August 2004 Archives

It looks like the Parliamentary Registrar has removed the ability to search online for your registration details.

I've dug through the website and can't find the search utility anywhere anymore, although you can still register or change your details through the website (well sort of, it involves a printout for a signature).

But what is concerning is that you used to be able to search either by name or by address and come up with registration details. (The UBP duplicated this on their site although I don't think it has been updated since the last election.) Then in the countdown to the 2003 election, after someone looked up their house and found people incorrectly, or fraudulently registered at their address this functionality was removed.

The Registrar threw her hands up and said there was nothing that she could do. (I've searched RG's website for these stories but can't find them, you'll just have to trust my recall on this one.) It was a rather extraordinary moment really. The person responsible for maintaining the integrity of the voter list said that unless the incorrectly registered individual notified her of a change she couldn't remove them, even in the event it was proved that they no longer, or never, lived at that location.

Shortly after that, the ability to search by address was removed from the Paliamentary website, you could only search by name. That effectively prevented people being able to check the list for for individuals falsely registered at their residence, either fraudulently or because they didn't change it after moving to a new residence.

Now, it appears you can't even look up your record by name. You can look up an address to find out which constituency it is in but that's about it.

I guess we'll just have to trudge over to the Post Office and look it up in those 1970's printouts.

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Wednesday Sept 1st marks the beginning of lobster season, which means that tomorrow is the last day to get your license for recreational diving (unless it's extended as last year).

In case you're on the fence, one of those who like me gets a license every year but either doesn't go out or never catches anything, just remember that the Government needs all the money we can give them right now.

So get off the fence and consider it a donation. Maybe they can be used to throw at the Berkeley project.

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Linked below is the pdf of the just released "Report of the Auditor General on matters arising from an investigation into the affairs of the Bermuda Housing Corportation, May 2002".

Read it for yourself.

Download the file here

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As a follow up to yesterday's RG column urging people to write to their representatives, and a few requests for the contact info, I've posted below details for the Governor, Premier, Leader of the Opposition and the Auditor General.

Write away. It's very cathartic.

His Excellency Governor Sir John Vereker
Government House
11 Langton Hill
Pembroke HM 13
(tel) 292-3600
(fax) 292-6831

Premier W. Alexander Scott

Cabinet Office
The Cabinet Bldg.
105 Front St.
Hamilton HM 12
(tel) 292-58501
(fax) 292-8397
ascott@gov.bm

Opposition Leader Dr. E. Grant Gibbons
Office of the Opposition Leader
Hamilton Hall
38 Front St
Hamilton HM12
(tel) 292-2665
(fax) 295-2933
tolo@ibl.bm

Larry Dennis
Office of the Auditor General
Victoria Hall, 4th Floor
11 Victoria St.
Hamilton HM 11

or

PO Box HM 2891
Hamilton HM LX
(tel) 296-3148
(fax) 295-3849
auditbda@gov.bm

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“How much has been paid out, how much is left (if any), what will it cost the taxpayer to complete the project, and when will it be completed? What will happen with the bond? Has this action just served to bankrupt the Union? How much longer does the Bermuda taxpayer have to put up with this gross incompetence of the PLP government?” Patricia Gordon-Pamplin

The above statement in yesterday's RG quite succinctly sums up what lays ahead of us after the Berkeley contract was cancelled.

This decision - probably the only one the Government could make, but shouldn't have put itself into the position to have to make - is going to have financial, legal, political and reputational impacts - and they’re not exclusive of each other. The implications of this are going to play out for years to come in the courts, arbitration and at election time - whenever that is.

The cost is now going to skyrocket as any new contractor is going to demand a premium price to finish the job on short notice, and also will want to go back and check the work that has been completed – adding more time and money to the current bill of over $100M. The new contractor surely won't want to be liable for Pro Active's work. Any contractor who comes in to bail out the Government is going to demand the world. Government put themselves in the weakest of positions but we’re the ones who are going to pay.

Derrick Burgess may have preferred not to comment so far but he'd better be preparing his comments for the BIU's membership. When the union head and PLP MP decided to expose the union to $6.8M in claims he made a decision to support his party's interests over that of his members - a prime example of the conflict inherent in his role as both an MP and head of the island's largest union.

One of the biggest questions remains - and there’s a lot of them - what the legal status and validity of the bond is? Whatever the answer, there’s a problem for not only Mr. Burgess, but also the Premier.

There’s two possible scenarios…but only one course of action the Government will take:

Scenario 1 - An invalid bond

If the bond doesn't exist, then the Premier has some serious explaining to do about why $700,000 was reimbursed to Pro Active and why he authorised that. Mr. Scott, as the Minister or W&E at the time has to answer that question. He also has to be accountable for violating the policy (put in place by the previous Government) to protect the taxpayer from cost overruns. Maybe he’ll start talking about ethics as being distinct from legality.

Scenario 2 – A valid bond

If the bond is valid it almost certainly has to be called in now that the contract has been terminated due to underperformance and cost overruns, although Pro Active will surely be pointing the finger at the Government as the cause of their problems. Without seeing the specific policy wording, it is reasonable to assume that this scenario is exactly what a performance bond was required to protect - the downside for taxpayers.

The Course of Action

If the bond is called in the union’s membership are going to have to pony up $6.8M. Let's say that again. If the bond is called in the union’s membership are going to have to pony up $6.8M

There is no way that a Progressive Labour Party Government will call in a valid bond and remove $6.8M in assets from the union, the backbone of PLP support. Not a chance. Zero. No way. That would be the end of the political futures of this whole crop of PLP MPs. The membership would be looking for blood and you'd have all out war between the PLP and its base.

Government are surely frantically devising a way, if the bond is indeed valid – which is far from certain – to justify not calling it in. Anyone who ever thought that this bond would ever be invoked is more of a dreamer than our Premier. The quid pro quo seems to have been:

Government policy (inherited UBP policy) mandated a bond, so the Government asked their backbencher head of the union to put together a company to provide the bond, knowing full well that it will never be invoked and the union’s assets were not really at risk, and give a gift of $700,000 to Pro Active. Everybody wins…except the taxpayer that is.

If Government had listened to the W&E technical advisors at the beginning, the Opposition two years ago, the general public, anyone except their spin doctors, this whole situation could have been prevented from the current disaster that it is.

Instead two PLP Governments treated the issues at the Berkeley construction site as a political problem, trying to manage it from a public relations perspective…creating a much harder problem to resolve today.

Projects run over budget and delays etc. happen. That’s not unexpected. How you react to this is what separates leaders from the pretenders.

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Ok, the press played nice and didn't grill the Premier about anything. One question only about the rationale for bringing in Mr. Lister from Brian Darby (VSB) - who then (in signing off), as he's inclined to do, gave a little editorial about the notable lack of other changes in light of the two major scandals that have broken in the last few weeks.

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Walter Lister has just been confirmed by the Governor as Minister Without Portfolio and the Premier is making a statement welcoming him to Cabinet.

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VSB is reporting that Walter Lister is being brought into Cabinet as the Minister Without Portfolio. That apparently is the sole change that will occur.

This move is probably necessitated by the pregnancy of Health Minister Patrice Minors who will understandably be taking some time off.

This will however put the Premier in front of the press for the first time since the Berkelely/Pro Active story broke. It will be interesting to see if the media use this as an opportunity to question the Premier about that mess, or if they are nice and play along with Walter Lister's moment.

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RG Opinion (Aug. 25, 2004)

Remind MPs that you're the boss

Contrary to what some of our MPs think - and would have you think – they’re elected to serve you, not the other way around. We’re not here to serve them; they represent us. You are the one who has the ultimate power. You’re the boss; you hold the keys to those oversized cars.

Governments like nothing more than a public cowed into passive submission, misguidedly under the impression that abuses of power are a political fact of life. We’ve become so disillusioned with the state of affairs that some of us are numb to the almost daily scandals. While people the world over seem to share a healthy cynicism towards their politicians, this shouldn’t prevent us from asking the tough questions and demanding honest answers.

In light of the continuing lack of contrition and accountability over the BHC scandal, it’s evident that we’re going to have to be the ones to hold our elected members accountable and that the Premier won’t act on principle but only if he’s forced to. There’s nothing more likely to grab the attention of the Premier or an MP, than lots of constituents demanding answers. Electoral justice might have to wait a few more years but we can insist on accountability between elections.

Call your MP. If you’re outraged by the apparent unethical behaviour by some of our elected officials then let your representative know. Pick up the phone and let them have it, whichever party they represent. If you happen to live in one of the 22 PLP constituencies, there’s a particular question worth asking: “Mr. or Ms. PLP MP, did (or do you) have any financial relationships with the Bermuda Housing Corporation?” Don’t let them off the hook if they start waffling. Feel free to ask if there are any other financial relationships with Government you should know about.

If your MP did indeed have a relationship with the BHC you’re entitled to know this, particularly after the documented corruption of the past 6 years. It would also be enlightening to know if your representative declared their BHC relationship on the Parliamentary Register of Interests.

In the event your MP answers in the negative, insisting that they were not involved, then there’s an important follow-up question: “Why then are you silent, allowing your good name to be tarnished by the actions of some of your colleagues and further damaged by the inaction of your Premier?” This answer should be interesting. The PR strategy seems to be to avoid the topic and thrust the Premier out front to deflect responsibility. You don’t have to accept that.

Write or call the Premier. Demand that as our leader, serving at our pleasure, you expect him to hold his MPs accountable and protect honesty and integrity in public life. Remind him of his recent chest beating and boasts about his strong leadership, even suggesting that Renee Webb couldn’t handle his leadership style. It’s time the Premier showed some strong leadership within his Cabinet. Standing alone in front of the press ducking and weaving may please his Parliamentary colleagues, but it doesn’t please those of us who are wondering where our tax dollars went.

Write to Auditor General Larry Dennis, copying the Governor, the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition. This Auditor is working under some very difficult circumstances; having been the recipient of some very personal attacks, but not wavering in his pursuit of the truth. Express your gratitude and support for the work he and his staff are doing to uphold the values of honesty and accountability in the Government.

Write letters to the editors of the local papers. Most importantly, sign your name. This step shows that you are willing to stand up and be counted, something the Government would be wise to emulate.

And of course, the most important tool at your disposal is your memory, and your vote. If your MP was involved in improprieties then you can take great pleasure showing them the door at the next election. If they weren’t involved but were complicit in their silence, show them the door too. There’s nothing that unethical politicians and their apologists like more than a forgiving public with a short memory.

Remember, you’re the boss.

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What everyone knew was coming today happened: ProActive Management had their contract to build the new Berkeley Senior Secondary School cancelled as reported on both evening news broadcasts and confirmed by the Government. It is also rumoured that the construction site has been shut down.

The PLP are having a bad month, well a bad 6 years really, and I'm sure after all this BHC stuff broke they wanted to change the topic - but surely not this way!

This whole Berkeley debacle is a mess completely of Alex Scott's making. There is going to be much more to say on this over the coming days but this is not just a colossal waste of Government money. It's also an example of how this Government saw economic empowerment as something to be manipulated for a political goal, not a social one and in the process blew it.

Alex Scott, when backed against a wall, has a penchant to say the ridiculous. So don't be surprised when this is all:

a) the UBP's fault for pointing out the problems over 2 years ago
b) the UBP's fault for politicising the project
c) the Auditor's fault for doing his job
d) anything else he can throw off the top of his head

Don't forget that this also has major implications for the Bermuda Industrial Union. Derrick Burgess looks to have committed them to an almost $7M commitment for a construction bond that must surely be called in now....if it is valid that is. Now more than ever Alex Scott has to produce confirmation of the bond.

Regardless Mr. Burgess's decision to put his party allegiance before his Union commitment should anger all those due paying members of the BIU - unless of course he received an assurance from his political colleagues that a PLP Government would never call in the bond.

Well, they might not have a choice now.

This is sure to be ugly.

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The Pondblogger, writing as Gavin Shorto, in yesterday's Gazette has turned his sights locally again with an excellent piece on the BHC - now online.

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The Not the Um Um byes have announced their 20th Anniversary show dates and venue for "Double X - Comical History Tour, 20 years of our favourites" - to be held at the Fairmont Southampton from Sept. 10th (Wed) - Sept. 13th (Sat).

All the details are available here, including the Box Office information.

This one, a review of the past 20 years of Not The Um Um shows, should be hilarious and definitely is one not to be missed.

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Ed Cowen, the former Bermuda Housing Corporation's General Manager, is firing back - and quite well I might add - after the Premier, in an ill-advised attempt to fend off legitimate questions, engaged in rumour and innuendo...after saying that would be unethical. The Premier, the leader of the country, casually and irresponsibly smeared the reputations of those working for the BHC before the PLP took over in November 1998.

Not to have their reputations tarnished some of the previous appointees and employees of the BHC have begun speaking out, including Mr. Cowen and Ward Young (on VSB news), a former chair of the Housing Corporation under the UBP.

They can certainly speak for themselves but a couple of sentences in Ed Cowen's interview with the Mid Ocean News on Friday are worthy of mentioning, specifically the sentences referring to efforts to push him out as General Manager so a PLP crony could be installed. Mr. Cowen says the following:

---Mid Ocean News Quote---

In his statement he added: "During the same year I was hounded by the chairman Larry Burchall and the Minister Nelson Bascome to resign. I refused and walked out when it suited me in the September of 1999. As a result I now receive no pension from the Government. They then appointed their candidate (Raymonde Dill) and it was then that the BHC's decline started."

Expanding on the "hounding" by Mr. Burchall and Mr. Bascome, Mr. Cowen said: "If they'd had a good reason to fire me, they'd have done it, but they had no reason. They kept saying to me, 'When are you going to resign'?

"The word was already around town that my replacement would be Raymonde Dill, even though he was chairman of the Hospitals Board at the time. I didn't resign until it suited me."

--- End of Quote---

This is notable because at its core, all Mr. Cowen has is his credibility in making his case. But maybe he has a little confirmation from one of those he accuses. Why do I say that? Well have a read of a recent Bermuda Sun column by Larry Burchall (the first PLP Chair of the BHC) when he took issue with a column I wrote in the Royal Gazette (see my follow-up post here).

Mr. Burchall took a quite extraordinary position in his column. He began by making a strong case as to why the abuse of power and perks was bad...until Nov. 9, 1998 that is, when the abuse of power and perks suddenly became wonderful. See the quote below:

---Larry Burchall Quote---

"But ‘it’ did happen. ‘It’ happened for my ‘us’. Power shifted to my ‘us’. The power to award perks shifted to my ‘us’. The power to make change came into the hands of the real majority ‘most of us’. Not Dunleavy’s actual minority ‘most of us’. "

He goes on later to say:

"The ‘us’ that was so silent and sat upon for all those years from 1834 to 1998, now has power. It knows it and it uses it. "

---End of Quote---

There you have it. Those sentences quite succintly affirm what Mr. Cowen alleges; that the PLP pushed him out because "it was obvious that they intended to use the BHC for their own personal gain".

Mr. Burchall's own words suggest that it wouldn't be a leap for him to see nothing wrong with using the BHC as a means of awarding perks to his political buddies.

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One of these things is doing it's own thing:

Pick the odd headline out.

"Mid Ocean News: 'Bermudians hold fewer jobs, Govt. figures show', Aug. 20, 2004"

"Royal Gazette: 'Bermudians making gains in international business sector', Aug. 20, 2004"

"Bermuda Sun: 'Job numbers drop for locals and rise for non-Bermudians', Aug. 20, 2004"

Another example of the biased reporting of the Royal Gazette!

The funniest thing is that after reading the first sentence you wonder if you're in the right article.

I guess all the abuse from the Government about the press focusing on the negative has resulted in RG taking the glass half full approach.

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I don't know what's up with the Royal Gazette's website lately. The updating of it, normally around 10AM - give or take 1/2 an hour, has been very erratic the past week. Some sections like 'Opinion' haven't been updated since August 11th.

As someone who both buys the papers and researches with them online it's a little frustrating. Sometimes the Mid Ocean News section of the RG site doesn't get updated until very late in the week. That's a shame because they are doing some great investigative reporting, the editorials are always great and they are likely to be the driving force behind the BHC scandal coming to some sort of resolution, and accountability taking place.

Generally the local press websites could really use some work, better archiving, searching etc.. One hurdle could be how much revenue they really generate and how much they might actually take away from sales of the print editions.

I for one, would be willing to pay for full online access (something the Bermuda Sun floated and then dropped)and better searching capacilities or receiving editions as a downloadable pdf file for example as The NY Times and The New Republic provide.

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RG Opinion (Aug. 17, 2004)

Put scandal behind us? Not so fast

“Don’t steal. The Government hates competition.” That joke’s been around for years but seemed particularly appropriate after the culprits of corruption at the BHC got off scot-free legally and now Scott-free politically.

None of the elected or appointed officials involved in the BHC scandal were charged with anything, not because their behaviour was above board but because the laws need updating. This has emerged as a convenient excuse for the defenders of corruption - evidently including the Premier - to ask us to “put it all behind us”, totally unconcerned about unethical behaviour in his parliamentary group.

That’s exactly the problem. Too much has gone on behind our backs and now it’s time to put the details in front of us and let us decide for ourselves. If the Premier won’t hold anyone accountable we can. Appropriate transactions will withstand public scrutiny, those that don’t however should result in the firing of the individuals involved with the Government seeking to remedy any overcharges or recoup missing funds.

We’ve been ripped off, we just don’t know by whom. Why say it any other way? Me, you, rich, poor, young, old, black, white, Bermudian, expat…everyone, has been ripped off. The Premier however remains unconcerned. Recent statements that the legislation regarding corruption will be updated are itself affirmation that Mr. Scott knows the behaviour was wrong. But as long as it wasn’t illegal he’s happy. How lame of a response is that? Pleading that something wasn’t illegal is never a good start.

When we raise our children we don’t hand them the laws of land and say “You can do anything but what is specified in here as illegal. Go nuts”. We teach them the difference between right and wrong, not just legal and illegal. There’s plenty that isn’t illegal but that is just plain wrong, even our kids know that much. We’re entitled to more from our public officials than “unethical but not illegal”

Of course our leaders shouldn’t break the law; they’re the ones who enact them for crying out loud. That’s not admirable, that’s a given. What we do expect however of public officials, those entrusted with governing on our behalf, is impeccable character and integrity. That means knowing the difference between what’s right and wrong, not simply legal and illegal, and acting appropriately. Splitting hairs over legality is the trait of con artists not MPs.

What is clear from the Police press conference is that what occurred was criminal in everything but name. There’s something particularly offensive though about this scandal. Corruption is unacceptable anywhere in public or private life, but this one really hurts.

We have a massive housing problem, accepted as our most severe social issue and at a crisis point. Bermudians are desperately in need of affordable housing. So how was this addressed? Those entrusted with delivering solutions apparently decided to plunder the agency responsible.

A two-year investigation seemingly concluded that some taxpayer funds – a.k.a. your money – allocated to house our people, were redirected to the pockets of public officials. That’s offensive, and a monumental betrayal of trust. The PLP Government presided over a massive fraud, ignoring the plight of struggling Bermudians but lavishly housing two Premiers at our expense.

So what does the Premier propose to do about this now that the investigation has ended? “Put it all behind us”, he says. That may be easy for him - having recently moved into a plush and newly renovated mansion - but we the little people deserve answers.

Mr. Scott claims that he doesn’t know which of his MPs were involved in financial relationships with the BHC. Well, you’re “The Man”. Ask! Oh right, it doesn’t matter because no MPs were involved in anything illegal. Well, right-thinking people everywhere know that there are standards higher than simply what is legal or illegal, that’s why Codes of Conduct and ethical standards exist. Sadly the values of some of our MPs are so low that they either can’t distinguish between what’s right and wrong, or just don’t care.

We can distinguish, and we do care. That’s why the details of all transactions and the individuals involved with the BHC must be put before the public. If the Premier won’t hold anyone accountable we can.

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The BHC apologists have been out in force this weekend in the press and on the talk shows parroting the party's talking points. From what I've read and heard the lines of defence are:

1) Nothing was found to be illegal so there's nothing else that can be done.
This is the primary response and is absolute nonsense. Ethics and legality are part of the same continuum. Any leader of an organisation is within his/her rights to remove people who acted inappropriately and abused their position, whether technically within the law or not. At the minimum the Premier should begin an internal investigation.

As a comparison, the Canadian Liberals have acted much more appropriately after a fraud scandal emerged recently there. The head of Canada Post recently resigned after questions arose. When the scandal broke in February the Prime Minister responded by immediately removing the former Public Works Minister and current Ambassador to Denmark from his post and calling a separate public hearing to investigate. They haven't done everything right but there has been accountability - a foreign concept here it seems.

2) If the Premier acts on his own he'll be undermining the rule of law.
Again, utter nonsense. Cabinet Ministers can be removed for any reason whatsoever. They serve at the pleasure of the Premier. Acting unethically shouldn't please a Premier so the only responsible action if it was clear someone acted unethically would be remove them from their post.

3) It's just politicking, a political witch-hunt.
Asking for accountability after misuse of taxpayer funds is not a witch-hunt.

4) The UBP did it too.
At its core this is an admission of guilt in the hope that people dismiss it as a fact of life or are content to be ripped off by the PLP not the UBP. 'No big deal, we learned it from them, now it's our turn'. The PLP have been the Government for 6 years and are yet to produce evidence of anything against the UBP other than rumour and innuendo themselves, something they're criticising the Opposition for. And you know they looked as hard as they could. The opposition are basing their call on statements by the Police Commissioner and DPP, who surely are privy to more than just rumour and innuendo.

Politics is one thing but when the Premier dragged in current and former civil servants with an accusation of fraud pre-1998 he crossed a line. Without substantiating it he could open himself up to accusations of slander, but at a minimum it is irresponsible and wrong to casually smear former employees who have never been implicated in anything. A lawyer's opinion might help on this one.

5) Change the topic. ie. Cal Smith's attempt to introduce race into it.
Not a surprise. An age old PLP tactic but it came a little earlier than expected, suggesting that the Government might be feeling the heat. And this is still early stages in the life of the post-investigation process.

6) Employees were fired and the former Minister Nelson Bascome is no longer in Cabinet. People were held accountable.
This flies in the face of defence 1 above but is disingenuous at best. While people did resign or were fired, others at a higher level seem to be getting a free pass. Throughout the BHC scandal previously former Premier Jennifer Smith went at pains to state that the removal of the Housing portfolio from Nelson Bascome was unrelated to the BHC scandal. This one seems more like desperation than an attempt at pointing out accountability.

It is interesting to note that no MPs or Cabinet Ministers were at the Press Conference the other day and no elected members were quoted in Saturday's article. The PLP MPs don't want to go anywhere near the press for fear of having to comment or 'no comment' on this and whether they were involved.

But they can't hide forever. Hopefully any time they want a press conference or talk to the press on another topic the reporters will pose the following question:

"Did you have any financial dealings with the BHC since 1998?"

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We've come a long way haven't we.

Today's Mid Ocean News (page 3) asked people on the street:

"Were you satisfied with the findings of the police investigation into the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal?"

One response:

"Kevin Isaac, 33, owner of an air conditioning business: 'I'm glad black people did it. White people have been doing it all this time.'"

That just about says it all.

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I've intentionally filed this post under the "Crime" category because everyone, including those MPs who are still hiding the truth, know that what was done at the BHC was criminal even if the law is outdated.

I also intentionally held off commenting on this for the past few days until the Premier made a statement, which he did last night. The Premier's position at the press conference, although not surprising, has brought Bermuda to a new low, cementing Alex Scott as someone completely unsuited to hold any public office.

His obstruction and accusations that the Opposition's call for naming names and releasing the details are "unethical' is a sad indictment of the hollowness of his claim to be for openness, transparency, accountability, a Freedom of Information Act, blah, blah, blah.

The prior and continuing actions of elected officials have forever tarnished the reputation of successive PLP administrations and us all. Evidently Mr. Scott has calculated that this damage is less risky than to be honest with the public about what went on.

Every PLP MP and member who was not involved should be demanding that the Premier clear their own names by holding those who were involved accountable The public should be outraged and demand that this information be released and those who ripped off every Bermudian be fired and never allowed to hold another elected office.

Don't be fooled into thinking that this type of corrupt, unethical and yes - criminal by any other standard - behaviour won't continue. It will merely be done more discreetly than before as the same mistakes won't happen twice.

The only way the Government can regain any sense of credibility is not to engage in another cover up but to let the public decide for themselves.

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I've been meaning for some time to upload the report submitted by UBP MP John Barritt to the Rules and Privileges Committee of the House. In it Mr. Barritt lays out the UBP's recommendations for "modernising the operations and effectiveness" of the House of Assembly. There's some good stuff in it.

Mr. Barritt sent it to me after this column in the Royal Gazette. This column discussed the need for more transparency and openness in the manner Parliament operates.

This is his second attempt at reform with the first occurring at the UBP's instigation during the first PLP term but being left to die in committee.

Let's hope these proposals don't meet the same fate but without Government's support it won't happen.

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RG Opinion Aug. 10, 2004

As Government's soap opera sizzles its policies just fizzle

One year down, how many to go? That’s the question no doubt on the minds of the Government, the Opposition and many Bermudians as the first year of the PLP’s second term sizzled to an end. But while the PLP’s internal soap opera – little ‘p’ politics - sizzled, the legislative and social agenda - big ‘P’ Politics - fizzled.

The sizzle came with rancorous labour unrest over GPS, the Stonington lease controversy and Renee Webb’s characteristically feisty resignation. The legislative fizzle came in the form of….well, not much really. That’s sort of the definition of fizzle, isn’t it? So should we expect the sizzle and fizzle of the past year to dominate the remainder of the PLP’s second term, however long that will be? Whew, that’s a lot of ‘izzle’, isn’t it? Snoop Dogg would be proud.

Sizzle inevitably leads to fizzle. These outcomes are inextricably linked and, judging from public statements from quite a few Cabinet members, this looks to have settled in for the long haul. When politics sizzles you can expect Politics to fizzle. That much we all know after watching the UBP’s internal sizzle dominate the 1990’s, culminating in their electoral defeat in 1998.

Let’s start with politics - the sizzle. Public proclamations notwithstanding, the Great Deception of 2003 isn’t behind us, but continues unabated. Renee Webb’s resignation affirmed that. Even Alex Scott with his black belt in the art of political public relations ninjitsu hasn’t been able to spin his way out of that reality.

The first task the Premier, or as he prefers to be called ‘The Man’, faced after stumbling into the Premiership, was to assemble a Cabinet. This Cabinet was built entirely as a compromise. In fact, his predecessor started it all by thrusting Mr. Scott into the Premiership solely as her compromise candidate. Mr. Scott was the individual for whom Ms. Smith would step aside without the mother-of-all-battles, a strategy of ‘Anybody But Brown’, but not a way to achieve results for the electorate. This alone couldn’t repair the cracks, so the new Premier pursued appeasement when assembling his Cabinet - the focus being not on selecting the best and brightest, but including enough members of the Brown and Smith coalitions to prevent all out war.

Consider Housing Minister Ashfield De Vent’s recent comments regarding his Housing portfolio, the single largest issue facing most Bermudians. Mr. De Vent commented that “I would have probably chosen something a little less demanding and controversial but I guess they all have their challenges,” he said. “And I am a team player so, I accepted.” Not what we want to hear from the person charged with addressing our affordable housing crisis - I didn’t really want all that work, but I took it because nobody else would. Don’t expect great things on the housing front, or any other for that matter.

Fragmented Cabinets produce a lack of policy and legislative accomplishments – the fizzle – with most energy consumed maintaining the coalition and containing revolts like Renee Webb’s, who we haven’t heard the last of. Unfortunately for the Premier she’s not the type who goes quietly into the night.

So while The Man spends his time focusing on politics, the community is left wondering if attention will ever be paid to Politics, what governing is supposed to be about. If we thought that the Smith Administration lacked substance, the Scott Administration has taken it to a whole new level. Premier Scott and his Cabinet, unable to produce results chose hype, which has eroded hope.

We’ve heard plenty of hype about what’s going-to-be but little of what actually is - political vaporware - the latest example being the promised roll-out of a grand social agenda. This initiative, we’re assured, is going to jump-start a drifting, directionless Cabinet. No doubt privy to the details of this imminent social agenda, Ms. Webb on her way out declared that Government had “lost its way” - not quite the review the Premier was looking for to kick things off.

Now that Government’s internal divisions have resurfaced we can be assured that the underwhelming performance of the Scott Administration will continue. Lots more political sizzle and Political fizzle.

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In my RG column tomorrow I comment that Housing Minister Ashfield De Vent didn't inspire a lot of confidence in his interview in the Royal Gazette last week. The quote that caught my eye was:

“I would have probably chosen something a little less demanding and controversial but I guess they all have their challenges,” he said. “And I am a team player so, I accepted.”

What the Minister is essentially saying is that he would have preferred a cushier portfolio and only accetped because no-one else would. So he gets an 'A' for taking one for the team but a 'F' for everything after.

In addition to being the only one who'd accept the portfolio, I imagine the rationale behind giving it to him was largely due to the constituency which the Minister represents. Constituency 21 (Pembroke South East 21) is as safe a PLP seat as they come, as Paget or Devonshire South Central is to the UBP (click here for 2003 election results). So no matter how bad of a job he does there is no way, absolutely none, that the constituency would throw him out. Representatives in marginal seats, or those with aspirations for greater things in Cabinet won't touch housing with a ten foot pole. They prefer to buy fast ferries for example.

As for Mr. De Vent's performance. My sense is that he's just making this up as he goes along. Whenever he gets a call from a reporter he just throws another idea out there to see what sticks:

- He's got a plan, he'd like support in developing one;
- He's thinking about an apartment complex in town, like the one John Swan built (that isn't selling by the way)
- and now he's thinking about portable homes.

A few thoughts on the portable home idea, which is all it is at this point although Mr. De Vent seems to think random thoughts equal a plan.

Pros
- inexpensive
- fast solution
- short-term fix

Cons
- cheap
- short-term solution
- can't withstand high winds
- requires utility hookups that we don't have here (ie. sewage, water)
- create eyesore 'trailer parks'
- mobiel homes seem to have an inexplicable phenomenon of actually spawning hurricanes and tornadoes

You can't just drop a mobile home on a tiny lot of land somewhere. It needs to be tied into the utlities which we don't really have here. The logical solution is to cluster them together and tie them in to some shared system. Once you do this it will no doubt become permanent and will most likely create a slum. A trailer park won't help our affordable housing crisis and will also ruin one of our greatest assets, our unique Bermudian architecture and renowned beauty. Just look at the 'Eco Village' at Daniels Head. It's an eyesore and is the closest thing to a trailer park we've got.

Anyway, my sense is that these things will no doubt become permanent as most short-term Government fixes do. But I don't think much thought has really been put into this. It seems more like a case of thinking out loud in the hopes that the public think he's actually doing something.

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The following is the text of a letter to the editor to The Bermuda Sun. The letter is in response to a Commentary by Larry Burchall in response to my Royal Gazette Opinion of July 22nd, 2004.
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05 August, 2004

Dear Sir,

On July 22nd I wrote a column in The Royal Gazette entitled “Time is running out for ‘it’ to happen under the PLP”. My point was that by now, those who thought a PLP Government would improve the lot of the common man must have realized that the only lot PLP politicians are interested in improving is their own.

Your columnist Larry Burchall states that I must have been having a bad hair day because the things I criticize the PLP Government for are irrelevant. He argues that the only thing that matters is that power has shifted into the hands of the black community and that the ‘us’ I was speaking about was the white community.

It was bittersweet to see someone simultaneously miss and validate the point of my article, which was that power and perks have no place in today and tomorrow’s Bermuda, as they didn’t in yesterdays. Even a below average student such as myself knows that two wrongs don’t make a right.

So while Mr. Burchall may enjoy recreating history and seeing everything in black and white, the majority of the country is younger than he is and are forward looking, not interested in replaying the past with a new cast of characters. They know that we, Bermudians of all races and backgrounds, are all struggling with similar challenges in moving forward with our lives.

Right-thinking people don’t want Government to be a body that awards perks and discreetly takes care of its friends. They want a Government that rejects the abuse of power, not seeks it out. A Government that chooses to entrench protections from the very corrupting power that Mr. Burchall so unabashedly craves - in the process building a more fair, transparent and open political system. They want a system that works for ‘us’ and not some newly minted, far-removed political elite.

My ‘us’ refers to Bermudians. Full stop. No qualifiers please. My ‘us’ is one that looks forward optimistically to working towards a time when we come together to build a better common future, not replay the mistakes of the past. My ‘us’ includes Mr. Burchall, although his clearly excludes me.

Racism, corruption and dishonesty can tear this community apart. Mr. Burchall argues in favour of all of them. I guess his common sense has taken a back seat to a desire to defend his PLP colleagues. If he thinks a little he’ll realize that people will be ashamed not impressed by what he says.

If this earns me Mr. Burchall’s pity then heap it on, along with the failing grades he bestows and his kind concern for my hair.

Christian Dunleavy (www.politics.bm)
WARWICK

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After Calvin Smith's ill-advised letter to the Editor on Monday and then a statement in today's RG Op-Ed piece I think it's safe to say that he's 'jumped the shark'.

I've really wanted to use this phrase for a long time, particularly as it has become so overused in the past few years without me contributing. It is so overused now that it has moved from the original definition (created from a Happy Days episode when the Fonz literally jumped over a shark) of being:

"The defining moment when you know that your favourite television show has reached it's peak. That instant that from now on...it's all downhill."

to a more generic use of when something has begun an irreversible decline in quality.

The Letter to the Editor was an attempt to be cute and undermine a Human Rights Commission complaint against Mr. Smith and the quote that was ridiculous from today's column is as follows:

"On the eve of the 1998 election, according to the UBP and the more conservative print media, the election of the PLP would almost certainly cause the international companies to bolt. This turned out to be correct! The international companies have bolted to Bermuda not away from it. Why has this happened?

"The international companies are increasingly attracted to Bermuda because it has reached a point of accommodation with the political reality. The situation with a white minority in control of the Government was simply too dangerous especially when it was clear that the minority was systematically excluding the black majority, including its own supporters who were black, from any meaningful participation in Bermuda's lucrative economy. The international businessmen had seen this situation many times in other countries and knew that it was politically explosive. "

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And Wrong again.

The change of government in 1998 had NOTHING to do with the influx of companies in 2001/2002. There was a little thing called September 11th which caused a reduction of somewhere around $30-$40 billion in capital to the insurance industry from property and casualty losses from the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. Bermuda was the most attractive jurisdiction from a regulatory and tax perspective - coincidentally established under successive UBP Governments - to establish new companies to take advantage of a shortage in insurance capacity that would result in higher prices. Simple supply and demand.

This was exactly the same thing that happened in 1992/1993 after Hurricane Andrew devasted Homestead, Florida - when around $15-20 billion was paid out in claims. New companies were created here because our tax system is very attractive for companies providing insurance cover for high severity, low frequency catastrophic events (ie. hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorism etc.). They're referred to as the classes of 1992 and 2001 in the industry.

These two events marked the "bolting of companies" to Bermuda not any political considerations that occurred in 1998. Funnily enough, the 1992 influx occurred under a UBP administration in what Mr. Smith describes as "The situation with a white minority in control of the Government was simply too dangerous especially when it was clear that the minority was systematically excluding the black majority, including its own supporters who were black, from any meaningful participation in Bermuda's lucrative economy. "

So, I take great pleasure in being able to use the phrase Jump the Shark and appreciate Mr. Smith for making such a ridiculous statement to allow me the opportunity.

We might be able to quibble over when Mr. Smith's decline began but today's statement was easily his most factually ridiculous statement that I've seen. Clearly he doesn't have a clue about the industry that drives our economy, thinks race permeates everything or is content to try and manipulate anything for his politcal agenda.

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Hmmm, it seems that UBP politicians can take issue with the press as well.

At least Mr. Moniz takes a less hysterical and demonizing approach than some.

But this could always be a plant by the Royal Gazette to pretend that the UBP PR department doesn't write all their political articles, couldn't it.

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RG Opinion (03 August 2004)

Process requires tender loving care - not abuse

Almost two weeks have passed since Renee Webb threw in the towel, with Cup Match serving as a useful distraction from the soap opera. But her resignation shouldn’t obscure the fact that no-one has yet accepted responsibility for the handling of the Stonington lease, with Cabinet no doubt optimistic that Ms. Webb’s unrelated resignation will nonetheless make the nightmare go away. Almost a month after the Auditor submitted his report and close to a year after The Royal Gazette initially broke the scandal, Government remains steadfast in either their silence or defence of the deal.

But there remains a subject, a tender one at that, which the Stonington lease scandal highlights. What should a fair tendering process entail? What are Government’s responsibilities and how much is the public entitled to know? Let’s start with the second question first.

What (and to whom) are Government’s responsibilities? At its most fundamental level Government should seek out the best deal possible for the taxpayer, with “best” meaning a high quality of product at the lowest cost. However Governments also have a broader interest. They should seek to balance the financial cost with a social policy. The tendering of public projects can be an effective way to help break down economic barriers, increasing opportunity for those historically denied access. Adopting this approach increases the risk, but it is manageable. This philosophy must be coupled with a commitment to support the recipients to ensure success. The alternative, as we’ve seen with Berkeley, the BHC and other projects, is worse than not doing it at all.

Take the example of Pro-Active. A policy of economic empowerment involves more than the allocation of a multi-million dollar contract, at which point Cabinet can walk away, patting themselves on the back. The awarding process is the beginning not the end. Cabinet didn’t support their choice and now they shoulder as much of the blame for the reputational damage incurred as the company itself. Pro-Active’s track record almost guarantees that it’ll be unable to win future private sector contracts, rendering them totally dependent on the continued benevolence of Government. This isn’t the outcome a policy of economic empowerment should achieve. If the process doesn’t prepare the recipients to stand on their own in the private sector then it’s worthless.

The social responsibility defence has become a familiar refrain during this long wave of scandals. So is it true? Are the PLP Government exercising a new social responsibility to great resistance, are they incompetent in its implementation or is something else going on? The answer to this question can be found by looking into the third question posed earlier. How much is the public entitled to know?

The answer here is quite simple. Everything. Government assumes obligations and spends money on our behalf, not the other way around. The public must completely understand what we’re being committed to. We shouldn’t have to rely on anonymous sources or special audits to enlighten us. The less we know the more we wonder and the hallmark of the current tendering process is secrecy and inconsistency. This exists for a reason.

We shouldn’t have to pry information from Government after a contract has been signed, but should be aware of the official tendering policy of the Government in advance. Openness is important not only to ensure transparency after the awarding process has been completed but it protects all parties by defining a process of who is eligible and what the expectations are on both sides. If a company can’t abide by this increased level of disclosure it shouldn’t bid on public projects. A detailed policy would prevent politicians and their cronies from plundering the public purse and then using economic empowerment as a convenient justification when scandal erupts.

A Cabinet confident in the integrity of the tendering process wouldn’t run from audits, refusing to divulge details. It would be anxious to reap the political mileage from a public pleased with a more inclusive approach to Government spending. So why the secrecy, why the spin, why the “no comments” and why the lack of a specific policy statement on tendering? Because the tendering process is being mismanaged, misused and abused with economic empowerment used as a diversion.

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The end of the 2003/2004 Parliamentary session saw a burst of activity from the UBP with the release of a newsletter on housing, a full page newspaper ad entitled "Promises Made, Promises Kept" and a press conference that generated a number of news stories.

This activity is a smart move for the party. One of the problems of being an Opposition is being able to notch accomplishments as well as staying on top of the Government. If you're not careful you can spend all your time complaining which is a turn off to voters.

The activity served a number of purposes before many Bermudians depart for their summer holidays. It maintains a presence for the party between elections, points to areas the party was able to achieve results for the electorate as well as reinforce that a UBP vote wasn't wasted. If a political party goes AWOL between elections and then reappears for a short campaign with lots of promises, the job of convincing the voters that you are sincere and not just opportunistic becomes a very difficult one.

So I applaud the party for taking the initiative in a time when the Government is clearly in disarray, preoccupied with internal battles that were never dealt with after the coup of 2003.

All isn't well in PLP-land, which presents the UBP with a prime opportunity to make some inroads into the swing voters.

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I take that last post back. I missed the country field under the second zip code field!

The ticket selection online seems strange though. Only the last row ever is available, no matter how many tickets you select or the night. I'll try my luck at Sound Stage.

Sorry for the error.

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Isn't it ironic that Bermudians can't buy tickets online to our own Music Festival!

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