Special GPS sitting? All's fare in politics!

Mid Ocean News (15 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

TWO sittings in four days, Mr. Editor, Government sure was in a hurry. To catch a cab? Not really. To catch up? Again, no, not really.

For my money – the usual two cents' worth – the special sitting on Monday was simply to get GPS by the House on the Hill, by the taxi drivers and by the community, and to keep the Opposition and the fuss to a minimum, demonstrating yet again that all's fare in politics.
I mean we all understand that this was the third time around for this Bill but to spring a surprise sitting for its passage? Now that's extraordinary. We in the Opposition were not told there was going to be a sitting on Monday until the Thursday morning, a mere four days before.

Third time lucky then? Luck had nothing to do with it. This was by design. Numbers were bound to be down. Members are part-timers and have other job commitments. A Monday sitting on four days' notice is most unusual. The Government made but one concession: we started at two o'clock in the afternoon rather then the usual 10 a.m. This was no shared ride, Mr. Editor. It was never intended to be.

Only the Minister himself spoke for the Progressive Labour Party Government in support of the Global Positioning System Bill, along with the one backbencher, George Scott, who has an interest in a firm which is intending to supply the product.

The rest were silent; not that the rest of the PLP were out in numbers either. Some of the more notable players who were missing from this act of a familiar play, included: The Premier, who was down in the Caribbean (ironically talking about the war on drugs while one of his Ministers was tabling legislation doing away with the National Drug Commission). His absence meant that this was Dr. Brown's day to shine as The Man Who Would Be The Man.

Ottiwell Simmons, the PLP Whip, who actually spoke out the last time around, and refused to support the Bill.

Renée Webb, who has not just been demonstrating of late that she has a mind of her own, but a mouth which gives voice to what's on her mind.
The Opposition tried, but we too, were down on numbers, and the one vote which was held, told the whole story, 14 to 11, in Government's favour.

But perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all was that the House on the Hill was called to a special meeting not because of what happened over the weekend and what needs to be done in response, but rather to muscle Bermuda's taxi drivers by making GPS mandatory.

That, Mr. Editor, says it all.

Bail out Bermuda

SOME of the heavy legislative lifting which MPs are facing as we head for the summer recess began last Friday with the Bail Act – a modest Bill of some 23 pages when compared with the 100-plus pages of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) which should be tabled some time in the coming weeks before Cup Match.

As it was, Mr. Editor, it took some three or four hours for the Bill to wind its way through the House on the Hill, and this notwithstanding the fact that Government and Opposition had apparently selected a handful of members to carry the debate and expedite passage. It may have been agreed, but the hard work still had to be done: a clause by clause examination to make sure all is in order.

Tedious? Sure, Mr. Editor. But someone has to do it. Mistakes are very often spotted and amendments made – some of them by the Opposition, and some of them, I am pleased to report, are occasionally adopted. Glamorous, it ain't. But it can be illuminating, entertaining too – for those who bear to listen.

One initial, contentious issue was whether or not the Bail Act itself constituted major criminal justice reform – or any reform at all for that matter. The Minister responsible, Randy Horton, touted the Bill as part of the reform package which Government will be bringing to the House on the Hill in the coming weeks to help improve the delivery of criminal justice in Bermuda.

On the other hand, in his own words, the Bail Act was "a compendium" pulling together various bits of legislation and/or otherwise putting into statute form what is current practice and procedure in the courts. In short, nothing really that new. "A house cleaning effort," agreed former policeman, now PLP MP Wayne Perinchief, who shared Opposition concerns about the effectiveness of bail if the machinery and men are not in place to ensure and enforce compliance by offenders.

Let's face it, Mr Editor, what the law-abiding members of this community are looking for is peace and security and real, meaningful reform that gives them some assurance that this is what their legislators are working on: Like electronic monitoring of ankle bracelets to facilitate and assure the effectiveness of house arrest and protection orders and curfews. There's some meaningful GPS for you.

Soon come, said the Minister: "We're looking at it."

Looking where? Here, apparently. "We are looking for volunteers," Mr Horton told the House on the Hill. "Anybody up here interested?" he joked.

I am pleased to say that there were one or two volunteers – who shall remain nameless for now. "The honourable members might be into bondage," interpolated a surprised Mr. Perinchief.

It's funny, Mr. Editor, what you do learn in these lighter moments of debate. Shadow spokesman for Public Safety Maxwell Burgess had suggested that Justices of the Peace be employed to lighten the load of magistrates who might not be available to the police when needed on weekends and/or at unsociable hours of the day. The Minister in reply wasn't sure JPs would be any different than magistrates on making themselves available in the wee hours of the morning.

"I don't know," said Mr. Burgess, "you might be surprised who you see coming out of some establishments at the hour of the day."

"Mr. Speaker," retorted Mr. Horton as he struggled with the suggestion. "I don't know anything about anything after midnight."

"Sounds sensible to me," interjected the Speaker – and we moved on.

The information CURE

HOUSEKEEPING was how the PLP Government characterised the next piece of legislation, amendments to the Commission for Unity and Racial Equality Act. It had only been tabled the week before, but the Minister wanted to take the Bill up along with an outstanding take note motion of his on the 2003 annual report of CURE.

They certainly helped fill the day, Mr. Editor, and I suppose we in the Opposition should thank our lucky stars it was the CURE amendments the PLP elected to ram through on just one day's notice rather than the GPS Bill. They had both been tabled at the same time.

The amendments were doing away with those forms which were introduced back in 2000 for completion by employers and employees. Remember them: Black or white or Asian or black & white or black & other or just other?

CURE will now be looking to the Chief Statistician to collect the information for them and if that isn't sufficient CURE can then go directly to employers for such information "about employees and applicants for employment as the Commission may reasonably require to discharge its functions under this Act".

One of the other amendments was to ease the requirements for a quorum – which will now be 50 per cent plus one of the Commissioners serving at the time. Apparently, we were told, the Government is finding it difficult to find members who will serve. Let's hope they don't compound the problem, Mr. Editor, by insisting that meetings be called on short notice.

The lip in lip service

YOU know how fond I am of Ministerial Statements, Mr. Editor, lengthy reads that kill a lot of time, fill up the House Journals, and are not subject to debate or question . . . unless you're willing to hang around until the motion to adjourn and take the issues up (if there are any) hours later.

There were three last week and a couple of points that caught my attention.

Two of them were from Health and Social Services Minister Patrice Minors who seems to prefer to make regular if not weekly contributions by way of statements.

The first was on a new programme "The Just In Time Project" for young offenders.

They have to be at least 16 years old, unemployed and unskilled and there are already 12 participants. The Minister told us that the goal here is to provide these offenders with training opportunities and eventually, hopefully, gainful employment. Listed as one of the horticultural-based courses: "Chain-Saw Maintenance & Operation." Yikes.

But I suppose they are harder to lug around and conceal, Mr. Editor. The second had to do with the Minister's trip to the headquarters of the Pan Atlantic Health Organisation (PAHO) and "an orientation visit" for Ministers of Health from Overseas Territories of the UK. Don't even start on the cost, Mr. Editor, we were told that it was paid for by PAHO.

Minister Minors (pictured right) also said (not surprisingly) that the three-day meeting was most useful. But what was surprising was her conclusion: "My meetings with the Ministers have given me a better understanding of the similarities and differences between the Caribbean Overseas Territories and Bermuda, and I have a better appreciation for where Bermuda is Constitutionally – and where we have to go."

Which is where? The Minister didn't say.

The third statement of the day was from Transpourism Minister Dr. Brown (pictured at top right), who also happened to be standing in for the Man aka Acting Premier for the Day. He was singing the praises of his Ministry – and himself. There had been a number of promotions and appointments of Bermudians and the Doctor could not resist opening with a dig at the Opposition.

"I have often marvelled," he read from his statement, "at the lip service paid by the Opposition to the idea of Bermudianisation during their time in Government and to some extent even now in their present capacity."

Marvel, we should – but at his own Government's track record. The 2004 Economic Review, published by his PLP Government, told the real story.
The facts of the matter are that jobs held by Bermudians have decreased from 28,717 in 1999 to 27,235 in 2004 (1,372 fewer jobs), while those held by non-Bermudians have risen over the same period from 7,480 in 1999 to 8,980 in 2004 (an increase of 1,500 jobs).

Now that, Mr. Editor, is lip service.

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