December 2004 Archives

I lived in Indonesia as a Rotary Exchange Student from 1991 through 1992 and traveled extensively throughout the country, although not so much into Sumatra.

Because of that I feel a particular sadness in watching the impact the Boxing Day Tsunamis have had on Aceh, as well as the other regions and countries impacted.

Please give through the Bermuda Red Cross via the following accounts:

Bank of Bermuda Acct # 701 21565

Butterfield Bank Acct # 200 060 60401365 200

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One thing I forgot to do before my Christmas break, was to post John Barritt's View From the Hill. This one touches on the final frenetic sessions of Parliament before those exhausted Parliamentarians broke to regain their strength for 2 months. Whew!

Also, when Parliament resumes in February, I'll be posting John's columns in full under a dedicated section.

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I'm checking out until after Christmas and maybe the New Year.

Happy holidays to all and thanks for reading, emailing and berating me this year.

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Just so we're clear here.

Cory Booker was denied access to speak at Cedarbrdige on some BS technicality, yet PLP members were invited in and Jennifer Smith's book - of political speeches - is now a text at Spice Valley.

No answer to the Gazette's request to see the written requests for PLP speakers. I wonder why?

Any questions on the politicization and indoctrination of our public school students?

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I'd like to start by saying how disappointed I am that I wasn't invited to participate on BIC.

Secondly, for all those who think UBP members won't state where they stand on the big issues, I think Independence was dumb in 1995 and even more stupid in 2004/5.

Ok, so why would the UBP choose not to participate in the BIC? There are two real schools of thought about whether to participate or not. But before we go into that let's just review how we got here.

Put yourself in the Premier and the PLP's shoes. Alex Scott, the Accidental Premier, was thrust into the Premiership without a mandate and a divided team. Over his first year he went from high ratings post-Fabian to abysmal levels of approval - a level it took his predecessor four years to reach. His signature accomplishment (or lack of it), Berkeley, has been an unmitigated disaster, his Social Agenda was a flop, he's done nothing for housing, Renee Webb kicked his ass left right and centre and everyone knows he's out of his league and desperate for something to keep him on top.

So what were his choices? The most obvious was to change the subject. What is the best thing to: simultaneously change the topic, rally his disenchanted base, guarantee (he thought) the UBP would get distracted and off of their winning formula of the past 12 months, and divide them interally while uniting his fragmenting Parliamentary team?

He grabbed for the same issue that John Swan did when he had nowhere to go. Alex figured Independence would be his saviour - and the UBP's downfall.

So he launched the campaign 9 months ago, and where did it go? Nowhere. Why? Because the UBP didn't play ball. The PLP expected the UBP to divide internally, fly off the handle about Independence, drop their agenda of housing, seniors, empowerment, race relations, and become consumed with a non-issue that two-thirds of the electorate don't want, and those who do don't see as a priority.

Ok, so back to where we are today.

The Premier makes an offer to the UBP for one member on his Bermuda Independence Committee. Should they participate or not?

Let's start with the case for participating (in no real order):

1) Participating would put someone on the inside to report back. Well maybe. But to be honest, that committee is going to spring more holes than one of Alex Scott's lame excuses.

2) The UBP could help shape the direction of the committee and influence its outcome. If you buy this one I've got a Causeway to sell you. This committee will produce the report Alex wants. And if they don't he'll send them back until they do - or he'll bury the report. If you really believe that this committee, despite their best intentions, can produce a report recommending against independence you're dreaming.

3) The 'we want a referendum' constituency needs a voice on the committee. The committee hasn't been tasked with answering that question. They've been charged with researching the pros and cons.

4) The UBP castigated the PLP for boycotting the 1995 referendum and should participate this time. Well, only if you think this is a legitimate exercise, which it isn't. But regardless the UBP haven't said we won't participate in the discussion, they've said we won't be on this committee.

5) Independence is the biggest issue out there. Well, not according to the majority of the population. Most people want the government to focus on the issues supposedly being addressed in the Social Agenda. The PLP have been talking up independence and watching their numbers fall. Why hitch should the UBP hitch their wagon to this kiss of death.

Maybe there's a few others, but these strike me as the major ones.

The case against participating:

1) 60% + of Bermudians don't want independence and the vast majority of the rest don't see it as a priority anyway. So why participate in something no-one wants? The UBP is with the majority here, it's the PLP who have to do the convincing. Let them.

2) By participating, the UBP is lending credibility and legitimacy to a fraud of an exercise. I'm with this one. This thing is a complete sham and the Premier knows what he wants. This BIC has been created to put lipstick on this pig as well as create a sense of inevitability. The only person who benefits from the UBP's participation is Alex.

3) Independence is intended to be a distraction to take the UBP off of the things that have hurt the PLP and benefited the UBP. Yep, absolutely. It isn't a coincidence that the Premier launched this when he was getting hammered with bad news, and took 9 months to take step 1. The PLP would like nothing more than the UBP to become consumed with independence and stop talking about the issues that the vast majority of Bermudians care about - and the PLP continue to fail on.

4) The UBP would be prevented from contradicting the recomendation of the BIC if their participated. Well, yes and no. They could produce a minority report, but the outcome is pre-determined anyway. The UBP has much more flexibility on the issue outside of the BIC than they do internally.

5) The BIC reports to Cabinet not Parliament. The committee should report to Parliament on such an important issue and not Cabinet (ie. the Premier first) and the UBP should not support this.

6) The UBP was offered 1 seat on a committee of 13. Not quite a sincere offer to participate is it?

Again, there's more I'm sure. But these are the big issues I think.

Ok, now to dispel a few misconceptions out there.

- The UBP are looking for payback after the PLP boycotted the UBP's 1995 referendum. Nope. Sorry. This isn't payback, and it isn't even a parallel. The UBP have just said they won't participate on this first stage committee. The debate hasn't really started, there's plenty of opportunity to be heard when the time is right, if it ever happens.

- The UBP is hugely internally divided over Independence. Nope again. Sorry to disappoint. I've participated in, and listened to, a number of UBP conversations, both group and individual on independence. No-one, not one person I've heard, supports a general election as the method to determine independence. Everyone supports a referendum, and I'd say the party is heavily against Independence - much more so now than in 1995. A number of prominent UBP members who were ardently pro-independence in 1995 aren't interested now, particularly with the UK passport benefit that we know have.

- The PLP are for independence. Nope (I sense a pattern here). The party may have an official position of wanting it, but the membership isn't so sure. Lots of PLP members are against independence or ambivalent, many don't support doing it via an election and others absolutely don't support Alex's pursuit of it.

- The UBP don't know what to do and have their heads in the sand. Nope. The party knows exactly what it is doing. The reason the whole debate hasn't even moved forward is because the UBP didn't come to the wicket 9 months ago. Alex expected the UBP to become hyper-focused on independence and play on his turf - except they didn't and we all know Alex and this PLP crowd couldn't organise an orgy in a whore-house. Thus, 9 months of nothing.

- People are out collecting petition signatures and the UBP is doing nothing. Nope again. The UBP isn't doing nothing, they're just not on this committee. Collecting signatures for the petition will be very valuable when the Premier tries to ram it through with an election and bypass the electorate.

Ok, so I know all this isn't going to appease some people, because the word 'Independence' to many UBP supporters and Bermudians causes them to flare up like a grease fire - but as soon as they realize it's just another false start they die down until the word is spoken again.

I see very few positives to participating and I think it plays right into Alex's hand as presenting this exercise as legitimate and of value. It isn't. The public are overwhelmingly against this, they don't need to be told what to think, the PLP need to listen for a change and not lecture.

But let's use our heads here and realize that Alex wants nothing more than the whole island to talk about nothing other than independence for the next year or more. Because every word written or spoken on the topic is less time and print spent on corruption, mismanagement, lack of accountability, inaction on housing, crime, seniors, healthcare, education etc.. The UBP have been killing the PLP in Parliament and in the public for many months now. Why should they abandon a winning formula to play Alex Scott's game?

Grant Gibbons and the UBP are absolutely right to continue with their own agenda, and not get distracted by the PLP's shell game. The people actually care about the issues the UBP are talking about, and the party is gaining credibility, rebuilding and becoming the voice for an ignored majority. To become distracted with the non-issue of independence would be a huge mistake and throw away all that has been accomplished in the past 6 years, but particularly in the Alex Scott era.

There will be plenty of opportunities and time to tackle this. But there's no need to lose the plot now and play right into Alex Scott's hands. The PLP have been practically begging the UBP to talk about it and take a position, because they don't know how to sell it on its merits. No-one cares.

Remember, only about 20% of Bermudians want independence. So why spend 90% of our time talking about it?

Therefore, in the spirit of taking my own advice, you'll see very little further comment (you might have noticed little over the past 9 months) on independence.

I'll be focusing on the issues that count. And if you want to hold the PLP accountable and get them voted out you should too. Independence is a distraction not an issue.

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Here's the full text of the UBP's press release today as to why they chose not to participate on the BIC. I'll write more about this tonight, a decision that was absolutely appropriate.

To those who are panicking already over this decision ... relax.

The United Bermuda Party has today declined to submit a member to Premier Alex Scott’s proposed Bermuda Independence Commission.

Party Leader Grant Gibbons said, “Quite frankly, we cannot in good conscience participate in a process that we believe is an inappropriate use of the people’s time and resources. This commission represents yet another attempt by the PLP to distract attention from other, more pressing issues facing our people. From the feedback we are getting it’s clear that independence is not a priority for most Bermudians given the other pressing issues that need to be addressed. We believe that time, resources and attention need to be directed toward solving some of the serious social issues facing our community: affordable housing, needs of seniors, economic empowerment, education, tourism, to name just a few.”

Dr. Gibbons continued, “We can understand why the Premier would want to create a distraction given the problems and scandals that the PLP have been facing. We can see how this commission helps the Premier in his quest to become the first Prime minister, but we don’t see where it’s really going to help the rest of the people in this country.”

“The Premier keeps suggesting that people want more information on independence, and that may be true – but the people also want more information on Berkeley, the Bermuda Housing Corporation and a host of other issues that the PLP government has failed to come clean about,” Dr. Gibbons said.

United Bermuda Party Deputy Leader Wayne Furbert added, “The PLP are putting the cart before the horse. Time and time again we have stated that it is pointless for the PLP to engage in fact finding and debate on the pros and cons of independence until the decision making process has been clearly defined and agreed. They don’t appear to have learned their lesson from the last round of constitutional discussions where they created an unnecessary atmosphere of distrust and anxiety.”

“We believe that the only way to insure that the will of the people is given voice is through a referendum. We believe that the PLP is pushing for a general election on this issue is because they don’t trust the voters to make the right decision. They believe that using a general election to decide this issue will help them reach their goals. What we don’t understand is how this benefits the people.”

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I'm not near a radio so if anyone can email me the BIC member list I'd appreciate it.

So far I've heard that Walton Brown isn't on it as I'd been told earlier but that Rolfe Comissiong, Crystal Caesar, Lois Browne-Evans, Eddie De Mello and David Rowntree are in.

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Apparently the UBP held a press conference around 1PM and announced that they've declined the Premier's invitation to contribute 1 member to his Bermuda Independence Committee.

Grant Gibbons and Wayne Furbert conducted the event and, with considerable restraint I imagine, politely explained that the UBP's members are just too busy working on Housing, Seniors, Economic Empowerment etc. and can't spare a body for the Premier's vanity project.

Wasn't it generous of the Premier to ask them for one member, 1 out of 13? The UBP earned 49% of the vote a year ago but only 8% of a voice on the BIC?

That's a clever new twist on 'One (wo)man, one vote, each vote of equal value' - the PLP mantra. They just dropped that annoying equal value bit.

Anyway, apparently Comrade Alex is holding his own event at 3PM to announce the Marxist revolutionaries who will accompany Comrade Perinchief.

I hear the Premier's list will include Lois Browne-Evans (legal advisor), Derrick Burgess (labour rep.), Rolfe Commissiong, Walton Brown (pollster and independence advocate) among a few others.

Let's see if I'm right and who the rest are.

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I'd like to thank Comrade Google, arguably the most powerful accountability tool on the planet.

Yesterday I received from a stealthy emailer (and shortly thereafter it showed up in a comment on Limey in Bermuda), a link to a tribute to deceased Dominican Prime Minister 'Rosie' Roosevelt Douglas, posted on website by newly seconded Government lawyer to the Bermuda Independence Commission Phil Perinchief.

I mentioned earlier the inappropriateness of Mr. Perinchief as liason to the BIC, but look at the language that he uses - in the year 2000 - during his post to a bulletin board.

Posted by Phil Perinchief on Oct-9-00 8:05pm from 209.25.38.185

"First of all my sincerest condolences and sympathies to the relatives of Prime Minister 'Rosie' Roosevelt Douglas and the people of Dominica. Secondly, I say farewell to a close friend and comrade-in-arms. A comrade who despite numerous obstacles and setbacks never lost the vision of establishing a just and equitable society for all Dominicans. It is clear that unlike too many of us, who as Black Students in Canada fighting to overcome racism and reaction, 'Rosie' kept the promise of returning to our respective countries to continue the struggle for Independence from Colonial Britain and the establishment of true democracy. For this he has my unbridled and unqualified admiration and respect. I say to those of you who 'mouthed' platitudes about freedom and Black Power during those heady student days, free yourselves from your total immersion into selfish capitalistic opulence and follow 'Rosies' example. As with Sekou Toure, Walter Rodney, Che Guevara, Malcolm X and others too numerous to mention, I say to you 'Rosie' - A LUTA CONTINUA. PATRIA O MUERTE!! You are deeply missed!!

Comrade Phil Perinchief - Bermuda"

That post was written on Oct. 9, 2000. The year 2000! Time to move on I'd say. While the extreme times of the 60s and 70s might have called for extreme measures, and socialism and communism were in vogue, there's little doubt that those tactics and ideologies are no longer appropriate.

Unfortunately Mr. Perinchief isn't alone. The PLP benches remain heavily populated with these type of 1960's relics and thinkers (to be generous), entrenched in a romanticized and discredited world of revolutionary Marxism that the vast majority of Bermudians left behind a long time ago. Name me a more capitalist place than Bermuda? I'm sure Mr. Perinchief's appointment to the CPU as BIC liaison makes the business community that fund our lifestyles here extremely comfortable with the prospects of an independent PLP Bermuda. Dublin anyone?

Mr. Perichief's language isn't a suprise, anyone who knows even a little about the upheaval in Bermuda during the 1960s and onwards - which led to the formation of the PLP - will not be surprised. In fact, the Mid Ocean News ran a series of exposes into this last year (search on black beret cadre).

But what is most damning, is that the Premier would knowingly appoint someone so clearly incapable and unwilling to take a dispassionate look at the issue of Independence to an 'objective' body like the BIC. The Premier also has no compunction in disingenuously claiming that Mr. Perinchief can argue both sides of the issue.

Mr. Perinchief's appointment was no coincidence. What little pretense existed of the objectivity of BIC has now been blown out of the water.

The Premier's underhanded and dishonest pursuit of Independence, in spite of a disinterested and vastly opposed public, will cause serious short and long term damage to us both economically and socially, if it hasn't already.

It's pretty clear where this campaign will eventually go once the Premier gets desperate, and he will.

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John Barritt covers a few important Parliamentary events, including the Ombudsman and the BHC report, in his latest View From the Hill.

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Eagle-eyed resident Limey, Phillip Wells, has astutely pointed out (in response to my earlier post) that:

"According to that Gazette report, Phillip Perinchief is being installed at the Central Policy Unit to liase with the BIC. He won't be part of the BIC itself. So any research he does can presumably be much more closely monitored by the Government than it could if the BIC were given that job."

Phil is correct that Mr. Perinchief won't be a member of the BIC itself but the CPU. The CPU is a division of Cabinet and thus subject to the Premier's oversight and control - an important distinction.

Thanks Phil.

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Twice now when discussing Independence, the Premier has displayed an impressive level of denial.

The first instance was after the Royal Gazette released their poll results on Independence, while the second was in Parliament on Friday when he announced the formation of the Bermuda Independence Commission.

The quote is paraphrased in the second linked RG article, but I heard it when he was delivering his statement to the House. So what did he say?

"Speaking from memory, he said via e-mail: “There is another very significant finding from a poll conducted by the Omnibus Group (I think that’s their corporate title) that more than 70 percent of individuals polled indicated that they wished to have (more) information on Independence.

"The conclusion we can draw is that while 'X' percent are for Independence and 'X' percentage against Independence (at this time), the majority of Bermudians wish to have more information on the subject ..."

Royal Gazette: 'Islanders say no to sovereignty', Nov. 26, 2004

A similar quote was delivered in Parliament as well and is paraphrased in the RG story as:

"A poll released last month showed 60 percent were against Independence but Mr. Scott said a Government poll had shown 80 percent wanted more information on the subject."

Royal Gazette: 'Premier announces Independence Commission', Dec. 11, 2004

That's a powerful level of denial. You know, it's not just a river in Egypt blah, blah, blah. (I'd like more info on lots of things, like syphillis for example. But I can confidently say that I don't want it and don't forsee anyone convincing me otherwise.)

The point I really want to make is that the Premier can't bring himself to actually say the numbers of people who are for or against. He prefers instead to say 'X amount', but is happy to trot out the number who'd like more information (which interestingly grew from 70% to 80% in two weeks.) He's become quite selective in what numbers he feels are credible in polls, discounting some and promoting others - often even from the same surveys.

Secondly, notice that in his email he included "(at this time)" when discussing the number of people opposed:

"... 'X' percentage against Independence (at this time) ..."

"At this time"? Why only include it after people who are opposed? That assumes that only people against Independence will change their mind. There's no reason to believe that, unless of course the BIC plans on conducting a snow job? Ghast, they wouldn't do that would they?

Regardless, the most significant aspect of any of the polls on Independence is the small number of undecideds - 17.2% in the most recent Research Innovations/RG poll.

That's tiny. Even if every undecided changed their mind in favour, it still fails (around 60% against vs 40% for), assuming any changes in the fors and againsts cancel each other out.

I'd suggest the Premier seek some therapy. I prefer my politicians to be reality based.

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PIC

Installing Phillip Perinchief at the Bermuda Independence Commission (BIC) as liaison and research officer is like asking me to conduct research for the PIC, the Premier's Incompetence Commission.

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Here's the Court of Appeal Amendment Act 2004 tabled by the UBP's John Barritt today.

"The purpose of this Bill is to give the Crown (prosecution) the same right of appeal as defence counsel in criminal cases."

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Ahh, the efficiency of a Blackberry!

Straight from Parliament, courtesy of Shadow Minister for Race Relations and Economic Empowerment David Dodwell, comes a summary of what their sample legislation entails:

The Economic Empowerment Bill 2004

What does the bill do?

- Creates an Office of Economic Empowerment within the Ministry of Finance

- Commits government to a 2-year plan to allocate 20% of government’s spending on goods and services among small businesses.

- Establishes a Small Business Procurement Programme

- Facilitates the training of small businesses on how to bid for government contracts

- Requires businesses that receive over $5 million in government contracts participate in a Government sponsored small business mentoring program

- Broadens opportunity, by limiting an approved small business to $750,000 per year of government business unless no other businesses or individuals tender for the goods or services required by government.

What does the bill do? Part 2

- Provides for the facilitation of financing by local banking institutions for small businesses that have acquired government contracts

- Provides for the brokering of venture financial capital for small businesses that have acquired government contracts

What will the Office of Economic Empowerment do?

- Promote access to finance for the economic empowerment of all Bermudians

- Increase the broad-based and effective participation of all Bermudians in the economy of Bermuda

- Establish a national policy on economic empowerment so as to promote economic unity, promote equal opportunity and fair access to Government contracts

- Establish a small business mentoring programme

- Establish a tendering seminar programme for small businesses seeking approval

- Promote investment programmes that lead to broad-based and meaningful participation in the economy by all Bermudians

What will the Office of Economic Empowerment do? Part 2

- Provide annual updates to Parliament on the work of the Office and the progress of the Small Business Procurement Programme

What is the Small Business Procurement Programme?

- Outlines the goods and services that Government can procure from small business for that fiscal year.

- A strategy to expand the number of small businesses awarded government contracts

Why has the UBP created this bill?

- To address the fact that certain individuals have been excluded from economic opportunity in Bermuda

- We believe that it is critical that all Bermudians have the opportunity to be active participants in the economy irrespective of race

- We believe that a national policy on economic empowerment will promote economic unity, promote equal opportunity and fair access to Government contracts

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Two other items of note from this morning's statements and introduction of motions in Parliament:

- The Premier announced the formation of the Bermuda Independence Commission, although he didn't name its members but committed to doing so before years end.

- John Barritt (UBP) tabled a bill entitled the Court of Appeal Amendment Act 2004

I'll try and track that bill down as well.

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Shadow Minister of Race Relations and Economic Empowerment David Dodwell (UBP) just tabled the following motion (not verbatim):

"That this House take note of the need to establish a legislative framework for economic empowerment"

He has also attached to his motion what sounded like a piece of draft legislation which will be the focus of the debate.

They would have had to opt for this approach because as an opposition party they are unable to table motions with financial implications. They seem to have resorted to a take note motion for Parliament with a sample piece of legislation of what they would do.

I'm sure they'll have a press conference or something later but I'll see if I can track down the draft legislation that they want to debate.

More later.

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House Orders for Friday Dec. 10, 2004.

Today's sitting of Parliament will probably be the last one until February, when it will reopen with the Budget debate.

I hope they enjoy their hard-earned 1 1/2 month holiday after 7 grueling sessions.

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One of the evening news broadcast (I watch them both simultaneously so they tend to blend in my mind) last night ran a clip that Cedarbridge is having a book fair.

Sound good right? Sure.

A couple of the authors mentioned who will be in attendance were Walter Roban and Neville T. Darrell among others. So I have only one question:

As Walter Roban is a PLP Senator who published a book of Jennifer Smith's speeches, and Neville T. Darrell was a PLP candidate in 2003, has the Chief Education Officer received a request in writing for them, and any other political figures who are also authors, to enter the school premises in accordance with the policy laid out in yesterday's Royal Gazette:

"Any organisation that desires a political figure to come on the premises of a public school to address students must inform the Chief Education Officer in writing," Education spokesperson John Burchall said. "The Chief Education Officer will examine each request and make a determination based solely on its individual merit."

Just asking.

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A quick follow up on the story in today's RG that Cory Booker was not allowed in to speak at Cedarbridge. (Limey in Bermuda has a great rundown on the public speech he delivered - linked in the first sentence. There was no point in me rewriting it here.)

The real story, not the garbage excuse Government Information Services was obliged to concoct today (don't blame them, that's their job), is that the whole thing at Cedarbridge was enthusiastically booked - only to be shut down. Kalmar Richards, the principal, was very positive about bringing Mr. Booker in to speak. Then, suddenly and without explanation, she canceled.

According to my source, a pretty good one at that, a message was delivered that the event can no longer go ahead and 'that's all we can say on that'. So it wasn't the principal who was the problem, a decision clearly came down from on high.

Big surprise there. Clearly the Minister/Cabinet got wind that a powerful message of unity, tolerance, respect for diversity and personal empowerment would get delivered, and figured that it had no place near those impressionable young minds. As for any concerns about the appropriateness of the message, Randy Horton, Minister of Labour Home Affairs etc, is familiar with Mr. Booker, so there was no worry that what was going to be delivered would be inappropriate - quite the contrary.

What this incident highlights is the PLP's ruthless exclusion of alternative opinions from the public school system. The public school teachers have been, probably slightly less so now, staunchly PLP. Public school students have been presented with an extremely pro-PLP line for many years now, preceeding the PLP's win in 1998, and it has only got worse since. The UBP never stood up to the Ministry of Education as it should have, to this day - by all accounts - the Ministry is unaccountable to anyone other than itself.

A little story to highlight this.

Every year in February I end up at Cedarbridge to watch some Bermuda Festival event in the Ruth Seaton James auditorium. February, is also Black History Month. There is always a prominent display on the bulletin boards commemorating Bermuda's black history - something I have absolutely no problem with and support.

But what I do have a problem with is that I've so far been unable to find any black UBP members, past or present, in these displays. Maybe they were somewhere else, but not on the displays in the main lobby. No John Swan, no E.T. Richards, no Stan Ratteray, no Pamela Gordon, not a black UBP member in sight. In fact, Black History Month was more like PLP/BIU history month. It was all Lois Browne Evans, Freddie Wade, Dr. Gordon, Dr. Barbara Ball (white union activist) even current PLP MPs but no-one from the other side.

Before I get angry emails accusing me of being a racist, I have no problem with honouring black PLP members, or BIU members or anyone else white or black during the month. But at the exclusion of UBP members it screams of hypocrisy and intentionally presents an inaccurate picture to our students.

So, it wasn't a surprise for me to hear that Mr. Booker (purely because of his UBP connection) had been prevented from presenting. Would the Ministry have acted in the same manner if the PLP had brought him in to speak? Of course not, they'd have fawned over him and PLP MPs would have been lined up in the schools looking to score some points.

The problem of course, was that the government couldn't allow the UBP to be associated with a speaker of such stature and with such impeccable credentials who would deliver a powerful message about diversity - one that would fly in the face of the story that is carefully crafted for our young public school students.

All of this speaks to the intentional exclusion of a broad range of political views in the public school system. That can only be bad for the community.

I'm sure that there are individual teachers who do a better job of being balanced in their own classes, but the deliberate political manipulation of our students by the Ministry and the PLP must stop.

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My BS detector is going wild right now.

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During yesterday's extra Parliamentary session, the Premier finally tabled the Auditor's Special Report into the BHC.

Just a little history here, remember that Jennifer Smith requested the Auditor's investigation after Michael Dunkley (UBP) blew the lid off the BHC gravy train, the Government were successful in keeping the report out of sight before the 2003 election, it was finally made public in August after the Police investigation wrapped up, causing plenty of controversy and receiving substantial public attention.

I said all that to note that the report was public, it's contents were known, but it hadn't been tabled by the Government in Parliament, as normal procedures would require.

The UBP, through John Barritt, tried several times in this sitting - at least 3 I believe - to table the report itself, or a motion referencing the report as an Opposition, in the face of Government's refusal to do so themselves. They were prevented from doing this by the Speaker, who argued that the report had not yet been delivered to the House and as such he could not allow it to be tabled - although the Premier had released it to the press.

Over the course of a few sessions, Barritt engaged in a few (polite) arguments with the speaker in Parliament (and I imagine also behind closed doors), but received little media coverage of the Government's failure to bring forth the report.

So yesterday, after substantial assistance from the Speaker, the Premier finally tabled the report himself - which was very important for the Government.

The Premier, characteristically insincere, said that "I don't think the public wants to hear us bicker over who brings it first". Contrary to his flip dismissal, who brings it first is extremely significant, and is not a trivial issue as the Premier would have us believe.

By tabling the take note motion it means that the Premier controls the item on the agenda. As Dr. Gibbons noted in his objection to the take note motion, the Opposition had been trying - unsuccessfully, to table the same motion. For the Speaker to allow the Premier to usurp that after releasing the report publicly before presenting it to the House is shameful.

It is highly, highly unlikely that the Premier will take up that motion for debate, ever. I'd be extremely surprised if it isn't just left on the orders to die a thousand deaths.

Most significantly perhaps, it also means that MPs are precluded from speaking on the report (in Parliament) while it is on the order papers. So the UBP can't discuss it during the motion to adjourn, and can't reference it in any other debates without the Speaker shutting them down.

These events mean that it is almost certain that the Speaker and the Premier have jointly ensured that all Parliamentary discussion of the BHC affair has been buried, indefinitely.

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I've been unable to post much for the lasts few days for a number of reasons but have a bit of a backlog of things to throw my 2 cents in on.

I'm going to bounce around a little on topics as there is a lot going on, both issue and strategy wise.

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Today's Orders for the House, which is sitting from 10AM.

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More detailed than anything that comes out of Parliament, John Barritt has become the unofficial Parliamentary reporting system.

Here's his View From the Hill published this past Friday.

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Unfortunately I'm going to be unable to listen to the debate between 2 PM - 3PM when the House resumes, but I did want to post a few more quick thoughts on the Ombudsman Bill beforehand:

This is a critically important piece of legislation in entrenching accountability and good governance in Bermuda. It's long overdue, from either party, but the bill as proposed today is seriously flawed.

That one line exclusion of Cabinet, Ministers and Junior Ministers from investigation by the Ombudsman, as mentioned in my last post, cannot be allowed to stand.

As Mr. Barritt pointed out, Government is hyping this legislation heavily, placed a print ad in the Royal Gazette yesterday touting the bill, posted the legislation online (and crowed about the public being allowed to follow along), and Premier Scott introduced it with his usual over-the-top insincerity as proof of the PLP's commitment to openness, accountability etc..

But that accountability stops at the door of the Cabinet Office, and that is appalling, and every Bermudian should be outraged (but we don't seem to get outraged, we just get steam-rolled and played for fools).

In the New Bermuda everyone is accountable but those who preach it the most, the Government. To them it is just a slogan and a positioning statement. They play around the fringes but go to great, but discreet lengths, to ensure that a different set of rules apply.

The exclusion of Cabinet in this legislation stands alongside the Premier's empty promise back in July/August to bring forth new legislation - in this year's Throne Speech - to update the laws regarding corruption, in the wake of the failed BHC investigation.

When push comes to shove, this Government won't act on principle and limit themselves, the true test of good governance.

John Barritt appealed to the PLP's backbench to work with him on the amendments which he will introduce. As we cannot expect Cabinet to act in this instance, it's up to the backbench to step up to the plate and join the Opposition in this.

Will they accept that responsibility?

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John Barritt (UBP) is doing a masterful job of analyzing the Ombudsman Bill. If you're not listening to the debate I would encourage you to do so on AM 1230. (The house will adjourn for lunch at 12:30 and return at 2PM.)

Mr. Barritt has made it clear that he intends to offer a number of amendments to the bill. But perhaps the most important aspect which he has highlighted is one line which excludes Cabinet, Ministers and Junior Ministers, from the reach of the Ombudsman.

In the Schedule (p. 16) under 'Actions Not Subjected to Investigation' the legislation as proposed states:

"2 Any administrative action taken by the Cabinet or by a Minister or a Junior Minister."

Nice.

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The debate on the Ombudsman Bill has begun and the draft bill is available from the Government portal or from Politics.bm.

Posting draft legislation online is a positive step and I applaud it but:

- why wasn't the public notified earlier so that it could be read in advance, not while the debate is in progress?
- and why isn't all draft legislation posted online, not just this piece?

Consistency is the key, but this is a baby step in the right direction.

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A quick comment on tomorrow's House proceedings.

Rumour has it - ok, it's better than a rumour - I've been reliably informed that the Government are looking for Parliament to meet twice next week, Monday and Friday, so that MPs can go down very early for the Christmas holidays.

What that also means however, is that it is very likely that a bunch of new legislation will be tabled tomorrow to be crammed through as hastily as possible next week. It's not clear what the new legislation will be, but you can be sure that if it is in the least bit complex, or controversial, that the Opposition are going to be more than a bit annoyed at this.

It also isn't particularly conducive to producing quality legislation and debate on issues with bills being dropped in at the last minute, when there has been plenty of time to get this done earlier.

Normal protocol is for an item to sit on the Orders for 2 weeks before being taken up so that the Opposition has time to review and prepare for the debate.

This is typical poor planning and a lack of organization that we see from this Government when the House nears the end of a session.

We'll have to wait and see what, if anything, gets tabled tomorrow.

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Here are the House Orders for Friday Dec. 03, 2004.

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RG Opinion (02 Dec. 2004)

New programme a step backwards

Ever get that feeling of déjà vu, not all over again, just déjà vu. Déjà vu all over again would be redundant? But speaking of redundant, what’s up with the Government’s new "Community Areas Programme"?

According to the Throne Speech and a recent print advertisement, the goals of this initiative are to "prepare, design and implement environmental improvement plans for Bermuda’s well-established neighbourhoods in cooperation with local residents and community leaders", or – minus the political pandering and verbal diarrhea – "sprucing up de island". Some of the areas for improvement would be road, sidewalk and lighting improvements; traffic calming; the upgrading of housing and derelict buildings; and general clean up, among others.

It all sounds quite reasonable, although it’s exactly what many taxpayers assumed we’ve been funding with our tax dollars all along. But let’s concede that point for now and play along. The announcement of that specific plan left a nagging sense of familiarity about this supposedly revolutionary new initiative?

Aren’t we supposed to already have 36 Community Area Programmes in place, staffed with capable on the ground representatives, anxious to tend to the needs of the areas they are so attuned with? Don’t we have new people auditioning for the role approximately every 5 years on your doorstep? Didn’t we used to refer to Community Area Programmes as Members of Parliament?

Thinking about it from that perspective, this plan sounds suspiciously like a work-release program for MPs - and not one where we allow MPs, under supervision of course, out amongst the unwashed masses to perform a little community service? This sounds like a plan to release them from work, the ever-so-annoying aspect of their jobs that involves walking their constituencies – a.k.a. Community Areas – speaking with their constituents, finding out what their needs are and addressing them. The most significant change from this will be the significant reduction of your MP’s workload, giving them a lot less to do for the $36,000 a year we pay them, more if you're in Cabinet.

Now that we’ve removed constituency work from our MPs' job descriptions we’re paying them quite handsomely for the only thing left to do, those onerous Friday’s on the hill, all 35 to 40 of them. The math becomes very easy, that’s about $1,000 per day to compensate for the grueling work of dozing in the back rooms of the House, waking only for meals and to say 'aye' a couple of times a day.

To be fair, there are some MPs, on both sides, who still get out there and work their areas, but they seem to be a dying breed. In fact, it seems like each party has a small handful of its members who carry a disproportionate share of the load. We constantly see the same faces out front and centre, speaking on almost every issue, while others disappear only to be resurrected at the next election.

The Community Areas Programme is proposing to reduce the real work of an MP – improving their constituencies - to something that one of those friendly civil servants can take care of. All that is involved now for our elected officials to do is sit back, wait for their constituents to call, hand them a Community Areas application form, show up for the ribbon cutting, smile for the camera and enjoy the fancy sandwiches. That’s tough work if you can get it. We’re adding another layer of bureaucracy between the people and their representatives, further distancing our underperforming MPs from the parochial work that keeps their feet on the ground?

It’s long past time for a little realignment in Bermudian politics, or maybe a seismic power shift. But first, in order to achieve that, the dirty little secret that governments prefer you don’t know must be revealed:

MPs work for you. Each of our 36 MPs has about 1,000 bosses and all of us have an employee. An elected official is your worker, hired on a 5 year contract, extendable at your discretion, to tend to your needs. Yes, I know, it seems strange doesn’t it?

We seem to have moved away from that concept, you know that quaint and outdated idea that candidates, both incumbent and aspiring, have to hit the pavement, work for your vote and service the constituency between elections. Somewhere along the line some of our employees, our MPs, have come to see themselves as figureheads who can defer their responsibilities to someone else, a whole government department in this case.

For too many of our politicians there is an attitude that once they are elected their work is done and we the electorate suddenly exist to serve them. The Community Areas Programme will become a buffer between an MP and their constituents, a repository for voter concerns, and the election time excuse of every under-performing MP.

It’s a step backwards, not progress, and reveals an attitude that once elected, politicians are above doing the things that got them elected. That attitude is all wrong.

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