June 2005 Archives
Surely the taxpayers shouldn't be funding a trip with "Drugs on the agenda for Scott at Caribbean conference"
Headline writer humour maybe, or I'd like to go.
One would think, or perhaps hope, in the post BHC and current Pay to Play era, that a Parliamentary debate on the need to strengthen Bermuda’s anti-corruption laws would usher in a rare afternoon of bi-partisanship.
One would also think the debate to be a no-brainer; the parties falling over themselves to demonstrate their commitment to impeccable ethics, high standards of conduct, and clear rules and remedies to address abuses of power or position by public servants.
Sadly, and predictably for the cynics, this wasn’t the case. Instead the integrity and credibility gap between Bermuda’s political parties deepened.
Representing the Government with their trademark “strong leadership” was the grand total of two Ministers. The Premier, who really had no choice but to speak, led off for his side, and was followed shortly after by Minister Michael Scott.
And that was it for our soon-to-be-higher paid Cabinet Ministers. No Deputy Premier Brown. No Finance Minister Cox. Nada. And it wasn’t only Cabinet that displayed a remarkable lack of interest in preventing corruption. Only one Government backbencher found the energy to contribute as well, and that was Alex Scott nemesis and ex-Minister Renee Webb.
The UBP’s speakers included the Opposition Leader, who brought the motion and led the debate, plus 6 more of his colleagues. For the non-math inclined, that’s seven – or 50% – of the UBP’s members, versus three – or 13% – of the PLP’s.
After the Government’s anemic presentation it was evident that Bermudians were being presented with a stark choice between two very different philosophies:
The PLP Government has adopted the “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” approach; not quite what the public look for in ‘progressive’ legislators. The UBP on the other hand, followed the philosophy of that great philosopher of the modern era, Google; “don’t be evil” is the mantra that the internet company’s employees live by.
It’s hard to argue with the latter approach to doing business, even harder when it’s the people’s business. But, in one of their more bizarre moments, the PLP Government did.
The Premier maintained that the mere mention of corruption, even efforts to prevent or eliminate it, can “taint outside countries views of us … It can do an injury to this country if someone launches on such a campaign.”
Huh? Let’s examine that for a second. The highest public office holder in the country doesn’t even want us to discuss ways to tackle corruption, because it will make people think we have a problem with corruption, and then they won’t think well of us?
What? If the Premier was even slightly informed he’d be aware that corruption is one of the things that is holding back aid to many developing nations, that it discourages private sector investment, and is the kiss of death to reputable jurisdictions.
So was the Premier’s head in the sand approach – and outright denial of public sector corruption – credible or was it just more of his incessant and increasingly desperate spin?
Well, let’s turn to the Premier himself to clear that one up. Now we know that Mr. Scott claims to distrust the press, so it’s probably best to refresh his memory with his own statements.
A little more than a year ago, in the wake of the Auditor’s BHC report and the Police’s “unethical but not illegal” investigation, “The Man” himself promised an update to our antiquated anti-corruption legislation?
More recently, less than two months ago – May 5th to be precise, the Premier gave the following commitment during his televised “Address to the Nation”:
“I have also directed my Ministers to ensure that in their conduct, at home and abroad, that they recommit themselves to the path of integrity, respect for others and good governance.”
Call me crazy, but ordinarily you don’t need to ask your Cabinet to individually “recommit” to the path of integrity and good governance unless the previous commitment has lapsed.
The only reasonable conclusion then is that the Accidental Premier has either had a change of heart, or decided to validate the old joke that “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt”.
It could be denial. Mr. Scott and his colleagues wouldn’t be the first Government to lose touch with reality.
Alternatively it could be a deliberate strategy. Aware that they are spent, devoid of energy and ideas, the PLP Government might have opted to manage perception rather than the problem.
Could it be that the PLP Government is implementing its very own version of a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy?
If we don’t talk about corruption it won’t exist. If the press would just stop printing the details of our increasingly frequent and severe incidents of violent crime, then we won’t have one. If the public would stop complaining about the lack of affordable housing then it would all be affordable. Plunging air-arrivals? Don’t mention it, tourism’s great. Wave your flag, drink some ginger beer!
Why talk about anything at all in fact? We can just pretend that our problems don’t exist, and they won’t! Governing is much easier that way, for the Government at least.
Once this whole range of issues is removed from the public arena, important time can be spent debating the real issues: like how close GP1 can be parked to the Premier’s jet; or how much Cabinet can pay themselves; or how fashionably late one should arrive to a cocktail party.
That’ll help outsiders think of us in the right light. We’d hate them to think of us as a jurisdiction with zero tolerance for corruption.
Mid Ocean News (24 June 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'
Pensioner Otti hits back as the Opposition Leader says seniors are taking a beating
HO-HUM, Mr. Editor, just another Friday in the House on the Hill, two small pieces of legislation, both of which were agreed, a take note motion, and we’re done.
That’s not to say there wasn’t any debate. There’s always some, Mr. Editor, and last week it started on the proposed new increases for contributory pensions - benefits up 3.5%, contributions up 4.75% - and ended on the motion to adjourn.
The Minister of Finance and her Shadow got us off to a good start on contributory pensions, and with pensions the spotlight fell once more on Bermuda’s seniors.
The increase is annual, and while Finance Minister Paul Cox said that she didn’t want to make “more of this than it is”, she then went on to describe the increase as yet another indication of what the PLP Government is doing to improve the lot of seniors in Bermuda. Them’s fighting words to MP Louise Jackson, Mr. Editor, who could not be restrained from speaking, ever, on the plight of seniors, and we’ll come to what Mrs. Jackson had to say in a couple of paragraphs.
But first let’s be fair to the Minister of Finance. Ms. Cox did concede the increase wasn’t that great - “miniscule” was a word she used at one stage – but also said that the PLP weren’t just mouthing “empty political rhetoric” (her words, Mr. Editor, not mine) and pointed to the absolute exemption on land tax for seniors, the roll back on stamp duty on death for the primary family homestead (not that they could take it with them), and increase to $1,000.00 worth of prescription drugs free annually under HIP.
Her Shadow, Opposition Leader, Dr. Grant Gibbons, wasn’t too impressed.
Parliament is currently debating UBP leader Grant Gibbons' take note motion on anti-corruption legislation from other jurisdictions with a view to putting it into place in Bermuda.
Dr. Gibbons is introducing his motion and kicking off the debate.
Tune in on AM 1230.
Reading today's Royal Gazette article on the schools' concerns about the 'Pop By' campaign, I was struck by how defensive the Minister was; most bizarre and paranoid was his accusation that the schools were engaging in a "deliberate campaign of destruction".
And then, as if by magic I received an email from a good and very reliable friend, shedding some light on Dr. Brown's reaction.
Apparently, this whole 'Pop By' thing, which is about as dumb an idea to come from the Department of Tourism (DoT) as any, came from the Minister, in it's entirety: ginger beer, flags, slogan etc..
So the DoT went out to some ad agencies, informing them that this initiative came personally from the Minister and all that was needed was design services, no feedback/conceptual work, just implementation. Word has it the reception to the idea was chilly, that it was generally thought to be dumb and poorly thought through, and that they didn't want any part of it.
Which would explain the Minister's paranoid and inappropriately defensively aggressive reaction in the media, demonizing the schools, whose responsibility is to their students, not to act as agents for the DoT.
Which all makes sense really. This campaign reeks of Dr. Brown's shallow, gimicky, Americanized marketing approach to everything; not to mention the local politicking and incessant self-promotion all his 'campaigns' are infused with.
So far we've been treated to ugly bus shelters, a lick of paint turning Court St. into New Orleans, stupid flags, pink golf tees and not very good online golf games, rather than a focus on improving the product.
Sound familiar? It should. It's just a more extreme version of the PLP's 'we can market our way out of this' strategy for tourism.
Apologies for the lack of activity lately on the site. After a spurt of posts on a few issues two sick babies, a hectic work schedule, a side project and nice weather have conspired to slow me down.
But, fingers crossed, the corner has been turned and I'll pick up the pace in the next day or so.
Mid Ocean News (17 June 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'
BRACE yourself, Mr. Editor, I am, because it very much looks like we are in for a long drawn out summer session in the House on the Hill. Legislation is trickling into Parliament at such a slow pace – like molasses going up the Hill, you might say –that as a consequence there is little to keep us occupied from week to week. Last Friday was yet another example. There were two small pieces on bus and ferry fares – which were straightforward and agreed – and we were done with all of the eligible Government business around eleven o’clock in the morning, just about an hour after we started; and that was after Ministerial Statements (3), congrats and obits as well.
I suppose, Mr. Editor, that we could have called it a day there and then and had an early start to the long holiday weekend. But we didn’t, courtesy of the Opposition motion brought on by David Dodwell of the UBP on the need to develop a legislative scheme for economic empowerment.
As it turned out, the emotion which the motion engendered made for a lively debate and kept us there until midnight. The pity was that it was only a take note motion. No vote was required. The draft legislation which Mr. Dodwell had presented could only be discussed: the Rules of the House do not allow the Opposition to introduce Bills which will require the expenditure of Government funds. This Bill – the Economic Empowerment Act 2004 (it was originally introduced last December) – among other things called for:
* The establishment of an Office of Economic Empowerment within the Ministry of Finance (which would cost money); and, perhaps more importantly,
* A commitment by Government to a two-year plan to allocate 20 percent of its annual expenditure on goods and services to small businesses (money again, Mr. Editor, estimated at around $60-million).
But it wasn’t so much what the Bill provided - or didn’t, as the case may be – that got the House hopping, as it was the subject of economic empowerment. There were 15 speakers in all, but only two of them Ministers: Paula Cox from Finance, who went first for the Government, and Michael Scott. But it was the ex-Minister who came between them and who stole the spotlight when she castigated her PLP colleagues for their failure to adopt and implement a systematic plan of economic empowerment for the one group that requires economic empowerment, black Bermudians, or to use her now famous words, “people who look like me”. So give her her due, Mr. Editor, Ms. Webb is proving to be anything but Walk Away Renee following her departure from the Man’s Cabinet.
It's good to see that Dame Jennifer Smith isn't letting her new colonial title change her; she's still a pedantic crank.
A hat tip to ZBM's Julie Matthews for dishing up the obvious question to our new Dame after yesterday's Queen's Birthday parade (paraphrasing here):
Q. How does Dame Jennifer reconcile this award with her party's historical antagonism towards the UK [and presumably their current desire to sever ties]?
A. [Delivered with trademark scowl visible under brow of fancy hat] Well you might think that you've caught me out with this question. But you should be aware, and the question that you should have asked, that Bermuda's MPs swear an oath to the United Kingdom and the Queen. It would be contradictory not to [participate in the Queen's Honours].
Uh, ok. If that makes you feel better I guess.
Here's a good follow-up for the next interview with the cranky Dame:
"In the unlikely event that Alex Scott is successful in ramming Independence down the people of Bermuda's throats, will you and your colleagues be returning your Colonial titles alongside the thousands of revoked EU passports?"
Somehow I think I know the answer (if that's the correct question to ask, that is).
[Note: I've been informed by a reader, who previously emailed the UK asking whether the titles would have to be returned in the event that Bermuda went Independent, that the answer was "No".]
In politics it seems that the more things change the more they stay the same. So what’s changing? Nothing, except our MPs pay that is. And that’s the problem.
Two weeks ago, when the Premier moved a bill through Parliament creating an independent committee – no not an Independence committee, another ‘impartial’ one – to look into how much our MPs are paid, a glaring question arose: That’s it? That’s all they’re looking into?
Increasing the salaries of our Cabinet Ministers, MPs & Senators should be the last step of any Parliamentary reform. It’s definitely not the first, and absolutely not the first and last.
A good start would have been, oh let’s say just to pick one, the tabling of that promised but yet to materialise modernization of our anti-corruption laws. Remember those? The evidently antiquated laws that seemed to have been exploited so adeptly n the dead on arrival, “unethical but not illegal”, Cabinet Minister implicating, BHC scandal.
A good next step would then have been a Parliamentary Code of Conduct.
Where are those updates and why are they less important that what our MPs make?
If Bermuda’s MPs want to be paid like their peers in other jurisdictions, while operating with far less accountability and much less openness, then it’s time for a reality check.
Our MPs, and Cabinet in particular, might think that their salaries reflect a time gone by, but more importantly the way Parliament operates, and some of our laws, reflect a system suffering from serious neglect.
Bermuda’s Parliament is frozen in time, and until the Government shows an interest in ending the Ice Age, their salaries should suffer the same fate.
Pushing through significant pay hikes in the absence of long overdue reforms to our prehistoric legislature (and legislators in some cases) is pretty rich; notwithstanding the Premier’s declaration in Parliament that he’s "one of the poorest Premiers" in one of the richest countries in the world.
The Government’s priorities are telling, although it probably shouldn’t be surprising that the only reforms that interest them are the ones that benefit them directly and financially.
But what about us, the public? Remember us, the folks whose interests are supposed to come before those of our elected representatives?
Any increase in pay must be contingent on an increase in accountability, notwithstanding the Cabinet battle cry of “We’re full-time, and deserve to paid that way”.
Have you paid a visit to Parliament lately? If you did, you’d better have made it before 3PM, because our MPs are rarely there much later, and often not there when it’s in session.
The Alex Scott era has been notable for its lack of legislative action. Using Parliamentary activity as a measure would suggest that our MPs should be giving us a refund.
Currently, their one day work week begins at the crack of dawn – Pacific time that is, 10AM here – before breaking two and a half hours later for an hour and a half lunch. Then it’s back to work at 2PM, all to be hopefully wrapped up by shortly after.
As if that’s not bad enough, that’s been going on while the Opposition has been busy tabling almost as many of their own motions for debate – when they’re allowed to that is – as our ‘full-time Ministers’ are tabling legislation.
Legislation we’ll inevitably be told isn’t everything, you can’t forget the day-to-day administration of Government. That was clearly the case the Premier was struggling to make in Parliament and the press, and carries some weight.
But if you’re full-time and producing part-time results then you deserve to be paid that way. And that’s the case, with a notable lack of progress on the major social issues that the Government is supposed to be addressing, coupled with some outright disasters and a series of ongoing scandals.
Where are the results on affordable housing? What’s being done to tackle rising violent crime? Where’s the improvement in public education? And press releases and press conferences don’t count. That’s procrastination, not progress.
Why is it that the only time we get a bi-partisan committee to review something is when the Cabinet wants to put some distance between themselves and initiatives that are sure to go down as well as … well, Independence for one?
Where are the bi-partisan committees to tackle our issues, not the ones that benefit our politicians?
If our MPs, and Cabinet in particular, want to be compensated in line other Legislatures, then it’s high time to adopt the standards and procedures that are in place in those areas used to justify this money grab, to complement the Independence power grab.
When will the Government support UBP MP John Barritt’s efforts to update the rules of House, which haven’t been reviewed in decades, for example? Why won’t the existing Parliamentary committees meet in public, as the Opposition Leader proposed for the Public Accounts Committee for example?
Why isn’t Parliament televised? Where are the official transcripts of Parliamentary sessions? Where is the official Parliamentary website? Why is there no set Parliamentary question-time, as in other modern Westminster systems? The list is long and ignoble.
Bermuda’s MP’s might think their pay is outdated, but the manner in which they operate reflects a bygone era. Until Bermuda’s Parliamentarians decide to operate like a modern democracy, they don’t deserve to be paid like modern legislators.
If it’s time to "Show me the money", it’s also time to "Show us the accountability".
And the HHO (Hypocrit of the Highest Order) goes to, Premier Alex Scott, for willingly partaking in the annual colonialist ritual of the Queen's Honours.
Remember her? She's the figurehead of the colonial master Alex in Wonderland claims to be trying to liberate us from?
Surprised? You shouldn't be.
But oh, what I wouldn't give for footage of (Dame) Jennifer Smith, and her predecessor Dame, Dame Lois Browne-Evans, kneeling before the Queen.
It hasn't gone unnoticed, by me at least, that since Dr. Brown emerged about a month ago from his Pay to Play bunker, he's been very active on the photo-op circuit.
It also hasn't gone unnoticed, by me at least, that the press has given Dr. Brown a free pass in not using these opportunities to pursue answers to the myriad of outstanding questions over his pay to play shenanigans.
So, in the spirit of providing some incentive for our reporters to, if I may borrow a phrase from Doc Brown himself "display their testicular fortitude", I'm issuing an open challenge to the media (Mid Ocean News excluded, their fortitude isn't in dispute):
Dinner for two (sorry VSB, I couldn't resist) for the first reporter to use Dr. Brown's next contrived self-promotional photo-op to challenge him with a serious, probing question on the pay for play scandal ... and produce the results in a print article or on their broadcast.
No freebie's please. A real, tough question. Persistent and aggressive follow-ups get a nice bottle of wine.
If Dr. Brown thought that ignoring the Mid Ocean News is an effective strategy for making his pay to play headaches go away, he won't like this development.
The Pondblogger has picked up where Friday's story in Mid Ocean News left off, which they picked up from The Post-Gazette, which followed a story in Ohio's Toledo Blade (phew), on former Bermuda fund manager, and Dr. Brown friend, Mark Lay of MDL Capital.
It seems MDL Capital, who were previously allocated funds to manage on behalf of the Bermuda Government, lost $215 million of money invested on behalf of Ohio's Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. The State isn't happy and is suing MDL Capital on a number of grounds.
"The disputed MDL fund has a Bermuda address and the contract with the bureau stipulates disagreements must be decided in a court there. Petro said jurisdiction isn’t an obstacle for the state, and he will travel to Bermuda if necessary."Dr. Brown isn't going to be able to hide forever from this.
Mid Ocean News (10 June 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'
UGH, Mr. Editor, but agreeing with Government is like, well, working to a scoreless tie and a tie, like they say, is like kissing your sister. At least that’s the way it felt for this Opposition member when we found ourselves in agreement with the PLP Government on the proposed new mechanism for determining members’ salaries.
An amendment to the 1975 Ministers and Members of the Legislature (Salaries and Pensions) Act was the only major piece of legislation down for debate – not that there was much else in the way of Government business for MPs to work on in any event.
The objective here is to establish an independent panel to review salaries and make recommendations by the end of this year. The panel is obliged to take into account:
* the remuneration for legislators in other jurisdictions;
* rates of remuneration for senior civil servants;
* economic considerations; and
* any other factors which the Board considers appropriate.
I expect, Mr. Editor, that you get a sense from this as to what the direction the panel is being asked to explore.
The Man Who Led The Debate, a.k.a. the Man, spelled it out even more clearly for those who were listening.
“Bermuda is described as a wealthy country, if not one of the wealthiest in the world today”, remarked the Premier during his presentation, “but it is headed by one of the poorest Premiers”.
It may have sounded like it, but the Premier didn’t just make the pitch for himself. He invited people to look around the Chamber, i.e. at those seated in the House on the Hill.
“It’s no longer made up of people from the landed gentry who step off a yacht to come to the House”, he commented.
“Today”, he added, “most of them step out of small cars or off Mobylettes”. He didn’t mention Peugeots (automobiles or bikes, take your pick), but we knew he wasn’t talking about those of us who don’t sit around the Cabinet table.
Today's Letters to the Editor in the Mid Ocean News are a sight to behold.
The first 4, which address columnist Alvin Williams, are, simply put, devastating. (The one on the BIC isn't bad either.)
Mr. Williams has been totally and completely discredited.
Parliament is currently (resuming at 2PM after lunch) debating the UBP's Economic Empowerment Act 2004.
So far David Dodwell, who introduced the motion, has spoken with UBP Leader Grant Gibbons to continue his presentation after lunch.
From the sounds of it there's been quite a lot of heckling from the Government benches. But they're yet to have someone speak on it.
The tone of the debate, whether constructive or divisive, will depend on how the Government decide to respond. Dodwell approached it from a collaborative perspective, but it'll only take one person to drag it down from a productive discussion on economic fairness and race relations into the predictable political opportunism.
Let's hope that doesn't happen.
Both of these guys were right on the money and didn't pull their punches:
* The Bermuda Homes for People project, while promising, is little more than that - a promise.
* This Parliamentary session is notable solely for its lack of activity.
* Premier Scott's tenure has seen a shocking lack of accountability and mismanagement coupled with attempts to paper over this through highly controlled press events a la the "Address to the Nation".
PLP Senate Leader and Attorney General Larry Mussenden seemed a little shell-shocked when interviewed on the evening news shows last night, responding with a rather lame argument that legislation is about quality over quantity.
Which of course begs the question of how you can produce quality legislation when there isn't any.
This defence also flies in the face of the track record of sloppy legislation coming out of this Government, with the most notable example being the seat belt law and a poorly constructed piece of legislation passed last week on Parliamentary pay hikes. This Act used terms (full-time and part-time Ministers) which were simply undefined.
Mr. Mussenden's a lawyer, the Attorney General in fact, and should know good and bad legislation when he sees it. Yesterday he didn't have his legal hat on, he had his crash helmet on.
That notwithstanding, and contrary to what alot of people seem to think, I'd like to see more not less lawyers in Parliament. It is after all a law making body, and we'd probably see better legislation as a result.
Um, must we continue with this charade that the BIC is objective?
Only the most naive, or uninterested, haven't cottoned on to the fact that the BIC is stacked with those in favour, presenting opinion as fact.
Not surprisingly it has emerged that the BIC's 'advisor', the most pro of the pro-Independencers - Phil Perinchief, has been out preaching the Independence gospel to impressionable students, apparently as a private citizen - one who just happened to be on a panel with the UN Decolonialisation zealots and also just happens to be an 'advisor' to the Premier's door-to-door Independence salesmen. Puh-lease.
Let's review some of the comments from the man that the impartial Premier and impartial Chair of the BIC, said can look at this objectively and present both sides:
"Going Independent would allow us to join international organisations, join and meet new people, be exposed to greater technical and vocational training. The time has come for us to stand up tall and do for ourselves rather than non-Bermudians 4,000 miles away who might not have our best interests at heart. There are 191 independent countries in the world. 16 remain dependent territories, 11 belonging to the UK. 16 versus 191 is a serious minority."
I suppose we're going to have to endure this sham through to completion, when the BIC presents its report and disbands, to much fanfare, freeing up its membership to assume their obvious roles in the PIC, the Pro-Independence Commission.
Oh, and if you doubt that the BIC itself is overwhelmingly pro, just take a look at the "Did you know that..." section of their website:
1. There are 191 Independent countries forming The United Nations.
2. There are only 16 non-self governing countries left in the world, of which Bermuda is one.
3. Bermuda as an independent country can apply for membership in any of the following organisations or their organs or agencies: the U.N. the O.A.S., the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the E.U.
4. There is within the U.N. the Group of 77, small independent states that have formed one large bloc to champion and safeguard the interests of its members within the U.N. and throughout the world. Bermuda could align itself with this group.
5. If the Governor of Bermuda does not sign any legislation passed by both the House of Assembly and the Senate, then that legislation would not become the law of Bermuda.
6. The Governor and Deputy Governor are appointed by the U.K. Government, and are non-Bermudian.
7. The ministry of the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is the ministry responsible for Bermuda’s external relations and foreign affairs.
8. Bermuda’s Constitution cannot be amended solely by the Bermudian legislature or Bermudian people, but only together with the U.K. Government’s assent by way of a Constitutional Conference held by the U.K. authorities.
9. Bermuda’s Constitution, an Order in Council of the U.K. Parliament, can be revoked or recalled partially or in its entirety and against the wishes of the Bermudian people; by the U.K. Parliament, according to the Bermuda Constitution Act 1967, section 2 and 3.
10. An Independent Bermuda could retain the Privy Council as its final legal Court of Appeal.
11. An Independent Bermuda could become a Republic within the Commonwealth or a Constitutional Monarchy.
12. In a republic, the President is the Head of State and in a Constitutional Monarchy the Queen or Sovereign is the Head of State.
13. A republic may have a non-executive (or ceremonial) President or an executive President who has more powers.
14. A Constitution is fundamental and key as to how well a truly democratic country is run.
15. The pre-clearance to the US of Immigration and Customs is likely to be continued in an independent Bermuda, according to the US State Department.
Very balanced. No, "Did you know that... Bermudians without a familial connection to the UK will have to give up their EU passports", for example.
Let's just end the charade please. It's beyond tiring.
The anemic Bermuda Indoctrination and Conditioning meetings persisted this week, with a paltry 30 people coming out to each of the two forums (including the regular BIC groupies).
Which is both telling and amusing.
I'm not a numbers guy, but I did the math:
15 Members of the BIC (13 members, 2 advisors); and
7 members from the UN's decolonialisation idealogues.
That's almost one BIC or UN representative for every member of the public, a ratio of 0.73:1.
Generally a good rule of thumb is that when the panel is as big as the audience ... you're talking to yourself.
Mid Ocean News (03 June 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'
OUCH, Mr. Editor. The Royal Gazette got it right, it was a dressing down and there was no joy for me last Friday in the House on the Hill. Quite rightly too, my critics will say – and I will come back to one of them shortly. You put yourself in the firing line, Mr. Editor, you can expect to be shot at. With apologies to Sir Winston, the key thing here is not what happens to me, but what happens to the motion which sparked the uproar. The Speaker has given us some hope that the motion will still go forward, at least that’s the way most of us who were listening, heard it.
We await His further direction – and whether or not the PLP will continue to duck and deny the obvious.
In the meantime, I come on to one of my critics: he who writes a column in another newspaper. The phraseology, Mr. Editor, is parliamentary apropos: for instance, when members in the Lower House on the Hill refer to debates in the Upper House down the Hill we are required to refer to the Senate as that “other place”. It’s respectful.
Back then to that other column: it was asserted, not suggested, mind you, but asserted, that it was the wording of the motion which prompted government objections and that the objectionable wording was my use of the actual name of the Minister. It wasn’t that the PLP was trying to dodge a debate, he claimed.
Nice try, neat theory, but nonsense.
Listen to the tape: the Government Whip objected because he thought I should be having a chat first with the Minister (Who Cannot Be Named), who was then joined by the Premier who accused me of misleading the House because the Minister (Who Cannot Be Named) had consulted with the residents of Mary Victoria Road before proceeding with plans to put more homes in their neighbourhood.
Neither of them objected because I had actually named the Minister concerned - or that I had changed the motion. How could they? The wording would only have been known to the Speaker, the Clerk to the Legislature, and myself. Motions are not seen or shared with the other side ahead of presentation – at least as far as I am aware, that hasn’t been the practice in the 12 years I have been in the House.
But – as I confessed – I did actually name the Minister when I read the motion; and the motion, as re-drafted by the Speaker, referred only to “the Honourable Member responsible for Housing”.
My error, Mr. Editor – for which I apologised.
I appreciated too, the Speaker’s acceptance that it was an honest error and one which he had neither spotted nor taken up with me when I moved to introduce the motion.
To borrow one of the Speaker’s favourite quotations – which he used again this time around – from Alexander Pope: “To err is human, to forgive divine”.
No will, no way
BRUSHING up on the Rules of The House has been one positive development for members, inside and outside the Chamber.
The columnist critic (Who Shall Not Be Named) argued that my introduction of the name of the Minister (Who Cannot Be Named) introduced a personal flavour to the motion – a practice, he said, frowned upon in Parliaments everywhere.
It got me thinking.
But wasn’t it the Minister (Who Cannot Be Named) who agreed to a previous motion, that was subsequently agreed to by the House, that he would enter into “constructive dialogue” with the Mary Victoria residents, and who then followed up this commitment with a personal letter to each of the residents, promising them “further consultation”.
I think I was also misled by precedent. I recalled two motions of censure during my years in Parliament: the first by the Opposition PLP on the then Premier David Saul (Who Was Named, in the motion) and then by the Opposition UBP on the late David Allen (Who Was Named, in that motion).
Speaking of motions of censure, the bible of parliamentary practice and procedure, Erskine May, informs inquiring readers that a set period of time is actually allotted at Westminster for the Opposition to bring on such motions, from time to time. This is also a staple feature of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa where in recent weeks the Opposition party has been taking full advantage of its right to bring on motions probing and testing the strength of a minority Liberal Government.
I have long said that the Rules here need to be overhauled and I have made attempts for change in the past on behalf of the Opposition, but they have gone nowhere …. except to the Rules and Privileges Committee for further study and review ( and, Mr. Editor, I presume that you are familiar with the expression of death by referral to committee?)
You work with what you’ve got though, Mr. Editor. Trouble is, with the Rules we have we operate on the body politic with blunt instruments. Reform is long overdue. I think it has been well over 25 years since the Rules were reviewed and updated to put us in step with modern parliamentary practice elsewhere: yes, Mr. Editor, I think it did happen when the UBP was in power. But unless there is a political will, it’s no way.
The Hunte for change
LET me give you but one more example of the sort of reform we in the Opposition have been talking about. I happened to attend one of those BIC forums at which people who dared, were invited to ask questions. A questioner was concerned about the costs of having embassies overseas – and the (likely) further escalating costs after establishment. Head of the visiting UN delegation, Sir Julian Hunte, sought to reassure him that costs were closely monitored by Finance Ministers and, under the Westminster system, by a Public Accounts Committee of the Legislature which met regularly and publicly and which could summons civil servants to account for themselves and their expenditures. He was of course speaking of the practice in his home country of St. Lucia and that of other modern, parliamentary democracies. He could not have been talking about Bermuda. Our Public Accounts Committee meets only in private and then only when and if it can get a quorum of members.
It’s time the work of this important committee saw the light of day and its powers were beefed up to fulfil the watchdog role it is supposed to play.
The irony here? We don’t need to be independent to make it happen.
Light and less filling
DEBATE on the day was, Mr. Editor, rather civil. You do really have to go out of your way to get into verbal fisticuffs on take note motions – and that’s all we had: first on the history and state of musicians in Bermuda ( and no, the House on the Hill was not alive with the sound of music, although the tone was good) and secondly on the need to curb smoking in Bermuda (consenting adults only, Mr. Editor, preferably in private, behind closed doors). A couple of good lines from each debate:
*The first from the Minister Who Cannot Be Named: he was waxing on about how Bermudians need to loosen up and be themselves. “It must have something to do with our colonial mentality”, he said, describing it as the “stiff upper lip” syndrome. “There just seems to have been a stifling of expression in this country”, he concluded.
I bet that struck a responsive chord with the residents up in Prospect.
*The second from my colleague Michael Dunkley who actually brought some draft legislation to the House, increasing to 18 years the age at which tobacco can be purchased as well as limiting the places where people can smoke. He invited the Government to run with his legislative suggestions and make the necessary changes to the law. There is a long-standing Rule, Mr. Editor, which prohibits the Opposition from bringing legislation that will require expenditure from the public purse. The offer was not taken up. Mr Dunkley was told that Government had its own legislative timetable and that there was other, more important legislation being worked on.
“What legislation is more important than this?”, asked MP Dunkley – rhetorically, of course.
In any event, he continued, adding at the urging of his colleagues: “Show me what legislation, show me any legislation ‘cause we are not seeing any up here”.
Any legislation is right. None was tabled on Friday gone and the order paper remains very legislatively light ... and decidedly less filling.
I hear that Bishop Lambe, Chairperson of Bermuda Indoctrination and Conditioning, responded to a question at a forum - or should we call it a small gathering of friends - about why the UBP wasn't supportive of the visit from the UN's Special Committee of 24, by questioning why some people oppose education.
I submit the following:
The SC 24's website lists Bermuda as having a population of 6,997. That's only out by a factor of 10.
RG Opinion (June 1, 2005)
Needed: an alternative vision
Two weeks ago, I drew some parallels between Bermuda and America’s political parties, their shared tactical approaches and similar political fortunes. Recent political events have revealed some compelling similarities between the electoral strategies of the PLP and the Republicans, and the struggles of the UBP and the Democrats.
In short, today the PLP and the Republicans are largely ideological organizations, increasingly beholden to their fringe elements. Conversely the UBP and the Democrats exist as broader coalitions, but ones who’ve struggled to define themselves concisely as a compelling choice.
Will this pattern continue to play itself out? Will the diverse and less ideological nature of the UBP and the Democrats consign them to minority status for the foreseeable future?
The seven years that the UBP have now spent in Opposition, and the Democrat’s eleven (since the 1994 mid-term Congressional elections) should be seen as opportunities, not low points.
The UBP’s thirty-plus years of uninterrupted electoral success isn’t just enviable, it’s remarkable. It would also have been isolating. Look at today. We have a governing party in its seventh, not thirtieth year at the helm, which has rapidly isolated itself and is now catering to its extreme wing in an attempt to cling to power.
This self-professed but increasingly distant “People’s Government” has developed a dangerous addiction to polling and consultants as replacement therapy for that unpleasant task of mingling with the masses; an activity which would entail venturing from behind the rapidly expanding wall of taxpayer funded spin doctors, a.k.a. the Department of Communication and Information.
This self-imposed distance presents an invaluable opportunity for a challenger to reconnect with the public, return to and refine their core values, and most importantly communicate a sincere, inspiring and achievable vision for the future.
The recent elections in the UK, Australia and somewhat less so the US, are very important indicators. In all three cases the governing parties and their leaders were returned, despite meaningful public opposition to their major policy item – the Iraqi war.
In our case some might be inclined to site back and assume that the outrageously unpopular issue of Independence, or the ethical morass which the Government delights in, will automatically result in an electoral backlash.
While it is indeed important for the UBP to remind the public of the PLP Government’s seven year campaign of un-ambitious but failed initiatives, widespread ethical abuses and arrogance, this alone isn’t enough.
This message is only one part of a multi-pronged strategy. It must be coupled with a vision of hope and inspiration, progress and accountability, openness and reform.
Unlike the PLP, whose recent electoral success has been built on the back of two race-based campaigns, the UBP cannot win through division. At the risk of stating the obvious: this is a good thing.
Acutely aware of this reality, the party is carefully cultivating an enduring electoral majority that embraces collaboration and partnership and rejects division and manufactured conflict.
What the PLP consider the UBP’s weakness – their diversity – is in fact the party’s greatest asset. Polarizing campaigns of division and the cynical exploitation of sensitive issues for short term political gain can’t and won’t succeed forever.
The UBP’s very existence is predicated on building partnerships, the pooling of ideas and experiences to achieve consensus and a way forward. A race-based approach of carving up the electorate into opposing factions won’t work for a coalition building organization.
We’re a diverse island, and not just racially. We’ve all come from a variety of countries, economic backgrounds, religious beliefs and political ideologies. The UBP, while not perfect, is representative of our community.
The vast majority of the population however is not ideological, but pragmatic, having rapidly tired of the old campaigns of distortion and division.
Whoever steps forward with a courageous and compelling message of hope and opportunity through shared experience and sacrifice will ultimately succeed, by building that elusive and enduring electoral majority, leading us into the future together.
There is only one political team currently positioned to, or remotely interested in, delivering that. All indications are that two years into this second potentially five year term the UBP understand and accept this responsibility. They can do more, and do it better, but they’ve clearly made it their priority.
Opposition parties that take a short term approach, never articulating an alternative vision, will never fully capture the electorate’s hearts and minds. While conventional wisdom might suggest that the Westminster system structure is limiting to challengers, this doesn’t have to be the case.
By aggressively detailing its own agenda, standing up for an ignored and rebuked electorate, tabling draft legislation and motions, and outlining its plans for housing, crime, education, tourism and economic empowerment among others, the UBP is charting its own Parliamentary course; differentiating themselves while responding to the PLP Government’s myriad of failures.
This is highlighting not only the PLP Government’s chronic failure to deliver anything other than glossy brochures and staged press events, but it methodically lays out the agenda of an alternative Government.
Success will not be built on political rhetoric – that’s for the Premier and his televised addresses – but through the development of a tangible and comprehensive alternative vision; one of hope and inspiration, progress and accountability and openness and reform.