October 2003 Archives

Follow this link to read the 2003 Throne Speech delivered by Governor Sir John Vereker.

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Tomorrow will be a big day for Alex Scott and the second term of a PLP Government. I'll post the content of the Throne Speech as soon as I can track it down and provide some analysis later in the day.

WIth the election looming last year we haven't really seen much of what the PLP vision, if any is, for some time now. This will prove whether the PLP is out of gas or reinvigorated after unceremoniously dumping Jennifer Smith.

So far the contents have been closely guarded, with Alex Scott providing a little hype last week to build some anticipation.

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Clearly this Bank of Bermuda purchase has been in the works for some time after Derrick Burgess let the cat out of the bag shortly before the election. The denial by Jennifer Smith looked suspect at the time but now was obviously a lie. It's likely that the PLP did not want this deal done before the election with job losses announced - agreeing to relook at the deal afterwards.

Mr. Burgess was playing politics from the start, feigning a concern that the UBP had struck a deal for the 4% mortgages as a quid pro quo to approve the deal. From the number of PLP shareholders in the Bank it seems like they were the ones with the conflict. Did then-Premier Jennifer Smith, Finance Minister Eugene Cox, Education Minister Paula Cox and any others recuse themselves from Cabinet's discussions when HSBC made the approach? Did anyone in the PLP, who clearly possessed inside information, buy any stock after an approach to Government by HSBC and the Bank of Bermuda? Can we even find out the answers to these questions in the New Bermuda?

I hope no-one voted for the PLP based on Mr. Burgess's inference that this deal would not get approved by the PLP. Now the Bank has been sold with a resounding endorsement from the Finance Minister, jobs will be lost (see Royal Gazette story and Bermuda Sun story). While the UBP clearly had not made a deal with the Bank or HSBC their innovative housing plan will have to wait until the next election. Meanwhile the PLP have no plan around housing with nothing in sight.

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Blogs and politics are mixing heavily thanks to innovations at Howard Dean's campaign. Every US presidential candidate has one now (including Bush) but Dean is using them in their purist form and started the political phenomenon.

Wired is the latest to write about this. [Wired: November 2003]

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I'm back in Bermuda after a few days traveling. I was in the Dominican Republic, a country that certainly is on par with Bermuda for beauty but is suffering from a devastating economic crisis. Terrible poverty exists in most of the country and after 10 years of better times they road ahead looks rough.

Meanwhile in Bermuda much has been going on with the Bank of Bermuda purchased by HSBC, the PLP conference beginning and some outrageous comments by the Acting Parliamentary Registrar that the public won't be entitled to see the results of the post mortem on the recent election.

The HSBC/Bank of Bermuda deal has dominated the news but I am very concerned over the lack of openness in the Parliamentary Registrar's office. This group seems to have forgotten who they serve and that they safeguard the most sacred element of our political process. Dr. Gibbons was not forceful enough in his comments calling for the post mortem to be made public. The UBP should push very hard for this reports release - not to the Party but to the public.

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There is a story by Ayo Johnson in RG today that hasn't made it onto the online version yet, so I doubt it will. It reveals the problems that the Bahamas are encountering with the US over their 'friendly' relations with Cuba.

While the specifics may be in dispute, what is clear is that the US is not happy with the Bahamas cozy relationship with Cuba. Bermuda should take heed. The US may be sending mixed messages on this topic but Bush is rumoured to be taking a tougher stance on Cuba in an attempt to drum up support in Florida for his re-election bid in 2004.

Customs pre-clearance, an important convenience for tourism spots serving US visitors, was apparently removed as retaliation for a refusal to heed US warnings. Whether you agree with these heavy handed tactics by the US Government or not, Bermuda should take notice. With tourism in its current disastrous state this type of action in Bermuda would have severe repurcussions.

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The revelation that Government has abandoned plans for a tourism development at Morgan's Point is interesting. I was most intrigued by Terry Lister's comments at the end of the story:

However hotels were not part of the plans because Mr. Lister said there were plenty of plans elsewhere on the Island, including Belmont, Tucker's Point, Palmetto and Lantana.
The minister said hotels which had reinvested recently under the Hotel Concessions Act should get the opportunity to fill their rooms to get their money back.
"It's only fair that they should."

Are the PLP actively discouraging new hotel developments on the island as a kick back to the current recipients of the Hotel Concessions Act?

If so it is completely inapproprate. When future hotel developers approach the Government they must be considered seriously rather than prejudged. Any Government is entitled to determine the appropriate level of development for a country, but this sounds more like a money issue for a few investors rather than Cabinet looking out for the welfare of Bermudians first.

Couple this with Tourism Minister Renee Webb's recent comments that it isn't the Tourism Ministry's job to fill hotel beds. Those in the tourism industry should be very concerned about the direction the PLP are taking us.

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Quinton Edness has chimed in on the work permit term limit debate in today's RG. This issue has legs and is continually resurrected.

The trickle from both sides of this debate continues with neither side really saying what everyone knows - this policy does nothing to further opportunity for Bermudians in the workplace. Actually it will reduce opportunity through fewer entry and mid-level jobs being created in Bermuda. They'll go to Dublin who are clearly salivating at Bermuda's desire to self-desruct.

The PLP knows it too, which is why this issue was used as a shallow vote grab and an immediate backtracking by Randy Horton from Terry Lister's comments about a 9 year limit for all foreigners.

Limiting employees to 6 or 9 years for the undefined 'key' category only increases cost and overhead for local and international businesses. The PLP has given themselves substantial wiggle room but the message that is sent to the international community is clear - Bermuda is a difficult place to do business.

The other issue that hasn't been discussed is that the businesses which will suffer won't be the international companies. The ACEs and XLs will get their way on the ones that really count - they'll manouver behind the scenes and get payback for big donations and support of Government initiatives.

The mid-sized local company will be the one who is used for political game and to make a statement. The local companies are already suffering and struggling and this is just another added headache and worry.

I hope this doesn't continue to be allowed to simmer but comes to a boil with the businesses saying definitively that they are looking at their alternatives.

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I'm traveling until Wednesday night so it's unlikely I'll be posting here for a few days.

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Below is the text of my Letter to the Editor published in Saturday's Royal Gazette. It hasn't shown up on their online edition yet.

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There's an interesting debate emerging about the vailidity of Weblogs as journalism. Scott Rosenberg is leading this but also there is a good summary by Jay Rosen

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Finally! Bermudanic got their act together and I've been able to register politics.bm. The domain is up, the site has officially moved and the previous address has been redirected here.

I still need to get the email address configured correctly but things are looking much better.

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Dale Butler fights back today in the Bermuda Sun against columnist Tom Vesey (a friend of mine).

Not a very convincing response but a start I guess. Someone recently commented to me that Dale - more than anyone - likes to be liked. The repeated mis-steps characterising his first 10 weeks in Cabinet, and subsequent public lashing, must be expecially painful.

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On ZBM news last night, and in RG today, Derrick Burgess commented that the Union has an agreement with Coco Reef Hotel (formerly Stonington) and that they are required to provide a months notice before termination of employment.

He isn't worried because they have an agreement - "There is a price to pay for that". Too bad we can't take comfort in agreements the Union is bound to!

Without getting into the merits of this dispute, Mr. Burgess reveals a glaring double-standard when it comes to agreements and the BIU.

The Union also have agreements. They have legislated agreements requiring 21 days notice before a withdrawal of labour for essential services. Mr. Burgess likes to selectively honor some legislation but continually lead direct illegal strike action time after time.

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Bill Zuill has a scathing editorial in RG yesterday that is well worth reading. It seems that the editor has finally found his voice. Let's hope he continues to take strong positions, rather than the more wishy-washy tone we are familiar with.

Gloria McPhee, the well respected former MP also takes Dale to task for his hypocrisy and fondness for all things Cuban.

It seems that the first 10 weeks as a Cabinet Minister haven't been too much fun for Mr. Butler. The talk shows, letters to the editor, reporters and clearly his cabinet colleagues are unloading on him. Clearly Dale doesn't have too many friends inside the PLP as no-one has come to his aide.

I doubt they will.

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The women in the Senate story looks like it might have staying power with Renee Webb commenting on ZBM news last night that she disagrees with the PLP Senate selection - as women should be better represented. She went on to comment that there should also be non-blacks in the Senate, pointing to an overall need for diversity in the Senate.

This story is evolving from an initial, narrowly focused story on the lack of women and whites appointed by the poliltical parties, to the need for broad representation in Bermuda politics. I've got some thoughts here that I will write about in more detail soon.

RG has an interview with the lone woman Senator in today's edition.

There's also a couple of good letters responding to Rolfe Commissiong's initial comments dismissing this whole issue as irrelevant because it's all about the black male apparently.

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The approaching PLP Annual Delegates Conference could be quite interesting this year. While Alex Scott was busy assuring the UK Labour Party that he "wasn't the individual who held the long knife" all might not be as peaceful as he projects.

VSB reported over the weekend that the delegates could be looking to remove Dr. Brown as deputy Premier. Bearing in mind VSB's penchant to either read RG stories verbatim, or fabricate their own, this one sounds plausible - although lightly sourced. Evidently resentment runs both ways in the PLP and Dr. Brown will be looking to keep a hold of his position at all costs. How long Dr. Brown will wait before bringing back the long knife, this time for Alex Scott - one of his patients - remains to be seen.

The Econonmist magazine recently speculated that Alex Scott's Cabinet won't be able to hold it together past 18 months due to a lack of cohesion and platform (who needs one of those). I'm not sure this prediction will prove to be correct but all is obviously not well at Camp PLP.

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Mayor Mapp is off to a good start to his second term. He seems genuinely committed to opening up the Corporation.

I'd prefer to see every meeting open to the press and public - not just quarterly town hall meetings - but at this stage I think he is thinking out loud and developing ideas as he goes along.

I doubt any of this would have occurred without Graeme Outerbridge's candidacy. As few votes as he managed to get Graeme was at least successful in pushing this issue to the forefront.

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Busy day in the Friday papers today.

There's a couple of good columns in the Bermuda Sun today by Tom Vesey on continuing PLP secrecy and Stuart Hayward on the latest race controversy at the Bermuda College.

There's also now a woman in the Senate and Dale Butler continues to hide behind collective [ir]responsibility for his Cuba sell-out.

Mayor Mapp won the Corporation Mayoral race easily (and Graeme Outerbridge continues to run no-hope campaigns) although all obviously isn't well in the Corporation as seen by the turnout.

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We should have seen this one coming. There was a preview of the pending storm in the Royal Gazette and the Bermuda Sun over the past few days.

Grant Gibbons seems to be taking the brunt of this, although in his case he really had the fewest options. With only 3 appointees, two incumbents who he obviously felt no need to remove, left him with one. One spot with at least twenty four candidates. Dr. Gibbons was damned if he did, damned if he didn't. Toppy Cowen, the flag bearer for OWBs (Old White Bermudians) it seems, felt that Dr. Gibbons should have appointed a white, Senior Citizen, woman who hadn't lost their seat in the recent election. So that immediately narrows things down even further.

Dr. Gibbons apparently worked hard in the run-up to the election to find women interested in running as candidates but it wasn't easy from what I understand. Several declined after showing an initial interest apparently.

The UBP is moving in a direction that makes a lot of OWBs uncomfortable, but it isn't one that makes me uncomfortable. What Toppy needs to realize is that Kenny Bascome, Kim Swan or Leonard Santucci can represent all segments of the Bermuda population as well as any white candidate out there. We don't need white candidates for the white community, black candidates for the black community, women to represent women etc.. There is no formula here. What we need are people who have a genuine desire to serve and serve everyone, not future Premier's who race bait in their campaigns and then talk about inclusion. The UBP team are strong advocates who will tackle the viscious racial attacks that are destined to come their way.

Should we have more women represented in the Senate? Yes, absolutely. But why don't we ask Alex Scott that question? The pressure is now on the Governor.

No image was more striking to me on July 25th when the PLP revolt began than 11 men facing off against a coalition of women and Smith loyalists.

Let's not forget which side Alex Scott was on.

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I couldn't help but notice while I weaved my way between stalled traffic on my ride home tonight how many cars were on the road and how many cars only had one person in them.

Normally traffic is bad enough in the mornings and evenings but you'd think after yesterday's chaos that people would have either used their bikes, public transport or carpool. Traffic was as bad today as it was yesterday and probably will be the same again until Harbour Road is repaired.

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Mayor Mapp's statements in today's RG about opening up meetings are a step in the right direction. It doesn't feel very convincing though, with the gradual release of minutes as being the proposed first step. He hedged several times in the article but there is some reason to be optimistic.

The only hurdle that seems to be valid is the need to provide privilege in the Corporation Chamber as in Parliament. This isn't an unreasonable request and should be something that can be accomodated early in the next Parliamentary session.

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The saga of the Corporation elections continue with the news that current Mayor Lawson Mapp will run for re-election and will be opposed by perennial candidate-for-something Graeme Outerrbridge.

I'm not quite sure how Corporation elections work, but isn't that exactly the problem? No-one knows what goes on within the Corporation and there seems to be no desire among the insiders to invite scrutiny.

It's not often you'll find me agreeing with Graeme Outerbridge, but his platform to open the Corporation up should be embraced. I've never quite understood the need for secrecy behind the Corporation but it shows no signs of letting up. Mayoral elections seem to be a done-deal by nomination day, with handshakes and ascendancy based on seniority.

Mayor Mapp's decision to run has obviously upset his rivals. Rather than drop out they should have chosen to campaign vigorously explaining their opposition to his re-election. Even an unsuccessful campaign could shed some light on the reasons for the obviously bitter dispute.

Regardless, it is long overdue for the Corporation to hold their meetings and deliberations in public. The City voters and public who frequent Hamilton are entitled to understand and observe the process.

Any pressure that Graeme Outerbridge brings to bear on this is welcome.

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One of the things that is getting lost in the Cuba debate is the credibility of not only Mr. Butler but also Alex Scott. Less than 3 months ago, Premier Scott - in one of his first interviews [MON 15 Aug. 2003: Scott: Cuba relations will be cultural only] as Premier definitively stated that "Our position, as a government, is that our relationship with Cuba is going to be restricted to cultural participation and the relevant events".

Alex Scott is doing what Alex Scott does best. He is saying one thing and doing another. The first 5 years of PLP Government was one that everyone involved, other than Jennifer Smith, has run away from as an abberation. Alex Scott came out of the gates with gusto, talking about openness, inclusion and transparency. All the buzz words of the Smith administration. Initially people believed him, despite his track record of deceipt as Minister of Works & Engineering from Nov. 1998 - July 2004.

Premier Scott took a page out of Rudy Guiliani's post Sept. 11 book for Hurricane Fabian and received rave reviews for his public statements of encouragement and confidence, maintaining a high public profile. But the slip-ups have started:

1) Cuba
2) Fabrications about the importance of a trip to the UK Labour Party Conference as essential to set the British right about trying to increase control over the colonies.
3) Hints of an about face on promises to release secret reports.

The change in leadership of the PLP provided a rare opportunity for the new PLP Parliamentary Group to distance themselves from the unpopular and potentially harmful initiatives pre July 24th.

To the contrary, the Scott Administration has continued the policies of its predecessor with renewed vigour - the players may have changed, the tone may be softer, but the policies and regard for the general public hasn't.

It is becoming more and more apparent that the PLP Coup d'Etat was about one individual, not about providing honest and open leadership for Bermuda.

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Each day brings us word of another Bermuda connection [RG Oct. 2, 2003: Cuba may provide asbestos answer with Cuba]. How much more is going on that we don't know about?

So far we've quietly engaged Cuba on the following issues:

1) A Cultural Exchange (whatever that is, we haven't seen the agreement)
2) Potentially sending old buses to Cuba
3) Buying slate from Cuba (Island Construction) after Fabian
4) A Cuban representative was in Bermuda speaking to public school students

We also now find out that Cuban experts were in Bermuda inspecting the asbestos and were 'quite happy'. This should all be pretty disturbing in light of the repeated statements by the United States Consul General warning Bermuda that while the US can't prevent us from embarking on this path, it wouldn't go unnoticed.

What do we as Bermudians value more? A cultural exchange with Cuba and using them as a dumping ground for old buses and toxic waste, or US Customs and Immigration pre-clearance, Visa waivers and a good historical relationship with our largest trading partner, the US?

What are we hoping to achieve through the daily revelations about a new tie with Cuba?

Isn't it ironic and hypocritical that a Government that fancies themselves as somesort of a civil rights movement is so unconcerned with the Cuban Government's ongoing oppression of its people. Cuban culture under Fidel Castro is one of oppression.

Or could it be that when our esteemed Members of Parliament visit Cuba on official cultural visits they get treated to five star hotels and quickly forget that which they claim to be so concerned with?

Somehow I expect there is much more we still don't know about on this topic.

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