RG Opinion (19 Jan. 2005)
Answering the Premier's Dare
“.. in actual fact Bermuda is governed very nicely, thank you very much and I dare anyone to challenge that."
The above invitation was issued by Premier Alex Scott in The Royal Gazette during his charm offensive – emphasis on the offensive – of last week. I’ve never been known to turn down a free lunch, particularly one with such an abundance of enticingly juicy low-hanging fruit, so I’ll take that dare. But to be honest, the only challenge is where to start, and keeping within my word limit.
In the beginning, there was … corruption and mismanagement. After 30 years on the opposition benches, the first term of a PLP administration was notable by the absence of a plan to improve the lives of Bermudians but an ambitious one to improve the lives of the new Government and their cronies.
Most notably there was the BHC, and then the BHC again. Initially we discovered that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars were missing, while even more had been directed to contractors at vastly inflated prices. Then, to add insult to injury during a housing crisis, we discovered that at least two Cabinet Ministers used the BHC as their own personal real estate agency, covertly transacting business without declaring their interests.
After corruption there was investigation. But we now know that in the New Bermuda investigations stop at the door of the Cabinet Office. These extended inquiries produced little of substance, with the buck stopping well short of the implicated elected officials who were never questioned about their dubious behaviour.
Thus began the decline of accountability in our ‘nicely’ governed island, where the Premier crows about the creation of an Ombudsman’s post as a watershed moment in good governance, except of course that the Ombudsman is forbidden from investigating those who govern.
And of course there was deception. We know the story all too well. A tale of how Alex Scott found himself crowned the Accidental Premier; installed solely as a compromise candidate to end a standoff between two PLP camps. The wisdom and desperation of this move is apparent today, with directionless and deliberately deceptive politics practiced with pride.
The outrage of this compromise wasn’t that the party replaced its leader, but that it occurred only hours after the final votes had been counted and the electorate had spoken. This incident was not, as we are told, a triumph of democracy. It was the lowest point in our electoral history, an electoral result subverted. ‘We misled you because we had to’, is the notorious value statement of this Government.
Moving right along, the taxpayers find our hard-earned-but-easily-collected dollars at risk in an entirely avoidable arbitration, one arising from the Premier’s signature accomplishment – the yet to be accomplished Berkeley school project.
Ostensibly a school, but more closely resembling an incinerator project for taxpayer dollars, is years late, with $700,000 missing, likely to be at least twice over budget, embroiled in a costly legal battle and with our highest elected official unable to decide whether the contract was awarded on the merits of the bid or as a stab at empowerment.
It’s ironic then that the most notable outcome is an out of work ‘economically empowered’ contractor, and a cynical public. But at least the lawyers will get paid.
And then there was the resignation of Renee Webb, the Minister who looks a little bit like all of us. Ms. Webb’s surprise resignation triggered an unintentionally entertaining and revealing look at what most people assumed was occurring in Cabinet.
It was during this dispute that Alex Scott became a man – or ‘The Man’, and Renee Webb predicted the impending fraud that is the Social Agenda, a “ten year all-encompassing cross Ministry initiative” to do exactly what Government hasn’t, but should have, been doing all along.
Only in Alex Scott’s world do a computer recycling program, road signs and traffic calming receive such hype and take ten years.
And now, we find ourselves right back where it all started for this Premier, with deception.
In an implicit admission that his Government has not, cannot, and will not deliver on the things that everyone wants, we find ourselves in the midst of a campaign that almost no-one wants.
Independence we are told will bring us together, and in this belief the Premier may for the first time be correct. The deceptive and disingenuous campaign to manufacture phony constitutional crisis after phony constitutional crisis as justification for this unwanted excursion is succeeding. The community is uniting in opposition to Alex Scott with a 37% approval rating.
And we can’t forget Cuba, chronic labour unrest, Coco Reef, GPS, inaction on housing, rising crime, declining education standards, and on and on and on. Unfortunately I’m out of space, but dare accepted nonetheless.
Now can we get on with delivering on what the people want, not an obsession with the one issue they don’t?