(CNS): Minister Bernie Bush was suspended from office and lost responsibility for internal affairs after violating the Constitution and violating the ministerial code of conduct on the management of the fire service. In a press release issued early Monday, Prime Minister Wayne Panton said Health Minister Sabrina Turner will take over the home affairs portfolio.
But Bush, who has apologized, remains in government and retains his Cabinet seat after his two-week ban.
In the press release from his office, the prime minister said that Bush violated two sections of the ministerial codethat all Cabinet members signed last summer, and had crossed the line of article 55 of the Constitution. Panton said that by signing the code, Bush pledged to abide by the code of conduct and accept the consequences of any violations.
“Minister Bush’s conduct and comments regarding the staffing of the Fire Department violates Section 55 of the Constitution and violates Section 2.4 of the Ministerial Code of Conduct,” Panton said.
“Furthermore, other comments he made as Minister contravene section 2.6.3 of the Ministerial Code of Conduct. We all agreed to abide by certain standards of conduct when the Ministerial Code of Conduct was adopted last year. The consequence of this breach is, in part, that responsibility for the Home Office will be reassigned to Minister Sabrina Turner, effective Monday, April 11, 2022.”
Bush has been accused of interfering in the hiring process that led to the appointment of Randy Rankin as acting fire chief as well as undermining the position of current chief financial officer Paul Walker, whom he has publicly criticized.
Under the Ministerial Code, Cabinet members are expected to “act and make decisions impartially, fairly and on the basis of merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias, and in accordance with relevant laws, including the Standards in Public Life Act,” which the prime minister said Bush violated.
Article 55 of the Constitution defines the governor’s responsibility for the recruitment and management of senior civil servants.
Following Bush’s suspension, which will see him take two weeks of unpaid leave beginning Monday, April 18, the Prime Minister has also called on Bush to apologize for his conduct to Governor Martyn Roper, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and former acting Home Office chief executive Michael Ebanks.
During the period of his suspension, House Secretary Isaac Rankine will act as minister for the remaining Bush portfolio. In the statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office, Bush said he still supports the Prime Minister and the PACT government. “It was a valuable lesson for me and I accept the consequences of my actions. The prime minister continues to have my full trust and support,” he added.
Explaining why Bush retained his seat in Cabinet, Panton said, “I believe that Minister Bush can make a substantial contribution to the good of our country in the areas of youth, sports, culture and heritage. These topics fit well with his interests, experience and passion. I am optimistic that the unfortunate events of the past will not affect its future performance.
“I hope MPs will adopt broadly similar obligations and standards in a parliamentary code of conduct for all MPs to observe, and if this code is breached, MPs should also face consequences,” Panton added.
It is the first time that the code, put in place last July, has been used to sanction the behavior of a minister. While Bush is by no means the prime minister to meddle in public service affairs, in the past there have been no consequences.
The Office of the Auditor General has previously expressed concern about politicians influencing public servants and not establishing clearly defined roles. While civil servants, regardless of seniority, are expected to work with any elected minister (and vice versa) without bias, this has not always been the case.
By invoking the code, the Prime Minister has now set a precedent for the rest of Cabinet. According to the code (2.7 and 2.8), the prime minister oversees the case if a minister is accused of breaching the code, and the governor oversees the case if the prime minister is alleged to have breached the code.
While this code does not apply to government backbenchers, opposition members or the Speaker, they would be subject to a parliamentary code. However, despite being presented as a priority for the PACT following the elections, the bill has still not been presented to Parliament.