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Wednesday, June 14, 2006 

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


'UNACCEPTABLE'

By Sam Strangeways

The chairman of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) has blasted civil servants for failing to produce annual reports for the past four years.Rod Attride-Stirling said jobs should have been lost over the Commission’s failure to comply with the Human Rights Act. “Those responsible should be removed from their positions,” he told The Royal Gazette.The law requires the Commission to make a report to the Minister responsible for human rights no later than six months after the end of each calendar year.The Minister is then supposed to lay the report before both the House of Assembly and the Senate.Dale Butler, the Minister responsible for human rights, confirmed that there had been no reports filed for “about four years” and said he was “very concerned”. The last annual report to be filed appears to have been for 2001, when 491 people lodged complaints with the Commission. Mr. Attride-Stirling admitted a 2005 annual report would probably not be filed in time to comply with the legislation this month though he added: “I’m told that the problem is going to be resolved imminently.”He said: “I think that it is deplorable that we have not been able to produce a report as is required by our legislation. It’s just unacceptable.”He added: “The fact is that the Human Rights Commission is required to produce a report every year. The people who are supposed to put the report together are the administrative staff. The Commissioners have been pushing and pleading to get staff to file the report. The fact that no one has lost their job over this says a lot about the way the civil service operates.”The Royal Gazette understands that disciplinary steps have been taken to deal with the matter. A source told this newspaper that a hearing involving the Commission’s executive officer David Wilson was recently held and that the results were still awaited. The source said the action was taken because Mr. Wilson had failed to produce the reports and “many other” tasks.Mr. Attride-Stirling said: “It’s out of my hands and out of the hands of the other Commissioners. It’s scandalous that it hasn’t been prepared and that no one has criticised us over this.”The Ministry of Community Affairs is responsible for the Commission’s budget and the four civil servants who work there. Mr. Attride-Stirling said: “We have no control over the hiring or firing of anyone in the civil service staff. We have very limited control over the way aspects of the office run.“The problem that we have is well known but in the civil service things move very slowly.”He said the Commissioners were “deeply frustrated” by the lack of reports but could not produce one themselves because of lack of access to the relevant data.“Technically, the Commission is responsible and unfortunately the Commission doesn’t have the ability to ensure that the things that it’s required to do are always done,” he said.“The most we could do is write a letter and say ‘here’s what we are doing but we don’t have access to the statistical data’ but it really isn’t much of a report.”Shadow Minister of Race Relations and Economic Empowerment Jamahl Simmons also expressed deep concern about the situation.“The Human Rights Commission’s failure to produce an annual report for four successive years is disturbing. It is easy to point fingers or duck responsibility, but the HRC is required to produce these reports and someone needs to take responsibility and ensure that the job gets done,” he said.“All Bermudians need to believe that the HRC is effective, accountable and performing its duties at the highest possible level. The failure to come to grips with the basic requirements of this Commission is embarrassing and must be resolved.”Mr. Butler told the House of Assembly last month that he accepted full responsibility for the delay.He said at the weekend: “I am very concerned about the lack of reports for about four years and in the House accepted the responsibility for not being able to report to the House as indicated by legislation.“At this stage there is absolutely nothing I can say about future steps to be taken to rectify this as the matter is being dealt with by the Acting Permanent Secretary Mrs. Joanne Brangman.”

Copyright ©2005 The Royal Gazette Ltd.

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