March 03, 2004

Budget Filibuster

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?...Im a new Minister, and I wanted to take the opportunity to let the public know exactly what Im 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.

Posted by Christian S. Dunleavy