in future, just stick to the facts and tell the truth; when the country is desperate enough, it will come around, just like in the last election.

  16. steve says:

    You only read approx 40 pages of 2000 (only those highlighted by PLP associates/affiliates-true no?)and then you write a full opinion piece? Why don’t you read all or most get a bigger feel for the relationship, give it a proper study and then write a piece? Time consuming?way to Boring? yes and yes…c’mon man,Help us out be a good adviser to we sheep.

  17. Eve says:

    It would have been so much cleaner if His Fuzziness would have put it out for tender there is zero chance any other company would guarantee their price, Aecon/CCC would have got the job anyway. Bermudians would be marching in the streets when the airport was completed for the price tendered.

  18. street wise says:

    Usually… What you THINK is going on is not what’s really going on. And often in Bermuda perception is reality.