March 2005 Archives

Bermuda, as a legitimate financial market is under attack, both directly and indirectly.

U.S. insurance industry scandals are turning the attention of regulators and Congress to the islands of Bermuda -- home to 1,600 insurers, or one for every 40 residents of the isolated UK territory.

We have an incredibly successful economy, currently totally reliant on international business, yet it is also incredibly fragile.

So what are we doing?

Screwing around with an independence campaign that can only further the interests of the political elite. Really wise.

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Today's installment of the anti-independence poll delivers more bad news for the vainglorious aspirations of the Premier and his band of 1960s relics.

There's a lot to discuss in the poll, but it looks like the more that independence is discussed, the less appealing it is to the vast majority of the population.

Sounds an awful lot like what George Bush is experiencing with his Social Security push. That's just one more thing that George Bush and Alex Scott have in common.

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The UN crowd arrived on Sunday, and were front and centre at tonight's rather dull public meeting (from the radio broadcast on VSB's AM 1450). Just the same tired non-arguments being rehashed.

But don't you think that the UN Special Committee of 24 on Decolonialization would have a little more credibility if they actually knew the population of Bermuda?

They're only out by a factor of 10.

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Mid Ocean News (24 Mar. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Bermuda's a community of shoppers, not shopkeepers

TRUMAN Capote said it best, Mr. Editor: The dogs bark but the caravan moves on. So with the House down and out for Easter, and then some, and with the dust and the hyperbole of the Budget Debate behind us, it’s time to take stock, Mr. Editor, of what else but the Bermuda economy.

Something the Minister of Finance Paula Cox mentioned in her Budget Statement first caught my ear and then my eye.

“One of the hallmarks of the successive Progressive Labour Party administrations”, Ms. Cox proudly opined in her written Statement, “has been the disciplined focus on stable macro-economic management that has resulted in a general improvement in the economic well-being of all members of our community.”

That’s some claim, Mr. Editor, a general improvement for all members.
The Finance Minister had her cheerleaders too. Her PLP colleagues on the front and back benches consistently and constantly proclaimed throughout the debate that the PLP administration was responsible for “a buoyant economy”. Nothing new about that, Mr Editor, this is what governments typically do. Anything that looks remotely successful has many fathers; only failures are orphans.

But how about this week, we drill down a bit and ask: If buoyant, buoyant for whom? Or perhaps as you read on, ask yourself this: In which Bermuda am I living and for which Bermuda am I preparing my children?

I take you then, Mr. Editor, and readers, to the 2004 Economic Review, a short but insightful review prepared by the Ministry of Finance and which annually accompanies the BS ( excuse me, Mr. Editor, but that’s short for Budget Statement). This report - which comes in plain black and white wrapping - doesn’t tend to feature front and centre in the debates and as a consequence doesn’t get much play, yet the facts and figures it presents tell a story or two if you take the time to piece the parts together.

Let’s start with this observation found very early on in the Review:

“A look at Bermuda’s domestic demand demonstrates that personal consumption was sustained by growth in employment income. Although total visitor arrivals decreased and Bermudian overseas spending increased, the local retail sector posted strong results”.

It seems, Mr. Editor, that we are a vibrant community of spenders.
While the results may not have been strong enough to save Triminghams, the Review still noted that the increase in sales in 2004 over 2003 was “extraordinary”. It was said to be extraordinary given that:

* the number of residents travelling abroad increased by over 20 percent during the first three quarters of 2004; and
* the overseas purchases declared by residents (and “declared” is a key word here, Mr Editor) upon their return to Bermuda during the same period increased by 30.2 percent; and
* consider that this doesn’t take into account the growing number of purchases by mail order and online shopping over the internet – which is, I am told, a burgeoning cottage industry in Bermuda .

For further proof that we are a community of shoppers, not shopkeepers, Mr. Editor, turn to imports. For the first nine months of 2004, Bermuda recorded an increase of $87.5 million or 13.9 percent year-over-year. There was only one “commodity group” that showed any significant decrease year over year and that was clothing, which was down by 2.5 percent. Again, Trim’s probably could have told us that, and Smith’s … and maybe still others will too.

Rather the largest components of personal expenditure in 2004 were reported to have been: housing, household goods, services and supplies.

But where’s the money coming from? Increases in employment income, we are told by the Review: -

“Employment income in Bermuda has been rising by increasing levels over the last few years. Specifically, the increase in 2002 was 6.1 %, 2003 was 23.1 % and the first three quarters of 2004 recorded a 26.5 % rise.”

This, of course, is in the aggregate, Mr. Editor, and the best illustration of what the aggregate means is this: Bill Gates walks into a bar of largely unemployed patrons and the per capita income shoots up to $250,000.00 per person per annum. But, of course, it isn’t.

Here in Bermuda, the Review tells us what most of us already know: two sectors were largely responsible for the increases in employment income for the first nine months of last year: international business (up 15.3%) and the construction industry (up 16.7%).

Let’s take a look at jobs then.

As for the actual number of jobs in Bermuda, they were predicted to be up year over year: 38,259 in 2004 compared to 37,686 in 2003, an increase of 573 jobs. But perhaps the most telling statistic, Mr. Editor, is that which shows that jobs held by Bermudians have declined over the last five years from 28,717 in 1999 to 27, 345 jobs in 2004 f or a decrease of 1372 jobs. Jobs held by non-Bermudian spouses over the same period have gone up 282 in number, while those held by non-Bermudians have risen 1500 from 1999 to 2004.

Meanwhile, the economists at the Ministry of Finance, who penned the Review, are anticipating a further increase of 15 % in employment income in 2005 – and that it will continue to lead to spending and more spending.

Not so blooming good

CREDIT also helps - or hurts the spending cause, Mr. Editor, as the case may be – and it would seem there is plenty out on credit here.
A small table in the Review shows that the total credit advanced to residents by banks and deposit companies has risen steadily from $2,113 million in 2000 to $3,521 million by mid-summer 2004 – and this is money reported to be out there in “loans, advances and mortgages”.
Spend. Spend. Spend. Mr. Editor. They’re counting on it.
Predicts the Review:

“With the expected increase in employment and income levels in 2005, consumer expenditures will once again be a major source of economic growth”.

When it came to spending, visitors – as in tourism – used to be a help, Mr. Editor, certainly more help than they have been in recent years. Spending by all visitors (air and cruise) has dropped from $477.2 million in 1999 to $347.9 million for 2003, and is still dropping – and not just because of fewer numbers. Based on the figures for the first three quarters of 2004, per capita spending by visitors arriving by air had slipped to $1,109 compared with $1,151 in 2003.
So we are counting on international business to continue to pull us through. But there are signs there too, that we should not ignore.
The rate of international business registrations appears to be levelling off, according to statistics kept by the Registrar of Companies: 13,318 in 2002; 13,509 in 2003; and 13, 573 or a 0.5 percent increase in 2004.

On top of this, we have our challenges from outside – organisations of alphabet soup name fame and the onshore jurisdictions, typified perhaps by the New York Times tax reporter David Cay Johnston and his book Perfectly Legal which features Bermuda as its poster boy in the chapter entitled “Profits Trump Patriotism”. As we learned in the last Presidential election campaign, it’s a line that plays not just in Washington but in Des Moines, Iowa.

The bloom on this rose is going to need more than just nurturing; protection too.

Tourism is flagging and there is no prospect of an immediate turnaround and we have a long way to go. These stats tell the story: The total number of bed nights sold in 1998, according to the Department of Tourism was 1,628,956. In 2004? 1,056,543 bed nights - over half a million less.

A rejuvenation is hoped for and the forecast for 2005 is further modest expansion … if employment income keeps on rising and we keep on spending.

Leading the way folks

WHEN it comes to spending, Mr. Editor, you can count on the PLP Government to lead the way. How about I share a few sure-fire, tell-tale signs to help our readers along: -

2005/2006 Budget: It’s a $711-million Budget up close to $51-million from the previous Budget of $665-million, or an increase of 8 per cent. By my calculations, $415-million of that total will be spent on salaries and related personnel items or roughly 60 cents of every tax dollar is what it costs to actually run the business of Government – and no, Mr. Editor, I haven’t included the projected $5.1 million to be spent on travel in that figure which is almost twice what it was back in 1999.

Capital spending: In last year’s Budget, revised figures for capital expenditure (some $110.1 million) exceeded the previous year by more than 34 per cent, or nine times the rate of inflation. This year capital spending is projected to rise to $137 million, a further 24 percent over last year’s huge increase and seven times the rate of inflation.

Debt capacity: The PLP have moved to increase the statutory ceiling on what can be raised by way of debt to $375 million, up $125-million from the previous limit of $250 million. This has been done, we were told, because the new limit “would allow for more flexible capital financing arrangements” and the projected estimated debt for the coming year is $250-million.

Rate of inflation: The increased spending, led by the PLP Government, only adds to the rate of inflation which appears to be creeping along, steadily, in the wrong direction. Their projected current account spending will be twice the current rate of inflation which has now reached 4 per cent. It has already outstripping the 3.5 percent increases in pensions which has been promised seniors effective August 1st. Health and Personal Care was up 8.8. percent and that’s on top of a 7 percent increase the year before and this year nothing less is expected, and it won’t be long before health care costs rival affordable housing as one of Bermuda’s biggest issues.

Add it all up, Mr. Editor.

That’s sum Social Agenda.

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First impression are everything as they say. So here are mine after reading the Bermuda Indoctrinating and Conditioning's two documents of notes and one press release they released on their site, discussing just what they've been up to:

* Feb. 16, 2005 - Washington Meeting with DHS and FAA
* Feb. 17, 2005 - Visit to The United Nations
* Feb 17, 2005 - Press Release on Visit to Washington D.C. and NY

There's a few interesting tidbits in them, but there's also some sort of odd things in there.

For one, there is a weird use of capitalization in the notes, select words suddenly appear in CAPITALS, presumably for EMPHASIS. But isn't the point to just PRESENT the information in a DIS-PASSIONATE way.

Then there's strange references like this (Section I.B):

"Mr. Simon Williams entertained the BIC delegation at a lunch at a scenic U.N. dining room ..."

Huh? Who cares that it was a "scenic U.N. dining room"? Does that really need to be noted?

Or this in Section II.A of the UN notes:

"Once again the BIC delegation was warmly and respectfully received; even commended on the noble and daunting task it had undertaken."

...

"The Chairman of the SC-24 took the view, which was echoed by other distinguished ambassadors present, that the BIC and Bermuda were tackling the issue of Independence in the correct manner by educating its population first and giving Bermudians themselves a chance to make the choice of maintaining the STATUS QUO by remaining as they are OR transitioning to Independence."

A little self-congratulation anyone? It gets worse in the press release:

"The delegation has been told that the BIC’s advanced inquires and forward thinking is historic."

The Committee seems to be a) star-struck and b) working extremely hard - probably the hardest - at justifying its existence to an ambivalent or outright hostile public.

The rolling out of Michael Winfield and David Rowntree last week to try and quell dissention felt more than a little desperate:

Mr. Rowntree in particular appeared to have, maybe unconsciously, adopted the languate of inevitability:

David Rowntree, one of the BIC members who visited the UN recently, said there was no need for anyone to fear that the SC-24 was trying to push Independence.

"Eleven of them are coming here to answer any questions we may want to pose them," Mr. Rowntree said. "They have overseen many a country going Independent.

"They have a template on ways and means of going Independent. This is a process that may take one year or five years."

So they're not pushing independence, the "UN Committee on Decolonialization" that is, they just have a "template on ways and means of going Independent. This is a process that may take one year or five years." That isn't exactly neutral language in my book, whether intentional or not (and I don't profess to know Mr. Rowntree's personal feelings on independence).

But where were the rest of the commissioners? The selection of those two felt extremely calculated.

And what about the comment that "the BIC and Bermuda were tackling the issue of Independence in the correct manner by educating its population first and giving Bermudians themselves a chance to make the choice..."

Well, what's the other manner? Just a press release issued one day declaring that we're now independent? Lowering expectations to beat them is never a bad strategy.

But let's look at some of the countries who we are looking to for advice in managing our affairs:

"Ambassadors from Dominica, Jamaica, Papua-New Guinea, Bolivia, Cuba, the Congo and Syria spoke to these issues ..."

Cuba - a one party communist state? Syria - run by a military dictatorship since 1963? Yep, we really need to take advice from a committee which has representatives like these. Nice.

But moving on:

"Lastly, on the economy of Bermuda, it was expressed by the Chairman of BIC, Commissioner David Rowntree and government liaison and constitutional lawyer, Mr. Philip Perinchief, that BOTH tourism and the international companies would not likely be adversely affected by a transition to Independence as long as Bermuda continued to enjoy a stable POLITICAL and SOCIAL environment with the prevailing economic prosperity and status quo maintained. The SC-24 concurred. The expressions referred to above were in response to the issue of the expected ‘scaremongering and tactics’ employed by the protagonists of constitutional change or Independence experienced almost everywhere where such change had been contemplated."

"Tourism and the international companies would not likely be adversely affected by a transition to Independence ..."? and "... with the prevailing economic prosperity and status quo maintained."

Which of course begs the question of why we're going down this road if the point is to maintain the prevailing status quo?

Additionally, we all know that tourism isn't contributing much to our economy anymore, so it's all about the international companies anyway. And they've expressed some real concern over this move, which most of us don't want anyway.

Here's the money quote in the ABIC's paper's conclusion:

"In that context, there are almost no positives in any move towards independence and, as outlined above, a number of potential negatives. These need to be carefully handled if this sector, which has become the lifeblood of the Bermuda economy, is to continue its substantial contribution as employers, taxpayers and contributors to the community."

Yeah, so I guess it's heart warming that "the SC-24 concurred" with the statement that the "international companies wouldn't be adversely affected". Because of course a committee made up of people from places like New Guinea, Bolivia, Cuba and Syria, who know next to nothing about Bermuda or our economy, are better informed than the Association of Bermuda International Companies - that would be an association made up of representatives of the companies themselves.

But it is worth asking then whether BIC briefed the Decolonialization crowd on the published position of the Bermuda companies. A paper that one that one of the BIC commissioners (not at the time though), Rolfe Commissiong attacked with odd statements like this:

"I was perturbed, to say the least, by the claim issued on behalf of that body that the Government shouldn't force people to Independence."

I'm yet to understand what's perturbing about that statement. Perhaps we can ask Cuba and Syria to assist with interpretation?

Or maybe the BIC members preferred not to bring that up, it's sort of inconvenient. Material, but inconvenient I know.

There is much much more in these releases that raises an eyebrow. Section B of the UN visit document details the Ambassadorial meetings with a number of countries.

Here are some gems, note the CAPITALISATION:

Barbados

"The present COST of Barbados Ministry of Foreign Affairs is between $5 – 6 million (US) dollars. 'The BENEFITS are difficult to quantify on an annual basis because such benefits are sometimes UNQUANTIFIABLE. I mean how can you QUANTIFY benefits that FLOW to your country over a long period of time as a result of your trade agreements which are longer than a year in duration? One thing is clear, we in Barbados believe the benefits of having a MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affaits] far outweigh the COST of $5 – 6 million (US) dollars a year.'"

Apparently the benefits of independence are unquantifiable, or UNQUANTIFIABLE, as they are longer than a year in duraton. Right. So I assume the downside is also unquantifiable? Or of course they can't point to the benefits so it's easier to just say they exist but we can't put our finger on them.

Jamaica

The Jamaican representatives try to separate Independence and the ensuing decline in their economy and increase in poverty and pin it on the UK. They strangely prefaced their remarks with:

"A large number of people were saying it wouldn’t work. Our economy will go down; our dollar would be worth nothing."

Well, uh, yeah. That's exactly what happened isn't it?

And then:

"No, Jamaica’s economy or dollar did not go down or Jamaica did not become poor as a result of Independence. We are better today. Our difficulties in our economy are a DIRECT result of our COMMERCIAL AGREEMENTS and TRADE RELATIONS with the U.K. being LOCKED into the PRICES that the U.K. said we MUST pay BEFORE we went Independent."

Ok, so there were agreements that were in place and would be called in as a condition of independence, but the devaluation of the currency and the economic freefall had nothing to do with these agreements, ones that wouldn't have been called in otherwise.

Whatever. I hope the BIC aren't lapping this stuff up, but the capitalization would suggest they are.

I can't say I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy about the direction the BIC is heading from its initial reports and posturing.

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RG Opinion (21 Mar. 2005)

When Parliamentary Debate Becomes a Pain in the Three Rs

Upon the merciful conclusion of this year’s installment of the budget debate the Speaker should have made the following announcement: “The 2005/2006 Budget Debate has been brought to you by the letter ‘R’ and the number ‘0’”.

If you’d been paying attention, which wasn’t easy, you’d have witnessed the Parliamentary version of the Three R’s: “Reading, Regurgitating and Running out the clock”. That’s not exactly what they teach on Sesame Street when they talk about the Three R’s – and I apologize for comparing Bermuda’s Parliament to Sesame Street, that does a great disservice to the fine institution that is Sesame Street.

The annual spectacle that is officially known as a debate has, in recent years, deteriorated into a monologue. If you were looking for MP’s to go mono a mono, as in most Parliamentary democracies, you’d have been out of luck. Instead it was just mono, the endless drone of Ministers reading mind-numbing briefs dutifully prepared by the worlds most long-winded civil servants.

At least we now know why the civil service has exploded in size. Those 1,000 or so new bureaucrats that have been added to the people’s payroll since 1998 have been furiously writing those ironically named and ever lengthening ‘budget briefs’.

But in case you thought there was a limit on the size of a budget brief, fear not. A new elevator for the House has been approved and will no doubt be put to good use hauling next year’s even longer printed installments of the Budget Monologue up to the Chamber.

So hour after hour, day after day, we were treated to Cabinet Ministers reading their briefs, regurgitating useless information and running out the clock. All this makes you wonder if the Ministers actually have a clue about the Ministries they supposedly run or are scared of the Opposition?

Do they really have this much to hide? Well, in fact they did.

The only time a real debate broke out, and we learned something new in the midst of the Three Rs, was during the Parliamentary question period and on the Motions to Adjourn.

Housing Minister Ashfield De Vent provided some of the few entertaining moments of the past 3 weeks, creatively testing new ways to avoid answering John Barritt’s morning parliamentary questions on the Bermuda Housing Trust.

And then there was of course Maxwell Burgess, who decided to go big game fishing on the Motion to Adjourn. Sporting some light tackle but tasty bait, Mr. Burgess didn’t have to troll for long before he landed himself a Premier and a Housing Minister, two plump liar-fish – specimens not nearly as rare in our New Bermuda waters as those Lion Fish that keep showing up in the pond.

But apart from those brief and enlightening distractions, reading, regurgitating and running out the clock was the order of the day, or the 3 weeks to be accurate. And once the clock chimed it was time again for our sponsor, the letter ‘R’. This time it came in the form of some much needed Rest and Relaxation, Parliamentary R & R – the centre-piece initiative of the Sociable Agenda.

Judging by the schedule MPs are keeping, we should be grateful that the Premier bothers to convene Parliament at all. The House is so infrequently in session nowadays that it’s easier to find a worker at the Berkeley site than a Parliamentarian on the Hill. Evidently a few hectic weeks in, ten weeks out, followed by an 8 session marathon run for the mandatory budget debate, and back out for ten is taxing work for the taxing people.

You see, real debates are unpredictable and lend themselves to accountability and transparency, two more words you heard a lot about in those budget no-so briefs, but didn’t see much of in practice.

On that front, it fell to Finance Minister Paula Cox to invoke the Budget Debate’s other title sponsor, the number ‘0’. When discussing the newly published IMF report, Ms. Cox declared that “Mr. Speaker, if this Government is not transparent then we are nothing”. Well, Ms. Minister, you said it.

It is however, transparently obvious why the Government is spending so much time out of Parliament and filibustering when in. Stage managed press conferences, courtesy of those fine folks at the Ministry of Disinformation, are much more pleasant than an actual debate, where insolvent housing schemes and rent hikes for seniors are revealed. Democratic institutions are highly inconvenient for those who prefer to hide behind the growing defensive line that is the civil service and Government Information Services.

But is there a glimmer of hope? Sadly it doesn’t seem so, as the prospects for another R to come to fruition seem bleak: Reform.

Many, many months ago the UBP’s John Barritt submitted a proposal outlining steps to achieve comprehensive reform in our antiquated Parliamentary processes. The proposal included a number of easily implemented initiatives that would promote true accountability and perhaps the occasional informative debate.

So where does this stand today? It doesn’t. It sits, and sits, and sits in the black-hole of parliamentary reform known as the House Rules and Privileges Committee, chaired by the Speaker of the House and with a majority of Government MPs, certain to meet an unfriendly fate.

Perhaps the only way we’ll achieve this much needed reform is through another ‘R’: Removal.

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I've just posted both of John Barritt's pieces in this week's Mid Ocean News, including his regular column and a sidebar pulling back the curtain on the selective use of data employed by Alex Scott and lately Rev. Lambe of the BIC, which as JB points out looks to be mostly about Bermuda Indoctrination and Conditioning.

But I strongly recommend taking the time to read his columns, because there is a lot of good stuff in there.

Particularly his comments on the sham that Parliamentary sessions are being turned into and the PLP's failure to move on comprehensive reform to the Parliamentary process.

JB's recommendations have been sent to languish in the Rule and Privileges Committee.

Sad but true.

I'm with JB is his push for accountability in Parliament and public life. I hope you are too. I encourage everyone to write to the press, call the talk shows and badger your PLP MP to stop blocking reform.

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Mid Ocean News (18 Mar. 2005) - Sidebar
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

But the Survey Says ...

YOU may recall, Mr. Editor, that we were told that it was a thirst for knowledge which prompted the establishment of BIG BIC. There was reference to a survey which had been carried out for Government in June of last year which confirmed that to be the case.
Well, it’s amazing what you can find out when you dig around a little bit. Turns out that wasn’t even half the story.

Here’s what the survey also told the Bermuda Government which they in turn didn’t tell us: -

* Seven in ten residents either strongly ( 45 percent, down 3 points over the last quarter) or generally (23 percent, up seven points) oppose an independent Bermuda and, moreover, it isn’t just a majority of white folks opposed. Opposition is reported to have grown among black residents to the point where more than half of Bermuda’s black residents were expressing some level of opposition towards an independent Bermuda.

* A majority of residents consider themselves either generally (51 percent) or very well (19 percent) informed on the issue of independence.

Holy smokes, Mr. Editor, those are impressive majorities. No need to wonder why Government won’t commit to a referendum. They’ve got a lot of minds to change on the issue first.

Yes, eight in ten residents were also reported as having expressed a strong interest in learning more about the impact of independence on Bermuda: 47 percent were said to be very interested and 33 percent somewhat interested. But as the survey summary also observed: "While the level of interest in additional information is generally high across the population, it is worth noting that those who support an independent Bermuda express a greater kevel of interest than those who oppose the idea in learning more about the impact of an independent Bermuda".

What’s also interesting are the sources of information which people find most credible. The media came out on top (30 percent) and the government "in general" came second at 21 percent, "distantly followed by public meetings (7 percent) and the United Bermuda Party (6 percent)."

Go figure, Mr. Editor.

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Mid Ocean News (18 Mar. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Reform is Long Overdue

NICE work if you can get it, Mr. Editor, sitting in the House on the Hill. The Man in charge, and that would be the Premier, told MPs late last Friday night that we would be going on an eight week sojourn from debate and not return until Friday the 6th of May – and this, Mr. Editor, follows the ten week break he sent us on over Christmas.

If you ask me, and you should, it’s beginning to look like Parliament has little role to play in the New Bermuda under the PLP. Pity that. Accountability only comes about when governments, their decisions, and their actions, are subject to scrutiny in the form of questions and criticism and, yes, disagreement, in the open forum we know as Parliament and to which I affectionately refer as the House on the Hill ( but which, to be accurate, also includes the Upper House which is down the Hill).

It gets worse too, Mr. Editor, when you also take into account how archaic we are in the way in which we run our Legislature – and the PLP, which calls itself Progressive, shows absolutely no inclination for reform. Instead, we get a push to Independence when their own surveys show a majority of Bermudians, a strong majority, are not interested (but that’s another story, Mr. Editor – see elsewhere).

Meanwhile, the more we seem to learn about Big BIC and their activities, the more the “I” is starting to look and sound like it stands for “indoctrination” and the “C” for “conditioning”, and the unwitting and the unwilling are their target.

But let me come back to my point, Mr. Editor, working in the House on the Hill. What we need there is some long overdue reform.

If you’ve been following the Budget Debate closely - and God bless those who have - you will know that, with very exceptions, Ministers take to reading - and in some cases not very well either – very lengthy statements put together by their top swivel servants, designed it seems not so much as to illuminate but to dominate. The more time the Minister can take, the less time there is for the Opposition to comment, criticise and question. It’s a blunt but effective strategy.

Questions?

If you want answers to questions on the record you have to ask them in writing ten days in advance – and even then the Minister can delay answering them without penalty. If there isn’t time to ask them before eleven o’clock in the morning on the day the House meets, the answers are reduced to writing and the opportunity to ask follow-up questions is lost. In most modern parliamentary systems, a specific period of time is set aside and questions are asked with and without prior notice.

Modern parliamentary systems also feature far more select committees (select in parliamentary language, Mr. Editor, means bi-partisan) which are established to consider, review and report on major issues and matters, and all of which work is conducted in full public view.
Not so in Bermuda. Old Bermuda. New Bermuda. Take your pick.

The current most important committee, the Public Accounts Committee, charged as it is with reviewing Government’s accounts and expenditure, continues to meet in private, notwithstanding the practice in other parliamentary democracies, and recommendations from Government’s own advisers that its proceedings be open to the public. The most recent call for committee work came from those who prepared the Report "Untangling Bermuda's Quangos" for the PLP Government at the PLP Government’s request.

Here’s what they had to say in black and white: -

"There is an opportunity, on a weekly basis, for Committees to report to the House/ public on the performance of the various Quangos, etc. If properly utilised, this will improve public awareness as well as allow for transparency, accountability and open public scrutiny".

Spot on, Mr. Editor.

But, but … Isn’t anybody in the PLP listening?

Making cents of it all

OKAY, to be fair, Mr. Editor, while we may not meet that often in the House on the Hill when we do meet we do tend to go long. Last week was a prime example. We were there until at least midnight Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and that’s rough going, Mr. Editor, when you’re trying to hold down a second job – and anyhow, sitting in the House is but part of the job as MP.

Not surprisingly though, salaries came up for discussion once again when Finance Minister Paula Cox piloted through the usual annual increase. The formula emerged ten years ago out of the recommendation of - wait for it - a select committee of the House: Annual increases were to be tied to the Retail Price Index. Opposition spokesman for Finance and Leader, Dr. Grant Gibbons, did some calculations of his own and discovered that the proposed 4.5 per cent increases were running head of the annual rate of inflation, and questioned then why Government was only proposing 3.5 percent increases for seniors’ pensions commencing August.

But the increases this time around may be modest compared to what might be around the corner. Ms. Cox re-affirmed Government’s intention to introduce legislation to establish a committee to review parliamentary salaries. Interestingly, Mr. Editor, this too, was a recommendation that arose out of the same select committee some ten years ago – but at that time the call for an independent review panel came in a minority report which was co-authored by your correspondent on the Hill along with Dame Pamela Gordon, both us then rookie MPs.

The shape and form of the new committee won’t be known until the legislation comes to light, but in the meantime we know it will feature a re-assessment of what the jobs are worth: An extra $657,000.00 has been set aside in the 2005 Budget for “Ministers and Members”.

Top of the Class, Minister

ONE of my colleagues on the Hill, Mr. Editor, joked that maybe we ought to be paid by the word. Forget the midnight hour. We would never get out of there if that were the case. Government Ministers would also have cleaned up in the Budget Debate these past two weeks. We set aside two hours on Friday for an examination of the Department of Planning and Minister Neletha Butterfield gave her Shadow Cole Simons – and the rest of us – less than half an hour.

Naturally, the rest of us didn’t get a word in. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Education Minister Terry Lister gave his colleagues a better lesson. He took no more than two hours of the five hours which the Opposition had allotted for debate on his Ministry; in turn, his Shadow Neville Darrell spoke for no more than an hour. There was actually two hours for the rest of the House to engage in a real debate, and there was no shortage of speakers as we heard from Maxwell Burgess, Dean Foggo, Louise Jackson, Randy Horton, Suzann Roberts-Holshouser, Michael Scott, Pat Gordon Pamplin and Jon Brunson ... and there was a small window at the end for the Minister to re-cap the debate. It was, Mr. Editor, some kind of a record.

Hats off then to the Education Minister who goes to the top of the class for his contribution to the Budget Debate. It wasn’t just the time which he gave everyone else that earns him top marks. It was also the class which he showed when he (1) shared his ministerial brief with Mr. Darrell prior to debate and (2) acknowledged his Shadow’s contribution to the advancement of public education in Bermuda, notwithstanding their differences.

At the time of writing, I had not heard of one other Government Minister sharing with their Shadows their briefs – either before or after the debate.

That, sadly, Mr Editor, reveals all.

Déjà vu all over again

DISCLOSURE is not a strong suit of the PLP. Au contraire. We have still to see the Annual Reports of the Bermuda Housing Corporation for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004, despite the fact that they have been completed. The law requires that they be tabled in the Legislature and the Speaker disallowed an Opposition motion last year deploring the fact they had not been tabled. The Speaker told us that he understood
the reports were on their way. From where? China? By slow boat? This tactic is nothing new either. You will recall, Mr. Editor, the Auditor General’s special report into the Housing Corporation scandal, the one the Opposition wanted debated, which the Speaker would not let us present for debate because it was a Government report, and which the Premier then subsequently introduced just before Christmas, but which he has not taken up and cannot now until we come back in early May.
Accountability. Good governance. Transparency. The PLP continue to re-define the words in ways neither you, Mr. Editor, or George Orwell, could ever have imagined.

Coming and Going

WE whisked through the legislation pretty quickly last Friday night, and not just because we were tired at the end of a long week. There was also agreement. The best example was the introduction of the stamp duty exemption for “the primary family homestead” upon death. It was something which the Opposition UBP campaigned on at the last election and Finance Minister Paula Cox said it was something which the PLP had been urged to implement by their Central Council. In any event, the people are about to benefit starting April 1. The exemption has to be applied for and we were told that the Tax Commissioner’s Office has the necessary forms ready for completion. Meanwhile, the cost of purchasing a home in Bermuda is about to go up. The stamp duty rates for mortgages, all kinds, will also be increasing effective April 1st.

If they don’t get you going, Mr. Editor, they get you coming.
Provision for Sunday shopping also breezed through without too much debate. As Dr. Gibbons pointed out, times sure have changed. Ten years ago, the then Opposition PLP were dead set against. But as Ms. Cox observed those opposed for religious reasons have "sort of accepted it, without a lot of hoopla".

Backbencher Wayne Perinchief lauded the initiative. It was about time, he said, as Sunday shopping would take Bermuda from "a sleepy backwater of commerce into the 21st Century" and was just the kick-start businesses need to put some sizzle and pop into tourism.
That all sounded very nice, Mr. Editor, until we got to the next item on the agenda, Government Fees. If you want to open on Sunday it is going to cost you: $320.00 more a year if you are a small business with less than 2500 square feet of floor space, and $1,000 a year for those over 2500 square feet. There is also a single day flat rate of $80.

There is, Mr Editor, a price to everything.

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This time it's in the UK's The Independent with an article (no subscription needed) and an editorial (subsciption required).

There's a couple of minor errors (policemen in white knee socks & neglects to point out that the Chief Justice is also a Governor's appointment) and a more optimistic tone for the prospects of Independence than other reports and commentaries, but it's an interesting read that has apparently been picked up by the Belfast Telegraph as well.

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RG Opinion (Mar. 16, 2005)

Bermuda: The Isles of Hypocrisy

If the Bermuda Independence Commission has been tasked with coming up with potential names for an independent Bermuda they might want to consider “The Isles of Hypocrisy”.

At times it’s difficult to find the words to adequately illustrate the duplicity and double-speak of this Government. Thankfully though, with respects to the recent land policy change and the Trimingham’s real estate sale… well, it’s not necessary. The words of our esteemed Cabinet Ministers more than suffice.

The recent land policy change, we were told loudly and proudly by Labour Minister Randy Horton, was designed “to preserve undeveloped land, commercial property and the majority of the housing stock for Bermudian ownership”, and that “over the years, more and more land has gradually been sold away to non-Bermudians. It is time to turn off the tap”.

At the time, Mr. Horton’s typically high-decibel levels were presumably intended to convey a passion for, and unwavering commitment to, protecting Bermudian real estate from foreign ownership. Today, it seems more like a shallow pre-emptive strike against the coming criticism following the Government’s immediate violation of their very own brand spanking new policy. That tap wasn’t off for long was it?

The Government now finds itself desperately trying to explain away their astounding hypocrisy in handing over the landmark Bermudian Trimingham’s property – the most prestigious of the commercial properties Mr. Horton had just vowed to protect, and the heart of our retail and tourist shopping experience – to a huge non-Bermudian corporation, after berating us all for selling out Bermudian real estate.

So back in Parliament, only seven days later, we were hearing that “the Bank of Bermuda is a local company”, that “an alliance exists between the bank and global banking giant HSBC” and that “one reason permission was given for the move was because economic control would be retained in the hands of Bermudians”, (not direct quotes) as reported in The Royal Gazette.

It’s much easier to find those words now: incompetent, manipulative, misleading, hypocritical and dishonest, seem appropriate.

Government could argue, maybe successfully, that the recent real estate policy change was the right decision. They could also argue, again maybe successfully, that the decision to allow a special exemption for HSBC to acquire the Trimingham’s properties was the right decision. But you can’t argue both at the same time.

Evidently the Finance Minister and the Premier are aware of that impossibility, so they didn’t try. Instead they presented us with a simple choice?

Either both Mr. Scott and Ms. Cox, who authorized HSBC’s acquisition of Bermudian property, suffer from severe short term memory loss, are horribly misinformed, or they “misled you because we had to”, to borrow a convenient turn of phrase.

To describe HSBC’s Bank of Bermuda subsidiary as a “local company” would be a legally correct statement. It would also be a completely dishonest attempt to obscure the practical reality.

HSBC’s slogan might be “the world’s local bank”, but the Bank of Bermuda is by no means Bermudian owned and controlled. And that is okay. But let’s not pretend it is still a ‘local’ firm.

Ms. Cox’s most egregious statement however would be her description of the relationship between HSBC and the Bank of Bermuda as an “alliance”. An alliance is what happens on reality shows like Survivor at Tribal Council, not corporate boardrooms. In the real world – no, not MTV’s The Real World, I mean the one where we non-Cabinet Ministers operate – the relationship is referred to as “ownership and control”.

Because of a decision the PLP took several years ago – one that both Ms. Cox and Mr. Scott participated in – The Bank of Bermuda is now a wholly owned subsidiary of one of the largest multi-national banking corporations in the world, headed by an entirely non-Bermudian board and almost entirely non-Bermudian shareholders.

Perhaps it was that obvious and undeniable truth that encouraged Government members to avoid using the name “HSBC” in Parliament, preferring instead the more familiar and Bermudian sounding “Bank of Bermuda”, notwithstanding the fact that HSBC has made it clear that the old name will disappear after 5 years – it’s already disappeared from your “Bank of Bermuda” credit cards.

It might also seem comforting on the surface, to know that the CEO of The Bank of Bermuda is a well-respected Bermudian businessman, Mr. Phillip Butterfield. Presumably this is what Ms. Cox was grasping at when she said that approval was given because the property “would remain in the hands of Bermudians”.

But that claim displays either a profound ignorance or a colossal dishonesty on her part? If Ms. Cox returned to reality, at least briefly, she’d discover that Mr. Butterfield is simply the manager of one of the hundred-plus HSBC branches worldwide, who answers entirely to a non-Bermudian management, and could be replaced with a non-Bermudian or re-assigned elsewhere at any time. Mr. Butterfield may be a major player in Bermuda, but he’s just one CEO of many in the vast HSBC Empire.

The Premier and his Finance Minister’s duplicitous statements are worthy of at least a retraction, an apology and potentially resignations if they were genuinely unaware that they’d just handed the heart of our local retail district to a foreign corporation.

Pick your poison: hypocrisy, ignorance, incompetence, negligence or dishonesty. Maybe even all of the above.

Welcome to The Isles of Hypocrisy.

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All my opposition to Independence was eliminated today by the outrageous behaviour of our colonial occupying power.

I just can't tolerate living under a repressive regime who would have the nerve to bump my Tuesday Royal Gazette column, all for Liz's warm and fuzzy Commonwealth Day mesage.

And if they double up and put me below that Limey again, as they did last week, I'll go nuclear, or 'nucular' as George Bush would say.

Disband the Bermuda Independence Commission. I'm on board. Forget a referendum. Don't even bother with an election. After this behaviour we should just declare it a done deal so that I can resume my regular Tuesday whining without such a rude interruption.

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Isn't being 'Technically Insolvent' like being partially pregnant?

I always thought it was a binary thing. Ones or zeros.

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Reader Mail:

In the last three weeks alone:

1. Former cabinet minister admits receiving $200,000.00 in commissions for lobbying her own government for business on behalf of a private company;

2. Government changes rules regarding Bermudians selling land to non-Bermudians, whilst concurrently approving the purchase of Bermuda's most prominent retail space by a foreign purchaser;

3. Finance Minister lies to the House of Assembly, saying that control of Bermuda's most prominent retail space will be 'in the hands of Bermudians';

4. Premier and Minister of Works & Engineering deny allegations of financial woes relating to BHP, only to hastily recall a press conference to admit the allegation some two days later, when it is obvious that the press will break the story the following day.

These guys must be on to some kind of record, surely?

Well said.

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It's not often that the elected leader of a country and another Minister are exposed as outright liars, to their faces, on live radio, complete with the Government's own indisputable documentation.

But it happened on Friday night in Parliament when Maxwell Burgess, baited Premier Scott and Ashfield DeVent into denials over the financial status of the housing development at Southside, and then exposed them as liars.

That's made for TV stuff, unfortunately Parliament isn't televised. Now you know why not.

Mr. Burgess knows how to play ball PLP-style.

And as the RG article explains, Burg outflanked the PLP by producing the Government commissioned KPMG report on BHP, and refused to table it as they'd have hoped.

Because the Speaker, who does as he's told by the Government, would have thanked Mr. Burgess, and then turned around at the Government's direction and let the Government table it themselves, leaving it on the orders and undebatable forever, just like the Premier is doing with the BHC reports.

"The report risked becoming part of the Government censorship programme," said Mr. Burgess.

The RG article makes for great reading:

On Friday night Mr. Burgess went further and revealed the project was technically insolvent and the principal person behind it had walked away and was demanding a $730,000 pay-off.

Premier Alex Scott accused Mr. Burgess of putting out rumour and challenged him to confirm the claims. However Mr. Burgess challenged Mr. Scott to deny the story.

When Mr. Scott again said Mr. Burgess was putting out innuendo Mr. Burgess produced the KPMG report with a flourish and said: "There’s the proof right here."

He ignored requests by the Government and Speaker to table the document for the House to debate later and said he would give it to The Royal Gazette.

Yesterday Mr. Burgess said he had gone this route because tabling it can allow Government to suppress debate for months until they finally set time to debate it.

"The report risked becoming part of the Government censorship programme," said Mr. Burgess.

He questioned why Government could hold a Press conference on Sunday morning admitting something they were not prepared to confirm on Friday night.

Now all of a sudden talks were well advanced with BLDC said Mr. Burgess. "When did they do that? On Saturday morning?

"If I didn’t have the report it was the intention of the Premier to have the country believe what I said wasn’t true.

Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, the Bermudian edition, coming soon in paperback.

Anywhere else there'd be resignations. Don't hold your breath.

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Mid Ocean News (11 Mar. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Sparring brings lively end to a dreary day

LISTENERS must have been wondering, Mr. Editor, but, no, it wasn't Friday Night at the Fights live from Number One Shed. Rather we were in the House on the Hill when verbal fisticuffs broke out on the emotion to adjourn.

Our in-House advocate for seniors, Mrs. Louise Jackson, a senior herself Mr. Editor, rose at the end of another long day of tedious debate on the Government Budget (see below) to again complain about the increases in rent for those seniors living on Bermuda Housing Trust properties.

It was a cause about which members of the Government didn't want to hear, again – and for obvious reasons. Mrs. Jackson quickly found herself under attack and both she and the Speaker were besieged and beset by shouts and cries of Points of Order from the Government benches.

PLP MPs Renée Webb and Jennifer Smith were particularly vociferous and accused Mrs. Jackson of all manner of parliamentary sins – misleading the House, repeating herself, and/or imputing improper motives.
Speaker Stanley Lowe found he had his hands full – and it weren't easy, Mr. Editor. There are no neutral corners in a parliamentary ring. But Jeez Louise, did Mrs. Jackson ever hold her ground. She took all of her 20 minutes – we only get 20 minutes each on the emotion to adjourn, Mr. Editor – and once again castigated Government for what they are failing to do to help seniors.

The sparring didn't stop there either. There followed a spirited attack and counter-attack by the PLP – and that's putting it pleasantly, Mr. Editor – not to mention rejoinder and defence by the UBP as members went toe to toe, so to speak.

It was, to say the least, a lively end to an otherwise dreary day of debate. Meanwhile, of all the parliamentary rules that were employed that night, members on the attack seemed to have forgotten the one that counts for far more, inside and outside the House, namely The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And that's the rule the seniors are most interested in, eh Wheezie?

The way it is

I HATE to say I told you so, Mr. Editor, but I did. The predictable script continued when Minister Randy Horton delivered his briefs on Police & Corrections, Fire Services, and Immigration Labour & Training: I mean the portfolio alone tends to suggest we were going to be in for a long one.

As it was, the Opposition left off the Registry General, Defence and Security Services and Delegated Affairs which also come under this Minister's umbrella. Mind you, we did also give the selected items (heads, we call them in parliamentary parlance) a total of eight of the 42 hours set side for debate on the departmental votes (more parliamentary parlance for approving what's been set aside).
It still didn't work out too good for us, Mr. Editor – if you'll pardon the expression.

The Minister took three and a half hours of the four hours allotted Police and Corrections (Michael Dunkley got 28 minutes in reply for the Opposition, Pat Gordon Pamplin two minutes); 48 minutes on the Fire Services (Michael Dunkley and Jon Brunson shared the remaining 12 minutes); and two and a half hours on Labour, Immigration & Training (Pat Gordon Pamplin got the remaining half hour).

It improved slightly on Youth Sport & Recreation when Minister Dale Butler declined to take the whole three hours and left an hour and 15 minutes for others to comment: His Shadow Jon Brunson took just over an hour followed by Glenn Blakeney who snuck in for five minutes in a rare appearance by a Government backbencher.

Time is so tight that when the allotted time is up, it's up. Questions asked remain questions unanswered. The gavel comes down and we move on. That's the way we do the business of the Budget on the House on the Hill.

Reading right along

THE reading rate didn't improve much on the Monday. Works & Engineering Minister Ashfield DeVent took three and a half hours to work his way through a Ministerial tome (scrap briefs, Mr. Editor, they are anything but) to engineer it so that everyone else only got an hour and a half.

The Minister claimed later in the day to have gone to great pains to share with us all that was going in his Ministry. How right he was. The pains were all ours. Meanwhile, as for the two hours of the rest of the day's debate – we set aside seven a day – it featured a reading performance by Minister Walter Lister standing in for Health & Social Services Minister Patrice Minors, who is still out on maternity leave.
But he did give the Shadow Michael Dunkley just short of equal time for comment and reply. What was most interesting is that at one stage of the latter debate, a quick count showed that the civil servants in attendance – who numbered nine – outnumbered the MPs in the Chamber. One presumes, Mr. Editor, that they didn't have a choice.

A quid pro what?

MONOTONY on the Hill gets broken with the occasional legislation. It typically comes at the end of the day after members have endured more than their fair share of monologues, if they have been able to stick it out.

Debate on bills can make for a more lively interchange, even if it is between the Finance Minister Paula Cox and her Shadow, Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons. One such occasion occurred when Minister Cox piloted through amendments to the Public Treasury (Administration and Payments) Act: Okay, okay, I can see eyes glazing over already.
But this was interesting, Mr. Editor. Really. Ms Cox referred to the legislation as a part of "good governance, good housekeeping and accountability". It puts in place a set of rules to govern money which is given to the Bermuda Government.

Yes, that's right given, willingly, voluntarily, Mr. Editor. By whom? Good corporate citizens, we were told. Like HSBC Bank of Bermuda which is apparently giving the Government of Bermuda $1,000,000.00 for "the emergency housing initiative".

Eyebrows were understandably raised, and questions asked by inquiring minds (Read the Opposition, Mr. Editor). Minister Cox denied that there was "any quid pro quo" going on here (and you don't need to know Latin, Mr. Editor, to understand that point), or that there were any preconditions attached to the "donation".

Instead, Minister Cox described it as "corporate largesse" and suggested that it was part of being a good corporate citizen in Bermuda. Makes you wonder then, Mr. Editor, whether the cost of doing business in Bermuda just went up: Few will forget that being a good corporate citizen can rate businesses brownie points with the Department of Immigration.

Mind you, we also learned that this legislation won't actually govern donations like that of the HSBC Bank of Bermuda as the rules are only for "bequests or donations to the Government of Bermuda that do not have any specified purposes".

No specified purpose, just an out-and-out donation? Yes, said the Minister, "and there have been talks with some corporate bodies who are interested in making contributions but do not want the money going into the Consolidated Fund".

Really?

Well, we'll just have to stay tuned for developments. While the Act does call for an annual report on the Fund, the only requirement is that it be shared with the Legislature "as soon as practicable", no earlier.

I don't know about you, Mr. Editor, but that doesn't sound to me like a strong formula for transparency and accountability.

Wouldn't you know it?

IT isn't easy maintaining interest during the tedium of the Budget Debate, but there are ways. Try this one, for instance, Mr. Editor, a kind of parliamentary version of Trivial Pursuit. Did you know that:
q The number of Bermudians who have applied for British passports since the opportunity arose some two and half years ago is now 6,000 and counting. Minister responsible for Immigration, Randy Horton, also told us the turnaround time on applications is now three and a half weeks.

The travel budget for the Cabinet Office is forecast to be $6,000 down on last year's estimate of $375,000, a two per cent dip which the Premier was pleased to point out during the Budget Debate. "Must be all those frequent flyer miles kicking in now", came the quick observation from the Opposition benches.

The average attendance of Opposition members is reported to be up; Government down. According to "output measures" in the Budget estimates for the Legislature, the average attendance of Opposition MPs ran at 97 per cent last year, up from 86 per cent the year before. Government MPs dropped from 90 to 86.5 per cent over the same period. The trouble with these stats, Mr. Editor, is that you only have to show up for the day (and not stay) to get recorded as present. But aside from the Whips, who's keeping track anyway? The number of meetings of the House on the Hill also dropped year over year from 35 to 30 and so far this year we are on track for less than 30. Also down were the number of Bills from 45 to 24. I presume, Mr. Editor, that you are starting to get a picture?

We're all familiar on how we pride ourselves on being a stable community. Well, how is this for stability? The Registry General reported in the Budget Estimates – again under so-called output measures – that births, deaths and marriages remained pretty constant year over year: Births totalled 834, up slightly from 827; deaths 431 to 449; and marriages, 861 from 857. Divorces, you ask? For that we had to turn to the Judicial vote where we learned that the number of divorce cases filed were down but only slightly from 245 to 229. Add predictable then, Mr. Editor, to stable.

Government is projecting revenue of $4.2 million for sales in water for the current financial year ending March 31. Nevertheless the Minister urged people in Bermuda to do all they can to conserve. Global supplies are dwindling and it's getting critical, he said, as he took another long drink of water. The Opposition challenged him to do his bit: "Speak less, Minister. Drink less".

A watershed moment, Mr. Editor? No.

More water under the bridge? Yes.

Until next week then . . .

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Via the Pondblogger:

The UN's Special Committee on Decolonization announces visits to Bermuda for March 28-31 and May 30-June 4.

i-Newswire, 2005-03-12 - The Special Committee on Decolonization this morning made arrangements for an upcoming United Nations special mission to assist the people of Bermuda in making an informed choice regarding their future status. It also made plans for a regional seminar in the Caribbean in May.

more ...

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The Bermuda Indoctrination Commission, er I mean Bermuda Independence Commission, has a website, through the government portal.

It doesn't appear to be linked anywhere through Government's main site and I don't believe has been publicly announced, but it does exist, albeit with limited information at this stage.

Note the memorable URL. It's good to see they even have their own slogan and logo.

Chairman of the Commission Rev. Lambe has an introductory letter that was released to the media, that tries to sound impartial but is riddled with a clear pro-position, such as:

"Firstly, because an Omnibus Survey, a syndicated quarterly survey of Bermuda residents June 2004, clearly indicates a strong interest for more information on the subject of independence. We will provide that information and quench that thirst for knowledge."

Thirst for knowledge? Strong interest? That's more than a little misleading, and indicates that Rev. Lambe has adopted Alex Scott's talking points, without pointing out the overwhelming ambivalence and outright opposition to independence in these very same polls.

He goes on:

"Every country has the inalienable right to self determination in terms of its constitutional destiny. That right has been affirmed to us by the UK Government. Its time to exercise it and put to rest the question on independence pro and con."

Time to exercise it? Well, that sounds like a preference to me, even though the next sentence says:

Therefore, we envision that at the conclusion of this exercise we shall have provided this community with the necessary formal and appropriate information to address the decision on independence.

If you think Alex Scott will allow this committee to present a report that isn't overwhelmingly in favour of independence, then the Causeway is still for sale. I'm accepting offers.

Anyway, there isn't much on the site yet, but I'll see if I can track down the first report which was recently tabled in Parliament, but apparently doesn't add much new to the age-old debate.

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Parliament's back in today to conclude the Budget debate. I'll be waiting for the Motion to Adjourn which will be more informative - can you say Trimingham's/HSBC.

Unless of course you enjoy listening to Ministers read long 'briefs' written by their civil servants.

Today's Budget Schedule is as follows:

10AM to 12PM - Head 32: Planning

12PM to 12.30PM - Head 17: Education

2PM to 6.30PM - Head 17: Education

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From Reuters:

163-year-old Bermuda department store to close

HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Bermuda's oldest and best-known department store, in business since 1842, is closing and taking around 220 jobs with it.

Trimingham Brothers, which has seven stores across the British mid-Atlantic territory, blamed a decline in tourist spending, residents shopping overseas and rising business costs for the decision.

Its tourist landmark store on Front Street in Hamilton is being bought by Bank of Bermuda, a unit of global banking giant HSBC Holdings Plc, for an unspecified redevelopment.

The decision to close in July comes after a buy-out of retail rival Smith's last year failed to increase profits.

Former perfume department assistant buyer Ronnie Chameau, who worked for the company for more than 30 years, said she broke down in tears when she heard the announcement on Tuesday.

"It's a real family to me and they were so good to me. I loved my Trimingham's."

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RG Opinion (Mar. 09, 2005)

Could we have a perfectly balanced equation?

Friday’s Motion to Adjourn was a particularly unpleasant display, even as Bermuda’s Parliamentary ‘debate’ goes. The embarrassing scene began when the United Bermuda Party’s Louise Jackson rose to turn up the pressure cooker that is the Bermuda Housing Trust (BHT), and the treatment of our seniors by the PLP Government.

Somewhere among the insults, the vitriol and the raised voices, was a peek into the current state of both political parties

Former Premier Jennifer Smith, responding to Ms. Jackson, delivered probably the most insightful speech. The rebuttal was short, shrill (the House and Grounds committee might want to check for hairline cracks in the windows), and dwelled entirely on the past.

The Deputy Speaker reminded Parliamentarians of the causes which the PLP had effectively championed during their 30 plus years in Opposition. She went on to point out how this pressure resulted in successive UBP Governments adopting these ideas as their own.

Ms. Smith’s point is well taken, although not unique to Bermuda or the past. Governments worldwide tend to act as much as a result of pressure tactics, as they do because of a great vision or foresight. Visionary Government’s don’t come along often, although that is what many had hoped for after the 1998 election.

What Ms. Smith and her colleagues don’t realize – or choose to ignore – is that this same dynamic is at work today, only in reverse. The PLP Government is frequently forced to act because of pressure and advocacy by the Opposition, community groups and individuals.

In other cases however, where you’d expect to see a little compassion from a progressive party, they refuse to budge, or worse still act in contravention of the party’s supposed core values, the BHT serving as the latest example.

The recent taxpayer funded focus groups would suggest that the PLP is aware that they’ve lost the connection with those they purport to represent from the grass-roots up, they’re out of touch and have squandered the support of a generous public.

Ms. Smith’s history lesson highlighted a tragic irony: the PLP are resorting to the trumpeting of their past successes as an opposition as a replacement for their current performance.

The UBP members have been quick studies and are using these tactics well, bringing substantial pressure to bear on critical issues. The tables have been turned, but the PLP haven’t likewise raised their game when on the receiving end of their own tactics.

The PLP’s effectiveness as an Opposition – a pressure group – might also be their Achilles heel? Could the very traits that made them a successful Opposition party be retarding them as an effective Government?

This opposition style is so ingrained that they’re unable to transcend confrontation with entirely avoidable crises over crime, housing, seniors, education and healthcare for example?

Indeed, if you listen regularly to Parliamentary debate and follow the speeches of the PLP closely, you’ll note an inability to move out of the past. After 7 years you’d expect to be hearing about the advancement of a progressive social policy in their time as Government, not credit-taking for the UBP years and a last ditch effort at patching together a social agenda.

It is evident that the PLP are effective at advocacy but ineffective at implementation. But could the UBP be the counter balance to this equation?

After all, UBP Governments have, by the PLP’s own admission, successfully implemented PLP identified issues alongside their own. This argument implicitly acknowledges that the PLP haven’t achieved the same level of success as a government, as they did as an opposition. If that was the case surely they’d be touting those.

History – and Jennifer Smith’s own words – suggests that the UBP has been more effective at following through on PLP ideas than the PLP themselves. Couple that with the UBP’s current seven year experience as an Opposition, where they’ve refocused and re-connected with the public, and you might just have a UBP Government-in-waiting that is less in need of that historical PLP pressure.

In fact, if you’ve been paying attention to the UBP’s critiques, throne and budget replies, you’ll notice that they don’t just criticize, they follow-up that criticism with their own plan.

Could we have a perfectly balanced equation? Could Bermuda be best served with a PLP pressure group (Opposition) prodding the UBP (Government) towards public policy implementation?

Have the supposed adversaries been bringing out the best in each other for the betterment of the community all along? Is it time to reset the equation?

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After some extensive digging last night and this morning it seems like the rumour that a 60/40 request was denied by Government is almost certainly not the case as it was not requested. It also seems unlikely that there is much truth in the Federated Department stores takeover rumour.

But, the hypocrisy of giving away the real estate to a foreign corporation, HSBC, is astounding after the recent chest-beating about the land policy change.

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A number of people have emailed me with a similar comment, namely that denying a 60/40 exemption for Trimingham's (if that occurred) has the result of moving prime Bermudian real estate into the lap of a foreign corporation (HSBC). Unless of course HSBC has a local subsidiary for their real estate portfolio, which could very well be the case.

Would this be preferable to allowing a majority stake and securing the Bermudian jobs and other economic benefits? It's a good question and one the PLP will no doubt have to answer.

I suspect this will get taken up in Parliament tomorrow, most likely on the Motion to Adjourn, after the Budget debate concludes for the day. The budget schedule concludes at 6:30 if you're interested in listening in on AM 1230.

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It's now confirmed that Triminghams/Smiths is winding up their operations after 163 years in business. The staff have been informed and the Bank of Bermuda will acquire the building for redevelopment.

This is a sad day for Bermuda, on so many levels, and speaks to the challenges that we face and that all is not well in our economy.

Bermuda without Triminghams. Imagine that.

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Ok, looks like the necessary change has been made to my domain name so the site will roll back to Feb 24th temporarily until I import the posts since then at my old host (that you've been viewing from recently).

Sorry for all this. The change will take 24 - 48 hours to be completely rolled out across the Net.

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Well it looks like I wasn't too far off really in all cases, they might be forced to close because Government won't waive the 60/40 rule so that Federated (one of their US suppliers) can acquire a majority stake. From a reader after an annoucement by Triminghams:

"Latest on the Trimingham's hotline: they have been trying to restructure by an acquisition of a majority stake/total buyout by their American supplier, Federated. They have been to Government to get a waiver of the 60/40 rule, but Government has refused. There will be a meeting of all staff upstairs in No.1 shed this evening: Trimingham's were not expecting the news to leak out as fast as it did and, obviously, they have staff on their hands who are climbing the walls trying to find out what's going on. So, they will be spilling the beans this evening. Not sure whether the announcement will involve closure or ongoing attempts to restructure. Problem is: apparently, Federated is only intrested in majority stake."

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Well, from a little well-informed feedback that I've received it seems that closure, not an acquisition is the most likely outcome for Triminghams.

If this is indeed the case the consequences will be huge. Hundreds of people will be out of work, not to mention the death of a Bermudian institution.

This can't be good, and whatever government can do to assist the workers and try and mitigate the consequences of this, they should. This will have severe economic, tourism, jobs and confidence implications.

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Here's another outsiders view of Alex Scott's independence push, from Caribbean Net News. It's pretty even-handed, although there's at least one error. Most notably:

A poll conducted last month in Bermuda revealed that 65% of those polled are against independence and only 35% are for it. The views expressed in the poll are based largely on very politically charged arguments made by both the ruling PLP and the main opposition, the United Bermuda Party (UBP).

The last polls indicated about 65% against, but the remaining 35% were both for and undecided.

But on balance, and setting that error aside, the commentary seems pretty fair. The last 3 paragraphs struck me as particularly relevant to the debate:

"After all, becoming an independent nation is no trifling matter for a small state regardless of how relatively prosperous it might be. Caribbean and Pacific small states can readily attest to the high and increasing costs of maintaining security and participating in international affairs, as well as to the lack of human resources to carry out the tasks.

Not surprisingly, the member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), even though they are doing so as a ‘Community of Sovereign States’ are moving toward streamlining the functioning of independence in their individual and collective interest.

If years of experience has taught CARICOM countries that ‘going it alone’ is not a viable option in today’s global community, Bermudans should be given the right of a referendum to choose their path. And, they should be fully informed of all the benefits and pitfalls that surround the question of independence on which they are asked to decide."

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I haven't yet read today's RG who could be all over this story, so I'm going blind on this but:

I've heard from several pretty reliable sources that Triminghams's, Bermuda's flagship retail franchise, is in serious financial trouble. It seems that they're either in the process of being sold to a non-Bermudian corporation, or the other alternative would be to shut their doors.

I caught the tail-end of a VSB evening news report last night that hinted that a major announcement is imminent, and that Cabinet has discussed the issue. I'm speculating here but if Cabinet have been involved I've got to wonder if they're considering waving the 60/40 ownership rule to allow a non-Bermudian corporation to buy them out.

If this indeed is true, the implications will be far-reaching. We'll surely see layoffs, lost tax revenue and a loss of what little confidence remains in retail among others. Just imagine if you were a tourist and came to a Bermuda without Triminghams. Triminghams isn't just a store, it's the heart of our local retail industry and a long-standing tourist 'destination' of sorts.

Perhaps one of the first signs that things weren't going well was last year's on-off-on deal to acquire Smith's as well as this story in Friday's Bermuda Sun. It seemed odd that Trimingham's would not respond to questions about whether they would open for Sunday shopping.

The question might just be will they be open at all?

We'll have to watch this develop.

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More good publicity in our sole economic pillar in this month's edition of Risk and Insurance. I can see Dublin, Caymans and everywhere else rubbing their hands with glee:

Whichever method is chosen, Bermuda's international companies do not want independence. In an extraordinary departure from protocol, the Association of Bermuda International Companies (ABIC) wrote Premier Scott late last year to express its doubts on independence, saying it offered "almost no positives" and "a number of potential negatives." ABIC called for a referendum on the issue after wide consultation and cautioned the premier against forcing independence on Bermudians.

ABIC's contribution to the debate was loudly frowned on by the PLP intelligentsia. By tradition, Bermuda's international companies never say a word in public about the way Bermuda is run, other than to provide input on proposed legislation. The fear that independence might sour the atmosphere for insurance, banking and trust is endemic among the foreign business community.

"What Bermuda chooses to do is entirely its own business," the CEO of a major company says, on condition of anonymity. "However, if what Bermuda chooses to do endangers the security of the insurance companies, you can be damned sure that the insurance companies will have an opinion, and they will want to make it heard."

Saying that he had discussed the matter privately with Premier Alexander Scott, the CEO admitted that his company had a plan to relocate to Dublin, should matters in Bermuda turn against the vast army of corporate interests. "We've had that plan since the day we started in Bermuda, and we have a similar plan in every other jurisdiction in which we operate," he added. "It would be irresponsible not to."

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I'm playing catch-up after having some technical issues for the past couple of days, as well as still trying to get our ever efficient Bermuda Government to make the most simple of changes to my domain name record, so I can take my site live at its new location.

So that's my mission for today. Bureaucrat hell. It shouldn't have to be like this. If this was a .com this would have been done weeks ago, by myself in seconds online.

But not here. Here it takes a fax, yes a fax, plenty of emails and evidently a couple of phone calls as well. And we call ourselves an ecommerce jurisdiction.

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During the 2004 US Presidential election, we constantly heard about the threat that a President John Kerry would be to Bermuda - due to his focus on offshore jurisdictions and tax havens (for lack of a better term).

But I always thought that was a very simplistic look at it. Democrats tend to be wedded to a complicated income tax system which they wanted to make more complicated to deal with places like Bermuda. Although they clearly didn't understand the Bermuda market. And the more complicated a tax code is the more attractive somewhere with a simple sensible one becomes.

I didn't subscribe entirely to that that view, because I've always believed that the biggest threat to Bermuda's international business sector is a simplified and consumption based system of taxation, similar to ours, and exactly what Republicans and Bush want.

I maintain that Republicans, despite their more free trade business friendly bent, would pose a bigger threat to Bermuda through a rewrite of the US tax code.

And today, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said exactly that in Congressional testimony.

Granted this will take time to implement, and Greenspan pointed out the complicated transitional issues, but a simplified consumption based tax system would almost certainly move our reinsurance industry back on-shore (or off-shore to us).

Because as oblivious and invincible as we might feel, all we have to offer at the end of the day is a sensible system of taxation that happens to be advantageous for writing high severity low frequency insurance products, which is the foundation of our economy. The other financial products play around the fringes.

We'd do well to watch this closely. And if you thought the Social Security battle in the US is going to get ugly, removing income tax would be the mother of all left vs right battles.

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Apparently the necessary changes have been made to my domain name with BermudaNIC, so that you'll be pointed to my new host - once the changes have replicated around the web's DNS servers.

So you might temporarily see the site roll back a few days to 25 Feb., but I'll reimport those posts and be back up and running soon enough.

So I'll be going quiet for a day or two.

Yes, I know. Be thankful for small mercies.

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COHA, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, has released its second report on Independence for Bermuda.

After the mini-brouhaha that erupted after the first report was released, which was written by a research associate (aka intern), COHA Director Larry Birns has himself written the latest analysis.

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Wayne Furbert (UBP)I love Wayne Furbert, he's a good friend. But what was he thinking sending this in as a press file photo?

It's almost as bad as that heavenly white backgrounded glamour shot of former Premier Jennifer Smith that used to hang at the airport arrivals hall.

I'm going to give him endless grief over this. I can't wait.

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The headline writers at RG take the glass half full approach today with this headline:

'More than 240 homes planned'

Me, I'd have gone the other way with:

'7 years later, 240 homes not built'

But that's just me.

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