June 2004 Archives

I guess the road gods didn't like last night's post.

Evidently it's not only the trenches that are treacherous, but trucks that make sudden and unsignaled right turns, almost running over me this morning (literally) on my way into work on my pedal bike.

Fortunately a fresh batch of road rash is all that resulted but I'll have to reconsider writing about Bermuda's roads!

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RG Opinion (June 29, 2004)

More disputes to come

GPS or no GPS? That’s the question. But it’s not the issue.

If you look past the press conferences, the posturing and the adverts and focus on the protests, you’ll see something much deeper than GPS driving (pardon the pun) this dispute. The Government portrays the conflict as one with an industry that is reluctant to modernize and improve its service. However, the placards and angry shouts outside Parliament and the Cabinet Office last week cut to the core of what is really going on.

The cabbies don’t trust the Scott Government. They question its motives and don’t see them as an honest partner in the process. They’re suspicious that they’re being misled and deceived. This is completely understandable.

On July 27, 2003 Dr. Ewart Brown - the man also coincidentally at the centre of the GPS dispute - delivered perhaps the most infamous line in Bermuda’s political history. “We misled you because we had to…” the Minister proclaimed in justification of his leading role in the coup of Premier Smith, only minutes after she’d led her party to only its second (successive) election victory.

It’s not surprising then the taxi owners are wary, not inflexible, as the Minister would have you believe. Put yourself in the shoes of an industry that are obliged to negotiate with the prime misleader. Is it any wonder that they’re mistrustful, wondering publicly whether they’re negotiating with someone in good faith or are being deceived?

So while the Premier and his deputy, protected by Police from the very working class Bermudians who helped elected them, argued with 300 people outside Parliament the real issue went unmentioned - unless you listened to the shouts of the assembled drivers.

The issue is trust.

The mistrust toward the Premier and his Deputy was palpable. Comparisons to Fidel Castro were raised, the Government was accused of running a dictatorship and Bermuda’s leaders were labeled as ‘wicked’ and ‘weak’. Anger and resentment over the systems financial ties to a PLP backbencher bubbled over. Accusations were even voiced about the Minister himself and whether he would profit from the implementation of GPS dispatching. Are these claims valid? Who knows?

It’s difficult to fault the industry for their worries. The Transport Minister, who became increasingly cagey about the GPS system as the election approached, might again be hoodwinking them. This lack of confidence in the integrity of the negotiations is understandable when new conditions are attached regularly and without warning. The taxi owners undoubtedly feel let down by a Government many of them worked to elect in 1998, and may have given the benefit of the doubt to again in 2003.

On a larger scale the PLP have betrayed the confidence of the electorate with scandals at the Bermuda Housing Corporation, Berkeley, Stonington Hotel, the Transport Minister’s sale of his house to the BHC, the allocation of airport advertising contracts and other unresolved dealings. The Government has sullied its reputation by cavorting with a notorious dictator while the specter of cronyism looms when a Government MP stands to benefit financially from this legislation. It’s no wonder then that the insistence on mandatory GPS implementation arouses suspicions.

The fact that the sunshine of public scrutiny is yet to come anywhere near these scandals, and the failure to hold anyone accountable, have contributed to this standoff. Like its predecessor, the Scott Administration has rapidly developed a reputation as dictatorial, arrogant, and untrustworthy. Couple these with a Minister who maintains that deception is a valid weapon in his arsenal, and you have a Government teetering on the brink of impotency.

The Scott Government has made their own bed and now they have to sleep in it. This Cabinet lacks the credibility of an electoral mandate, a vision or most importantly the community’s trust. The self-inflicted crisis of confidence and credibility, less than a year into a five-year term, isn’t unexpected. This hastily assembled compromise Cabinet is finding it increasingly difficult to govern because of the prior actions and statements of its Ministers.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this dispute will be an isolated incident. It’s just one of many battles to come, fueled by the mistrust of a Government founded on a campaign of deception.

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There's a new (anonymous) Bermuda Blog out there. I've added it to my links below.

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If baseball is America's national pastime then Bermuda's is road trenching!

Driving, riding or even worse, cycling (as I regularly do) around Bermuda's roads is a treacherous affair. Commuting in from the west-end has essentially become a 20 minute search for a narrow strip of smooth road between the criss-crossing mazes of lumpy resurfaced trenches.

For the past 6 months those of us who come in through Warwick to Hamilton every day have been treated to trenching somewhere along the South Shore route. Bermuda Waterworks has been trenching almost all the way from Warwick to Paget and the quality of the trench resurfacing is terrible. It's lumpy, right down the centre of the lane and starts to lift after a decent rainfall. There's even side by side trenches on the south side of the road across from Paw-Paw's restaurant. That's my favourite off-roading section.

Thankfully Works & Engineering seem to be following, rather slowly I might add, behind, having paved from Camp Hill to Astwood Cove. How far they are going to go is anyone's guess, but they should go all the way to Paget lights (But Paget is UBP-land, so I wouldn't cross your fingers for that!).

The other puzzling thing is that some days no resurfacing work gets done while other days a little section will have been paved. On other occassions the only thing that will show up is the centre line on the newly paved section. When you combine this haphazard schedule with the small sections that do get completed in a day I fully expect to be enjoying this for many, many months to come.

On a related note, the stretch of Pitts Bay Road between the BF&M building and the Waterfront complex can surely lay claim to the title of shortest time between resurfacing and the appearance of a trench, and that's saying something!

East End Asphalt did a fantastic job resurfacing that section of road several weeks ago, after some underground work. The road was so smooth with no seam that I pointed it out to several people (sad isn't it) and wondered why the Government crews couldn't achieve the same result. Right on cue though - within days - a mini trench for a fibre link between the Overbay building and the Waterfront appeared in East End's good work. Less than 2 weeks at the top end.

All it would take is a little communication between whichever Government Department approves road trenching and the utility companies. Would it be too much to ask for them to coordinate their contracts. Unless of course the intent is to keep cutting and resurfacing as that contract is probably much more lucrative.

Wouldn't it make much more sense, when Government plans to resurface a section or a utility requests to conduct some trenching, to notify the other companies and do all of this at once.

It won't work in every case but the duplication of effort, repeated interruptions and dangerous road surface conditions could be minimized, and I'd have one less thing to winge about.

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A few random thoughts on the protest action of the past couple of days:

- The UBP, particularly UBP MPs who served as Government with the PLP as Opposition, must be getting some satisfaction watching them finally have to eat their own cooking. The tactics that the taxi owners are engaging in are vintage PLP/BIU textbook actions. These are the exact same things that the PLP repeatedly instigated in their 30 years in opposition, regardless of the consequences. The most memorable and probably the action with the worst consequences was the general strike in 1981.

This taxi protest is taking place under pretty similar circumstances - a promising tourist season (although not even close to the 1981 season) with a labour action forcing tourists to cross angry picket lines, sometimes carrying their own luggage, amid angry protests at the airport. Some argue that the decline in tourism, which coincidentally began in 1981, wasn't a coincidence at all. It was directly related to the way many tourists were treated at the time, many of whom swore to never return and relayed their experiences to others.

So the PLP now find themselves in a bit of a bind. While they seem to have managed to keep the BIU out of this, they can't be happy to again be at odds with labour. Tourism Minister Renee Webb was picking her words carefully in the quote at the end of this article but they can't be surprised at what is going on as they sowed these seeds years ago. I think they are mostly aggravated at being treated with such disrespect by a group who were key to their first electoral victory in 1998.

- Watching the protest on Parliament Hill today - the latest of many - gave me a sense of just how much pain this is causing for the PLP leadership. As on Wednesday with the protest at the Cabinet Office, it was very unbecoming for a Premier and his Cabinet to be summoned - almost forcefully, to be publicly derided and ridiculed by everyday Bermudians.

The PLP Government have become quite accustomed to and fond of the titles they now have and the respect that people tend to automatically confer on community leaders. They've become obesessed with titles, referring to each other as 'Minister' all the time, expecting people to rise when they enter a room, driving larger cars than everyone else etc.. Jennifer Smith was the most extreme one with this (honourary diploma anyone?) but after election the formerly grass roots PLP developed quite a taste for the good life.

It was impossible to miss the contempt on Ewart Brown's face as the cabbies demanded his removal (something that is never going to happen. Alex Scott can control him - as much as he can be controlled - in Cabinet but can't outside) and chanted Fidel Castro, shouting down the Premier and other disrespectful tactics.

Again today, the Premier and Dr. Brown were being swarmed and I couldn't help but get the impression that the Doc had been overridden in the decision to go outside to the protest. He continually shook his head - unable or unwilling to hide his disgust, and couldn't leave fast enough. It was pretty obvious that he resented having the masses treat him this way and show such defiance and disrespect to the Premier and his Deputy, but I think it was mostly about his own image.

- A couple of thoughts on today's protest:

The body language was pretty telling. Both men were wearing dark shades, clearly a way to avoid making eye contact and keeping some distance between themselves and the angry mob. Any PR rep would have told them to remove them. It closes you off - not so much to the taxi owners - but the public who the Government are really trying to convince at the end of the day.

The image of the PLP leadership guarded by Police and the Sergeant at Arms laid bare the distance that has developed between them and working class Bermudians and is something the UBP might want to archive for a future campaign video.

Alex Scott made the unwise decision to do some impromptu negotiating on the steps of Parliament - with over 100 people. There was little to be gained by doing that, all it did was diminish the Premier's image and embolden the crowd. The Premier should have listened to the statement, graciously thanked them, and returned inside. It is impossible to negotiate in those circumstances, and again, I got the impression that Dr. Brown wouldn't have chosen the same course the Premier did.

The Premier was, rather than acting like a statesman, back into his confrontation tactics, trying to catch out the drivers on camera, but at the end of the day it was his carefully crafted image that was tarnished. Today's images brought back memories of the Bermuda Union of Teachers protesting and arguing with former Premier Jennifer Smith outside Parliament several years ago and makes him look no better than his incredibly unpopular predecessor.

- The PLP can't be happy at the confrontation that has carried over from the Jennifer Smith administration into the Alex Scott era. One of the things we'd been promised - and the PLP profess, is/was the ability to smooth labour relations. During their 6 years in power things seem to have done nothing but deteriorate.

I think many people are starting to feel that if we're going to have constant labour action, we could at least have it under a UBP. The UBP, for all it's problems in the 90s, weren't arrogant and heavy handed, the trademarks of the PLP's time in office.

The UBP are just staying out of the way so far, voicing support for the taxi industry but not doing what the PLP as opposition surely would have done - call out all of labour for a general strike, or something along those lines. Not that they could but they are taking a more measured approach, supporting GPS but recommending it be optional.

How long the BIU stay out of this remains to be seen but it looks like Derrick Burgess, from comments on VSB news, isn't too interested in assisting the cabbies after at least one of them told him that he had no time for the union. The union staying out of this seems to be driven by Derrick Burgess's personal animosity towards one or some of the drivers and probably a request from the Premier and George Scott, a GPS company owner, PLP backbencher and Union rep.

As the world turns....

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Just in on ZBM radio news - both Amenemhat Tamerry (Clarke Godwin) and Maatkai Tamerry (Regina Woods) were convicted of manslaughter (after 4 hours of deliberations) in the death of 9 month old A'Maya Tamerry.

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The escalation of the taxi/Dr. Brown dispute can be nothing but problematic. We're entering tourist season and word of blockades at the airport, strikes, slow downs etc. will travel very rapidly through the travel industry, potentially ruining our first season post-Fabian.

The dispute frankly seems silly. If Dr. Brown removed the mandatory aspect of the GPS proposal then the industry wouldn't have a leg to stand on in opposing it's implementation. The mandatory aspect only arouses resentment, suspicion and mistrust from the taxi owners when a Government backbencher (George Scott) and a PLP activist are involved in one of the dispatching companies.

But take a step back and consider what other business ventures receive this type of guarantee from the Government. Normally, when you establish a business it involves some risk upfront. You have to invest capital on the premise that your product will be appealing and have a demand, recouping your initial investment and making further profits over time.

But where's the risk for the GPS dispatching companies? There isn't much really - they're promised guaranteed customers which should fund virtually all of their investment and put them into an almost immediate profit position. I wouldn't have a big problem with Government providing an incentive for the dispatching companies and drivers to take up the product, thereby reducing some of the risk for both sides. But as it stands now the drivers feel - rightly - that they are being forced to do business with unproven companies who are favoured by Government, not the industry.

Dr. Brown should put his considerable ego aside and make this system optional. The taxi industry is a pretty unsympathetic one in Bermuda and the public aren't falling over themselves in support of the drivers, but they do seem sympathetic to their plight and treatment by the Government. The industry is so decentralised that it has many well documented performance problems but the combative, arrogant and heavy-handed approach from Dr. Brown won't solve that. In fact it's done nothing but cause more problems. Bermudians would surely get behind the Government's efforts to improve taxi service, but it hasn't happened yet.

If a GPS dispatching system is the holy grail of taxi service, providing better service for the public and higher profits for the drivers, then let it stand on it's own and prove its value. And if the dispatching companies truly believe in their product they should have little to worry about. If the drivers refuse to adopt an optional system that is making other drivers more money then they're crazy and will fail as businesses, making way for new drivers to come in - with the GPS dispatch.

At the end of the day taxi drivers want to make a return on their investment as well. A little more collaboration and a lot less combative negotiating tactics would serve Bermuda, the Government and the taxi industry much better.

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Word is that taxi drivers are blocking or slowing down access to the airport as we speak.

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RG Opinion (June 23, 2004)

Gambling with the future

Any questions about the PLP’s position on gambling in Bermuda were cleared up late last week with the amendments to the Prohibition of Gaming Machines Act. Or were they? Only if you make the mistake of thinking that the Premier and his colleagues don’t like to do a little gambling. In fact they’re in the middle some serious games of chance.

The Premier – in a rather colourful presentation – unequivocally stated that his Government would be “protectors and guardians” for Bermuda’s vulnerable. Sadly he doesn’t feel the same about protecting and guarding the public purse, which has become increasingly vulnerable under successive PLP Governments.

This Premier is gambling with the Bermuda Government’s reputation both locally and internationally. Few of us probably care when politicians risk their own reputations and futures but we should all care when that of our island is thrown carelessly on the poker table.

The Premier made a bet – in his former life as W&E Minister – that no-one would notice the unaccounted $700,000 at the Berkeley project. That bet he lost. But instead of folding he doubled down, placing a bigger bet that the public wouldn’t care about the apparent financial impropriety. He might be right.

There’s been a relative lack of public outrage over Government’s inability to provide proof of payment for the $700,000 bond. It’s not very sexy is it? In fact it makes for dull reading when written in the language of accountants, auditors and insurers. But make no mistake about it, your money and the island’s reputation is being used to fund the Premier’s bet. Surely this hand has lasted longer than he anticipated with the Auditor calling all the bluffs and now raising the stakes with legal action.

Pro-Active Management – the infamous contractor at the centre of the scandal – has likewise engaged in some gambling of its own, by failing to pay its pension dues to Government. This too seems like a pretty safe bet from the company’s perspective. The only people who seem bothered are the Auditor and the Opposition, and we know how much attention the Government pays to them.

If ever there was an easy problem to rectify this is it. Our legislators should ensure compliance by deducting the amount owed before paying Pro-Active for work completed at Berkeley. A responsible Government would also put in effect a policy preventing tax and pension violators from holding future Government contracts. By continuing to pay a company who is illegally withholding the pension contributions of its employees, Government is condoning and rewarding this behaviour. Could it be that Pro-Active has seen Government’s hand and knows that this card won’t be played and are free to treat their employees’ pension contributions as profit?

If we accept that our Government sets the example for the community to follow, then we shouldn’t be surprised that an increasing number of Bermudian businesses and individuals are neglecting to pay their taxes and pensions – currently totaling over $30 million. Why should a business pay its taxes when the Premier himself refuses to comply with requests for routine financial information and follow established practices, preferring instead to attack the Auditor? Is it such a surprise that annual financial statements seems to have become a thing of the past for the BHC and the BIU when the head of the Government maintains that he has no obligation to account for taxpayer funds?

The PLP Government has set such a poor example at managing our finances that over 50% of their appointed boards are now following suit. The indefatigable Auditor recently reported that it "is a sad commentary at the quality of Government's financial accounting that more than half of the financial statements completed during the year resulted in qualified or denied opinions.” In non-auditor language that means he can’t figure out where all the money was spent or if it was spent legitimately.

Place all of these bets on the table at once and the PLP’s house of cards looks set to crumble. Ultimately we the people of Bermuda are the losers in this gamble.

Bermuda’s hard-earned reputation, already under fire by opportunistic American politicians, is suffering serious damage as a result of these and other financial irregularities in the “New Bermuda”.

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RG Opinion (June 17, 2004)

In receipt of the facts?

The next time you’re in TCD waiting to fork out your taxes to the Government, take a look at the notice posted on the window of every kiosk. This seemingly innocuous note states that every payment made to the Accountant General must be confirmed by a receipt. Those are the Government’s words, not mine.

Move on to Parliament on Friday when we heard that “we don't have to receipt each and every item”. This statement was delivered in an attempt to fend off the lingering and unanswered questions over the billing practices - or lack thereof, at the Berkeley construction site. Those were the Premier’s words, not mine.

So let’s get this straight. When you, the taxpayer, renew your driver’s license – a transaction typically costing $90 and taking almost as long as the Berkeley project will take to complete - you’ll receive a receipt. But when the contractor at Bermuda’s largest capital project is involved in a $700,000 transaction - necessary to secure the $70 million contract, the Government doesn’t require a receipt or any proof of payment whatsoever.

And so the standoff between the Government and the Auditor continues. The Auditor is now resorting to legal action to unearth the financial details of a taxpayer funded project. This obstruction is more shocking when you consider that the Attorney General’s office – you know, the politically appointed PLP one – indicated that it was inappropriate to withhold information requested by the Auditor.

This obstruction flies in the face of the Scott Government’s own words in the 2003 Throne Speech. “Fairness, openness, and accountability will represent the bedrock of this Government...” we were told before proposing that transparency is “a virtue of governance in Bermuda” and that “the Government will review proposals for the establishment of Public Access to Information Legislation. This legislation will establish guidelines for certain documents and government information to be made available to the public.” Sadly this appears to be more empty rhetoric - classic Alex Scott spin - not a commitment from a reformed Government.

The Auditor General is our representative, monitoring the integrity of the public purse, and by extension the integrity of our politicians. Why then, if the Government is committed to public access to information, is he still fighting for a simple piece of information? Perhaps it’s because this will open a Pandora’s Box of misrepresentations and financial shenanigans unprecedented in Bermuda politics. Perhaps our current Government has forgotten that they were elected to serve us, not the other way around. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

After two elections and six years in power, the PLP is acting more like an anointed monarch rather than an elected and accountable Government. One of the hallmarks of a reputable modern democracy is the accountability of its elected officials. Additionally, it doesn’t help us in combatting external attacks, portraying us a shady tax haven when our Government unrepentantly plays fast and loose with the public purse. Things don’t seem set to improve with the individual who presided over this debacle being rewarded for his efforts with a promotion to Premier in July 2003.

Shortly after Alex Scott’s ascendance to the Premiership he embarked on a charm offensive in the media. It was an attempt to restore confidence in the Government after the tumultuous leadership crisis and rebuild his credibility after the Berkeley fiasco. The ever-forgiving Bermudian people were willing to give another chance, as seen in initial high approval ratings and a community pulling together post-Fabian. Today, those poll numbers and the credibility of Bermuda’s Government are deteriorating rapidly.

The born-again Premier had wisely attempted to leave his record behind, speaking little of his signature project. What few comments the Premier did make were light-hearted, trying to put a kinder gentler face on the PLP’s most proficient and ruthless spin doctor. All that changed on Friday when the UBP forced his hand with the Berkeley motion, in the absence of the Minister of Works & Engineering.

As recently as August 2003 the Premier said that “I may have on occasion been less than kind to the Auditor General…” One could be forgiven for concluding that Mr. Scott may be being less than honest with the people who he serves.

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I'm not sure what the PLP's strategy for dealing with the UBP's motion deploring the "systematic misinformation and lack of accountability surrounding the PLP’s mismanagement" of the Berkeley project was, but their options were limited.

From what I can tell the strategy mostly seemed to be to have as few speakers as possible and prevent an extended debate. Speakers to the motion were, in the following order:

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin (UBP), Premier Alex Scott (PLP), Michael Dunkley (UBP), Jamahl Simmons (UBP), Cole Simons (UBP) & Neville Darrell (UBP) from what I understand.

That's 5 UBP and 1 PLP.

Notably the current Housing Minister Ashfield De Vent was not present in the house, being off the island for the past two sessions. This is notable because it was pretty clear that the UBP were going to take the motion up. The cynic could argue that the PLP wanted Mr. De Vent as far away from Parliament as possible. He's not known for being a great debater and the Berkeley issue is far too sensitive to be put in his hands. You could also speculate that Mr. De Vent himself wanted to be as far away as possible, unwilling to be the fall guy for his predecessor's mess, but I think that's unlikely.

So...in steps current Premier and former W&E Minister Alex Scott. This must have been quite the dilemma and probably played into the UBP's hands quite well.

Mr. Scott's dilemma was quite simple: allow others to speak, potentially deviating from the script or jump back in to a mess he's tried to leave behind.

This motion could really have opened a can of worms if poorly handled, so the Government wanted as few speakers as possible, minimizing the potential for mistakes. Additionally as a new, inexperienced and not particularly effective speaker (to say the least), W&E Minister Ashfield De Vent probably didn't inspire confidence with his ability to handle the debate - thus the sudden 2 week trip.

So who was to speak on the PLP side? I bet that not too many hands shot up when Mr. Scott asked his Caucus for volunteers? Surely no-one was willing to hang this albatross around their neck so it was up to the Premier - as the former W&E Minister and the man responsible for this whole mess - to step up to the plate.

While Mr. Scott clearly is the most shameless spinner on the Government benches (and that's saying something) he surely was reluctant to take this on. This reluctance would have stemmed from the effort he's put in to present a kind of 'born again' Alex Scott since July 2003. The Premier has worked hard since assuming the role of Premier to present a kinder, gentler face after decades of divisive tactics and blatant misrepresentations.

Days before the election the new Premier was talking about demographics as being the only factor at play, but shortly after replacing Jennifer Smith he suddenly saw the light, dropping that talk to profess uniting the community.

The accidental Premier had also attempted to distance himself from the messes of his 5 year stint at W&E. New Minister De Vent, probably the only person willing to accept a portfolio which included the Housing and Berkeley scandals, has been the victim of Mr. Scott's success. Mr. Scott has remained ominously quiet when the Berkeley topic came up in Parliament on previous occassions, preferring to keep a safe distance.

Mr. De Vent's absence thrust the born again Premier back into his old tricks and re-established his bond (no pun intended) to the Berkeley scandals, undoing all his hard work over the past 12 months. This was arguably the best outcome for the UBP, preferable to the debate itself. No longer could Alex Scott run and hide, attempting to stay above the fray. Premier Scott was up to his old tricks again, attacking the Auditor and making ridiculous statements to defend the indefensible.

This short debate on Friday pulled back the curtain revealing what many of us already knew - today's Alex Scott is the same Alex Scott we all know too well.

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Behind The Headlines Advert

Does anyone know if this show ever came off on ZBM? I clipped this out of the Gazette over 3 months ago but have never seen the show on or plugged at all on TV9.

Just wondering as it looked interesting.

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I was thrilled to hear the news the Pam Gordon will be knighted in recognition of her achievements and contributions to Bermuda (see here and here).

I've known Pam for almost 6 years now, meeting and working closely with her after the UBP's 1998 election defeat. Ms. Gordon worked tirelessly, almost single-handedly, to keep the party afloat while many others seemed certain of its imminent demise.

The position of Opposition Leader - particularly after that election defeat - was a lonely and thankless one, compounded by the burden of a large election debt. Ms. Gordon spent many a late night in her office raising money to meet the party's commitments to its creditors, after many donors failed to honour their pledges.

My only regret is that Pam didn't have more time as Premier. It is without doubt that she she would have led this country well, representing us with dignity both on the local and international stage.

Ms. Gordon is a woman of incredible warmth, integrity and sincerity who was committed to Bermuda and Bermudians, not personal glory and power.

I remember walking down Front Street with her once on our way to the Opposition Leader's Office (across from the Cabinet Building). As we made our way along, Ms. Gordon began picking up litter on the sidewalk to the point that both our arms were full by the time we reached the corner of Front and Parliament. She didn't have to do that (and probably wouldn't remember if I mentioned it), no-one would have noticed if she didn't, and she wasn't looking to score any points, her retirement from public life was virtually certain at that point. She did it because she cared.

It is only right, that the country honours her this way.

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I always cringe when people in positions of power make these types of statements:

"...I...attribute my political accomplishments as being of God’s will."

'God put me here' comments are inevitably the sign of someone incapable of representing the full community. Ms. Minors demonstrated this quite well in February with her prejudicial and ignorant statement on gay marriage, and gays generally.

"At the International Year of the Family press conference, Mrs. Minors called for a return to good, old-fashioned family moral values.

"Those do not include a family with two gay heads of house, she said. 'In my opinion, I do not believe it to be representative of a family based on moral values.'"

Do you think she also means the old fashioned values prohibiting inter-racial marriage for example or segregation?

I imagine she's incapable of considering concepts or opinions other than the ones she gets fed to her on a Sunday.

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RG Opinion (June 08, 2004)

Small steps lead towards enlightenment

Had you asked our politicians to critique the Westminster system of governance ten years ago, the UBP would almost certainly have spoken favourably while the PLP probably felt that it made their lives as opposition miserable. Jump forward to 2004 and the answers are probably the same while the respondents have changed, simply because the parties have switched roles.

Today we’re faced with an opportunity to legislate in a spirit of bipartisanship unthinkable before the 1998 election. This is by no means due to the election of the PLP as such, but through the now shared experiences of both parties as opposition and government.

Pre-1998 the party which had never governed couldn’t truly understand the responsibility and difficulties that come with occupying the Cabinet Office, while the party which had only ever been in charge couldn’t possibly understand the frustration and difficulties of an opposition.

So have our leaders finally reached enlightenment?

Sadly it seems that we’re locked in the same Westminster game of political one-upmanship and point scoring that while entertaining is probably its most frequent criticism. It seems unlikely that we’ll be moving away from this system soon, but there are some baby steps that can be taken which will set us on the path towards harnessing the best ideas of each party.

The onus is on the governing party to initiate this shift, taking the high road and incorporating some flexibility into a heretofore inflexible system. That comment might itself appear partisan, but the most well intentioned opposition has few options if the Government engages in the same tactics they deplored while out of power.

Now is the time for the PLP to rise above the appeal of political payback and reach across the aisle, inviting the Opposition to join them in addressing the issues of the day. Currently it appears that after 30 years on the receiving end, the Government has - to some extent understandably - opted to repeat the behaviour of their predecessors and exploit the system to their advantage rather than change the tone.

The most significant impediment to an opposition contributing legislatively rather than simply criticizing government bills, is the rule that prevents them from tabling legislation with financial implications. Anytime government bureaucracies swing into action the meter starts running and if time is money then governments know how to spend money. This is the trump card of all Westminster Governments and was recently played over the Parliamentary drug testing initiative. A good idea that would cost as little as $3,600 a year and involve only the writing of a cheque by the Government, was thrown out without debate.

At first glance this restriction might seem necessary. Oppositions, not privy to budget discussions could create financial problems through overspending and lack the authority to supervise policy implementation. However a majority party determined to support the best ideas, regardless of the source, could remedy this.

A government could and sometimes does adopt opposition initiatives as their own. Unfortunately good ideas are usually ignored for fear of the implicit admission that the idea is just that and could result in a perceived political win for the opposition.

More constructively, Government could allocate a sum of money in every budget for Opposition policies. Imagine that, money for the Opposition to use to implement a few initiatives without bankrupting the country! This amount could start at $250,000 a year for example (less than one tenth of one percent of the 2004 budget) or a fixed percentage of the total budget.

How the Opposition choose to spend this allocation is up to them, either for one initiative a year or twenty $10,000 ones. Remember that they’d still have to convince those across the aisle of the merit of the bill. Unlike the government, a minority party can’t pass the best idea with their members support alone, but governments can pass dumb ones unchecked.

What could you do with $250,000? How’s about fund the drug testing of MPs, install GPS in Cabinet vehicles, build a parliamentary website and install TV cameras in Parliament for example.

This small step could begin the process of harnessing the best ideas from all elected members and remove some of the partisanship that currently exists.

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in progress....

Paget Post Office - P. Gordon-Pamplin (UBP)
P. Gordon-Pamplin accuses PLP of removing funds promised for Paget Post Office after using the funds as a campaign promise during a Paget bye-election in 1999

BFA & PLP - M. Burgess (UBP)
M. Burgess asks whether Sen. Larry Mussenden has a conflict as the Attorney General and Member of Cabinet and President of the Bermuda Football Association in which he is taking a position counter to his Government.

Sports Hall of Fame & Cuba - W. Perenchief (PLP)
W. Perenchief laments exclusion of Clarence Hill from Sports Hall of Fame. Member then attacks L. Jackson (UBP) regarding the Cuba question about the Bermudian student, proceeding to question her loyalty to Bermuda as she holds US citizenship in addition to Bermuda.

L. Jackson (UBP) responds to Cuba story in RG
Suggests that the RG story was inaccurate and that more information will be coming shortly on this which will 'cause some tears on that side'.

D. Butler (PLP) responds to Cuba, Sports Hall of Fame, & BFA issue
Reiterates that the Cuba program has been a successa and that the Ministry of Community & Cultural Affairs did not send the Bermudian student to Cuba.
Says BFA issue over National Sports Stadium use will be resolved in due course.

E. Brown (PLP) discusses politicising or a young musician's life over Cuba.

Got to go...tune in on AM 1230.

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Today's press conference announcing a major private sector initiative to combat the housing crisis in Bermuda is an example of good things happening to bad Governments.

I heard this was coming a few days ago and expect the Government to be all over it for PR purposes I'm sure. But we should be clear. This is a project conceived without any input from the Government, and all we can hope is they Government stay out of the way so they don't build $250,000 homes for $450,000 as they did at Perryville on South Shore. This thing was presented to them as a complete package, all Government needed to do was provide the land at a reasonable cost, as the UBP planned to do in their First Homes proposal during the 2003 election.

It shouldn't be a surpise that the more creative solutions to the housing problem will come from the private sector. This will be presented by the spin doctors as a partnership between the public and private sector, but don't be fooled....Government did nothing and will do nothing more than provide the land. That's ok, I support keeping Government out of the construction business, but let's all keep that in mind when the PLP come looking for some pats on the back.

It will be interesting to follow this and see how it develops over time but while the 'Bermuda Houses for People' company is a charitable organisation established by Cliff Shorer (Sonesta Beach developer) it will have to be profitable to be viable.

The question: Why couldn't Government have come up with something like this?

The answer: They had the land but not the vision or sense of urgency.

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Just a quick clarification that the last post was not a comment on the dropping of charges against Mr. Smith (of which I don't claim to know the details) but on the DPP constantly saying that things will be happening in another few weeks, to only say the same thing in another few weeks.

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Ok, this is past ridiculous and is now into something more like incompetency:

Let's work through the BHC lack of prosection empty promise saga. Today the DPP said (although not a direct quote) that 'he would inform the public about how the proceedings were going to develop over the next couple of weeks'.

I was going to do this a few weeks ago but today's repetition of the delaying tactic has put me over the top. How long are we going to buy this? The lack of resolution on the BHC scandal is getting as bad as the scandal itself. How long is this going to go on for?

- January 04, 2004: Royal Gazette: 'Murder trial may delay BHC probe', Jan. 04, 2004
Key quote:- "Any further movement in the Bermuda Housing Corporation inquiry is unlikely until the end of next month, The Royal Gazette has learned."

- March 5, 2004 (1 month later): Mid Ocean News: 'DPP to move on BHC probe when murder trial ends', Mar. 05, 2004
Key quote:- "DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions Kulandra Ratneser says he will turn his full attention to the Bermuda Housing Corporation (BHC) inquiry 'within the next couple of weeks'."

- March 26, 2004 (exactly 3 weeks later): Royal Gazette: 'BHC scandal: DPP now examining files', Mar. 25, 2004
Key quote:- "Acting Director of Public Prosecutions Kulandra Ratneser expects to make recommendations next month about whether criminal charges should be brought arising from the Bermuda Housing Corporation (BHC) scandal."

- May 06, 2004 (1 month & 1 week later): Royal Gazette: 'BHC scandal: DPP says charges to be brought', May 06, 2004
Key quote:- "He will be charged shortly, within this month. There are other possible charges against others but I cannot give a definitive answer at the moment."

- June 03, 2004 (Today, 1 month later): Royal Gazette: 'Charges dropped against BHC man', May 06, 2004
Key quote:- "He said that he would inform the public about how the proceedings were going to develop over the next couple of weeks".

That's 5 promises that something was going to happen within a few weeks starting in January. Well we're now in June, that would be 6 months later, and we're still getting the same excuses and delaying tactics.

Where's the public outrage? Why does no-one care? Is it because everyone thinks politicians are all crooked anyway - so what's the big deal, or is it because we're just a bunch of dopes who'll allow no-one to be held responsible for this.

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Well this is never good, is it?

Assuming that the details in the story hold up, and there is no reason to think they won't, Ms. Jackson has probably undercut her Cuba position with a fringe issue to her central complaint.

This just reiterates the need to do your homework. You're not always going to have every detail exactly right, but she seemed to be way off base with this one.

I don't know whether this was a case of over-exhuberance or bad information, but this story was not good for the UBP's central Cuba gripe (which I maintain is the right position).

On to the previous day's RG story headlined "Cuban refugee crisis looms - UBP.

It's hard to say whether Ms. Jackson, who was never directly quoted as using the word crisis, gave that impression to the reporter or if this is a case of a sensational headline. It is significant I think that the word crisis is never a direct quote, although she certainly may have said it.

I think Ms. Jackson's main concern about potential defectors is valid. Cuban's may very well attempt to defect to Bermuda, although if their travel here is through Canada it would make more sense for a defector to do so there (as Canada is extremely welcoming to refugees).

I couldn't help but wonder if Mr. Butler was joking as some have suggested (see the comments following the Limey's post) or if he's lost his mind. I would have thought that the reporter would have indicated that Mr. Butler was being sarcastic, if he indeed was, when he accused the UBP of wanting to incite or kidnap potential defectors. It doesn't really come across that way in the article I don't think, but maybe I've just lost my sense of humour.

As for some of Mr. Butler's reasoning, if you can call it that:

"Mr. Butler acknowledged, as he did during his written answers to Mrs. Jackson's original questions in Parliament, that international law would oblige Bermuda not to send someone back if there was proven to be a well founded fear of persecution."

but then also said

"Should anyone in the future attempt to defect here we would suspend the agreement and that person would be sent back home,” Mr. Butler said yesterday."

and

"...answering another of Mrs. Jackson's follow up questions, Mr. Butler revealed that discussions had taken place through the Deputy Governor's office on what would happen should a Cuban attempt to defect in Bermuda. 'That has already been looked at... I think according to the UN treaty you cannot send them back if it's proven that their grounds are legitimate.'"

Huh? Well which one is it? Will Bermuda send back someone to be persecuted, in violation of international law or will we not? Have they really thought about this?

Continuing on:

"He added that his Ministry had written to the Cubans and specifically asked if the entire team had returned home. 'We asked if all members returned and they wrote back and said everything went well.'"

Ok. Where to start here? Does Mr. Butler really think that the Cubans would readily admit that someone had defected? Give me a break. Maybe no-one did and Ms. Jackson has bad information, but for Mr. Butler to take the Cuban Government at their word, and expect the rest of us to, is pretty naiive and insulting. The Minister seems to be lapping up whatever the Cuban propaganda office puts up.

But I do appreciate him conceding what a repulsive regime he is consorting with:

"Their trip here would have been an exposure to freedom and democracy, Mr. Butler said. 'I would say that from their position they left with a greater appreciation of what a truly free society is...'"

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The Limey makes some interesting points on drug testing.

I'm not necessarily outraged that the PLP won't be tested, although I think they should, but I think the tactics of shutting down debate were deplorable and shameful. Sure the UBP are trying to do a little political point scoring, but it's scoring by using themselves as the example and if the public doesn't think it's worth much they won't score any points. The decision by the PLP to shut down debate by forcing withdrawal of the motion is classic case 'of do as I say' Government arrogance.

The Government supports, at least by continuing the existing drug testing policy, that athletes are tested for recreational drug use as well as performance enhancing drugs...because they are representing us internationally. Also some service workers are tested. Surely the same principle should apply to those who hold the highest office in the land and set these policies - or no-one at all?

And if drug use isn't a terrible thing, which can be argued, then say it. But don't run and hide. Stand on principle and convince the public why it doesn't make sense, isn't that the role of 'leaders'.

The correct approach would have been to debate it, make your points as to why drug testing MPs is inappropriate - which I don't think it would be - win the vote as they would easily have done, and let the public decide who's position is appropriate.

Instead the PLP decided to shut the whole thing down on a BS technicality that the motion had financial implications, a tactic that leaves the impression that they have something to hide. Combine that with the cynical tactic of supporting a previous motion pre-election 2003 (to gain some of their own political points, suggesting that they are aware the public would support testing of MPs) and letting it die in committee and it looks worse. The PLP has lost any leadership ability they might have on the issue of drug abuse in the community, something that costs us millions in health care and legal costs.

Have the debate about drugs if you think the UBP is off base, as The Limey is doing, but what the PLP did was shameful.

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RG Opinion (June 1, 2004)

Taking their toys home

Friday was a particularly contentious day in Parliament. It was one of those days when the often used analogy that our politicians behave like children seemed more than apt. The session felt like either an episode of the Twilight Zone, with the PLP struggling to defend their clear preference for hiring non-Bermudians over our own people, or Kindergarten Cop as the Speaker struggled in vain to maintain order.

The proceedings deteriorated after the UBP wanted to play ‘follow the leader’. When John Barritt attempted to introduce a motion calling for drug testing of our Parliamentarians it became evident that the PLP preferred to play ‘do as I say not as I do’.

For some inexplicable reason the Government, who possess a sizable majority sufficient to defeat any Opposition motion, opted to force the withdrawal of the motion (on a 14-13 party line vote) before it could even be debated. Our Government, who evidently feel no need to lead by example on any issue, were determined to stifle debate and kill the topic altogether. Showing that they don’t play well with others the PLP decided to take their toys and go home, because they didn’t like the game.

It was at this point that the House of Parliament started to look more like a playground and less like a legislative chamber. Having spent 30 years on the Opposition benches the current Government should be more than familiar and up for the challenge of the games that are played in the Parliamentary playground. Instead they’ve become more than a little upset at not being able to decide what to play, after losing control of the Parliamentary agenda by failing to sponsor vital legislation.

Not to be deterred, the UBP again livened things up on the Motion to Adjourn. Maxwell Burgess, always eager to play the games he learned at the PLP’s playground, bounded in with his characteristic exuberance, much to the displeasure of the schoolyard bullies. What was the game? Pin the hypocrisy on the government.

Granted, this game was a little one sided as Mr. Burgess cited numerous examples of PLP hypocrisy around their claim to be the guardians of Bermudianisation. The UBP MP highlighted example after example of the Government failing to hire Bermudians, expertly pinning the Prisons, KEMH, Bermuda College – twice, Marine & Ports and the Airport on the Government. This drew a predictable response.

Rather than intelligently debate, Mr. Horton proceeded to try and shout down the other kids with his characteristic bravado and personal insults, hoping they’d stop the game. You’ll remember these guys well. They’re the ones who constantly try to intimidate the smaller kids, usually pushing them repeatedly shouting “Do you wanna fight? Do you wanna fight?” while hoping desperately that no-one takes up the offer.

Undeterred, the UBP’s Patricia Gordon-Pamplin continued, bringing in playground bully number two. Not content to wait for her turn Tourism Minister Renee Webb insisted on trying to take Ms. Gordon-Pamplin’s, eventually having to wait like everyone else. Shrieking hysterically rather than explaining why it’s okay for her Government to hire foreigners but was a mortal sin for previous UBP administrations or the current Governor do so, Ms. Webb eventually resorted to yelling that UBP MPs have hired foreigners at their private firms.

Whoah! That’s the king of all playground taunts, inevitably invoked when things aren’t going well. For the four year olds out there Ms. Webb was using the grown-up version of ‘I know you are but what am I?’

Surely we deserve a better level of debate and decorum from our MPs?

The increasing prickliness of the Government is understandable when viewed in the context of their lack of vision and empty legislative plate. The UBP have seized on this opportunity, using the few methods at their disposal to highlight Government’s failures. They’re adeptly using the legislative void as an opportunity to table motions reminding the electorate of the many unaddressed problems with housing, the BHC, the Berkeley construction saga and the failure to lead on drug abuse and other issues.

Until the Government present a vision and lead, the playground promises to be a lot less fun this summer.

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