May 2004 Archives

The reason that the Government refused to allow the UBP motion on drug testing for MPs to go ahead was that it apparently had financial implications in it, which the Opposition is prohibited from doing.

But this rationale is obviously a cop out and it's pretty clear that for some reason the PLP are adamantly opposed to being drug tested, like we mandate for our national level athletes.

If the cost is the issue I'm sure the UBP can foot the bill. The cost of testing is $50 per member twice a year I am told. That would be a total of $3,600 / year, less than half the monthly consulting fee we're paying the Premier's wife - surely not an overly burdensome amount.

So if the PLP were concerned about the fiduciary aspect of the motion, they could either introduce it themselves or not oppose a new motion by the UBP which addresses the cost problem.

I doubt that's going to be the case however. It was pretty clear that for some reason the Government are determined not be drug tested. Prior to the 2003 election the UBP introduced a similar motion, which passed only to be buried and subsequently killed in Committee. (If Committee meetings were open to the public perhaps that tactic wouldn't be so effective. But that's for another post)

Either the Government feel that they are above this or are worried about the results. Whichever reason is not good enough.

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From a reader on installing Wow:

"Well, it's very impressive, is all I can say. I had it installed and up and running in 1 1/2 hours, and we're in a pretty low-lying area. I bought four feet of pvc pipe, mounted that to my chimney, mounted the antenna to the pipe as instructed and that was it really. Gavin Wilson himself was doleing out the simple advice on getting the system up and running. It really was a cinch to get up and running. Cablevision beware........"

Someone else I know was trying to get their box this afternoon as the additional shipment was on its way in the WoW van. The person at the WoW office who was answering the phones said that the boxes were on the way but that "der's a mob of people waiting here for them". That was at 5PM and according to ZBM people were lining up from 7AM.

Ahhh, the never ending saga of TV in Bermuda!

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It sounds like Wow! is off to a quick start, although they appear to have underestimated the demand.

Apparently they started distributing boxes and antennaes this morning and have already run out of boxes with more to arrive this afternoon people are being told. The line outside WoW's Washington Mall office is wrapping around the building and someone I know waited 2 hours to receive his antennae...but not the box!

Cablevision must be getting a little nervous about now although running out of boxes on your first day is a little Cablevisionesque!

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This will surely not go away with a short article in the Saturday edition (smallest circulation) of the Royal Gazette.

I have no idea about the details of the position which the Premier's wife was hired to fill, but I do know that the appearance of a conflict here is great, to say the least.

While Ms. Scott is entitled to earn a living like anyone else, that may not include in the Government. That may be the price that has to be paid when your husband is the Premier.

As it stands now, the taxpayers are currently footing the following for the Scott family:

- Home (Clifton, the official residence)
- Camden House (another official residence for entertaining)
- Car(s) (GP1 & one other I think, maybe GP8)
- Premier's salary (~$125,000)
- Olga Scott's consultant role (6 months - $54,000)

I'd estimate that to all be worth over $250,000 for the taxpayers support of the Scott family in 2004.

It will be enlightening to see how the consultant role was obtained. If it was through the Public Service Commission there is a level of separation (at least perceived) in the process. I say perceived because Tourism Minister Renee Webb hinted that the next Director of Tourism would be from overseas, when the PSC not her appoints that individual. But if the Health Minister or any Member of Parliament were involved it would invite all sorts of justified speculation and questions that will need to be answered.

The onus is now on the Health Minister to clear up this issue before it starts to really stink, if it doesn't already.

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Maxwell Burgess and Patricia Gordon-Pamplin seem to have crawled right under the skin of the PLP on the motion to adjourn, currenly in process.

The level of debate rapidly deteriorated with Randy Horton saying Maxwell Burgess had small man inferiority syndrome and then Renee Webb proceeded to call Ms. Gordon Pamplin's comments assinine. This is surely not Parliamentary language and the Speaker should be able to control the House in a much more professional and respectful manner but he seems to be letting members run him.

Things deteriorated rapidly when the PLP forced the removal of John Barritt's motion on a 14-13 partisan vote (where were the other 10 PLP MPs?).

If you're interested tune in to AM 1230 on the radio, although Michael Dunkley seems to be taking a more measured less hysterical approach.

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Things have gotten pretty hot and heavy in Parliament on the Motion to Adjourn.

The UBP's Maxwell Burgess and Patricia Gordon-Pamplin seem to have got right under the skin of the Government, prompting Randy Horton and Renee Webb to fly off the handle.

After John Barritt's motion was forced to be withdrawn on a 14-13 vote things quickly deteriorated.

It's worth listening just to hear how cantankerous things have become.

AM 1230 is the channel.

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The motion to adjourn is getting pretty hot and heavy if you want to have a listen.

AM 1230 is the radio channel if you're interested.

The use of 'Honourable' before referencing another member seems to be optional all of a sudden.

The Opposition seems to have really got under the PLP's skin today with a couple of motions and the Motion to Adjourn.

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The teachers and Government seem to have reached a least an initial agreement over the major issues in the pay dispute. That teachers are ending their industrial action is a good thing. What remains to be seen is whether this agreement is the end of the issue or the beginning of a new one.

The initial details of the agreement indicate a huge win and significant pay raise for the teachers. But what will be the ramifications of this?

I would imagine that there could be a knock-on effect in the pay scales of other non-teaching education workers (Occupational Therapists, Speech Language Therapists etc.) who require higher qualifications (Masters degrees, specialised certifications etc.) and training than the Government requires to teach (although many teachers have more than the minimum requirement of a Bachelors degree in education. I stand to be corrected if this is not the case).

While I don't claim to be an expert on the Government pay system and qualifications I imagine some non-teaching education workers will now be considering a couple of alternatives.

Either:

a) Moving over to teaching. They now get paid about the same as teachers but work a full 12 months, and might prefer a couple of months off in the summer.

b) They will probably be looking towards their own future negotiations. Other groups will now look to gain their own parity or salary recognition for their specialised area, and on and on it could go.

This is the problem with these types of agreements. While the Government's negotiating skills and tactics leave much to be desired their ultimate responsibility is to us the taxpayer and they do have to find the money to pay for all of this....and we all know where that will come from.

I'm not sure if this is an appropriate deal or not. That's not my focus in this comment. I'm mostly intrigued as to the likely knock on effect of what appears to be a pretty significant increase in teacher compensation, whether justified or not.

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RG Opinion (May 26, 2004)

Why plan when you can blame

Picture it: It’s May 24th and you don’t have an outfit. In fact, you don’t have any clothes at all! That’s a Bermudian’s worst nightmare and exactly how the Government should have felt during Friday’s Parliamentary debate. The Emperor had no clothes, and right before Bermuda Day!

Friday’s Take Note Motion on Government’s inaction on housing laid it out for all to see. The closets at Alaska Hall are bare. The PLP clearly have no housing plan, unless you’re charitable enough to accept the Minister’s claim that he has a ‘holistic’ one, in his head of course.

It’s hardly comforting to think that if Mr. De Vent were to get run over by a shiny blue Peugeot we’d lose both a Cabinet Minister and the housing plan simultaneously. But that’s the beauty of politicians claiming to have unwritten plans, they’re tough to criticise. Unfortunately it also makes it rather difficult to accomplish anything.

You have to hand it to the UBP, who must still be smarting after producing a creative housing proposal during the 2003 election, all in a losing effort. There they were, dodging student protesters and anxious to debate a motion highlighting inaction on arguably our most pressing social issue.

But the PLP didn’t seem worried, they seemed amused. Perhaps the joke is actually on us. Government never promised to address the housing problem. In fact, they didn’t claim they’d do much of anything if elected. The PLP’s re-election strategy was quite simple: ‘Vote for us. We’re not the other guys (who by the way are shysters or Uncle Toms).’

The PLP don’t want you to vote for them. They want you to vote against the UBP.

That’s the problem when your Government feels no need to provide a vision, achievements or details of future plans, whether in their heads or not. The election of 2003 reinforced the mentality in the PLP that they don’t need to do anything to get re-elected, other than demonise the other party.

Today’s PLP MPs are confident of their re-election prospects as long at the public play their designated role of validating the blame game. They feel no obligation to produce results but are content to convince us that today’s inaction is the other party’s fault. Don’t expect the Government to fix things, because the UBP created them and tomorrow’s problems are still their fault we’re told. The PLP don’t want to lead the country, they want to oppose the ghost of UBPs past.

This culture of blame was evident during Friday’s debate. Members droned for hours about why the problem exists, not what they’re going to do about it. Friday’s motion began its life as ‘…this House takes note and deplores the failure of the PLP Government to produce and act on a housing plan’ before rather amusingly morphing into ‘…this House take note and support the PLP Government in the development of a comprehensive plan to solve the problem of affordable housing in Bermuda’.

You’re excused if you thought the modified version was an attempt at humour. You see, the Minister amended the original motion to one soliciting support in the ‘development’ of a plan. But apparently he already has one. Remember? The one in his head. There go the clothes! After six years and four Housing Ministers you’d think that at a minimum we’d have a working document to review. But why plan when you can finger point?

A more productive motion would have been ‘That this House take note and support the PLP Government’s plan to solve the problem of affordable housing in Bermuda’. The plan could have been tabled for debate and subsequently approved, rejected or improved.

Sadly, Friday’s session was a classic example of the great Bermudian parliamentary sport of talking about why a problem exists without proposing a solution. So in the spirit of solutions here’s a new rule for Parliamentary debate:

If you don’t have a specific solution to contribute, then stay in your seat with your microphone off. If you’re determined to waffle for hours, mindlessly logging your time dwelling in the past then you should reconsider your suitability as an MP.

Let’s work to create a better future, not wallow unproductively in the past.

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Parliament this morning started debating the UBP's motion of that 'This House deplores the fact that the PLP have failed to produce an act to creatig a plan to deal with housing' (or something along those lines).

The motion was just amended by the PLP to say something like:

'This House will work together to produce a plan for addressing the housing problem.'

Here's the problem with that motion: the PLP has been claiming that they already have a plan.

Ashfield DeVent at the Budget press conference said:

"I definitely have a plan and the fact that I have been told that I’ve got some more money to facilitate that plan, I’m very excited today and I am looking forward to working as quickly as possible with members of the Housing Corporation to get my plan on the way."

So which one is it?

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I've just received a call that hundreds of students (Berkeley and Cedarbridge) are now protesting outside Parliament against the standoff between the Teachers and the Education Minister.

Apparently they're weilding placards and signs with slogans demanding answers.

Yet another escalation in this dispute.

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From Cal Smith's column yesterday in RG:

"I understand racism as the situation when one race is antagonistic towards another race."

Then he doesn't understand it if that's his definition.

Racism is:

1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

Antagonism might be an outgrowth but it isn't really the issue.

But the Limey is right. Why would any white person join an organisation that is openly hostile to them? If you buy the PLP's argument it's that they are hostile towards whites because whites won't join the party (which is openly hostile towards them). A circular argument if I've ever heard one.

Much like the UBP is told that it's going to take more time to convince black Bermudians that the party isn't the Steering Committee of the Great White Conspiracy, the PLP have to prove themselves to be genuinely interested in dropping the vile racial attacks before more than a handful of white's will join them.

If both parties do this we'll start moving forwards to public support based on ideas, philosophy and platforms, which I think the UBP is closer to representing now. Parties will always have their die hard partisans but they aren't the ones who push them over the top in elections. The independents do that.

Based on the last election campaign by the PLP any genuine attempt by them to bring the races together is a long way off and laying the issue at the feet of whites is nothing more than deflecting the PLP's own role in this.

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Here's today's RG column. Somehow the beginning of the 2nd paragraph got changed up in the Gazette print version (maybe to fit in Dr. Brown's photo) and is even more jumbled in the online version, plus I missed a typo (grrr) in the last sentence. I've corrected both of these in this post.

RG Opinion (May 19, 2004)

A case of different strokes

Government has generated some great ideas and lots of controversy recently. Some of these proposals are so good that Cabinet should implement these internally, increasing their accountability and filling their glaringly empty legislative plate. Three recent examples spring to mind.

GPS

We’re all exhausted with the never-ending battle between Dr. Brown and the taxi industry. In case you’ve missed the debacle while waiting for a cab, the Transport Minister insists that GPS be installed in all cabs while the industry maintains that it is an intrusion on their privacy, is costly and won’t improve service.

This whole dispute would be mercifully resolved if Cabinet set a precedent by enthusiastically installing GPS in their oversized fleet of GP cars. Our Ministers often claim that they work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Therefore they should be more than happy to justify this claim and publish the whereabouts of their vehicles on a regular basis. After all, they’re representing the taxpayers in cars we purchased.

It would also be particularly useful (and revealing) if TCD maintained an internet site with live updates of the locations of our MPs vehicles, so we could see them shuttling from important meeting to important meeting of course. Chances are that this would prove unnecessary. Most of the supersized Peugeot’s can usually be found guarding their prestigious ‘Reserved for GPs 1-20’ parking spots at the airport.

The taxi industry would be in a far weaker negotiating position, and Dr. Brown in a stronger one, if he could proudly point to his GPS monitored car during negotiations.

Performance Based Pay Raises

Here we find ourselves with another great idea floated on the taxi drivers and another opportunity for Cabinet to lead the way: rate increases tied to improved performance.

Dr. Brown’s bargaining position with the taxi industry would be enhanced even further if our MPs were compensated in this manner, not quietly decreeing pay raises for themselves deep in the 2004 Budget. It’s much easier when you evaluate your own performance and give yourself a raise. Different strokes for different folks it seems.

Applying this performance based principle to the 2003 election where the PLP won fewer seats and a reduced share of the vote would see the Government MPs take a pay cut while the UBP MPs would pick up a few extra dollars.

The PLP’s performance was judged poorly then and the latest polls show the Premier’s approval rating in decline. That’s a poor performance review. A pay-cut would seem more than appropriate, based on Dr. Brown’s taxi proposal that is.

Pro-Rated Pay

The Bermuda Union of Teachers (BUT) is up in arms over Government’s suggestion that their compensation be pro-rated (scaled down) to reflect the approximately 200 days spent in school, versus the approximately 240 days of work for their civil servant counterparts.

If Cabinet feels that fewer days in the office should result in less pay then the taxpayers will be receiving a refund any day now after the recent period of legislative inactivity. Parliament recently reconvened after a seven week Easter adjournment, for one arduous session, before adjourning for another two weeks, due to a lack of Government business. Now there’s a work schedule we’d all like.

It’s only fair then that our MP’s salaries should likewise be pro-rated to reflect the reduced time they’re spending legislating. It probably isn’t fair to cut the paychecks of both sides, the UBP has 6 motions pending compared with none for the Government. I’m sure the Opposition will enthusiastically support the redistribution of PLP salaries their way.

Cabinet will undoubtedly argue that they spend considerable time working outside of Parliament and are in fact underpaid. Bermuda’s teachers might have been supportive of this argument, before Minister Lister’s proposal to pro-rate their pay that is. The Union negotiators will surely have pointed out the additional hours its members spend working outside of the classroom, but that won’t curry much favour in Cabinet it seems.

It’s only fair then that we apply the same principle of time spent in the classroom to time spent in the Legislature.

I wouldn’t hold your breath for Cabinet to lead by example, but it’s worth asking.

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Could the US IRS be helping or hurting us? An issue which could impact Bermuda's (re)insurance industry has re-emerged after not materialising in 2003.

The U.S. Senate recently passed a bill (Senate Finance Bill [S. 1627] "Jumpstart Our Business Strength Act" or "JOBS Act") on May 11, 2004 which includes a provision to limit the Foreign Housing exclusion under section 911 of the Internal Revenue Code (section 454 of the Bill is the relevant clause I think) . Under current tax law a qualified individual may exclude up to $80,000 of foreign earned compensation and a certain amount of their foreign housing cost from income.

The new US Senate proposal would restrict the combined foreign earned income exclusion and foreign housing exclusion to a maximum of $80,000 in total for tax years beginning after December 31, 2003.

Bear in mind that this is a Senate Bill at this point and would have to be reconciled with a House Bill and signed by the President. Considering the House is Republican controlled there's a strong likelihood that any final bill would be different than the current Senate version and this provision may be removed.

What this would mean is that US taxpayers claiming the full $80,000 foreign earned income exclusion (most reinsurance execs) for 2004 onwards won't be able to deduct their housing costs. For those of us who live blissfully free of income tax nightmares this can be translated to mean a drastically higher effective taxable income for individuals working in Bermuda who receive a housing allowance (some as large as $15,000/month and up).

My take is that there are a couple of potential outcomes if this were to occur.

1) Bermuda becomes a less desirable place to work and our companies can't hire the best staff unless they do item 2 below.
2) Operating in Bermuda could become even more expensive as the salaries of US employees would have to be grossed up to mitigate the personal income tax hit they'll take, flowing through to higher expenses for the employer.
3) US employees and the big companies here will develop a sudden vested interest in not paying crazy housing allowances, bringing down rents somewhat. This might provide some relief but will also take dollars out of the pockets of those Bermudian landlords who are making a mint off of $12,000 and $15,000 a month rental incomes.

I don't think Bermudians should see this a potential silver bullet to the housing crisis because a supply and demand problem remains from restricted available land and a thriving international business sector. But clearly a lot of employees don't negotiate their rents as hard as they would if it were their own money. Now that their employer and their own bottom lines could be affected the allowances may be reigned in somewhat.

I'm sure we'll see this develop as the House Bill (House Ways and Means Bill [H.R. 2896] "American Jobs Creation Act of 2003 or "AJC Act") makes it way through the process.

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The Government has released their new portal/website today at www.gov.bm.

The consistent look and feel between department sites is a huge improvement over the previous site, although the content and utility has a long way to go.

I imagine that this is a first cut with the easily completed, brochure type stuff released while the more useful aspects like online payment of taxes and fees etc. will be coming out over the next few months.

But this looks promising.

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Things have been quiet for a couple of days on the Dr. Brown vs US Consulate front. That's hopefully a good thing.

I'm optimistic that approaches have been made through back channels to difuse this, allowing both parties to save face. I hesitate to point out that if our Government had worked harder at establishing a relationship with the Consulate the press statement would probably have never been released and displeasure with Dr. Brown's actions expressed privately.

The Premier would be wise to take a statesman-like approach and contact the Consulate, expressing regret for any misunderstanding between the security and Dr. Brown and also register his disappointment at the rapid release of a press statement by the Consulate.

The Premier would also hopefully advise Dr. Brown to tone down the rhetoric to the media, be a little less confrontational and try and lower the tension rather than escalate it. It's always wise to take the high road, even if you're angry as he clearly was/is.

As Deputy Premier, Dr. Brown has an obligation to represent us in the best way possible, regardless of his personal feelings (whether justified or not).

Hopefully each side will take something from this experience and the whole incident will just fade away into a fleeting memory and future material for a Peter Woolcock cartoon or a Not the Um Um show.

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Updates will be infrequent this week as I'm painting my house!

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RG Opinion (May 11, 2004)

We're living in the dark ages

Once a week, six months of the year our MPs dutifully trudge to the House of Parliament to execute their routine. This rigorous schedule begins early at 10:30 a.m. with Ministerial Statements followed by Congratulations and Obituaries (a.k.a. constituency work) and then a well-deserved lunch-break at 12:30 p.m.. Two hours of political pandering can work up quite an appetite. After a leisurely hour and a half lunch they resume for another few hours of grueling heckling interspersed with the occasional discussion of important issues.

Perhaps that’s a bit of a harsh characterization, but for many that’ll be the most information they’ll have ever received regarding what goes on ‘up on de hill’.

We’re out of touch with the legislative process because the people’s business is conducted as if we’re in the mid-1900’s, not 2004. Bermuda is long overdue for an overhaul of our Parliamentary system.

In most modern democracies the process of governing is open and accessible. Legislative sessions are broadcast live on television with transcripts available afterwards. Your representative can be seen in action at a safe distance from the comfort of your own home.

Not so in Bermuda. We’re subjected to static-filled radio broadcasts where Members often forget to turn on their microphones and heckling dominates. The Senate is even worse, sounding like it meets in the North Rock tank at the Aquarium. Sadly this same audio feed is what the electronic media relies on, but that’s light years ahead of the print media. Our print journalists are relegated to the public gallery frantically scribbling what little they can discern between naps or staring at the Sergeant at Arms, who likewise struggles to stay awake.

All joking aside, the print media’s role is extremely valuable. The Royal Gazette publishes the closest thing that exists to a transcript of proceedings. Printed on a Saturday and in subsequent editions, this huge block of intimidating and uninviting text is the only easily accessible record of Parliament. Rumour has it that digital recordings of the analog radio broadcast exist at the Ministry of Telecommunications and E-Commerce in the event that years from now someone might want to know exactly what was said

The first step towards Parliamentary modernization should be the creation of a website for the Legislature. It’s shameful that in this day and age on an island which trumpets itself as a modern ecommerce jurisdiction, that we can’t access Parliamentary information online. What little we can access through www.gov.bm hasn’t been updated since the Great Deception of July 2003, or earlier. While enticing visitors with Cabinet, Senate and Parliament listings they’ll be disappointed with the resulting “page cannot be found” error messages.

Our Parliamentary website should include the house orders, minutes and transcripts of each session, in addition to contact information for the MPs. Additionally it should include a database of attendance records and a Member’s voting history, a document storage area for Budget and Throne Speeches, reports, papers and access to the Register of Interests. This website would probably be the first stop most voters will make when looking for information.

A logical next step would include the installation of TV cameras providing a live feed of house proceedings. This alone would make our legislators more accountable and effective, increasing our understanding of public policy creation. The absence of cameras results in very few of our MPs actually sitting in their seats. The ones who do bother to show up are often discreetly eating, sleeping, reading or checking their email. Some PLP MP’s have even been caught reading the Royal Gazette, although they’ll never admit it! You’d also see these supposedly bitter rivals chatting and showing a genuine affection for each other. Sounds a lot like school detention doesn’t it?

However, one potential drawback of televised sessions could be increased grandstanding, but most of our MPs are as lively as the dead guys on the walls behind them, so that would be a refreshing change.

Finally we should install a Hansard reporting system similar to the new court reporting system, creating official transcripts to be published online and in our libraries.

We’re living in the dark ages in bringing the legislative process to the people. Modernization is long overdue.

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Dr. Brown seems to be suffering from foot and mouth disease! First the shoes caused a problem and now his mouth isn't helping. In an interview last Friday Dr. Brown referred to the US Consulate as "arrogant" which isn't the type of diplomatic language we'd hope for from our Deputy Premier, one who's leading the Premier's Independence committee.

But getting to the actual event:

Both Dr. Brown and the US Consulate's accounts seem similar, there doesn't appear to be too much in dispute, other than Dr. Brown claiming the Security Guard said "Go ahead" and walked away (ZBM interview from Parliament). Dr. Brown seems to see his trump card as the presence of Jim Howes (the airport general manager), but Dr. Brown is his boss so Mr. Howes was picking his words very carefully when commenting to the press.

What was interesting in that interview was that Dr. Brown let on that other ministers had complained that they felt they were being unfairly targeted and he was advised by the owner of the security firm to ask for a supervisor if it occurred again. So there seems to be some history here.

This whole thing is messy on a number of levels:

1) Dr. Brown's attitude at the airport has been the subject of criticism in the past.
2) The US Consulate, Mr. Coleman, is no longer on the island I believe after leaving early due to medical reasons and his staff may he holding down the fort pending a new appointment. They probably were a little quick on the trigger with a press release, but it is indicative of the dismal state of communication between the two sides.
3) Relations between the PLP Government and the Consul have been poor over Cuba, non-returned phone calls and Dr. Brown insulting George Bush at an anti-war rally. They may just be returning the favour.
4) Dr. Brown is angry because they didn't call him to get the story. I'd hazard a bet they spoke with the security guard at the airport for his recount of events.

But back to the complaint that Ministers are being unfairly targeted by security. I've always thought that last check at the gate was a bit pointless, particularly after being screened below. Think back to whenever you travel on US flights.

Once the flight begins boarding the process starts with first/business class travelers. From my experience, a couple of them always get searched. The tables are empty and the security guards grab the first people through who are inevitably business travelers rather than wait a bit and be more random in their timing. So if Ministers are traveling in business, which I understand them to be, they are probably also boarding first and the security guards are pulling them aside, like they do for business travelers in my experience. I think this is far less sinister than the Minister is portraying it.

Now, as for the statement by Dr. Brown where he repeatedly referred to himself as the 'Minister responsible for the airport'. While this is clearly true it is misleading and was intentionally included to give some air of authority to Dr. Brown over the security guards. Dr. Brown has very little if any authority once he's cleared US Customs. That section of the airport is considered US soil and controlled by probably the Dept. of Homeland Security or the FAA (as it was when I worked as an airport screener about 10 years ago). That security company is probably seconded to Homeland Security or the new Transport Security Administration. Dr. Brown has no authority over them, and is entitled to no additional perks as a Minister in that area. He's just another traveler, like you and me, who has to take off their shoes if asked or can always choose not to be screened but not board the flight.

As the 'Minister responsible for the airport' you'd actually expect him to be enthusiastic about submitting to screenings. Heaven forbid our leaders lead by example. But this is a man who said he was returning to Bermuda to settle scores and has openly said he's entitled to enjoy the trappings of power.

This whole standoff is probably just another case of the results of ego, power and neglect of important relationships.

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The Bermuda Sun has blown the lid off the Sean O'Connell case at the Bermuda College with two articles in today's edition (see here and here). This case has never really gained the level of interest it should have but it isn't going away.

I don't profess to know the details or legitimacy of the accusations too closely, but the one thing that is pretty clear is that there appears to have been a real lack of due process involved in the dismissal of Mr. O'Connell. The number of people who are surfacing to vouch for Mr. O'Connell's character cast the allegations into further doubt and the politicians on both sides of the house aren't going to be able to pretend the issue doesn't exist much longer.

Now that the accuser's credibility and honesty is in question it's time the whole situation is revisited and dealt with in an appropriate manner. The College must also open an investigation into whether Mr. Ahad misrepresented his qualifications in gaining his post.

If all this turns out to have been fabricated and Mr. O'Connell's dismissal deemed improper, then the College could be finding themselves in a sticky position and the taxpayer's may have to open their cheque books.

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RG Opinion (May 04, 2004):

The mess we created

The shocking images of pollution at Morgan's Point in the Mid-Ocean News on April 23 must have been as welcome at the Cabinet Office as the photos of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq were at the White House. Issues of this magnitude are much easier for politicians to deal with when the evidence is hidden behind locked fences or underground caves than on the front page of a newspaper.

Bermuda now faces two costly messes, one we inherited and one very much of our own creation.

When the US vacated the Baselands we uncovered a huge environmental disaster in our sensitive underground caves, threatening the water table and rendering a huge area of prime real estate undevelopable. That's the mess we inherited.

The subsequent handling of the negotiations with the US is the mess our Government created. The decision in 2002 to end negotiations and accept a paltry $11 million final settlement for the termination of the lease was an error of monumental proportions. It's likely to qualify as the most boneheaded decision taken by a Bermuda Government.

That's $11 million for an estimated $60 million problem. Compounding the error, we heard in the recent budget that eight of the 11 million has been earmarked for all sorts of non-related projects, after already spending $3 million to service the swing bridge.

So where did the problem we created begin? It started with the fateful decision in 1999 to withdraw from negotiations with the US and ask the UK to represent us. Why our policy makers thought it in our best interests to abdicate their responsibility as our elected representatives and ask someone else to negotiate on our behalf, someone whose priority was to make the issue go away, promises to be one of the most unnecessarily expensive decisions ever made.

The UK had no vested interest in achieving a favourable settlement, and they were almost certainly motivated by a desire to end the negotiations quickly. It was naïve of our Government to say the least, to expect the UK to expend valuable political capital with their closest ally for an environmental clean-up in their prosperous little overseas colony.

So where did the $60 million estimate come from? In 1998 the UBP Government conducted a study which put the price tag at $60 million and that was apparently what they were holding out for before being relegated to the Opposition benches in November.

It's a safe bet that the $60 million estimate is low, and an even safer bet that the longer we delay the remediation, the higher that figure will go. Doubling that isn't unreasonable, particularly as Bermuda capital projects go. We're looking at a decision that will likely cost $100 million, around 15 percent of our 2004 budget. Compare that to the US's ability to write a check for one hundred million out of their almost two trillion dollar 2005 budget, and it becomes clear just how terrible a decision that was. The Bermuda taxpayers are going to receive a very large bill in the not too distant future.

So what's our Government doing? They're awaiting yet another report, to replace the one already completed pre-1998. This can only be described as a delaying tactic by politicians wanting to push the problem further into the future, undoubtedly increasing the health risk and economic cost.

The Government continues to hope that money will materialise from some benevolent source other than the Bermuda taxpayer. This is in fact an implicit admission that the settlement is inadequate and overly burdensome. Just who Minister De Vent expects to provide assistance so that the remediation “would not have to be funded completely from the Bermuda public purse” is puzzling.

With the passing of the US Bases (Termination of Agreement) Act in 2002 the Government completely absolved the US of any responsibility, losing any leverage for future negotiations. Surely we aren't now going to approach the UK, the party we asked to negotiate on our behalf, and ask them to pony up the cash.

This problem is now ours solely to resolve and the financial burden is entirely of our own making.

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Someone's out conducting a poll apparently. I didn't receive a call but others have. It's unclear who is behind it but the questions are all Government/Political related (ie. "Are you satisfied with the performance of the Government?") except the last one which was:

"Would you consider switching from Cablevision to WOW" or something along those lines.

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The newly formed Foundation for Bermuda Studies has announced their first session.

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