July 2004 Archives

Maybe I'm more than a little late to the chase here due to my vacation, but I was following this story unfolding and figure that I'll offer my 2 cents now that I'm back.

1) I respect Renee Webb for resigning if she was less than enamored with the PLP's performance and the treatment that she felt she received as a woman. Unlike some of her former Cabinet collegues under Jennifer Smith's leadership, who opted to play along as if all was well and then take out the leader at the most opportune moment, Ms. Webb stated what her beef was and said she wasn't willing to participate any longer.

I can't agree or disagree with her motives because I'm not privy to the Cabinet dynamic but I can respect that.

2) The lack of any accountability over the Stonington lease - the first thing everyone thought triggered a firing/resignation - shouldn't get overshadowed by the resignation. At some point someone in the PLP is going to have to take the heat for this as it is tied to too many people: Renee Webb (although she was quick to point out it occurred before her appoitnment), AG Larry Mussenden and Senator Raymond Tannock to name a few. Someone has to be held accountable or this will just hang out there and the stench will start to spread to the whole Cabinet (as it should).

3) How much of an egomaniac does the Premier seem now? I mean the vaunted spin doctor is so deluded with his own grandeur that after being accused of being a chauvanist he responds by saying "I'm the man". Could you pick a worse choice of words? Only Scott Simmons has put his foot in it more than that recently.

4) Renee Webb is right that the Premier is the first among equals, and if the Premier is over-ruling his Cabinet colleagues - or worse, not consulting them - he's looking for trouble and a either an outright revolt or an ineffective Cabinet will result.

5) Alex Scott didn't replace Renee Webb, he just reallocated her portfolios to existing Ministers. A smaller Cabinet means a larger backbench which is actually a good thing and stops an arrogant Cabinet running rampant. But it could be one more vote back in the Jennifer Smith or someone else's camp.

One of the primary concerns that Alex Scott had when putting together his Cabinet after his appointment as a compromise leader in 2003 was trying to pull in enough members from both sides of his party's 11/11 split to be able to survive a challenge.

My understanding at the time was that Renee Webb wasn't aware of movement by Dr. Brown's group to take out Jennifer Smith. They hadn't brought her into the loop as they didn't think they could trust her. So when she heard what was going down she tried to join, but they wouldn't have her so she reverted to Jennifer Smith's camp.

How true this is I don't know but it doesn't seem that far-fetched when you consider that she felt she wasn't respected in Cabinet and that the leadership is chauvanist. Anyone notice a female face in the group that removed Jennifer Smith? Rumours of resentment at the predominance of women in the post 1998 PLP leadership were always just below the surface and bubbled over again with the Senate appointments in 2003. Neletha Butterfield's pre-released comments to a parliamentary meeting in Grenada suggest that Ms. Webb isn't alone in her sentiment, although Ms. Butterfield treads a little more lightly as a sitting Cabinet Minister.

6) After Renee Webb spoke in Parliament supporting GPS, Dr. Brown actually walked over and shook her hand. According to other MPs that was an unusual display of gratitude and demonstrated that the Minister of Transport wasn't sure what type of support he was going to get from her and that there was some tension in Cabinet over it. The rumour is that Ms. Webb was furious that the GPS bill was re-tabled in the middle of tourism season and during the busiest period with race week on.

7) How great can this much hyped but yet to materialise social agenda be if a Cabinet Minister just throws in the towel on the eve of it's launch? (note: Alex Scott specializes in vaporware policy initiatives so I wouldn't hold your breath on this 'social agenda' actually getting off the ground.)

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When I saw this article in July 26th's Royal Gazette I immediately recalled this article from 8 days earlier.

So which one is it, or is Premier Scott just winging this, making stuff up as he goes along? And while the two stories are written by different reporters why didn't they pick up on this inconsistency and question the Premier on it?

Here are the key quotes from the first article promising an imminent deluge of legislation:

“No one complained more than I did,” the Premier said about the slow pace of legislation. “We’ll over the next 18 months get ahead of that. (Senate) will say ‘enough already – too much legislation’.

“Cabinet is taking decisions even now that will see legislation drafted and completed way ahead of the time to go to a Throne Speech in 2005/06.

“We have literally now got a plan that we are committing both parliament, Government and country to. And that will stop the bottleneck which has really seen those in the Senate sitting there, twiddling their fingers waiting for stuff. They’re going to say ‘enough already too much legislation!’.

But 8 days later he is quoted as saying:

"This year will see a policy driven rather than a legislation driven Speech from the Throne," he said.

"This does not mean legislation will not be presented next year, but as far as possible, we will not be pushing the Attorney General's chambers to draft new legislation.

"Instead, legislation presently in various stages of completion within ministries and the AG's Chambers will be completed and brought forward during the upcoming year.

"This paradigm shift will allow Government to refocus the legislative process to ensure that we deliver on initiatives as set out in the Speech from the Throne within the time frame that we promised to deliver."

The only thing that might be going on here is a timing issue with the Premier saying that this next session is make-up time and then 2005 will be deluge time. But that doesn't really make sense when he says the Senate will be complaining about all the legislation over the next 18 months.

I don't get it, although I do understand why the PLP suddenly prefer policy over legislation.

The Government want to spend as little time in Parliament as possible. They've been getting hammered in Parliament by the Opposition's use of Parliamentary Questions to shed light on all sorts of things that you've been reading about over the past few months in particular. Under UBP House Leader John Barritt, the party have been relentless in submitting parliamentary questions, much to the displeasure of the Government. The PLP have done their best to avoid answering these questions verbally, preferring to give evasive written replies which don't have follow-ups. So less legislation means less Parliamentary sessions and less time subjected to this questioning.

Policy over legislation allows much more flexibility for the PLP to do what they want, without having to spell it all out in legislation. Introducing legislation means debates around that legislation, where a policy gets much less airtime and takes place on the Government's turf, not Parliament where you have to stand and justify what you are doing.

Policies can be implemented faster than legislation. Drafting takes time, and with the quality of legislation we've been seeing from the Attorney General's Chambers lately (seat belts anyone?) it has to go back several times.

The PLP have learned twice now with the GPS debacle that legislation doesn't always - although almost always - succeed. Policy isn't subjected to Senate scrutiny, where the Opposition get another opportunity to take their shots and the Independents might not fall in line.

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RG Opinion (July 22, 2004)

Time is running out for 'it' to happen under the PLP

‘Make It Happen’. The election slogan of 1998 adorned many car bumpers, inviting Bermudians to join a movement and elect the PLP. The beauty of ‘Make It Happen’ was its vagueness. ‘It’ meant whatever any potential voter wished but always with the PLP as the vehicle to achieve ‘it’. This short statement promised an ushering in of politics for the people we thought.

After a lackluster and scandal-plagued first term Jennifer Smith shrewdly stayed on message, asking for ‘Affirmation’ of ‘It’, rather than pursue the route of discussing her party’s record or presenting a vision for the next term. Again not a bad strategy when you consider the mess that lay in the party’s wake.

Six years, another election and a leadership coup down the road most of us are still waiting for ‘it’ to materialize, or have realized that ‘it’ didn’t mean what we thought. The current take on the 1998 election slogan invokes another well known 1990’s saying. You remember, the other ‘something happened’ catch-phrase of the 1990’s - the one that can’t be printed in this newspaper. Just add ‘sh’ to the beginning of the second word in ‘Make It Happen’ and you’re there.

The electorate who placed their faith in the PLP to produce a government of the people for the people seem increasingly angry, although not yet in full uproar. The community has realized that the ‘it’ they made happen is all about the PLP elite, both elected and unelected.

Anyone who thought that ‘it’ meant a focus on the public, the grassroots the PLP claim to have grown out of, will be sorely disappointed or more likely outraged. The concerns we heard so much about in the run-up to the 1998 election quickly faded away. Instead we’ve been treated to 6 years of secretive self dealing and the callous exploitation of the Bermudian voter. The PLP elite continue to take full advantage of the trappings of power - as Dr. Brown so accurately put it.

The latest scandal over the Stonington lease encapsulates the fundamental problem with the values of those who squeaked through a second term followed by the immediate overthrow of their Party leader. This event is arguably the most disgraceful abuse of Government’s social and fiscal responsibility to the Bermudian taxpayer, shining a spotlight on the overarching PLP leadership’s governing philosophy: that the public and their dollars exist to serve the interests of Cabinet first and their cronies second.

Stonington, Berkeley, the BHC etc. are all examples of the PLP preference to create not economic empowerment for those previously denied access but complete dependence on themselves. Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. So while we’ll probably never know what the quid pro quo was that triggered the secretive Stonington lease rewrite, it’s not hard to imagine.

Rather than follow clear tendering processes or established financial practices with capital projects, Jennifer Smith - and now her hand picked successor Alex Scott - prefer to use them to keep individuals and businesses beholden to them. The public should be kept in a constant state of currying favour in order to receive preferential treatment when feeding from the public trough. The process, if there indeed is one, is unclear to anyone except themselves - appointed boards are bypassed, ‘wrong’ decisions are reversed in private, legally binding agreements are amended behind closed doors and the Auditor is obstructed. This approach is intended to make themselves indispensable and keep us financially dependent on the PLP leadership and mandated to return the favour at the polls.

Government’s role should be to create a framework for fair competition without undue impediments with individuals achieving success on their own merits. Instead we’ve seen the taxpayers’ ever-deepening pockets used as a means to entrench a political elite and their cronies through a system of backdoor agreements, creating economic dependence.

Our political system is being degraded by politicians intoxicated with the accumulation of power and perks for themselves and those closely aligned with them. Bermudians of all stripes are crying out for elected leaders who put them first, not treat them as pawns in some bizarre game of political catch-me-if-you-can. Perhaps we need one more election to make that happen?

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This commentary from Bahamasb2b.com on life under the Bahamian PLP is eerily similar to what we're going through here.

Spooky.

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As you may have figured out I'm on holiday. From reading the local press online it looks like there is a lot going on and my pledge to be blissfully ignorant of local politics for a couple of weeks isn't going to last!

Posting will be light until Cup Match but probably not non-existent.

I'm also taking a couple of weeks off from my RG column which will resume in August.

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RG Opinion July 07, 2004

Bending it like Butler?

Shadow Minister of Sport Jon Brunson recently faced off in a one on one with Minister Dale Butler. The issue was the financial accountability of Bermuda’s sporting and charitable bodies.

Imagine Mr. Brunson as the goalkeeper, waiting to receive the Minister’s best effort at putting to rest any questions over his oversight of charitable funding. Minister Butler stepped up to the mark and, much like David Beckham’s effort at Euro 2004, blasted a simple shot completely wide of the mark. Welcome to the regulation of sport and charity in the New Bermuda, more appropriately entitled ‘Bend it Like Butler’.

The Minister revealed that many organizations in receipt of Government funding either haven’t registered as a charity or aren’t filing their mandatory financial reports. We’ve heard a lot about mandatory lately, but it seems that mandatory is optional when applied to Government’s financial reporting but not other issues. However, rather than continue on and explain the steps he was taking to rectify this situation the Minister affirmed this behaviour.

The integrity of Bermuda’s finances under the PLP Government is taking a beating. Financial dodge ball has become our national sport. This lack of accountability has spread rapidly, with some charities emulating the Government who unapologetically ignore their own fiscal obligations. The recent admission by the Minister of Community Affairs and Sport, that he will continue to fund groups in violation of the Charities Act, is not only encouraging law-breaking but will undermine the integrity of our important charitable network.

One interpretation of the Minister’s position is that he thinks he is being helpful by continuing to fund groups in violation of their charter. This rationale is counter-productive, institutionalizing poor management and will eventually lead to the failure of these well-intentioned charities. Millions of dollars in donations are made every year in good faith and the Charities Act is in place to ensure the confidence of those who fund them, either through Government grants (your tax dollar) or private donations.

Charities serve an important role in Bermuda, one that should not be undermined by politics. In fact some of the higher profile ones run more efficiently than the Government departments they supplement. Bermudians and Bermuda’s corporate community are renowned for their benevolence. Our charitable nature is both admirable and essential. These groups supplement the work of Government departments, keeping our taxes down while providing essential services. Without them the Government would have to step in, almost certainly less efficiently and at a much higher cost.

The Minister’s position will understandably cause future donors to think twice about contributing to organizations which can’t account for their donations and will unfortunately harm the reputations of the ones that do. A donor must be confident that that their money is being spent appropriately and reaching the people intended, not lost to opportunistic fraudsters or badly managed organizations.

The cynical interpretation of the Minister’s response is that he is attempting to immunize his Government’s own questionable financial record by extending this behaviour to other segments of the community. If we’re all in the same boat together then the Government’s own shameful record with the public purse will be less remarkable.

The disregard for legislated and accepted financial standards has reached epidemic proportions in recent years. This disease is spreading like a virus and we know who the carrier is. It’s the very Government that is charged with protecting the integrity of the public finances.

Bermuda’s charities receive substantial taxpayer support through annual grants. These are not guaranteed and should be contingent on meeting the commitments of the Charities Act. This legislation protects the charities, the people who look to them for support and those who fund them. The failure to hold charities accountable will undermine their ability to function over time. If a charity doesn’t have the expertise or resources to prepare their financial statements they should be directed to an organization that can assist, not allowed to continue unabated with the Minister’s endorsement.

Bermuda’s sporting and charitable organizations who do such good work cannot adopt the practices of the BHC, parish councils and other agencies who consistently fail to file their financials statements or satisfy their annual audits. Their work is too important.

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As we Bermudians like to say, a 'little porgy hole' seems to be opening up. This one is letting in the first beam of sunshine of public scrutiny that we hear so much talk about.

Today's RG has a brief but significant story on the opening up of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meetings to the public.

Hopefully this will occur sooner rather than later. While all committees should meet in public I can think of no better one to start this process than the PAC. The state of Bermuda's public accounts has deteriorated rapidly over the past 5 or 6 years and the Government has been using every delay and obstruction tactic at their disposal to prevent the public from knowing the full extent of the problem.

One big hurdle remains however. The report from the PAC states that "In the meantime the Rules and Privileges Committee of the House is considering the matter."

MP John Barritt (UBP) recently submitted a number of recommendations to increase accountability in Parliament with a report to this same Rules and Privileges Committee, from where it never emerged. Let's hope that, with the Leader of the Opposition at the helm of the PAC, the same result will not occur.

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Ok, it's not political and not Bermuda but it is the Tour De France.

If you're interested you can listen live courtesy of the Outdoor Life Network with the masterful Phil Liggett commentating.

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OK, maybe I can get this right this time. The base the PLP have to work off of isn't 21 either for the taxi vote, it's 20. As previously indicated George Scott can't vote, but the Speaker came from the PLP side so their 22 members automatically went down by one.

Apologies for the brain freeze.

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The political junkies out there might be interested in the online exhibition of US presidential campaign ads.

There's also an article in yesterday's NY Times (so you may need to subscribe) about this exhibit.

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In case you want some entertainment the taxi debate has just started with Minister of Transport Ewart Brown leading off.

Tune in to AM 1230 if you're interested.

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It just occurred to me that in discussing the votes needed for this GPS bill to pass I was working off a PLP base of 22. In fact, it should be 21 as George Scott has a clear conflict, and should recuse himself or not be allowed to vote by the Speaker if he tries.

So 7 defections or abstentions from the PLP will result in a tie, assuming the UBP have all 14 of their members present.

I still think the odds are that this passes.

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If you need a taxi tomorrow the best place to look with be on Parliament Hill.

The GPS legislation is set to be debated tomorrow, after a few other issues on the order papers. The House has a small public gallery and this debate looks to be one that will draw a large amount of people, who will spill outside. Things could get hot, both literally and figuratively, let's hope cool heads prevail.

From a strategy perspective there's a good chance that the Government will attempt to debate this as late as possible, hoping to miss the Friday evening news with the debate taking place late at night when people aren't listening, on AM 1230 if you're interested. This will also push much of the story out of the weekend news cycle, which tends to repeat Friday's stories for the whole weekend.

It will be interesting to see how many PLP members speak and are present for the vote. The last time this was attempted 2 years ago quite a few PLP MPs connected to the taxi industry went AWOL for the vote. The motion did succeeded 16-10 but there were 40 members of the house then - 26 PLP and 14 UBP. Now it's 22-14, so the if the UBP can get their 14 lined up the PLP can only afford 8 abstainers or dissenters. The PLP only need 15 votes to carry the motion, and although they've only had 14 around for some votes recently I'd bet that the Doctor has got the 3 line whip out for this one.

It's a long shot that this doesn't pass.

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Just a quick follow up on my last post.

From what I can gather, the polling on gambling in Bermuda indicates a 50/50 split, although I'm yet to see a scientific poll on this (the unscientific RG web poll has a slight majority against. The Bermuda Sun conducted a web poll as well but their search function seems to be down). I've asked around and I think both parties have done the polling either before or after the election and reached the same result - right down the middle with no discernable preference.

Independence on the other hand has a clear "No" preference, 65% against and a tiny (12.8%) undecided. This suggests that regardless of the PLP's 'vaporware' "national dialogue" campaign they are unlikely to change many minds. But we know they want independence in spite of the electorate...thus trying to push it through with some General Election slight of hand.

Back to gambling. I was surprised how adamantly against gambling the PLP suddenly went, after initially taking a measured approach. The clue is probably in AG Mussenden's reference to 'constituents' not the polling, which is probably a bit of a red herring. I doubt that they suddenly got a poll in showing a huge swing against.

The safe bet is that the constituency Mr. Mussenden is referring to is the significant and powerful church crowd - as the Limey pointed out - that has a significant influence on both parties, but mostly the influence of the AME Church on the PLP. Check this article out and try and find some air between the PLP and the AME church's statement on independence, gambling and gay marriage.

I'd suggest that they had some feedback, whether solicited or not, and decided that it wasn't worth the political risk to have a protracted community debate. So the Premier came out strong against, a little over the top in his presentation I thought, that made him seem to be playing to a constituency.

PS: The Limey has a good take on the PLP's lack of interest in receiving public input on Government policy. I think our perspectives are compatible - because the proposed dialogue on Independence is insincere. Phil makes a very consise, compelling case for this.

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A defining trait of the PLP Government is that differing standards are applied to different issues.

Case in point. Compare the approach to gambling and independence. On gambling the Premier and his proxies point to polls as attesting that a majority of Bermudians are opposed to this, so no need for community discussion:

Attorney General Mussenden:

“We are not convinced there is strong support for gaming machines, casinos or lotteries in the community.

“Based on what we are hearing from our constituents and in recent polls, the majority of people want to keep gambling out of Bermuda.”

(The Premier said the same thing during the Parliamentary debate recently, but I can't find the article on RG's website.)

But when it comes to independence, the same standard doesn't apply.

Recent polls and admissions from PLP insiders confirm that the vast majority of Bermudians - including at least half of the PLP membership - are against independence.

However, on that issue, we're promised a multi-year period of propaganda - err, I mean 'education and dialogue' - but on gaming the Attorney General tells us that no national discussion is needed.

But I guess as Arthur Hodgson pointed out recently (surely much to the chagrin of the PLP spin machine), the PLP elite believe that if the electorate don't agree with them that they're too dumb to know what's good for them - or at least what's good for the PLP leadership.

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