|Mr. George Fergusson Gentleman, Diplomat and the 88th Governor of Bermuda|
His Excellency, the Hon. George Duncan Raukawa Fergusson was sworn in as the governor of Bermuda and commander-in-chief of the Bermuda Regiment in a ceremony on the grounds of the Cabinet Office on May 23.
Shortly before taking up the post, in the early evening of Friday, April 20, Fergusson was attacked in broad daylight in Margravine Cemetery and Park, in Hammersmith, West London, as he was en route to meet his wife at a dinner party. He lost the sight in his left eye in the attack and also suffered facial injuries: he underwent surgery on both his eye and face.
Fergusson, 56, was born in Scotland and spent most of his primary school years in New Zealand. He studied politics, philosophy & economics at Magdalen College, Oxford, before working for a year in a family law firm in Scotland and then joining the British civil service in 1978.
He was in the Northern Ireland Office until 1991, serving in Belfast, London and on attachment to the British Embassy in Dublin. He worked on a wide range of issues, including security policy, energy policy and international issues and was head of the elections and human rights branch. In 1991 he transferred to the diplomatic service, working on the transition from the Soviet Union to the successor states and later worked in Seoul.
From 1997 he was head of the Republic of Ireland Department in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and was a member of the U.K. government’s talks team for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. In 1998 he was appointed British consul general in Boston.
From 2003 to 2006 Fergusson was head of the foreign policy team in the U.K. Cabinet Office, before being posted as high commissioner to New Zealand and Samoa, and also as governor of Pitcairn (based in Wellington). He returned to London in 2010 and worked on different assignments in the Cabinet Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Fergusson’s family comes from Ayrshire, Scotland, and has a distinguished military and public-service background. His father, Bernard Edward Fergusson, was a brigadier in the British Army, a military historian and the last British-born governor of New Zealand. His grandfather, Sir Charles Fergusson, had also been governor general of New Zealand, and two of his great grandfathers—Sir James Fergusson, 6th Baronet and David Boyle, 7th Earl of Glasgow—had been governors of New Zealand.
The family motto is “Sweeter out of difficulties.”
Fergusson is joined in Bermuda by his wife, Margaret, a career officer with the British Council. They have three daughters, Laura, Alice and Elizabeth. A son, Alexander, died in 2005 in a traffic accident in London.
Fergusson joined The Bermudian correspondent, Duncan Hall, for a chat about his his new posting in Bermuda.
Your family has had a distinguished military career stretching back three generations. Can you tell us about that?
My father was a professional soldier for 28 years. He was then in your trade, a journalist for four years—he lived off his pen. He was also governor general of New Zealand and chairman of the British Council. The expectation that my father would have had, was that I join the army like he had, and like his father had. My father belonged to the Black Watch Regiment, which is quite tribal and has many family links, so I have always known people in the Black Watch. And I have always had great regard for the army as well, and worked quite closely with it at times, but it wasn’t the way my career was to go.
What was it like growing up in an atmosphere like that? Was there an expectation of public service?
Yes, public service was an ethos at home. Growing up as a small boy at Government House in New Zealand was really quite fun, but looking back on it was rather peculiar. My parents sent me to boarding school in New Zealand, probably younger than they would have otherwise, because it was an odd environment to be growing up in a house that was official, and that had official servants, and that was also an office. Being in a school with 120 other boys all running around was a rather more normal upbringing than growing up wholly in Government House.
What is the attraction of the work that you have done?
I have never been in a job where it didn’t feel as though the work was really worthwhile. In the Northern Ireland office, where I spent the first half of my career, we were trying to achieve stability, fairness and prosperity in Northern Ireland, and an end to violence, and that was a manifestly worthwhile thing to be engaged in. I think the single most extraordinary and satisfying day of my professional life, without any doubt, was Good Friday in 1998. I was part of the negotiation team for the Good Friday Agreement—it wasn’t the end of the road for that process, there were some bumps afterwards, but it was undoubtedly an enormous breakthrough, and it felt like that on the day, and I was privileged to be a part of it. It was extraordinary.
What areas of the work do you find most challenging?
If I am honest, it is the bumping of work life and family life. It’s a bit of a yin and yang thing, it’s double-sided. Some of the fun, particularly since I switched to the diplomatic service, is that it has been great fun going around the world together, exploring things together, sharing experiences. With quite a lot of the work, it is hard to tell whether it is fun or duty, and that is nice to do as a family. On the other hand, there is the disruption to children’s schooling and children’s friendship groups—and sometimes the work occasionally impinges less happily on family life. On the whole, we have been lucky—but I think most of us would say there are plusses and minuses, and that is where the main challenge comes.
When your father took up the position as governor-general of New Zealand in 1962, I understand that you became an instant hit with Kiwis when, as a 7-year-old, you celebrated your arrival in the country by performing a forward roll on the front lawn of Government House. Please tell us about that, and also whether you are planning on any gymnastics moves here in Bermuda.
You may have seen a photograph of me in the Government House tug-of-war team at the first Bermuda Highland Games. I found it odd that a sport, which involves standing still for such a long time and then taking about four paces, can be quite so exhausting. Gymnastic, it isn’t.
My excuse, if I needed an excuse, for doing a forward roll was that I had just spent six weeks on a ship so that seeing a large expanse of lawn, for a 7-year-old, was quite attractive.
It was also a sort of lesson, although in New Zealand it was a benign lesson, that something as normal as doing a forward roll, in front of the New Zealand press, produced four pictures of different stages of a forward roll on the front page of most of the newspapers. And, nearly 50 years on, you are asking me about it. As a child, the New Zealand press were very sensible, kind and courteous—but it gave me a taste, in that harmless story, of what scrutiny can be.
I enjoy exercise. I walked on my first weekend here, from the Fairmont Hamilton Princess—where I was lodged while the termites here were being gassed—out to Dockyard, which was fun. That gave me a sense of the geographical relationships, it gave me a sense of the lie of the land, and I bumped into various people and chatted—it was a nice thing to do.
You have a Maori middle name, and you have given your three daughters Maori middle names. You were also made a chief of the Ngati Raukawa tribe in Otaki. New Zealand, and its people must have made a strong impression on you and your family.
Yes, and that also in a sense is hereditary. My father was a Maori speaker and his mother was a Maori speaker and that was less usual in the 1960s than it is now. I was made an honourary member of the Ngati Raukawa tribe as a 10-year-old, not for my own merit, but as a recognition of my father’s relationship with Maori. The Maori link there has always been precious to me—and our family has had a foot in New Zealand since the 1870s. It’s a fantastic country with very nice people. A man I don’t know in New Zealand wrote to me after the attack on my eye, enclosing $10 for a beer—and that is an indication of the niceness of people in New Zealand.
Please tell us about the relationship between your family and the Maori people going back to 1870, and what they appreciated in your father.
The Maori relationship was a reciprocation of my father’s interest in a relationship with Maori— it was a two-way thing, I think. The family business isn’t diplomatic—it was, until my father, governing New Zealand. He was governor general, his father was governor general, and both his grandfathers were governors before New Zealand became independent. It is rather a peculiar family business, but it is part of the explanation for the relationship.
How does one prepare to take up a position such as this?
Reading, consulting with people ... I came very briefly to Bermuda for a day and two nights in February, and met some of the people I would be working with and working alongside. I also discussed with my predecessor how he had seen the job for him.
I also discussed with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who would be appropriate people relevant to Bermuda who I could see in London. There was a list of suggested people to contact, which was very long. By mistake one of the people I was due to see was sent, by the Foreign Office, my full, recommended go-to-see list. He had quite a sense of humour and said to me “I see that I am almost exactly halfway on the list between the Queen and your tailor.”
I also saw people in the insurance industry, both London representatives of Bermuda-based firms, and people who are at the other end of the telescope—the Association of British Insurance—and learned the atmospherics of the business side.
Gang issues were clearly a matter of concern here, so I spoke to people like the Association of Chief Police Officers, and to police services that are taking the lead on issues of gang violence like the West Midlands Police. I spent a couple of days talking to them about how they did it, which was building on the experience I had had in Auckland and in Boston earlier on. Ironically, it was coming back from those meetings that I was attacked in the street, but not in the West Midlands.
I also visited Jersey and Cayman, as islands with a similar size and similar economic structure to Bermuda, in one of which the governor has more powers than in Bermuda and the one other of which the governor has fewer powers, so that was quite an interesting introduction to the way things run at the moment.
Even with that level of preparation, is it your experience that a lot more is learned once you arrive in a posting?
Absolutely. In a sense, everything you do beforehand is theory—and here it is practice. Every time I have done this at the start of a new job, you get through a certain amount of theory— most of which is essential—but you have a yearning to get on with the actual thing itself, so it has been very good to arrive. There were an enormous number of details to be filled in, an enormous number of new things to learn, and I don’t think any of the things I had picked up beforehand has yet been turned on its head.
Any surprises so far?
One minor surprise is that driving around the island it feels much bigger than I know it is. When I was based in Wellington, New Zealand, I was also high commissioner to the independent state of Samoa, which has 200,000 people on two islands, with two-thirds of them on one island that has twice as many people as there are in Bermuda. But it is an island where, excepting the capital, it is very difficult to get lost because there is a main road that goes around the island. The sea is on one side, and the hills are on the other, whereas here, a lot of the time, you can’t see the sea. Bermuda must have the highest concentration of paved road anywhere in the world. I always seem to be turning left, or turning right, and I have only a moderate sense of direction, and so it is difficult to tell which way I am supposed to be going.
Your arrival was quickly followed by an alleged physical altercation in the House of Assembly that prompted the Minister of Transport to resign, and a speech by a government senator on the attraction of independence. Did those incidents help you to understand the lay of the land here?
I am not sure I would highlight those particularly. At this stage of my education as governor, talking to people, reading the papers, listening to the radio, watching the telly, is all educational. And politics clearly is part of that education.
What is the official United Kingdom position on the prospect of its overseas territories becoming independent?
The very firm, clear position is that territories like Bermuda are able to determine their future. If they want to be independent, then that is their call. If they want to stay with us, our government would rather they chose to stay because it is a relationship that the British government likes and hopes is mutually enjoyed. But if a party like Bermuda wants to leave the relationship, then that is very much its call.
From the U.K.’s point of view, would a referendum be necessary or at least advisable?
The U.K. government’s position is that if the clear wish of the people is to go and be independent, then that is what would be acknowledged. There isn’t a formal position on referenda. One of the things I am interested in is the extent to which the debate here, and the debate in my native Scotland, at the technical level, addresses some of the same issues. How many questions to put on a referendum, the specified voting levels—these are all issues which are also under discussion in other parts of the U.K. extended realm.
When you arrived, you mentioned the economy and tackling gang violence as two of the priorities. How can you assist in the area of reducing gang violence?
The gang issue, constitutionally, includes the police and national security on the one hand, which are formally my responsibilities, but these are things that need to be done in cooperation with the elected government partly because the elected government pays for it. With gangs, there is a limit to what the police can do. Not only other bits of government have a role, but also nongovernmental groups—faith groups, cultural organisations—so while there is a bit of gang-related issue which is constitutionally mine, working with a whole range of other official and nonofficial organisations is vital. If I can help that come together, working with the elected government, I will do that.
I have some experience in the area from my work in other jurisdictions. In Boston, about 10 years ago, they had been experimenting with different ways of dealing with gang violence. The notion that they were working on then, and having some success with, was identifying particular places—they were called hotspots—where trouble happened disproportionately, and addressing very directly the people who were involved in it, many of whom were on probation or otherwise known to the authorities.
Their approach was very much if you carry on doing bad things, we know who you are, and bad things will happen to you, but here are the set of carrots as well as the sticks. Here are the voluntary organisations, or the state or city organisations, who will help you. That is still part of the practice in Glasgow, West Midlands, London, and Auckland. Where these things start, I am never entirely sure.
Part of my job, in both Boston and Wellington, was to pick up good ideas, in the areas of social and economic or other policies, and pass them back, where they were priorities in Britain, for us to learn from others. But it’s a sort of virtuous circle. My experience is that sometimes we pick up an idea, and pass it back, learn from the experience of the people that we got it from, change it slightly and maybe in two years’ time they would be taking it back from us, and improving it again. I would look forward to Bermuda being part of that sort of circle.
How can you assist the economy?
Responsibility for the economy is firmly in the elected government’s area. But that is where, if there are things that I can do and if I am asked, which would help encourage aspects of the economy, whether it’s in the area of tourism or business promotion, then I am happy to do what I can. Perhaps that could mean introductions to people I know who I think it might be beneficial for people here to meet, or it could be that there is a residual area where either the British government itself has a role, or where the visible support of the British government is useful. Or it could simply be joining in a delegation where a governor’s name on the list might be helpful.
Constitutionally, the governor has wide powers—for example, under section 62, you have responsibility for external affairs, defence (including armed forces), internal security and police. You also have the power to delegate your responsibilities under section 62. Taking the example of your responsibility for the police, in practice how do you expect that to play out?
The convention here, which I am familiar with, is the convention in most common-law countries—the U.K., Republic of Ireland, New Zealand—and that is that the operational decision-making of police and operational responsibility for the Police rests with the commissioner, who for most purposes is answerable to the law and not to anyone else. Here, policing—without that operational bit—is the constitutional responsibility of the governor. I have regular meetings with the commissioner, and senior officers, discussing broad trends. For the most part, those discussions also include representatives of the elected government who are interested as well, and pay for it. So it’s right that we should be working together on it.
You also have wide powers in respect of the make-up of the judiciary, and also with respect to the post of the auditor general. How important is it that the people in those positions fulfill their duties without interference?
Very is the short answer. Some of it depends on what you mean by interference. Judges, very clearly, and the auditor general—by statute—have a difficult role, which requires them to be independent. I don’t think anyone challenges that in theory. In day to day terms, where there are people who make judgements which affect parties, some parties will be pleased and some parties won’t be pleased—and that’s life. But the way they operate, in carrying out the functions they have been given by law, should not be interfered with.
Are you prepared to step in should that prove not to be the case?
Yes. I have been clear that support for the Constitutional officers is an important part of my role.
Would we know if you did?
In 2009, the U.K. took over day-to-day control of the Turks and Caicos Islands amid ongoing allegations of widespread corruption in the British overseas territory. That was a drastic measure. Is there a threshold that must be passed before such a step will be taken?
It is certainly not a circumstance we would want to see again. In recent decades, it has happened very rarely. To answer your question, there isn’t an 8.7 score on the constitutional breakdown scale that I could say that is the point at which these consequences would happen. As an American judge said, in a completely different context, you know it when you see it. This was not an overnight whim by the British government. There had been a commission of enquiry, it had been developing and clearly needed emergency action.
So, for the U.K. government to step in, it would take more than names on a petition, or a political party making claims? It would require some sort of official evidence-gathering process?
Yes, I think that is right. If, for example, you had a breakdown in law and order, things would have to happen quickly. In the Turks and Caicos, it was picked up in a whole lot of different ways that the system had gone out of control and that there needed to be a break in order to give it a chance of getting back under control.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not engaged in official duties?
I suppose you could say that I enjoy gentle sport. I played rugby for the diplomatic corps against the New Zealand Parliament, and I survived. I now have a rule that I play rugby every 35 years. I have always enjoyed walking, and hill walking, and I have always enjoyed boats in various forms and look forward to doing some of that here. Also, skiing, which I think I probably won’t do here. My wife and I also push-bike a lot for convenience as much as anything—we both commuted in London by bike for the last 20 years and actually did not have a car in London for the last few years. We bicycle for pleasure, to potter around and explore—a day out on a bicycle is fun. We are not bicyclists who look for steep hills. I enjoy watching rugby, watching cricket. I have a son-in-law who is a proud Yorkshireman, and so we have cricket discussions. I also used to enjoy watching motorbike scrambling, which I gather happens here.
Is there anything you would like to add?
There is one message. The governor’s role has a symbolic element. It also has an executive element. In that, I am extremely conscious that the elected government has a very wide spread of responsibilities and it wouldn’t be right for me to tread on them. I have a role identifying with Bermuda, and I am looking forward to helping on things which are not necessarily my constitutional role, if asked—and I will not interfere with them if not asked.
But if there are things I can do to help Bermuda, I want to do them.
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