May 2005 Archives

Mid Ocean News (27 May 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

People of this country are entitled to know what's going on, and why

SHORT day, short week, short column, Mr. Editor? Not on your life. It may have been brief last Friday in the House on the Hill but it was explosive. We wanted to move a motion of censure against the Minister responsible for Housing, Ashfield DeVent, on account of his failure to keep his promise to consult with the Mary Victoria/Alexandra Road residents before proceeding with plans to construct more homes in their Prospect neighbourhood.

Here was the motion I was asked to present on behalf of the Opposition: “This House deplores the failure of the Honourable Member Ashfield DeVent in his capacity as the Government Minister responsible for Housing to honour his commitment to consult with the residents of the Mary Victoria Prospect area before proceeding with plans to construct further homes in their neighbourhood, that commitment having been given in a motion approved by this Honourable House on the 8th day of March 2004 and subsequently confirmed by the member himself in a letter to area residents dated March 23rd 2004.”

I was subsequently informed – by telephone before Friday - that the Speaker had reviewed the proposed motion and amended it to the extent that he had deleted the reference to the March 8th motion and the March 23rd letter, but otherwise it was a go.

This is the amended version the Clerk handed to me after proceedings began on Friday: “That this Honourable House deplore the failure of the Honourable Member responsible for Housing to honour his commitment to consult with the residents of the Mary Victoria Prospect area before proceeding with plans to construct further homes in their neighbourhood”.

Yes, Mr. Editor, while reading the motion, I did identify the Honourable Member responsible for Housing as Mr. Ashfield DeVent. But who else, Mr. Editor, were we talking about?

But back to the real issue. This was a motion that the Government moved quickly to kill, first through PLP Whip Mr. Ottiwell Simmons (who was telling us it was unparliamentary and that I should take the matter up privately with the Minister: what a quiet cosy chat with me over tea? It’s the residents whom he needs to speak to, Mr. Editor, not me), followed by the Premier, the Man himself ,aka no more Mr. Nice Guy, who accused me of misleading the House and the public, declaring that the Minister had consulted the residents.

Those were their objections and very quickly the Speaker was suddenly putting the matter to a vote of whether the motion should even be allowed. It struck me that the Government was intent on applying their parliamentary muscle to muzzle a motion which they didn’t like. I struck back. Not just for attention but for explanation.

The people of this country are entitled to know what’s going on – and why.

The way we see it, the Opposition is entitled to bring censure motions against the Government; in fact, you might say it’s the Opposition’s duty to do so where and when warranted. They are after all expressions of disapproval and the opportunity afforded the Official Opposition to bring them on is something of a tradition under the Westminster system. You could look it up, Mr. Editor, in Erskine May, the bible of parliamentary practice, which is what a lot of people have been doing.

We stood our ground – and walked - as the Official Opposition.

We didn’t want people to overlook the reason we brought the motion forward. The promise to consult was made on the floor of the House. It arose out of another one of those stormy debates we had on the Hill back in March 2004. Shadow Minister for Housing Wayne Furbert had brought a motion calling for the rejection of any further building of homes in the Mary Victoria, Prospect area.

It was the Government which changed the motion – through Mr. Simmons, in fact – to a watered-down take note motion: -

“That this Honourable House take note that it is premature to reject any further building development of new homes at Mary Victoria or Alexandra Roads due to the negative impact economically, socially, and psychologically, given that the Minister has clearly indicated that he is prepared to enter into constructive dialogue with the affected stakeholders with a view to effecting a compromise”.

An alert Leader of the Opposition Dr. Grant Gibbons added the words “and in the spirit of compromise will cause the planning application to be withdrawn pending compromise”, to which Minister DeVent agreed.

You could look it up, Mr. Editor. It’s there on the record.

As I remember, the Mary Victoria/Alexandra Road residents went home happy that night. They were expecting “constructive dialogue” with the Minister, and it wasn’t long after that debate that the Minister sent each of them a letter, underscoring his promise: “I will honour my pledge to withdraw the application pending further consultation with you and your neighbours”.

While some have been scrambling to look up the Rules of the House (and that’s a positive development, Mr. Editor), I hope they will also take the time to look up the meaning of “consultation” in their dictionaries. You can be sure, Mr. Editor, that the residents of Mary Victoria and Alexandra Roads know what the word means. Talk to them. Not me. It hasn’t happened and the Minister, who speaks for the PLP Government on Housing, has been called to account for a broken promise… by the Official and Loyal Opposition.

Pearls of wisdom

WHAT no humour? Well, Mr. Editor, this hasn’t exactly been funny. But a sense of humour is important so the last lines on this (for now) go to two constituents of mine whom I happened to see over the weekend.
The first one asked quite matter of factly: “How are you?”
“Not bad”, I replied, “not bad, thank you”.
There was a pause and then this comment with a broad smile: “You referring to your health …or your behaviour … or both?”.
Then after church on Sunday, this pearl of wisdom: “Like my mother used to say, God bless her, you stand up for your rights and lay down for your wrongs”.

Listening closely

EVEN before the event, Friday was shaping up to be an early day, although a handful of Government Ministers did their best to protract proceedings reading into the record prepared pre-packaged Statements – to which you can only listen. Or not. There’s no debate. No questions allowed.
I happened to listen. There was an interesting assortment: -

The Minister responsible for Public Safety Randy Horton reminded us that he had not given a statement for some weeks. True. He made up for it in one fell swoop, with a nine-page sweep of what the Bermuda Police are trying to do to crackdown on crime generally and on increased recklessness on our roads specifically. The police have their hands full.

“There have been over 10,000 incidents in the BPS dispatch system in 2005”, read the Minister, “and the overwhelming majority of those incidents have required Police attendance”.

And?

“Hundreds of those incidents will become protracted investigations that will be brought to a conclusion many months, sometimes years, after initial reporting”.

I add no further comment, Mr. Editor. That about sums it up.

Health Minister Patrice Minors had a five-page statement and a warning on the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse for women during pregnancy. The National Drug Commission – which the PLP have now done away with – had done a survey of 216 pregnant women between the ages of 17 and 46 years over the last three months of 2004. The results have apparently prompted the Ministry to develop a prevention strategy to warn would-be mothers of the risk they run when they choose to smoke or drink – even moderately – during pregnancy.

But neither of them could top Finance Minister Paula Cox who gave a ten-age up-date on business at the Post Office. Or lack of business. There are apparently changes in the offing and there had been a meeting of 200 staff recently at Devonshire Recreation Club. “Change is never easy”, the Minister read to us, “but the process is assisted when you keep the lines of communication open”. ( Couldn’t agree more, Mr. Editor, as would the residents at Mary Victoria, Alexandra Road, but that’s the other story.) We didn’t learn precisely what staff were told at the meeting, but the Minister afforded us some insight with her comments:

* The fact that the GPO is “an unique entity” within the Government stable “in that it has to compete with the private sector as it provides services”; and

* The fact that the GPO is having to compete “in a demanding economic environment” and there is a need to find ways “to provide a faster and more reliable and efficient postal service”.

As a result, we were told that there are some internal changes on the way and that a new senior management structure has been approved. But no details. Presumably like the proverbial cheque, they are in the mail. We get this picture though: The GPO is losing business and money, fast, and something drastic needs to be done to stem the flow.

Making an early day of it

COUPLED with congrats and obits, the Government didn’t get to the Orders of the Day until after noon. There were housekeeping amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (matters which had been overlooked the first time around) followed by Minister Walter Lister’s take note motion on WedCo’s 2004 Annual Report. He was the only member to speak, apparently: I wasn’t there. But what I did find interesting is that Government chose not to adjourn for lunch at 12.30 as we usually do but to rather continue on. What without lunch? No way. Minister Lister kept it brief and they were out of there before one o’clock. The Premier and his troops must have decided to take advantage and make it an early day.

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In one fell swoop French voters today probably dealt the fatal blow to the proposed EU Constitution, and the creative but most-likely short lived 'Eurofication of the Overseas Territories' theory.

Back to the drawing board for all sides I guess.

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It warmed my heart today, while sitting in the public gallery in Parliament, to have Labour Minister Randy Horton pay me a special visit to inquire if I had my pen and whether I'd written next week's Royal Gazette column yet.

I'd have never guessed Minister Horton was a fan. I'm flattered.

To show my gratitude, I'm inviting Mr. Horton to be a founding member of my soon to be announced fan club.

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I went up to the House this morning to catch what the Speaker ruled with regards to the motion blocking and subsequent walkout of last week.

As a couple of school groups filled the gallery I missed the first bit of the ruling, but it appeared that the Speaker conceded that the motion was in order and that he erred in his ruling.

However he did engage in a little theatrics, trying to re-establish his authority with raised voice and podium thumping, while demanding an apology from UBP MP John Barritt.

Mr. Barritt, whose apparent sin was mentioning the Minister by name in the motion, said that he regretted naming the Minister but that it was only to be clear on who the motion referenced. He was then prevented from continuing his statement by the Speaker, who leaped up to hastily proclaim that the "apology was accepted...humbly".

I'm not sure he got the apology he wanted, but clearly Mr. Lowe wanted to put this behind him, accepting the closest thing he was going to get to silence Mr. Barritt.

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RG Opinion (May 25, 2005)

A lesson in absolute power

There are times when even the most overused of overused clichés must be invoked, so here goes: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

On Friday the PLP Government showed their true intentions and went simultaneously for absolute power and huge pay raises.

Only weeks ago, in his televised address, the Premier proudly proclaimed that although his Government could “arguably be justly accused of over-consulting with the public” that he had directed his Ministers “to ensure that consultation continues to be one of the hallmarks of our administration”.

I guess Mr. De Vent missed that meeting. Either that, or the 180 Prospect residents who signed a letter to the Minister protesting his lack of promised consultation are lying.

So not surprisingly, if you’ve been following the long-running dispute between the PLP Government and the Prospect residents, UBP MP John Barritt tabled – or at least attempted to – a motion deploring “the failure of Housing Minister Ashfield DeVent to consult with residents of Mary Victoria and Alexandra Road” – as guaranteed – over the expansion of housing units in the area.

The Premier and the Speaker then embarked on a direct assault on the several hundred residents, the United Bermuda Party and our democracy itself, by blocking – without explanation – the Opposition’s motion, all because it didn’t suit them.

No reason was offered, no rule was produced, just shouts from the Premier that “You’re getting a lesson how!” amid mocking cat calls from the Government backbenches. Then, in a shocking move, the Speaker decided to call a vote on whether the UBP should be permitted to give voice to the concerns of the Prospect residents.

When a governing party – who gained 51% of the vote – decides that the Opposition party – who gained 49% of the vote – doesn’t have the right to participate, our democracy ceases to function.

But just as disturbing as the Government’s attempt to deny a voice to the Prospect residents are the actions of the Speaker.

Speaker Lowe’s complete about face – after previously indicating that the motion was suitable – is simply stunning. Speakers swear to operate with impartiality. Yet Mr. Lowe went along with this anti-democratic move, the strings from his puppet masters clearly evident.

The Speaker, the Premier or anyone else for that matter, are yet to produce one shred of evidence to support their claim that this is within the rules and normal procedure.

This deplorable sequence of events brings to mind that other defining rallying cry of a former PLP Senator: “We don’t care what you think!” Evidently not, disagree “at your peril” it would seem.

There’s substantial precedent, both in Bermuda and other Westminster systems, for motions of censure or no-confidence; the latter designed to force an early election. In fact, just to our north the Canadian Parliament is going through this exact scenario.

But no, not in Bermuda. In the New Bermuda the Government alone decides what can be debated.

Friday’s events were a complete affront to established Westminster Parliamentary process. According to the foremost authority of Parliamentary procedure, Erskine May’s “Parliamentary Process”, there are few circumstances under which members can object to a motion.

These rare exceptions include motions that ‘anticipate’ another pending debate; opposition motions with financial implications; or motions which are mocking in nature. None apply in this case.

To the contrary, the Government is mocking the people of Propsect, deeming them irrelevant and unworthy of Parliamentary representation.

This all feels very, well, Cuban.

Unlike the PLP Government’s Cuban comrades however, we aren’t a one party state, no matter how much the Government might want to “Make it Happen”.

Premier Scott’s comment that “You're getting a lesson now!” is a new low, and that’s saying something. It reveals a willful and intentional disdain for our democratic process and renders insignificant the concerns of hundreds of Bermudians.

This latest escalation in the campaign to stifle any and all voices of reason or opposition – and 49% of the population’s right to Parliamentary representation – is an outrage. It’s also only the latest of many moves in a pattern of hostility for democracy and our democratic institutions.

The list of abuses is long and shameful: There’s the secretive “cultural” agreement with the brutal communist dictatorship in Cuba – which at this stage we can only believe means the importation of Cuba’s single party system; Mr. Scott’s failure, as Works and Engineering Minister, to adequately account for taxpayer funds in the form of the $700,000 bond payment to Pro-Active; the now-Premier’s subsequent call for the replacement of the Auditor, because he had the audacity to state the truth; a myriad of delayed or unreleased financial statements for Government departments or boards; a Deputy Premier and his cohorts who unapologetically misled because they “had to”; and of course the Premier’s stated desire to prevent the public voting directly on the unwanted issue of Independence.

Couple all this with the other move in Parliament on Friday, namely the intended desire of the Government to drastically hike their salaries, and it becomes abundantly clear that this PLP Government is most interested in absolute power, money, and little else.

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Oh, and it seems the PLP are back trying to wrap up the UBP in royalist language:

“The way they acted was absolutely disgraceful and totally inappropriate for Her Majesty’s Opposition,” he said.

I guess that's what Derrick Burgess' juvenile English-accented cat calls across the floor during Friday's motion stand-off were about.

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In the last several days, I've been accosted, by people both known and unknown to me, with opinions on the PLP's blocking of the UBP's censure motion and the UBP's subsequent walking out of Parliament.

What have I learned?

1) If you thought that Bermudians don't pay attention to what goes on in Parliament, then you're wrong.
2) That the public have long memories.

This little skirmish on Friday seems to have captivated the public, probably for a number of reasons.

At some level, discussion of Parliamentary procedure is dull, and not a particularly sexy story. But because the UBP's action was seen as out of character - for them (more on that later) - people have taken notice.

The PLP and the Speaker's attempt to rewrite Parliamentary procedure, make up rules on the fly, and eliminate dissent will have far reaching reverberations, and could very well be the pivotal moment where the PLP over-reached, triggering a public backlash.

Watching this shake-out over the past few days has been interesting. As I mentioned earlier, the public have long memories which is why the UBP's unprecedented action ... for them, has brought attention to this issue.

I was surprised by how many people contacted me to recount one evidently notorious incident in the 90s. Memories of PLP Derrick Burgess walking out on Speaker of the House Earnest DeCouto, slamming the door on his way, are fresh. Apparently the Speaker sent the Sergeant at Arms after Mr. Burgess but he'd already departed.

So when you hear the Premier making these sort of statements, take out the salt:

"“The way they acted was absolutely disgraceful and totally inappropriate for Her Majesty’s Opposition,” he said.

"“They demonstrated a terrible lack of respect for the Speaker and in so doing, broke one of the most crucial facets of traditional parliamentary conduct. I cannot imagine what the uproar would be if I or any member of the Government had behaved in a similar fashion and the Opposition has got to be held to exactly the same standards of behaviour. You just cannot have politicians conducting affairs like that otherwise all you would get is complete anarchy. It was a very dark day for the House and our parliamentary system.”"

For those of us who have fond memories of the PLP as Opposition, we're familiar with their scorched earth tactics - oppose everything was the MO - and to a certain extend they are dealing with the impact of that strategy as a Government.

Which brings me to my next point.

The fact that Mr. Barritt stood his ground, and the UBP walked out, has captured the public's imagination for one simple reason: The UBP, both as Government and Opposition, have been and continue to be very deferential to authority and respect for procedure and process. Dr. Gibbons has already acknowledged the reluctance with which they took the step they did (although it was not an apology), something the PLP would never have done:

"In response, Opposition leader Grant Gibbons admitted his party’s actions had cast the parliamentary system in a very poor light.

"But he insisted nonetheless that the UBP had been forced into drastic action by the agenda of Government, who were attempting to prevent the Opposition from doing its job by cynically blocking an attempt to censure a Minister who 188 Pembroke residents say has broken a promise."

One of the things that this deference has resulted in is a perception that the UBP aren't fighters, and will allow themselves to be walked over by the PLP - who ironically engaged in scorched earth tactics during their 30 years of Opposition.

So by Barritt and the UBP taking the fight to the Government and their puppet Speaker, they have signaled that they aren't going to lay down.

The results of that fighting spirit were evident over the weekend, with the Prospect residents coming to the wicket on the radio talk shows and in print.

I'm sure this was very heart-warming for the UBP, and distressing for the PLP. This is an important moment for the UBP, it confirms that when the public knows that the UBP have got their backs, and will stick their necks out as Barritt and his 13 colleagues did on Friday, they'll have yours.

There are also of course those who are critical of the UBP's actions and apologists for a Government who feel they can silence the elected representatives of 49% of the population.

Some have questioned whether the walk-out was grandstanding, others have claimed it was 'un-Parliamentary' and some just seem to think the UBP should have sat back and allowed the rules to be rewritten with a smile on their faces.

I think this misses a critical issue though. The UBP had no choice but to walk out and not participate in the 'vote' that Speaker Stanley Lowe was orchestrating, let's call if Stanley's Choice.

If the UBP had gone along with this they'd have been negligent, and stupid.

Had that vote proceeded, it would have set a precedent whereby the Government would have veto power over any future UBP motion. That would have been monumentally stupid.

By walking out they stopped that in its tracks and have put the onus on the Speaker and the Government to produce the rule which allows them to block legitimate Opposition motions.

There was no choice here. The UBP acted in the only way they could have.

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I received an email this weekend from former Independent MP and Bermuda Sun columnist Stuart Hayward, with regards to Friday's events in Parliament where the PLP Government moved to prevent the UBP tabling their motion.

VSB radio news this morning had the content of a call from Mr. Hayward on Shirley Dill's radio show this weekend, in which he stated almost verbatim the exact same defense of the PLP and Speaker, and criticism of the UBP, so I feel it appropriate to post the relevant excerpt (unedited) from his email for discussion:

"When a motion is moved, any member can object - no reason is required and no debate on the objection is permitted- and if that objection is upheld by a majority, the motion is not allowed. It's that simple. MP Barritt put forward a motion to which an other member objected."

I don't think Mr. Hayward could be more wrong.

As my friend Khalid Wasi pointed out on Shirley's show, Mr. Hayward's interpretation of procedure would suggest that there is no point in having debate at all. When the Opposition wanted to table a motion the Government can just end it there and then.

That's not how Westminster systems work. Opposition parties have significant scope to operate within Parliament.

Westminster Parliaments work off of a system of rules and precedents, ones the Speaker is admittedly free to disregard if he wants - as occurred on Friday - but that rarely if ever happens.

Mr. Lowe was unable to support his call for a vote with any specific rule, and was completely out of order. He and the PLP have, not the UBP, brought Parliament into disrepute.

The UBP were more than justified in walking out. There was no reason to validate the sham that was about to be perpetrated. They chose the right course of action, as extreme as it was.

Substantial precedent exists, both here and abroad, for oppositions to table 'censure' motions, or others. In Bermuda alone we've had two in the past decade: One by the PLP against then Premier David Saul, and another by UBP MP David Dodwell against Tourism Minister David Allen, who revealed confidential business information of Mr. Dodwell's hotel (if I recall).

In this case it's even more unusual because the Speaker previously approved Mr. Barritt's motion, but during the session changed his story to say that just because he had approved the form of the motion in advance didn't mean that he had to accept it.

I won't even attempt to decifer that one.

Mr. Hayward also suggests that no reason is needed for an objection, and no discussion required, which if it were true, would be very worrying. But I can find nothing to support this interpretation.

In fact, what I have been able to find, in the Parliametary Bible Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice and Procedure says quite the opposite.

Erskine May confirmed my understanding, which is that a member can indeed object to a motion, but on narrow grounds including that the motion has financial implications (for an Opposition); that it anticipates a motion yet to be debated; or that it is mocking in nature for example. But those are objections that have to be substantiated.

The idea that any member can just object to any motion without cause, and a majority can uphold this without debate, flies in the face of the whole Westminster system.

Mr. Hayward concludes by saying that when you're the Government you call the shots, which is true to an extent. But the Speaker isn't part of the Government, he commits to act independently, ceasing to be partisan.

And the issue here is as much about the Speaker as it is about the Premier and the PLP Whip's objections.

If anyone has any further insight, or can provide an example of the rule or procedure that allows the Government to block a Oppositions motion, I'd be very interested.

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Be sure to catch the news this evening for the recap of the rumble, or outright war that erupted in Parliament today.

The UBP attempted to table a censure motion against Ashfield DeVent - for not following through on his promise to consult with the Alexandra Rd. residents - much to the displeasure of the PLP.

No big surprise there.

But what was surprising was that the Speaker, never a shining example of objectivity and even-handedness, proceeded to invoke a rule - of which he couldn't name, and frankly doesn't exist - to disallow this.

At which point Barritt, Moniz et al went, well...justifiably ballistic, and subsequently walked out.

You'll recall that Trevor Moniz and the Speaker had a little skirmish last week, and John Barritt has had some long running issues with the manner the House is being conducted.

Anyway, that's the short version. I didn't catch the UBP's subsequent press conference, but I'm sure this will dominate the news this evening.

Oh, and the PLP tabled a motion to give themselves pay raises, in light of their stellar performance of course.

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Mid Ocean News (20 May 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

POLITICS is a pitch, or can be, Mr. Editor – a constant pitch for the hearts and minds of voters, always assuming, presumably, that their votes will follow. It’s hardly surprising then that pitched battles are a staple feature in the wars of words that break out each Friday in the House on the Hill between loyal members of the Opposition and Government.

We had a dandy on the emotion to adjourn last week. It was late in the evening when Maxwell Burgess (he of silver hammer fame) rose to congratulate the Government for finally awakening to the need to address the problems of black males. He wasn’t speaking tongue in cheek. Maxwell was serious. He was greeted then with some silence from the Government benches, until he reminded an incredulous PLP that he had been calling for a study of their plight for some time now. Silence soon turned to groans and shouts of derision. How dare Maxwell lay claim to an idea the PLP now wanted to claim as their own. The temperature was rising.

Boiling point was reached when Maxwell then brought the hammer down. He said the study was going to end up “a whitewash” if the committee simply confined itself to black males between the ages of 16 and 40 years; the critical years, in his view, were the formative years, and thus the study should be extended to include 10 year olds. The decibels increased too, when Maxwell chided the PLP for patting themselves on the back for initiating the study. “What?”, he declared, “You just woke up to the fact that over 90 per cent of the prison population are black males? Shame.”

Man, Mr. Editor, that did not go down well on the other side. Backbencher Wayne Perinchief was first on his feet in reply. Enraged. He’s on the PLP committee and one of the movers behind the study. The Government MP decried Mr. Burgess’ criticism as “shameful”. It was unacceptable, according to Mr. Perinchief, when a former leader of the UBP and Premier Sir John Swan had identified the problem but the UBP had done nothing. Yes, Sir John had brought the issue to the public’s attention, shouted back Maxwell, but it was the PLP who attacked and vilified Sir John at the time for doing so.

The arguments didn’t end there. Mr. Editor. Emotions were stirred, passions aroused; and if you are looking for the humour in this, there wasn’t any. Period. Incidentally, one of us looked over and saw that the press gallery was empty. For some reason, no reporter from The Royal Gazette was to hand. Simply MIA. But that was no deterrent. The airwaves were still open. So too were the airways of angry members.
PLP backbencher Glenn Blakeney was incensed too. He bemoaned that all the Opposition ever does in the House on the Hill is criticise and complain - all the time, he said - and he accused us of constantly “hurling superlatives” across the floor. I’m not sure if he was trying to be funny or not, especially when he went on to warn listeners and voters to be on the alert for the “hookey pookey rhetoric that comes from the UBP”.

The invective, Mr Editor, can be quite superlative. At times.
But Cole Simons of the UBP was having none of it. He said he had been listening intently and he wanted to express his disappointment with the tone, and the tenor, and the content of the exchanges across the floor. “It hurts my heart”, he confessed. He had a whole different take on the debate and the subject.

MP Simons said he was more concerned about the subliminal message that was being sent out, and continues to be sent out, when it comes to black males. A majority in his view are succeeding and are proving to be good role models. By continuing to focus on the negative, the negative is being reinforced and the positive overlooked. He had done some simple arithmetic in the House while listening to the debate and wondered if members appreciated, for instance, that over half of the members were in fact black males. It was, he thought, a telling statistic.

Rough Justice

ROUGH and raw is just how it gets some times in debate, Mr. Editor. Particularly after a long day. We had spent most of the morning, afternoon, and early evening, on the criminal justice system in Bermuda which, as all of our readers will know by now, has made for some lively debate inside and outside the House on the Hill.

It started with something small and straightforward: Certain areas within Westgate are to be designated as a hospital to provide care and treatment for the criminally insane and/or those adjudged incompetent for trial, but who also happen to be too dangerous to be kept at the secure ward at St. Brendan’s ( sorry, now the Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute). A sign of the new times, Mr Editor?

We then moved on to amendments to the Criminal Code. According to the Minister Randy Horton we were tightening up on provisions which would make it easier for the courts to deal with offenders who breached probation. I almost believed him until he told us of how it was taking up to six months to get probation orders appropriately certified for enforcement. Whatever else it is, that is not a legislative problem, Mr. Editor. Somebody needs to get on with the job.

Opposition MP Trevor Moniz then invited members to take note of the Justice System Review Report and its recommendations, which had been commissioned by Government in February last year and which reported in April. We had been promised an update by Christmas but it had never come. The Opposition had to bring it on.

There were some exciting moments – there always are when it comes to crime and how well it is being tackled. Or not.

One such notable moment came, Mr Editor, when the mover accused Government of failing to recognise the need not just for reform, but for a major crackdown on crime.

This had not been the remit of the report, said Mr. Moniz, but this was the need of the community. Serious and violent crime was on the increase and he referred to the rings of policemen with weapons and flak jackets whom we now see from time to time around the Magistrates Court.

“A set-up”, said Deputy Premier Dr. Ewart Brown by way of objection, but never explaining then ,or at any time later, exactly what he meant.

Mr. Moniz persisted with his point, but Dr. Brown was having one of it. Mr. Moniz could say what he like, said the Deputy Premier, again by way of objection, “but we are not going to bring back B’wana”.
Say what? Mr. Moniz wanted to know and he called on the Speaker to have Dr. Brown withdraw the remark as insulting and unparliamentary language.

Apparently, the remark was not heard by the Speaker.

The skirmish was over. There was no withdrawal. The lines remained drawn and it was back to the trenches.

Taking nothing for Granted

IT takes some doing, Mr. Editor, to score political points during the three minutes members are given for congratulatory speeches, but Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons had a pretty good run at it. He rose to have congratulations sent to newly elected leader in the Caymans, Kurt Tibbetts of the People’s Progressive Movement, whose party had just narrowly won the Government from the United Democratic Party. Dr. Gibbons recounted how corruption, ethical issues and lack of accountability had been some of the key issues and, given the obvious parallels with Bermuda, he was heartened by the result. Ouch.

Those throws of Summer

GOTTA love those Ministerial Statements, Mr Editor. The pick of this week’s crop was the one from Works & Engineering Minister Ashfield DeVent who wanted to report on a number of water conservation initiatives … in the Works, of course. Reading from a prepared script, the Minister warned us: “We will soon be in the throws of summer …”.

I’ll say. In fact, it is starting to look like we are already in the throes of a long drawn out summer session on the Hill. Two weeks into the new session, after eight weeks off, and legislation is barely trickling into the House. The only new pieces we have seen so far are really quite minor and straightforward: the Hospital Designation Order, a couple of Insurance Amendment regulations, and changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Amendment Act, all of it of the good housekeeping variety.

For those of you, who like me, were children of the Sixties:

“There’s something not happening here
Why it is ain’t exactly clear …”

With apologies to Buffalo Springfield, Mr. Editor, stay tuned for more (or less) of what’s going ‘round.

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Pearls of wisdom from the zealots at the UN Decolonialisation bitch and moan session.

Some of my favourites:

"Walton Brown, an expert from Bermuda, drew attention to a disturbing “eurofication” of the OverseasTerritories that was reshaping the very nature of their relationship with the United Kingdom/European Union.

"In practice, it represented integration by stealth and contained two key elements. First, it reclassified all Overseas Territories’ nationals as British citizens."

I've got nothing against Walton Brown but I'm not sure what makes him any more of an expert on decolonialisation than the other 60,000 of us who live here. Who made the 'expert' designation anyway?

Isn't he just another guy with an opinion? Hmmm, that seems familiar.

Then his main objection seems to be the granting of full British citizenship to the Territories. Which is of course a problem because it removed the claim that we were second class citizens, and is probably responsible for the overwhelming opposition to Independence from those who stand to spend the most time under it. Young Bermudians are, according to the polls, overwhelmingly against, up to 84% from 70%. Big surprise.

The sentiment is clearly that the move presents an opportunity, one people resent others wanting to take away from them.

And:

"In recent decades, the language used to describe the colonial reality had been mystified, so that being referred to as OverseasTerritories instead of colonies or dependent Territories removed the colonial reality from the minds of the colonized.

"Similarly, calling the colonizers administering Powers allowed them to maintain their respectability in the community of nations."

Which I found pretty amusing. Because 'Administering Power' isn't particularly relevant with respects to Bermuda. When the UN crowd was down here recently they repeatedly used that term, and it was unfamilliar to me. It felt to me like it was being invoked to try and make people believe that they weren't self-governing, which of course Bermuda is. The UK certainly do retain ultimate constitutional authority, but if they ever abused it to force us to do something we didn't, well we'd just bid them adieu.

Ghast. Horror. We have the real power, they don't.

We make a choice to retain ties because the vast majority of us see practical and pragmatic benefits.

And finally:

"Michael Winfield of the Bermuda Independence Commission said that independence was not a burning issue in that British Overseas Territory, which enjoyed one of the world’s highest standards of living.

"Bermudians were more concerned with issues that affected their daily lives, such as schools and housing.

"Some felt that those issues should be resolved before the independence was broached, while others felt that independence would be a means towards resolving them.

"Noting that racial segregation was much reduced in the Territory, he said that Bermudians of African descent, who made up 70 per cent of the population, would probably tend to associate the idea of independence with the abolishment of slavery and the notion of “free at last”, while those of European descent tended to doubt the Bermudian capability to govern and to nurture the inaccurate idea that if things went wrong they could always call on “Mother England” for help."

I'd take a bit of issue with the last paragraph on Mike Winfield's comments.

What it doesn't say, and maybe he said it but it got lost in the reporting, is that he's atriculating sentiments held by a minority of each racial group - an older minority who still frame independence in the terms of a 1960's battle.

The Bermudians who I associate with, both socially and professionally, of all races, are predominantly in their 20s - 50's. And I don't hear this view. I hear the earlier part of Mr. Winfield's comment, that they would prefer we focus on issues that are directly impacting our lives, and that the change in citizenship has flipped quite a few people.

Young(er) Bermudians in particular see the ability to hold an EU passport as a compelling reason to retain our loose ties with the UK.

But the sentiments of the majority of the population won't deter the UN's Decolonialisation ideologues...because of course they know what's best for us.

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I've currently got house guests, as well as in a busy period at work, so I apologise for the infrequent posting as of late.

I intend to pick up the levels again next week.

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Here's the House Orders for tomorrow's session. I don't have any insight into what will and won't be get taken up, and in what order.

AM 1230 is the location if you want to listen in.

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Mid Ocean News (13 May 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

THEY’RE baaack, Mr. Editor, your MPs in the House on the Hill, refreshed from an eight week recess for what could turn out to be a long hot summer session – if the first day back was any indication. The Man himself - aka the Premier – set the tone when he finally took up his motion on the Auditor General’s special report into the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal (and how special that report is, Mr. Editor) and he told us that he was back ( excuse me, Mr. Editor, but from where is he back?), and that he was no more Mr. Nice Guy (and, aside possibly from himself, Mr. Editor, who has been saying that he was?).

It must be that this new parliamentary posture is a continuation of his performance on TV the night before when he labelled his Government’s critics political mischief makers – and please Mr Editor, don’t remind me that it takes one to know one – knowing full that it was one of his Government’s chief critics that brought the BHC scandal into the sunshine of public scrutiny in the first place.

But wait a minute. This isn’t the story the Premier and his colleagues now want the voters to remember. They’re into a serious rewrite and they’ve got a whole new version which they tried to roll out Friday in the House on the Hill – and, I later learned, at a press conference over lunch. The PR principle (or principal) at play here is not a new one. It’s actually quite old: Tell the story often enough, strongly enough and loudly enough, and maybe people will start to believe it.

The scandal is behind us, they tell you – and with some literary licence this is the new work of fiction they are now trying to sell.

“What was, is not what is”, declared the Premier, leading off the debate. “We’ve fixed the problem and the fix is now in”, he said – an observation which was greeted with roars of approval from members of the Opposition benches with an appreciation for the obviously unintended but nonetheless accurate double entendre.

This was a proud day for the PLP Government. The Bermuda Police had investigated, Scotland Yard too, and no one from the Government had been charged.

Practices, policies and procedures had since been put in place and the Auditor General was now giving the BHC a clean bill of financial health.

There was apparently no fault on the part of the PLP Government or any of their Ministers or any of their appointees. On the contrary, according to the new version of what happened, which the Premier was now spinning: “We found a lot of this when [we took over]”.

Like I said on Friday on the Hill, Mr. Editor, I give them an A for audacity but F, a big F, on credibility.

By now, everyone in Bermuda knows that the investigation got its impetus from the concerns which were first brought to the public’s attention in the House by UBP MP Michael Dunkley.

What was the PLP Government’s immediate response? Denial and harsh words for MP Dunkley who was accused of all manner of nasty things (“venom”, “mud-slinging”, “unsubstantiated allegations” etc. etc.) . Sound familiar?

But more than that, the Minister responsible at the time, Nelson Bascombe, came back with a formal, written statement two days later which now forms part of the House of Assembly record in which, on behalf of the PLP Government, he went with the line that they had found problems but in the past two years had taken corrective action and all was now well. Mr. Dunkley didn’t know what he was talking about. Again, sound familiar?

The Premier and his colleagues had to be reminded of what Mr. Bascombe had actually said on their behalf back then in 2001 when Mr. Dunkley levelled his charges – and I quote, Mr. Editor:

“As regards the allegations of corruption, the PLP Government inherited an organisation that was plagued with rumour, hearsay and innuendo in relation to improprieties on the part of the staff and certain members of the construction industry.

“Under the new management of 2 years ago [ read the PLP - my words not his] one of the challenges has been to root out any substance, where it existed, and to take the appropriate corrective action.”

But give Nelson Bascombe some credit. He didn’t push that line again in the House on the Hill – four years later. In fact, he showed himself to be something of an Admiral for the truth, black patch or not, when he not only deviated from, but spoke contrary to the new script which the Premier was pushing. Instead, the Man Who Was the Minister claimed that he had at the time been misled on the BHC mess and, in turn, had misled the House. The information which he had been given then was, well, wrong. He confessed that he subsequently learned that there were things going on at BHC about which he didn’t know or about which he had been deliberately misinformed. It was the closest that anyone in the PLP came to an apology.

As for the Premier’s claim that there were no proper practices, procedures or policies in place, we didn’t need Nelson to help set the record straight. The Auditor General told everyone who took the time to read his special report that that was not the way it was. This is what he wrote – in plain and simple language anyone which anyone who wanted to understand, could understand: “There has been serious and widespread failure to comply with many of the Housing Corporation’s legislative authorities, administrative polices and control procedures”.

Yet it was the Premier himself who kicked off the debate by lecturing the Opposition on how we should conduct ourselves: “You must not be reckless and smear and capitalise at the expense of the truth”, he said at the outset.

I don’t know about walking and chewing gum at the same time, Mr. Editor, but I do know about chewing more than you bite off. Meanwhile, if you can believe it, one of his Cabinet Ministers, Walter Lister, had the further audacity to chalk it all up to “a good learning experience”.

How many lessons do they need? BHC, Berkeley, Stonington and now Pay for Play – and who is paying for this experience, Mr. Editor? You me and the man over there behind the tree: aka the Taxpayers.

It’s no wonder then the Premier and his Gang want to put the BHC scandal behind them and we in the Opposition want to remind the voters from here to eternity … well maybe at least until the next election.
PS Mr. Editor, I can’t make up my mind on a name for the Gang: Hole in the Wall or The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight ?

Spent Members

AMITYVILLE Horror or Enmityville for the House on the Hill or both? Debate on the motion – it was only the take note variety, no vote required – didn’t start until after lunch and lasted about seven or so hours. The first day back and few had the stomach at nine thirty to launch into the other motion the Opposition initially intended to also take up on the Justice System Report. So that’s been deferred to another day. The two and half hours of the morning had been taken up with lengthy and multiple Ministerial statements followed by plenty of Congrats and Obits – a lot can and does happen in eight weeks, Mr. Editor, and members can fall out of practice. Either that or Members were pretty well spent after debate on the Auditor Generals’ report and the BHC scandal. There wasn’t a word on the Motion to Adjourn.

Giving as good as you get

WHEN lines are drawn, you get nasty, Mr Editor, and you get funny.
As Opposition spokesman for Housing, Wayne Furbert was being pretty critical last Friday. He was highlighting the reports of kickbacks and denouncing the people who had taken advantage of the public purse at the BHC.

“Who were these people?”, shouted out the Premier.

“Name them”.

Mr. Furbert declined: “No need to”.

“Why not name them so we can know who they are?”, asked the Premier.

“Witness protection”, came the quick reply from one of Mr. Furbert’s colleagues.

Shadow Works & Engineering Minister Patricia Gordon Pamplin, whose day job as an accountant has always involved keeping books and accounts, called the Premier out for describing the most recent financial statements of the BHC as “the handiwork of the Auditor General”. Pat thought the slight deliberate and demeaning.

Shot back the Premier across the floor: “You’re some piece of work, you are”.

Ms. Gordon-Pamplin – who gives as good as she gets - heard the remark. It was intended that she should. “And it’s a beautiful piece of work I am too”, she replied – without missing a beat, and she soldiered on in her scathing criticism.

That big real estate in the sky

A FEW snippets before I go, Mr. Editor, from those many Ministerial statements we endured: -

From the say what department: On our battle with the Isle of Man over a satellite slot, Telecommunications Minister Michael Scott told us that the time was now “propitious” for an update on the steps which Government has taken to make “the exploitation of the Space real estate over our Island a step closer to reality”. So much for pie in the sky, Mr Editor. This must be the future.

Here’s a thought: Community Affairs Minister Dale Butler extended “ a special invitation” to his Parliamentary colleagues to attend a power breakfast next week sponsored by CURE entitled “A Vision for Conversations on Race Equality”. It is scheduled to be held at La Coquille, Mr. Editor, not the House on the Hill. We do debates.

Half the story: Finance Minister Paula Cox took another bow for the increase in jobs in 2004. She noted in a statement that employment levels had returned to the pre-recession level of more than 38,000 jobs and things were looking better. Yes, but for whom? The 2004 Economic Review published by the Ministry of Finance told us that overall jobs in Bermuda had increased to 38,259 in 2004 from 37,849 in 1999, but for Bermudians over that same period they dropped by some 1372 jobs from 28,717 in 1999 to 27,345 last year.

Go figure – and have a nice week now that we’re back.

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Tomorrow's House Orders can be found here.

I understand that Government plan to rearrange the agenda somewhat and take up the following items, in this order:

3. Consideration of draft Notice entitled “Mental Health (Designation of Hospital) Notice, 2005” [Minister of Health & Family Services] 6/5/05

1. Second Reading:
“The Criminal Code Amendment Act 2005”
[Minister of Labour, Home Affairs & Public Safety] 9/3/05


Additionally the UBP intend to take up their motion on the Justice System Review, providing its not too late:

10. Motion to be moved by Mr. T.G. Moniz, notice of which was given on 18th February, 2005:- “That this Honourable House take note of the Report entitled “The Justice System Review: Guidelines for Improving Bermuda’s Justice System.”
As always, the proceedings will be broadcast on AM 1230 from 10AM, breaking for lunch between 12:30PM - 2:00PM.

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The Cayman's have been experiencing a lot of the same problems we've been having lately in Governance, with corruption, ethical abuses, lack of accountability etc..

And what happened in their election yesterday? The Government was defeated.

We can only hope.

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RG Opinion (May 12, 2005)

Political parallels impossible to ignore

Bermuda and our American neighbours have a couple of odd political couples; the PLP are Bermuda’s Republicans and the UBP the Democrats.

This connection isn’t a philosophical one. In some cases the parties couldn’t be further apart, with significant ideological differences between the governing parties; opposite ends of the political spectrum to be precise.

The PLP remains bound to the 1960’s radical left, seeing themselves as an unfinished Black Nationalist movement. The Republicans on the other hand, are driven by their fiercely fiscal and socially conservative wing. Both however seem captive to their ideologues.

The out of power parties, the UBP and the Democrats, have a little more in common philosophically. Generally speaking, the UBP are more fiscally conservative than the Democrats but share the social focus. The UBP governed much in the vein of the centrist New Democrat wing or Clinton’s “Third Way” approach; a coupling of centre-right fiscal policy with a centre-left social focus.

But focusing on the current plights of the parties, as seen through their recent electoral experiences and tactical choices, reveals some striking parallels. In fact, they’re impossible to ignore. This shared history of recent electoral success and failure is compelling.

Like the Republicans, the PLP command a strong Parliamentary majority but are not without a weakness that their opponents are yet to fully exploit. Some of this is to do with tactics, some the benefits of incumbency, but mostly it’s due to the nature of the organizations.

The PLP’s core membership, like today’s Republicans, are ideologically driven and intensely focused on a couple of almost universally agreed on core issues.

Republicans are united around lower taxes and smaller government, recently complimented by “Guns, God and Gays” and the “War on Terror”. The PLP’s equivalent is even more simple, and obvious; black versus white.

Simple philosophies, simple messages.

The Democrats and the UBP however don’t enjoy this luxury, being compilations of broader less cohesive coalitions – alliances of diverse political philosophies and goals. Consequently these less ideological parties struggle to define themselves clearly and concisely, with a tendency to wander off into public policy minutiae; compelling stuff for policy wonks, but a turn off to voters.

These structural realities manifest themselves, both during and between elections, in vastly different ways that have largely determined the parties’ political fortunes.

Ideological organizations like the PLP and the GOP prefer a polarized electorate. In both Bermuda and America this is achieved through the masterful exploitation of specific issues.

This strategy rallies their base by driving discussion into their comfort zone, oftentimes turning an opponents seeming advantage into their biggest liability. These current governing parties are also extremely adept at demonizing their opponents, with an often devastating impact.

The shared values between the PLP and the Republican Party are undeniable. Recent events alone provide a number of compelling examples.

America’s 2004 campaign saw the rise of “moral issues” in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The electorate became polarized, the focus shifted and the religious right energized.

These moral issues were coupled with a devastating attack on the war record and patriotism of Democratic candidate John Kerry, arguably his greatest – some would say sole – asset. The Democratic challenger spent the rest of the campaign defending his war record, fighting accusations of flip-flopping and being against “people of faith”.

Shortly after Bush’s November victory, the proposed amendment’s purpose achieved, the constitutional change – which would never have succeeded – was quietly and not surprisingly dropped.

Across the pond, in the waning days of the 2003 Bermuda election campaign, the PLP Government dropped a bomb, suddenly introducing mandatory term limits for all work permit holders. This proposal, also quietly revoked after the election, took the UBP off guard and positioned the PLP as the defenders of Bermudians and the UBP as pro-foreigner (despite the growing ratio of foreign to Bermudian workers during the PLP’s tenure).

Alongside this was a campaign of racial demagoguery in the form of incendiary radio ads and PLP rallies, where Bermudians were advised that the UBP’s black candidates were in fact just “sun-tanned” and not to vote themselves “back on the plantation”. The old battle lines were redrawn, turning the UBP’s asset of racial diversity into a liability.

While not particularly subtle strategies, these could easily have delivered the 70 or so votes across the island, preventing our election resulting in an 18-18 stalemate, and in George Bush’s case, the critical swing state of Ohio.

The parallels continue to this day. Both countries leaders have been unable to advance an agenda, lacking political capital, albeit for different reasons.

George Bush, unable to run for re-election, is fighting early lame-duck status, while Alex Scott’s installation after the Great Deception of 2003 has left him with a fractured Cabinet and no mandate.

Both leaders, perhaps unwisely, tied their political fates to hugely unpopular initiatives; Social Security privatization and Independence. Neither issue has found traction. So George Bush went on a 60 day road show, Alex Scott sent out the BIC to sell independence.

The more people hear the less interested they are, as evidenced by plunging poll numbers both here and in the US. In similar attempts to stop the slide and leverage the bully pulpit of their offices, George Bush held only his fourth prime time press conference, one week later Premier Scott delivered his own prime time “Address to the Nation”.

So when faced with governing parties who appear to have over-reached, what must the UBP and the Democrats do?

To be continued next week…

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A fine tribute to one of Bermuda's finest politicians, in Friday's Mid Ocean News.

There was so much that was right with the UBP through the upheaval of the 60's and 70's, and is still right with the party today. Sadly this risks being lost to the idea that the party was nothing more than an organisation designed to keep people down.

As Tim Hodson writes:

"Two political parties emerged in this unsettled period, each advocating very different avenues to the future.

"The United Bermuda Party adopted a conciliatory approach to race relations and an evolutionary approach to change. Its overriding strategic objective – which its founding fathers recognised may in fact have come too late – was to bridge the cultural divide between Bermuda's racial communities for the common good.

"The Progressive Labour Party had a more revolutionary agenda. It espoused what at the time was known as Third World Socialism, a nationalist variation on Marxism in which an oppressed native people stood in for an oppressed working class.

"It was on to this increasingly tense stage that John Stubbs strode. Of humble origins, he felt no allegiance to or kinship with Bermuda's old aristocracy. And he felt only revulsion for the radicalised elements preaching revolution.

"Stubbs recognised that the UBP's initial, tepid plan to create what amounted to a half-way house between segregation and full democracy and integration would amount to an exercise in futility. Similarly, he believed the PLP's desire to replace white exclusivity with black separatism would doom the island to an unending cycle of sectarianism.

"If each racial community believed it could only thrive by dominating the other, Stubbs predicted a future of conflict, a never-ending cycle of mutual distrust and recriminations. He could anticipate blood feuds and vendettas multiplying like so many cancer cells. He could foresee the seeds of new strife being sown as a result of whatever terms the victorious racial grouping attempted to impose on the subjugated one."

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The debate on the Auditor's BHC report is in progress in Parliament, and the strategy seems to be to say nothing, other than Points of Order and Information, and let the Opposition have their say and get this whole ugly mess behind them.

Which is understandable.

This makes me think that after the speech last night, the roll-out of the crime initiatives, the imminent Social Agenda mailing, and the moving up of the BHC motion to the first item of this Parliamentary sitting, that the Premier and his Government want to try and make a fresh start, putting their high profile scandals and failures behind them.

It's not a bad strategy.

The problem? It's probably too late. The public seem pretty convinced that the PLP are arrogant self-dealers who've presided over unprecedented corruption while failing to execute on critical portfolios. That image may be too entrenched.

We'll have to see if they get any bounce over the coming months.

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Parliament resumed this morning after a several month break. I haven't seen the agenda yet but VSB radio was speculating that the Premier will move his long-awaited take note motion on the Auditor's Report on the BHC.

As the House has been down for awhile, there were a number of Ministerial Statements and we're currently in Congratulations and Obits, which could run through until lunch.

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RG Opinion (May 06, 2005)

Brown's razor just doesn't cut it

Occam’s Razor states that when faced with multiple explanations for an event, the simplest one, or the one which requires the fewest assumptions, is preferred. Evidently the “pay-to-play” apologists aren’t aware of that principle.

In their desperation to conjure up innocent sounding explanations for these events – as many as possible in the hope that one might just stick – these lone rangers have concocted some rather complicated and unbelievable efforts. They get an ‘A’ for creativity but an ‘F’ for credibility.

The account which satisfies Occam’s Razor is in this case not only the simplest, but also the most obvious; that Tina Poitevien, the Bermuda Government’s US pensions consultant, targeted individuals for political “donations” based on their need to curry favour with herself and a Cabinet Minister.

Ms. Poitevien and Dr. Brown presented the invitees with an all too common dilemma in the investment industry; either comply, hopefully securing or increasing your position in Bermuda’s pension funds – a practice known as ‘pay-to-play’ – or decline and risk being shut out. That’s simple and believable. Occam would be proud.

Conversely, the apologists have relied on some absurd scenarios, including that Dr. Brown was close friends with all the invitees; that this couldn’t be “pay-to-play” because a sitting Cabinet Minister has no influence over the Bermuda pension funds; that those who attended didn’t gain any advantage; and that these non-Bermudians – whose sole interest in Bermuda is to profit from our pension funds – harboured a deep concern for our transportation issues. Oh, and we can’t forget the reliable great white conspiracy angle.

Let’s refer to the apologists’ strategy as Brown’s Razor.

Brown’s Razor, named after a politician who likes to live on the edge but constantly cuts it too close, states that when the obvious explanation isn’t convenient you fabricate new ones, however preposterous.

Give Dr. Brown his credit though. Aware that the cover-up is usually worse than the crime – just ask Bill Clinton – he’s clammed up, allowing lackeys to do his work. Rather than admit his indiscretion, he simply refuses to comment publicly, in the hope that it all just goes away.

But back to those other explanations.

The claim that Dr. Brown, a physician, has a vast network of American investment professional friends didn’t hold up for long, being swiftly debunked by The Mid Ocean News who had the crazy idea to call some of the invitees. “Who’s Brown?” was the response. Fancy that. Scratch that one off the list.

Next in line is the excuse which they’re perhaps the most optimistic about; that Dr. Brown does not control Bermuda’s pension funds. There are at least three immediate and obvious problems with that valiant effort.

When high-ranking politicians call, people take notice. Exhibit A: with one phone call Health Minister Patrice Minors was able to secure alternative Government accommodation for her father above other likewise displaced and desperate Anchorage Road residents. Sure, she wasn’t the Housing Minister, but she placed a call and the machinery kicked into high gear.

The idea that a “fundraising” request – for people financially dependent on remaining in the good graces of the Bermuda Government – to a powerful Government MP positioning himself to become the next Premier, wouldn’t bring pressure to bear, is either naïve or insincere.

Secondly, Cabinet Ministers operate under a system of collective responsibility where they sit as equals and take decisions collectively. If a Minister wanted to make his feelings about an investment manager known, he could simply raise the issue with one or all of his colleagues, who could in turn direct the Public Funds Investment Committee (PFIC) to rectify the situation.

Thirdly, the honouree of the luncheon alone, a Cabinet Minister, would have been intimidating. This invite contained a double whammy though; the host of this luncheon was Tina Poitevien, advisor to the PFIC and maybe not coincidentally a friend (this time for real) of Dr. Brown.

Rejecting the invitation, or accepting but failing to write the $2,500 cheque – an amount larger than the maximum contribution Americans can make to their own candidates – clearly ran the risk of negatively impacting the individual’s firm.

Next excuse? Those who “played” didn’t get “paid”.

Maybe. Or more probably, not yet. We just don’t know, because the payoff doesn’t have to be immediate. The one thing that we do know however is that Bermuda’s pension funds are now linked to “pay to play”.

Then there’s the claim that these American investment professionals – with no other connection to Bermuda – secretly harboured an interest in Dr. Brown because of his role as Transport Minister.

That statement is so implausible it’s hardly worthy of a response. What interest would American investment firms have in Dr. Brown’s fast ferries, or GPS for example? They wouldn’t. It’s an absurd suggestion, and one doesn’t come remotely close to passing the smell test.

Finally, and most predictably, the age old argument of last but often first resort; the great white conspiracy angle.

The only colour in this scandal is green, the colour of money. It’s not that complicated.

There’s no innocent explanation for this event. Either you “paid and played”, gaining a preferred position with a Cabinet Minister and his influential consultant buddy; “paid and got played”, by ponying up the cash but failing to see your firm benefit; or rejected the invitation and expected retribution.

Brown’s Razor just doesn’t cut it.

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I was all set to sit down and stop procrastinating on some bills, when I learned that the Premier was delivering a prime time address tonight.

So I dutifully counted down until 8PM, set my Tivo, and watched and recorded the proceedings.

Before it began I couldn't help but note the striking similarity to what Alex Scott's political dead ringer, George Bush, tried last week with his prime time address on (principally) Social Security.

Both Bush and Scott are treading water, unable to generate any interest in their signature issues, Bush because he's a second term "Lame Duck" and Scott because he's without a mandate and his Cabinet are embroiled in scandals.

I continue to be struck by the similarities between both Scott and Bush, the issues (Independence is to Scott what Social Security Privatization is to Bush) and the parties. More on that in a future post.

Tonight I thought I'd put down a few of my initial reactions to the address and have a more detailed comment/analysis over the coming days, and after I can watch the speech again.

Firstly, an overall comment on style and tone.

I've never been a fan of Alex's Scott's oratory style, either in prepared or off-the-cuff remarks. I find his style, particularly since becoming Premier, as a very self aware, forced attempt to sound like a statesman.

His pace of speech is very slow, which isn't all that unusual for politicians, but it seems to be a deliberate reach for dramatic effect or gravitas, rather than someone picking their words carefully so as to not be misinterpreted.

The Premier's penchant to repeat words or phrases, again for emphasis or dramatic effect, is particularly grating. For me it just feels manipulative, not an indication of a great orator, which I think the Premier longs to be. I though his performance tonight was ok, not great, but ok.

With regards to the content of the speech itself, my takeaway was that this was a very defensive move. The Premier is aware that his Government are in bad shape, and getting worse. It's obvious they're in trouble, but this makes me think the feedback from their advisors and internal numbers are worse than I thought.

The PLP have been on a bit of a polling and focus group run lately, this speech is obviously the result of that work, all paid for by the taxpayers, as was this speech. The feedback must be just terrible for the Premier to come out as he did tonight.

This was damage control, an attempt to stop the hemmoraging.

The overall message was:

- we, like you, are concerned about crime
- we're working hard
- we've made progress and have accomplishments (of which he seemed to hang his hat on sustainable development)
- we're listening
- we can do better, but we're doing well
- our critics are being mischevious
- the Opposition are trying to make it difficult for us to govern
- the media is against us
- those opposed to independence are scared of change and fear-mongers

The speech was long on excuses,short on vision and littered with plenty of finger pointing; at the Opposition, mischevious critics, the media, even the public. Yes there were some acknowledgments that they have could have done better; it's always a smart move for a politician to be a little humble. The overall tone however, was that there is a grand conspiracy against the PLP and that some are trying to make it difficult for them to govern (almost that exact phrase).

But clearly, if you look at the structure of the speech the Government knows that there is come real concern over crime, Cabinet level ethical standards, and Independence.

Housing, seniors and education were notably absent.

My conclusion was that Alex Scott and the PLP are worried, very worried, and this was an aggressive attempt at repositioning. It felt too defensive and lacked the vision to be particularly inspiring or successful. I lost track at the number of times sustainable development was mentioned, and couldn't help but smile at the comment that they could be accused of being overly consultative.

This speech was probably more helpful to the UBP than it was for the PLP. A speech like this is very revealing on how a party thinks the public sees them, what concerns them, and how they hope to turn things around.

I wsa left with the impression that the PLP are acutely aware that they're in trouble.

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Anyone who's had the misfortune of discussing politics with me will have probably heard me talk about the parallels between the plights of Bermuda and the US's political parties.

The parallels are not on a policy level, that's pretty obvious. The PLP and Republicans are light years apart on the political spectrum. The UBP is very much a centrist party, a little bit to the left on social issues but sensibly to the right on fiscal matters, probably somewhere between the 'New Democrats' and centrist Republicans like John McCain, Guiliani, Schwarzenegger etc. while the PLP are a party still largely controlled by an extremist wing, albeit from opposite ends of the spectrum.

When considering Bermuda's recent political history, I liken the PLP to the Republicans, and the UBP to the Democrats.

Rather than go into some long-winded explanation as why I believe that to be the case I'll just say that at its most simplest, the PLP, like the Republicans, are masters at exploting specific issues, energising their base and demonizing their opponent. The UBP and the Democrats both struggle to be able to succintly state what they believe in, partially because they are built from a broader base and exist as loose coalitions around multiple issues.

Most strikingly to me of late is the lay of the land in both Bermuda and the US. Both are characterised by high levels of disenchantment with the governing parties but minority parties yet to translate this into victory at the polls.

This article, from the blog NewDonkey.com says it all for me. I've quoted a section below that really hits the nail on the head (if you switch the American references for Bermudian ones).

I've made the switches in italicized brackets to demonstrate my point.

The rest of the article is well worth a read as well. The bullet points from James Carville and Stan Greenberg on the road ahead for the Democrats would make a great blueprint for the UBP.

"There's a blizzard of public opinion research making its way into publication that consistently makes one big point: growing majorities of Americans (Bermudians) think the country is headed in the wrong direction (or, to use the train metaphor which a whole generation of pollsters has conspired to impose on us, America (Bermuda) is on "the wrong track"). George W. Bush's (Alex Scott's) approval ratings have dropped to their pre-9/11 level, while his main priorities, especially Social Security privatization (Independence), are more unpopular every day. And the Republican Party and the Republican Congress (PLP) are getting down there into the dangerous territory of being perceived as a menace to the country.

"But--Democrats (the UBP) are not yet benefitting from this wreckage. And it's not too hard to understand why: for (largely) sound tactical reasons, they are focused on opposing the GOP (PLP) agenda rather than projecting any positive agenda of their own. But that can't go on forever. Negative perceptions of the Democratic Party (UBP) on security, the role of government, and (to a lesser extent now that the GOP (PLP) is lurching off the right-wing edge) culture have not gone away."

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