March 2004 Archives

So Jennifer Smith's hand-picked successor seems to be much more of a chip off the old block that he'd like us to believe. The latest issue to reveal the hypocrisy of PLP claims to be the 'People's Government' is the Premier's latest backdoor attempt to add another perk to his position.

I'm not necessarily against our Premiers having additional conveniences but let's get real here. This is Bermuda, our leaders have never had huge entourages and excessive special treatment until we entered the New Bermuda. (Jack Sharpe was famous for riding his Vespa to the Cabinet Office and Pamela Gordon was the least pretentious individual you'll ever meet.) You'll recall that the first matter of business for the PLP after winning election in 1998 was the ordering of oversized cars for the Cabinet elite. Little did we know what was to come. Who approved those cars? None other than the Minister of Works & Engineering Alex Scott.

While on the car topic, has anyone noticed that this Premier actually has 2 official cars? GP8 is the car Mr. Scott drove as Works & Engineering Minister and seems to have lingered as his personal car, while GP1 (the oversized oversized car for the oversized ego of former Premier Jennifer Smith) gets regular use as well. Mr. Scott's predecessor drove a Government issued green Mitsubishi Lancer sedan with private plates in addition to her military driven GP1 - much less obvious.

So, Alex Scott's trademark seems to be a love of special treatment while treating the public as a bunch of dopes with his tired "I'm just a regular guy who didn't ask for all this treatment" act, every time he upgrades.

Exhibit A: After pouting about the Chief Justice appointment, Mr. Scott decided to move into the home expected to be occupied by that same Chief Justice (get the hint Mr. Ground and Mr. Vereker?) and then move the incoming Chief Justice into the former Premier's residence, the Laurels. Message: 'Don't think I can't one up you'. Then he embarrassed us all with the "When we met him he was a little shorter than I had thought because I had expected him to be ten foot tall the way the Governor had talked about him" quote at the swearing in of Mr. Ground. No class.

What did Mr. Scott have to say? "This Premier is happy at home" and anything that would take him away from his Bob Marley record collection and his current surroundings was "not an attractive proposition". To summarize, 'Cabinet made me do it, I'm just the Premier following my Cabinet's wishes!'

Puh-lease. You're the Premier. If you want to stay in your current home then do so.

Exhibit B: After having his driver pick him up on the runway at the airport Mr. Scott then pretends that it was a mistake but hey, now that it happened I think it's something that should continue - for the office of the Premier, not me...I'd never have requested that. Give me a break!

Does the Premier have nothing better to discuss in his Monday meetings with the Governor than that he'd like to get the VIP treatment when he arrives in Bermuda? It's seems that Mr. Scott is trying to keep his grass roots appeal while lapping up as much privilege as he can.

This Premier got rave reviews for his actions in his first few weeks after Jennifer Smith coronated him Premier, but now he's just insulting our intelligence.

We're not that stupid Mr. Scott. The public is seeing right through the tired act.

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One thing I've been wanting to write about for a couple of weeks but didn't get around to is the uselessness of the PLP backbench.

When I say uselessness I don't say that to mean that they're all incapable, although I think that is clearly the case for a few individuals. I mean that the PLP have a tendency to not include, consult or notify their non-Cabinet MPs of decisions that have been made which affect a backbencher's constituency. If you're not in Cabinet you're there to show up on Friday in Parliament and vote Yes to whatever is on the Government's orders.

The St. Geo Prep. controversy is the most recent example with Dean Foggo and Jennifer Smith having little influence, or in Ms. Smith's case maybe negative influence, for her constituents.

Glenn Blakeney is another example (in the Alex Scott era) of an MP clearly unaware of Cabinet policies which directly affect his area. He was hung out to dry and weakened as his area's representative because of it. (The issue was the BHC plan to build additional units in the Prospect area. Mr. Blakeney was obviously uninformed about this decision, and his constituents appear to have lost confidence in him because of this).

In the Jennifer Smith era the PLP was infamous for keeping a very tight hold on information, even within her Cabinet. Part of this was clearly driven by the Premier's need to solidify her support base, shutting out non-supporters and only trusting a select few. The backbenchers in particular were not involved in the decision making process.

If you doubt that Jennifer Smith shut out others with important information just go back to the calling of the election - many PLP candidates were completely unaware of this until they listened to the news! The Premier didn't even give her colleagues the courtesy of a heads up (even a 5 minute lead) that she was calling a general election, but that decision was driven more by the BHC report than anything else.

Anyway, getting back on track...I want to comment on how bad this is in the public policy making process under the Westminster system.

One of the things several non-UBP supporters have commended the party on during it's time as Government was its commitment to internally debating Cabinet initiatives before presenting them to the public. This process is a vital aspect of the Westminster system. Members debate an issue vigorously but once a majority decision has been made they all get on board and support it. This leads to internal scrutiny of policy, preventing some of the public backlash that can come from hastily thrown together plans. The backbench should be more in tune with the general public than Cabinet and act as a check against bad ideas and poorly designed legislation.

Now, I'm not saying this should always be the case, particularly if a member feels very strongly that they cannot support a policy. However the PLP style of highly centralised power in the Cabinet, with little involvement of their backbench creates bad policy and impotent Parliamentarians, who will eventually suffer at the polls.

Perhaps as the PLP mature as a Government they'll have the confidence and professionalism to involve those outside of the Cabinet to give their input. The party and Bermuda will be better for it.

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I've just finished watching an excellent documentary called Life & Debt that was recommended to provide some perspective on Jamaica post-independence.

I'd strongly recommend that everyone rent this (on video in the drama section at Leisure Time) and draw their own conclusions.

Without wanting to provide a review, the main thrust of the 80 minute documentary is the interaction between the IMF and Jamaica, and the impact of IMF policies on a newly independent nation. In light of Bermuda's latest flirtation with independence I was increasingly interested in any parrallels and lessons that Bermuda could learn from Jamaica's experience.

A couple of quotes that really hit home for me:

Stephanie Black (Narrator): "When we wished for independence from Great Britain - we had something else in mind. We cannot now remember what that was. So you could imagine how I felt when one day driving on the Queens Highway I asked myself, 'is the Jamaica that I see before me self-ruled, a worse off place than when dominated by the bad minded English?'"

and

Former Jamaican Prime Minister Michale Manley: "Countries like Jamaica found that when they became free, they soon were in every kind of financial problem, because they didn't have the economic strength to make it on their own. They needed time to build economies that could then make it in the world."

Those quotes really struck me hard. Why?

Well, the question before us with independence is at its core whether we as Bermudians will be better off as an independent nation or do we gain more from the relationship with Britain than we have to give away.

While arguments can be made on both sides of the issue I couldn't help but note the economic advantage that an aspiring independent nation, Jamaica, had when compared to Bermuda. Jamaicans were independent from Great Britain but they became to this day totally dependent on the IMF! They traded one relationship for another much worse one. Jamaica as a small nation with no power on the world stage had no clout. They couldn't call on Britain's vast influence to help them. They were on their own and we see the result.

Yes Bermuda currently has a strong economy - but it is 100% service based and heavily reliant on imported expertise. We have no resources, no exports and we import everything!

Jamaica, on the other hand, was self sustaining with agriculture and actually generated exports (bananas) to bring in revenue and create jobs. Bermuda could never be self-sustaining while a country like Jamaica actually could - and look where Jamaica is now.

I return to Mr. Manley's quote above: "Countries like Jamaica found that when they became free, they soon were in every kind of financial problem, because they didn't have the economic strength to make it on their own."

Rent the movie.

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Listening to ZBM Radio news this morning Education Minister Lister trotted out the PLP's lame excuse every time - and it's become frequent - that a group of people voice outrage at being shut out of the process and PLP heavy handedness.

The excuse? "It's democracy in action and people should be grateful that the PLP have brought this to our community".

It's a cute attempt to dismiss protest as involvement when what is really at the heart of these actions is a dictatorial and insensitive Government, intent on shutting out the public, and their own MP's (think Mr. Foggo, Ms. Smith, Mr. Blakeney).

I'm glad the PLP see this as a good thing. They've certainly made labour unrest, marches on Parliament, petitions against the Government, police investigations into public finances a regular occurrence.

If that's democracy in action then the next step will be the most democratic action of all. It almost happened in June of last year, so they shouldn't get too comfortable in their oversized cars.

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I thought it only reasonable to clarify what Nick Duffy meant when he was quoted in the Royal Gazette as saying: "It's a blatant misrepresentation of the information – to suggest that there are only four parents left".

Translation. Mr. Lister is lying. (Phillip Wells explains why here.)

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Those of you who've been requesting that comments be reinstated on the site will be pleased to know that due to some imminent new features in MovableType 3.0 your wishes will be granted.

The new feature called Typekey will allow authentication of commenters, helping prevent abusive or offensive comments and minimise comment spam.

I know some folks prefered to lob grenades anonymously but they can do that elsewhere. You're going to have to take responsibility for your comments on this site and MovableType is doing a great job in helping me with this.

More updates to come as the release date of 3.0 is announced.

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I've now had it confirmed from someone (who shall remain nameless) that the Minister of Education did indeed, leave a voicemail, at St. George's Prep advising of his decision to deny the two streams request.

What class (pardon the pun)!

All this is true to the PLP's track record of inflexibility but rings a little hollow when you bear in mind the repeated buzz words bandied around by PLP Ministers and Senators like: "a government that listens", "partnership", "consultation", "openness", "Government of the people" blah, blah, blah:

Sen. Walter Roban recently said in the budget debate that this is “is a Government of partnership, we’ll listen, we’ll partner, we’ll take advice....”

Next they'll have a causeway to sell us! Anyone interested.

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Take a look at Peter Woolcock's cartoon in RG today on page 3. It's a pretty good one but look in the background for the best joke on the cement bag!

Peter has a way of cutting through the BS like few others.

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The evening news broadcasts all led with the story that Education Minister Terry Lister has denied the appeal by 27 parents at St. George's Prep to maintain an additional stream this year.

Apparently he left a voicemail this morning advising that their requests will not be honoured and that the Ministry's original decision will stand.

While I haven't been following this closely, others have, and will be able to provide a better summary of this than I can at this stage.

However I will concur with Nick Duffy, the representative of the 27 students and parents, who stated that the Ministry of Education and the PLP Government are deaf to the concerns of the constituents. The MoE is another example of a Ministry, like the Department of Tourism, that should be disbanded as they have evolved to serve only themselves.

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Just what does Wedco, the PLP Government and W&E Minister Ashfield De Vent think they are putting out to tender?

Mr. De Vent stated to the Bermuda Sun that "The job will go out to tender as does every government contract". What job? What is being tendered?

This type of statement only confirms my suspicions that BCC's operations are being nationalised. Bacardi can relate to this type of behaviour after the PLP's buddy Mr. Castro began acting hostile towards them and they fled to...Bermuda of all places.

It seems the cultural agreement between the PLP and Cuba involves anti-business communist tactics of state takeovers of profitable businesses for their cronies.

Let's clear up what the Wedco/BCC relationship is:

BCC rents land from Wedco. They happen to operate a cement plant on this land. They could be running any type of business as long as the landlord approved and it was legal. BCC, by their own account, do not "have a government contract or license giving exclusive rights to import or distribute cement in Bermuda". Bierman's bring in their own and Gorhams sell it as well by the bag. The difference is that BCC decided to build a plant to sell it in larger quantities for larger pours.

(The statement that we own the plant is open to much more dispute I would think. At the end of the day we'd need to see the lease between Wedco and BCC to know what happens to the plant, at least the silos and permanent structures, but I've been made to understand that it is most likely that anything built by BCC would be considered part of the land and revert to Wedco - as the Bermuda Sun article suggests. Movable equipment I would imagine wouldn't revert to the landlord.)

However, that's a little off track because at the end of the day Wedco is effectively saying that:

"We believe the plant, as part of the land, reverts to us on termination of the lease, so we'll jack up the rent to force out the current tenant and terminate the lease, nationalise the plant as Wedco property and have the Bermuda Government enter the cement business, rather than acting simply as a landlord."

I wonder if the new tenant will be required to pay the same rent as had been demanded of BCC? Somehow I doubt it.

Sounds like nationalisation to me and something that would rank Bermuda among the likes of Cuba, Venezuala and yes, even Zimbabwe.

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If this Independence stuff actually materialises into a decision through a referendum (let's get real, that's the only thing that will be accepted as legitimate, the general election stuff is a distraction), will Alex Scott have the integrity to resign as Premier if the answer is NO?

Say what you want about John Swan's push for Independence, but he had the conviction of his beliefs to put his leadership on the line, stepping down after the public delivered their verdict.

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I meant to comment on a statement by the Premier when it was initially reported in the Royal Gazette over a week ago I think.

The Premier's quote that drew my attention was:

"So what I'm saying is anybody who is for it has to realise one fundamental thing – to achieve Independence you have to take a significant majority with you"

I'd bet a large amount of money that the Premier will hope he never said this and will never say it again. I'll be holding him to it when the time comes though. Why?

Well...Mr. Scott has gone on record as requiring that a simple 50% plus one majority in favour of Independence is insufficient. I'm always pleased when I find common ground with this Premier and agree that a super-majority of 2/3 is required for this type of move by a country in a referendum. A minimum turnout would be necessary aswell, although I doubt that will be an issue in Bermuda.

Either way, whether the PLP wants to use a general election or a referendum to determine independence, the Premier has taken the position that a narrowly won result isn't sufficient, it has to be a "significant majority".

Now if only we could get the Premier to agree that a referendum is the best mechanism!

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The following is the full text of the statement to the House of Assembly
regarding Independence for Bermuda by Premier, The Honourable W. Alexander Scott on Friday 12 March 2004.

"Mr. Speaker and Members of this Honourable House of Assembly,

"It was just over two weeks ago that I raised the subject of Independence on the occasion of the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) Founders Day.

"During that speech, I stated that I felt duty bound to honour those founding fathers and leaders of the Progressive Labour Party who had withstood unspeakable threats and made life-changing sacrifices to one day see Bermuda as an independent and prosperous nation.

"Mr. Speaker, it is no secret that I also hold that desire within my heart, but I also realize that there is another perspective on the issue of Independence for Bermuda within our community.

"There is a segment of this community who love Bermuda just as much as I do, exhibit a commitment to Bermuda that is no less than my own and are just as proud to be Bermudian as I am.

"The difference between us however is that they believe that we as a country are fine exactly the way we are.

"It was against this backdrop that I suggested two-weeks ago that we as a sophisticated people need to be able to throw off our respective Independence cloaks and come out of the closet and begin to discuss this important issue.

"I am pleased to report this morning that my Progressive Labour Party (PLP) Founders day Speech has generated awareness in the community and the dialogue has indeed begun.

"Unfortunately however, some have misunderstood my comments and have immediately moved to campaign for or against Independence or to debate the perceived pros and cons of Sovereignty.

"Some have even questioned my motives and tried to find reasons why I would choose to raise the discussion of Independence at this time.

"In response to the latter, I say what better time to discuss Independence.

"We are not pressured by a pending General Election, Referendum, or scheduled Constitutional change and therefore there is an opportunity for us to enter into this discussion free from pressures that could circumvent the process or further marginalize positions within the community.

"Mr. Speaker, we need to be able to address this subject openly, objectively and nationally. This should not be an issue for the PLP or the UBP, or black Bermudians and white Bermudians, this should be an issue for all Bermudians to be able to share their individual points of view and thereby improve our overall understanding of the topic.

"I do understand the views that have been put forward on both sides of this potentially emotional debate that has been taking place in our community in recent days, but I want to challenge the people of Bermuda to take this discussion to a higher level.

"It is important for all of us as Bermudians to have a meaningful discussion on Independence, but in order for that to happen we must all have an appreciation of what Independence is and what it would mean for Bermuda. We must understand the significance of our Constitutional position and the current role of the United Kingdom Government in our affairs.

"In other words, we must all be speaking to the extent that we can do so, on the same issues and from the same background knowledge.

"We must enter into this Independence discussion like an infant. We must creep in the first instance, then stand up and one day eventually walk, but we as a country must go through this process together.

"Only and I repeat, only when the public has all of the information, and we as a Government have had the benefit of discussion, public input and debate, will it be time to determine our collective way forward.

"We as the Government intend to take a number of steps to assist this process.

"Shortly, I will name a Cabinet Minister and a Party Member who will assist both the Government and the Party in this process.

"In the coming weeks, we will release a document outlining the basic issues surrounding Independence in a clear and understandable format. The intent of this first document will be to create a starting point that will serve to ensure that we are all speaking to the same issues.

"Either at that time or before, the occasion may also present itself when one or all of the various media will choose to provide time and space in order that an appreciative public may become better informed on the subject of Independence.

"Mr. Speaker, although Independence for Bermuda is a long-held dream of the Progressive Labour Party, the Government recognises that all the people of Bermuda must ultimately make that decision and when it is time to make that decision, it will be a monumental one.

"We do not take this exercise lightly.

"I want to challenge my colleagues across the floor of this Honourable House to enter into the discussion with us. There will be time to debate the subject and at an even later point still, there will be time to mount our respective campaigns, but right now must be the time for a comprehensive, fact-finding, analytical and reasoned approach.

"I encourage the people of Bermuda to take the time to listen to, and respect all views and positions during this discussion and to know that the Government has no intention to take any decisions that are not in line with the collective will of the people of Bermuda

"Thank you."

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I've tracked down a sample of some Political Risk Insurance wordings relating to Expropriation, Selective Discrimination and Forced Divestiture which all appear to be potentially applicable in the BCC case.

It's time for the Premier to publicly rebuke the statement of Derrick Burgess and Wedco and assure BCC and all Bermudians that the PLP government will not be involved in these types of practices.

I'll restate my earlier comments that what the PLP are doing here is a very bad thing for Bermuda.

"Expropriation

Expropriation means an act or series of acts occurring within the Policy Period not limited to expropriation but including also, confiscation, nationalization, requisition, seizure, sequestration, deprivation and willful destruction or damage, as a consequence of a law, order, decree or administrative action of the Foreign Government, that:

a) solely and directly deprives the Insured and/or the Co-Insureds of all or part of their interest in the Foreign Enterprise; or

b) solely and directly deprives the Foreign Enterprise of the ownership, control, use or possession of all or part of its fixed and/or current assets, or

c) solely and directly prevents or restricts the operation of the Foreign Enterprise so as to cause the Permanent cessation of the Foreign Enterprise’s activities; or

d) solely and directly deprives the Insured and/or Co-Insureds of inventory or equipment carried on its books which is located in the Foreign Country, or

e) solely and directly the Insured and/or Co-Insureds and/or the Foreign Enterprise from effectively controlling funds in the Foreign Country which constitute dividends or profits on, or proceeds from the disposal of the insured investment.

Selective Discrimination

Selective Discrimination means the imposition of any law, order, decree, regulation or import/export restriction by the Foreign Government, applied selectively against the Foreign Enterprise but not applied against locally owned entities with similar interest and standing (if any), which is beyond the control of the Insured and/or Co-Insureds and which:

a) effectively prevents or restricts the operation of the Foreign Enterprise, or
b)legally prevents the Insured and/or Co-Insureds from participating in the benefits of the Foreign Enterprise,

so as to cause the Permanent cessation of the Foreign Enterprise’s activities.

Forced Divestiture

Forced Divestiture means the imposition during the Policy Period of any law, order, decree, regulation, directive or restriction by the Insured’s or Co-Insured’s Government, that:

a) effectively requires the Insured and/or Co-Insureds Permanently to divest itself of all or part of its interest in the Foreign Enterprise, or
b) legally prevents the Insured and/or Co-Insureds from participating in all or part of the benefits of its interest in the Foreign Enterprise, or
c) prevents or restricts the operation of the Foreign Enterprise or use or possession of the assets of the Foreign Enterprise

so as to cause the Permanent cessation of all or part of the Foreign Enterprise’s activities."

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In an earlier post I speculated that applying the expropriation cover might be a stretch for the BCC case. After sleeping on that and learning a little more I think it's not a stretch at all and probably could apply.

Jim Butterfield commented recently that BCC took over an empty plot of land in Dockyard 40 years ago and has since developed it into a modern cement processing facility. So the physical plant could be considered assets of BCC. Originally I had been working off the assumption that BCC were renting the facilities, but it doesn't appear to be that simple.

For further insight read this comment that I just received:

"...if, as expected, BCC loses the lease for the Dockyard facility, [BCC] is likely to be in for a big shock: any fixed equipment or apparatus is likely to be deemed ‘landlord’s fixtures’, meaning that BCC will not be able to legally remove them from the premises and will not be able to charge WEDCO or the new tenants for them. Once affixed to the premises, they effectively become the property of the landlord, regardless of who paid for them and installed them. Unless there’s a specific provision in the lease indicating that the fixtures remain the property of BCC (unlikely)".

I hope BCC vacates the premises with a wrecking ball behind them.

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The Bermuda Sun this morning quotes BCC President Jim Butterfield as stating that they should change the name of the company from Bermuda Cement Company to Zimbabwe Cement Company...nice one Jim.

The ramifications of this shouldn't be underestimated by Bermudians.

BCC has Cemex, the international cement conglomerate, as a significant shareholder. If our Finance Minister wants to entice major international corporations to do business here, as she stated she did when discussing the HSBC acquisition, she'd do well to put a stop to the behaviour by Wedco and her Cabinet colleagues.

The following quote rings completely hollow when compared to the PLP's actions with BCC:

"Finance Minister Paula Cox yesterday called the sale of the Bank of Bermuda to multinational banking giant HSBC Plc a 'watershed event in our continuing efforts to develop our country as a world class capital market'."

Cemex does business all over the world and is a major international player. Business people talk and I'm sure they'll let spread the word that Bermuda has become hostile towards business, and that the current Government is looking to appropriate their assets.

Bermuda's business leaders are talking and have taken notice of this fiasco. Potential foreign investors will be next.

I wonder how potentially interested developers of Morgan's Point, or the old Club Med site in St. George's feels right now as they consider whether to invest their millions under a PLP administration?

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In a post on the brewing Bermuda Cement Company scandal I mentioned that some of our businesses might want to consider purchasing political risk. A few people have asked me just what political risk insurance is.

The easiest way is to point you to the Sovereign Risk Insurance Ltd. website for some help. Go to the "Products" section of their website (a hyper link won't work due to use of frames) where they describe some of the cover they provide.

Many of you may be familiar with Sovereign who are a Bermuda company formed as a 50-50 partnership between ACE and XL to provide political risk insurance in emerging markets. Sadly, Bermuda's PLP Government seem to want to move us backwards from a premier economy to an emerging market classification with their anti-business practices through Wedco.

Perhaps a member of our intrepid press core might want to ask Sovereign if the BCC scenario would qualify.

I think BCC could probably have used the expropriation cover as described below (emphasis mine):

"Expropriation:

"Sovereign's Expropriation Coverage protects lenders and investors against a broad range of actions by the host government that reduces or eliminates fundamental creditor or ownership rights in the insured loan or investment. In addition to outright acts of nationalization and confiscation, "creeping expropriation" (a series of acts that cumulatively have an expropriatory effect), deprivation of assets or collateral, and blockages of funds intended to be remitted as debt service, dividends or return of capital are included in Expropriation Coverage.

"Non-Honoring of Investment Agreements (also called Breach of Contract) may be added to the Expropriation Coverage to cover the failure of the arbitral process in conjunction with the dispute resolution provisions of fundamental investment agreements to which the host government is a party. "

Maybe a stretch but Derrick Burgess's outburst can't be comforting to anyone conducting business in Bermuda.

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I'm looking for suggestions on just what Housing Minister Ashfield DeVent meant when he said yesterday:

“For us to make political usage (of the housing crisis) is sin, suicidal, and genocidal."

"Genocidal"? I didn't see that aspect of the UBP's motion!

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On this day in 1973 the Governor of Bermuda, Sir Richard Sharples, is assassinated in the grounds of Government House.

Thanks to the reader who picked this up.

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Kit Astwood has provided a very refreshing perspective on independence.

Mr. Astwood's approach to the issue demonstrates why individuals like this Bermudian have achieved personal and professional success. They step back and dispassionately look at the issues, deciding what will serve our collective interests.

He poses the question that is at the core of this pending debate and something I've asked before:

"What tangible improvements in our quality of life will independence bring and what would be the costs associated with it?"

If that question can't be answered adequately, then the decision seems simple to me.

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As discussed in the last post, Derrick Burgess spilled the beans about the PLP's nefarious intentions with the cement contract during Parliament Friday night. This is the second time he has opened his mouth and said something his colleagues probably weren't ready to address. (The first was during the runup to the election when he let the cat out of the bag regarding the pending Bank of Bermuda acquisition by HSBC which was before Cabinet).

Why does Mr. Burgess, a back-bencher, seem to have such a knowledge of Cabinet proceedings and what is his involvement in these issues? As head of the island's largest union, he has an inherent conflict.

I've never been sure who he is representing, his constituents in the union or his electoral constituency?

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Michael Dunkley certainly has a way of drawing out the PLP during Motions to Adjourn on shady dealings that they would prefer to keep under the radar screen. The looming Bermuda Cement Company (BCC) controversy is no different and looks set to become the next Berkeley scandal.

Phil Wells is concerned about who Derrick Burgess is talking about when he says 'our people'. Most people will assume that he's talking about black Bermudians, but that isn't the case.

When the PLP talk about 'our people' they mean PLP cronies not black Bermudians. Black Bermudians as a whole haven't got a thing out of the PLP since 1998 other than lip service. However, a few individuals and businesses closely aligned with the PLP have done very well - under the political disguise of taking care of 'our people'.

The problem with the PLP's claims to be empowering the black community economically is that they are actually doing the exact opposite. Successive PLP administrations have chosen to allocate Government projects with no overriding policy, guidelines or framework. I challenge anyone to show me what document people can look at and say "Ok, so I might qualify, this is how I apply, this is when I can expect to hear if I was successful and if I wasn't this is why".

They are not empowering businesses. Quite the contrary they are creating an economic dependence on the PLP through contract allocation.

What happens is the PLP say we've given, or in Derrick Burgess's case - are about to give, this Government contract to Firm ABC and that is empowering 'our people'. In reality it is intended to ensure that Bermudians suck up to the PLP hoping to stay in favour and be the beneficiaries of Cabinet 'benevolence' with taxpayer funds.

The PLP have no desire to set up a policy or a department to deal with these issues because if that were the case individuals/businesses would be chosen in an ethical manner - those who most deserve get the contract not those who suit the PLP's political purposes.

Any government could achieve a policy of economic empowerment through an expansion of the economy. This however would require some forethought and even-handedness, so it is much easier to taketh away - as BCC seems about to find out.

I completely support the concept of economically empowering those who have historically suffered economic disadvantage, although I hate the term 'affirmative action'. Race however, is a pretty blunt tool to achieve this. I'd suggest that we establish a department to manage this and a transparent policy which anyone can look at and see whether they are eligible or not. Politicians have to be removed from this process to minimise the potential for corruption and cronyism. Only them will we see those with real economic need benefitting.

It's a fact that black Bermudians have been economically disadvantaged. Any policy built around economic conditions would achieve the result of empowering the black community, as well as those of other races and ethnicities who are equally deserving.

As it stands now the concept is being used to ensure that individuals and businesses are indentured to the PLP and link their economic fortunes to the PLP's success at the polls.

This has to stop as it is sending a chill down the spines of the whole Bermuda business community.

Political risk insurance anyone?

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A few more thoughts on the by-election results from last night:

I'll begin by stating that I was completely uninvolved in this campaign and know nothing about what the campaign was thinking.

As I said in a post last night I don't think either party has achieved much traction since the General Election of July 2003. This is obviously a worse scenario for the UBP than the PLP. The PLP, as the majority Party, would be reasonably happy with the status quo, whereas the UBP need to change some minds or attract the traditional non-voters.

Phil Wells, over at A Limey in Bermuda, appears to be struggling to comprehend the campaign that the UBP and their candidate, Corin Smith ran. I don't think it is really all that complicated to be honest and the RG Editorial sheds some insight into the UBP's approach and the mindset of the electorate.

Let's start with the obvious. This election was about party loyalty at the end of the day.

Michael Scott (PLP) received the same 440 or so PLP votes that their candidates always get, and Corin Smith got the 220 or so UBP votes in that constituency. No big insights there. Neither party's candidate changed any minds, they just got out the respective core vote. That's all about organisation. It's not about message, ideas, like-ability or effective canvassing. Each party knows where their base is and got them out.

The more notable aspect of this by-election is that approximately 400 people still chose not to vote. Those are people who feel no allegiance to either party and are completely disenchanted with the choices they are given every election. Corin Smith had expressed his strategy as an attempt to appeal to these voters, rather than the UBP base (who are the ones who came out for him).

His strategy didn't work, probably due to a few reasons.

Firstly, four weeks of campaigning isn't really enough time to change the minds of people who've felt shut out and jaded for years. Secondly, many of these disenchanted voters are young and traditionally uninterested in politics. They might have voted for the first time in 1998 feeling party of a movement but that was a one-off event. Thirdly, this strategy, if Corin Smith indeed thought it to be a potentially winning strategy, necessitated that he get the vast majority of these 400 to the polls to carry him through. He'd at least have needed another 200 of these 400, assuming Michael Scott got none of them himself. That's a tall order.

Saying that, it wasn't a completely bad strategy when you consider that he knew that he already had 220 hard-core UBP votes in the bag. The party would deliver those, he had to go get the other 200. Running as an independent would have been completely unsuccessful as he could kiss those 220 votes good-bye and would lack the organisation that the partys offer. Corin Smith just couldn't change minds in that time frame.

Bermuda is a two party system and the new single seats are less kind to independents than the previous dual seats were. The NLP signed their own death warrant by supporting single seats. I doubt I'll see an independent or third party candidate elected in Bermuda as long as the PLP and UBP continue to exist.

As for the distance between the United Bermuda Party and their candidate.

The UBP, as the RG pointed out, crafted a campaign in 2003 revolving around a crisis in confidence in the PLP Premier, Jennifer Smith, and an attempt to turn around a public perception problem with what the letters UBP had come to represent to many people. The UBP candidates ran as a reinvigorated team, the 'New UBP' and aggressively pushed a number of issues with a more caring, sensitive approach than previous UBP campaigns.

It worked to an extent but wasn't enough to carry them over the top, for a number of reasons I've previously written about.

Corin Smith and the UBP are, to many people, an odd couple. Corin has fashioned himself as a grass roots black activist, while the UBP are portrayed by the party's political opponents as insensitive to the black community.

While I don't subscribe to this representation of the UBP as I've been on the inside and it is just wrong, I do agree that the party has a lot of work to do to gain back the trust of a large part of the black community. Some will never be open to the UBP, but others like Corin Smith, are intrigued by the direction the party has moved since its election defeat in 1998. They see the UBP as the only sincere choice to move Bermuda forward, despite its flaws.

So why did this odd couple come together? Well Corin Smith has stated that he saw the UBP as the vehicle to bring the community together and has given up on the PLP as genuinely wanting to unite us. The UBP embraced Corin Smith, as an unconventional candidate who would provide a strong voice internally for the needs of the black community and some approaches to address them. Both sides moved towards each other, something that Grant Gibbons has been advocating over the past few years. This was the most demonstrable example of this, but it has been going on prior to this by-election, kicked off with a speech on Oct. 30, 2002.

Corin Smith offered some validation to the public that the UBP is changing and personally found the party's message appealing. The party offerred him the critical organisation he needed and that vote base that he hoped he could build on. For Corin to have suddenly become Mr. UBP would have played into the stock criticism of the party, that their black candidates are sanitised and overly managed by a white leadership. It would have killed the credibility that Corin has built up over the past few years as an independent thinker and a reformer.

Did it work? Not this time. Will it work? Who knows. That's what they'll be trying to figure out.

But the one thing that is known for sure is that the UBP can't continue to run the campaign that they did in the lead up to the 1998 election. The PLP have a much more shrewd leader, even if he is Jennifer Smith's hand picked successor.

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If anyone wanted to dismiss our increasing overtures with Cuba as inconsequential then read this.

I'm not familiar with the website but the pondblogger picked it up today and the announcement about the training and posting of Homeland Security agents in Bermuda to monitor the Cuba link is significant. I'd love to know how Gavin finds this stuff for his pondblog! Here's the link to the official US Government OFAC release.

Bermudians, and more importantly the PLP, should think long and hard about the negative impact this Cuba romance is having on our island. It's even more significant when we are getting bashed daily by the soon to be Democratic Presidential nominee, the US news media and Americans who feel increasingly threatened and insular.

At some point we're going to add the straw that'll break the camel's back. Then we'll see some backlash, and it won't be pretty. How's about Customs pre-clearance being removed for one? That would be a big help to tourism wouldn't it. I hope these few Spanish travelers to Cuba are worth it. Do we really want to be a gateway for US citizens to try and enter Cuba? Is it worth the downside to our image and relations with the US?

We should also think about the impact of the PLP's independence move. It's pretty clear the PLP are lining us up to be a satellite state of Caricom (anyone noticed the government sponsored Caribbean news after Oprah every night?), rather than a colony of the UK.

Links with the UK could be one of the only things left that is keeping the US from coming after us on tax, Cuba etc.. Remember, Caricom has a very adversarial relationship with Washington, I'd prefer to stay as far away from that as we can.

The US doesn't have a base here anymore, they think we're stealing their tax dollars and now they think we're assisting US citizens in breaking the law with regards to travel to Cuba. It won't take much for them to decide we're a pain and they'd like to inflict some back.

It's not worth it.

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Michael Scott (PLP) has won the by-election with 414 votes to Corin Smith's (UBP) 220.

Turnout was about 60% compared to 68% in the General Election of July 2003. Each candidate got virtually identical levels of support as the predecessors. The PLP's Michael Scott obtained 66% vs. 64% of the vote for the late Mr. Cox in 2003, while Corin Smith received 34% vs. Gerald Fubler's 36% in the 2003 General Election.

My first impression is that there isn't much to read into this result. This suggests that things have stayed pretty stable since the election and the change of leadership in the PLP.

There was no surge of support towards the 'kinder-gentler' PLP under Alex Scott, while the UBP candidate appears to have been unable to make inroads in a strong PLP safe seat.

More comments tomorrow.

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An observant reader has pointed out that the Bermuda Sun poll on Independence doesn't add up to 100%!

He's right, it seems to be always out by 3%. So bearing in mind that they are unscientific to start with this one should really be treated with suspicion.

While we're on the topic of the web polls I'm sure I don't need to remind people to not read too much into them. They are not representative of the Bermudian electorate, anyone can vote - whether an eligible voter or not and they can be easily rigged with multiple votes among other things.

But they are interesting nonetheless.

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The polls opened at 8AM and will close again at 8PM. We should know the results by 9:30 I would imagine, or earlier depending on how the early counts go. I'll be posting them as soon as they are known. Anything less than a resounding PLP victory is a win for the UBP.

This one should be interesting. I think the PLP are concerned, as evidenced by their attacking of Corin in the press today after treating him gently for most of the campaign. The PLP, as in the General Election like to go negative late and leave lingering doubts and invoke the Party loyalty test as people head to the polls.

This whole campaign was pretty quiet, primarily due to the PLP finding it difficult to attack someone with the local appeal of Corin Smith and the smart minimising of the UBP branding through his campaign. Mr. Smith's no dummy and ran a smart campaign based on personal contact and the issues.

His comment in yesterday's Sun that the "UBP is the last bastion of segregation in Bermuda. If I can help reconstruct the UBP, it will be beneficial" are driven by his need to appeal to disenchanted PLP voters, suspicious of the UBP. Mr. Smith, while a UBP candidate, needs to keep a healthy distance with the establishment UBP and run as a reformer.

The PLP are quite frankly the last bastion of segregation in Bermuda. Just take a look at their elected members and membership and compare that to the UBP's. The usual response to this statement of fact is that white people won't join the PLP so it's the white people that are racist, Eva Hodgson and Rolfe Commissiong like to perpetuate this line of thinking.

It's pretty obvious that this argument is incredibly insincere and a cynical attempt to deflect responsibility. The PLP is a party that puts itself forward as a continuation of the 1960's black power movement, demonising whites when their backs are against the wall. Do you really think that the PLP want white membership? No. The PLP think that they are far better served by marginalising the 20-25% of the white population as an attempt to solidify the black community and then say 'See, they won't come to us (even though we've been calling them shysters).' Fancy that.

The UBP may have issues around race and trust but they aren't segregated, and Corin Smith knows that. He's doing some last minute politicking.

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I won't hold my breath for Renee Webb to take the RG to task, as she did immediately before the 2003 General Election, for two articles in today's RG. Back in July Ms. Webb attacked the press as being "vicious and extremely dangerous, particularly in this pre-election period". I invite her to revisit the issue.

Today, coincidentally by-election day, the RG has two potentially damaging headlines for Corin Smith as people head to the polls. The two headlines that would have invoked a viscious response from the PLP attack dogs are linked below:

Foes wonder which side UBP’s Smith is on
and
UBP's Smith denies plagiarism claim

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Today's RG editorial does a good job of summing up the first few weeks of Ashfield DeVent presiding over the Ministry of Works, Engineering and Housing. Mr. DeVent has enjoyed a tumultuous initiation to Cabinet, and there isn't much reason to be optimistic about him being able to turn things around in his scandal plagued departments.

On Friday I was listening to the radio talk shows, something I don't do often, and was suprised to hear the normally pro-PLP callers lambasting and in some cases outright ridiculing Mr. DeVent. The callers were angry over this story in the Bermuda Sun in which the new Housing Minister appears ready to jet off to Atlanta to find solutions to our housing problem.

What was intriguing was that the accusations being levelled against the PLP and Mr. DeVent personally were the same ones that the current PLP Parliamentarians used to accuse the UBP of - wanting to go overseas to get advice to solve our problems when we have local expertise.

Of all of our problems that need solving the one thing Bermuda has no shortage of are builders and people with ideas! We know how to build, why does the PLP think that Bermudians can't build homes and provide the impetus to alleviate the problem? Fair enough comments. The PLP have become enamored with overseas consultants in a way previous administrations never were. The callers were having a field day accusing Mr. DeVent of being completely over his head and unsuited for a Cabinet position.

So why would the Premier put an absolute political novice in charge of the most scandal plagued Ministry, not to mention the already dire and escalating housing problem. Why would Mr. DeVent accept?

There's a few potential explanations.

The easiest one is that Mr. DeVent needs a paycheck and is well aware that as long as he shows up and takes the heat he's unlikely to have his Cabinet portfolio, and soon to be increased compensation, remoked. No-one's pounding on his door to pick up the Ministry saddled with the Berkeley construction debacle and the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandals.

Another is that Mr. DeVent truly is clueless and genuinely so naive that he doesn't think he's being used as a fall guy, taking the heat for Mr. Scott and his colleagues failures at Berkeley and the BHC. There could be some truth to this although I don't buy Mr. DeVent's 'aww shucks' demeanor when questioned by the press.

When his Shadow Minister trashed him in the press after his Budget filibuster Mr. DeVent responded as follows, “Why would they say that?...I’m a new Minister, and I wanted to take the opportunity to let the public know exactly what I’m in charge of.” Awww shucks, I'm just trying to get the hang of this and educate the people I faithfully serve!

Well, the RG editorial effectively debunked this innocence act by pointing out that Mr. DeVent has quickly proven adept at the obstructionist and avoidance tactics of his Cabinet colleagues. While Mr. DeVent is clearly over his head as a Cabinet Minister I don't buy the Mr. Innocent gig because of the reasons given above.

Alternatively Mr. DeVent could have been promised a better portfolio down the road if he takes the heat for awhile. Plausible

Perhaps more likely is some combination of the above explanations with another aspect.

Mr. DeVent needs a paycheck and may genuinely want to help the Party in any way by taking on even the worst Ministry with the best intentions. More importantly from the Premier and Mr. DeVent's perspective, Mr. DeVent is elected in the safest of PLP seats. It is virtually inconceivable that Constituency 21 would not elect a PLP candidate, regardless of the individual and their performance. Imagine Paget East or Devonshire South Central going PLP, it's not going to happen.

Constituency 21 is one of the most solid PLP seats on the island and Mr. Scott can take comfort in the fact that any damage to his candidate will not affect his ability to get re-elected and the PLP's electoral majority, rather than risk damaging a candidate in a marginal seat.

So Mr. DeVent can really do no worse than his predecessors in managing the Berkeley and BHC messes and hopes to pass it off with his Mr. Nice Guy image knowing that it will have little performance on his ability to get re-elected.

As several callers pointed out on the radio Wednesday, the appointment of Mr. DeVent has demonstrated the level of commitment that the PLP have to the housing problem.

The Premier put the most junior, and almost universally agreed incapable elected member in charge of Bermuda's most serious problem! Not coincidentally, shortly after reshuffling his Cabinet in January the Premier announced that this term of the PLP will be all about Independence.

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Both the Royal Gazette and the Bermuda Sun are running web polls (unscientific) regarding independence with slightly different questions. The results so far:

RG asks: "Should Bermuda go Independent"
(After 971 votes cast)

Yes - 18.6
No - 74.7
Don't Know - 6.7

Bermuda Sun asks: "Is Bermuda ready for independence?"
(After 495 votes cast)

Yes - 31.1%
No - 66.1%

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Last night I was watching Fresh TV (to help me drift off to sleep as it usually does) conduct an interview (or more like show a monologue) with someone who was speaking on the gay marriage issue.

Now, whether you knew it or not Bermuda must go independent to uphold our Christian moral society and prevent gay marriage from destroying our society. Normally I struggle to stay awake during Fresh TV News but this one got my attention.

This individual (I never heard or saw his name) received an inordinate amount of air time to argue that: Britain was going to come under pressure from the EU to marry gay couples, and that the UK would in turn force Bermuda to do likewise - just as they did in 1994 with the Stubbs bill!

Wrong, the Stubbs bill was a locally initiated bill to remove the discrimination in our laws against gay men, it had nothing to do with UK pressure from my understanding.

Isn't it ironic that Alvin Williams is arguing that Independence is the only way to end discrimination (racial) in Bermuda while another is arguing that it is the only way we can continue to discriminate (sexual orientation)!

Independence has suddenly become the solution for every issue facing the community and our current lack of independence will be used by its advocates as the reason for all our troubles. Once we go independent we'll all join hands (male to female hands please) and sing kumbayah.

Gay Marriage - go independent. Chief Justice - we need independence. Bad traffic from the west end - go independent, traffic will run smoother!

The debate is already degenerating and it hasn't even started yet!

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Matthew Taylor (of the Royal Gazette but writing for the Associated Press) has a story out on the wire that is getting picked up by international news agencies about the PLP's independence push.

There isn't much new in it, but it is worth pointing out that the final paragraph is misleading when it states "Scott did not say when a referendum might be held".

In fact, the Premier has said that he thinks a referendum unnecessary. Mr. Scott was on the news last night reaffirming his party's preferred, and incredibly flawed, method of using a General Election to measure support for independence, rather than the only responsible way - a referendum. He did leave a little room to manoeuver but it was pretty clear what the PLP will be pushing for.

Why is this flawed? Well apart from clarity and simplicity of a referendum in measuring support for one issue, unclouded by general election noise, I'd put forward this potential General Election scenario:

Both parties support independence in their election platforms. Or perhaps more likely the UBP have members who support it but only with a referendum. Messy.

How would people opposed to independence express their choice? They can't, but perhaps that's what the PLP want, a pre-determined outcome.

Simply put, as Sir John Swan affirmed last night, a referendum is the only responsible way to decide this question.

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The following is the full text of the speech delivered by the Premier to the PLP Founders Day Luncheon on Sunday, 29 February 2004:

"The Way Forward"

It was an idea whose time had come.

The early 1960s had seen small determined groups talk about it, and try to establish a political party, and then they would inevitably fade away into many disappointing yesterdays.

However, one group came together, nurtured their dream, and created a political institution which we celebrate today.

They were the founding Fathers of the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party (PLP).

Ministers of the Government;
Senators;
Parliamentary Colleagues;

Members of the Party Executive Committee and Central Committee (CC);
To our honoured guests, and distinguished former leaders and their families;
To the Master of Ceremonies;
Party faithful;
Friends;
Good afternoon to all of you.

Our Founding Fathers: motivated by and including Wilfred Mose Allen were Hugh (Rio) Richardson, Albert Peter Smith, Edward DeJean, Walter N. H. Robinson, Austin Wilson and Dilton C. Cann.

These men and their meetings led to the formation of the early structure of the PLP. Hugh (Rio) Richardson, a well-known motor mechanic, was the provisional chairman of the Party – in those early days; Walter N. H. Robinson, MCP, a lawyer, was provisional secretary to the PLP; Eugene Woods, an electronics technician, was the public relations officer for the fledgling PLP Party and Arnold Francis, MCP and lawyer, was the first PLP provisional leader.

These men of pluck and vision cast a political ripple into motion, which was to become a political movement that became a wave, that rolled on down through the years, and eventually washed away the political machine that had run Bermuda for so many, too many, years.

The PLP Platforms decade after decade, chronicled the hopes and aspirations the party leadership had for Bermuda, and Bermuda’s people - election after election.
In 1963 the Platform was titled "A New Era". The following General Election, 1968 it was to be "Progress; Labour; Prosperity". Successive PLP Election Platforms had equally evocative titles: 1972 "For A Better Deal"; 1976 – "Time For A Change"; 1980 - "Express Yourself""; 1983 – "A Summary of All Past Platform Initiatives"; 1985 – "Only You Can Make A Difference"; 1989 –"Take Charge"; 1993 – "X Change Them"; 1998 – "A New Bermuda"; and finally 2003 –"We’ve Only Just Begun".

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

It was the best of times because the air before an election was charged and pregnant with expectation and hope. The faithful always believed that each Election Day would be the one. The day of victory, the day of jubilation; the day when from Sandy’s to St. Georges and Dock Hill to Billy Goat Hill, the country would exhale and wake to ‘a new era’, ‘a better deal’, the ‘time for a change’, because they had ‘X pressed themselves’ and therefore had voted solidly PLP!

It was the worst of times because Party Leader after Party Leader became the ‘Bridesmaid’, never the one to make the drive to Government House, never the one to proudly await the entrance of Black Rod to Parliament; never the one to take the oath as the Leader of the country, never number one. Never to come first - election after election!

However, yes, there were first!

Arnold Adolphus (A.A.) Francis, QC, CBE was the first PLP Leader.

Walter Nathaniel Harvey Robinson was the first PLP Leader to contest an election under the new Constitution, the details of which had been hammered out (with him leading the PLP delegation) in London – two years earlier.

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One of the issues that Trevor Moniz raises in today's RG interview is worthy of further comment:

Alex Scott is a Premier without a mandate, in place solely due to the unelectability of others, rather than his own appeal. So the accidental Premier, struggling to create appeal for his tenure, has decided to rally the troops by placing independence front and centre on his agenda - above the many pressing social needs of the community.

What does this mean for the next few years? Well, it means that the PLP are out of gas and ideas and have nothing left to offer the country in the way of improvements of quality of life. So they're appealing to an issue that actually divides, not unites, the community.

It also suggests that Alex Scott will be looking towards calling a general election sooner rather than later in the party's 5 year term (which began on July 24, 2003). The Premier cannot let the term run out that long because the impact of the rising debt and spending will start coming home to roost. Combine this with the impact of many years of PLP neglect of the social needs of Bermudians and Mr. Scott forsees a problem.

In need of an issue to fire up his base and to campaign on, the Premier will most likely be looking towards an election in the 2005-2006 time period I imagine.

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Call me cynical but the day before housing - the PLP's most serious and continuing failure as a government - is due to come up in the Budget debate, Alex Scott makes a speech calling for us to begin discussing independence?

Post independence we will have the same problems we do pre-Independence. We'll have the same housing problems, the same reduction in jobs for Bermudians, the same corruption and the same division that have gripped the country since the PLP took power in 1998. Actually, they'll probably be worse as the PLP will feel entitled to ignore the pressing social problems during this process of discussing independence.

Grant Gibbons and Trevor Moniz have hit the nail on the head, calling this a distraction tactic from an underperforming Government and a leader without a mandate.

Until the PLP can point to real accomplishments under their tenure they should put any aspirations for independence on hold.

Distraction? You decide.

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