Mid Ocean News (21 Oct. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'
FIRST the sugar, Mr. Editor: I actually thought the BIC Commissioners presented a pretty fair summary of the opinions for and against Independence near the end of their Report – see pages 62 through to 66 inclusive entitled "Opinions Offered in Oral and Written Submissions".
In fact, Mr. Editor, you might even say that that they appeared to have gone out of their way to be fair as they seemed to have made a point of listing an equal number of opinions for and an equal number against Independence.
But the rest of the Report, Mr. Editor, was in my view not so even-handed. The early critics alighted on the obvious. There was little or no fairness when the Commission chose to highlight "Myths and Misconceptions" and "The Benefits" to Independence, but gave no separate and equal treatment to "The Drawbacks" and "The Facts".
Mere superficiality? I don't think so, Mr. Editor, when compared to the reported analysis and findings in the rest of the Report; and most especially when you bear in mind that the Man Who Set Up The Commission, aka "P" The Premier, told us at the outset that the appointment of BIC was to be "a comprehensive, fact-finding, analytical and reasoned approach".
You can, of course, read the Report yourself to make up your own mind (don't wait for the movie), but it seems to me that what the Report does is traffic in opinions and is itself an opinion on the way in which Bermuda should go on this question of Independence.
We don't just get facts, but the facts which BIC thinks important – even if they get some of them wrong. The biggest clanger was the assertion that the Commission in its research could uncover "no instance" where the issue of Independence was determined by means of referendum. Some research, Mr. Editor – which tells you a lot about the scope and the depth of the work which the Commission undertook.
This calls into question not only their objectivity but their credibility when you consider that the entire UBP submission was not only about the need for a referendum, but even went further and actually catalogued for the Commission those countries which had decided the issue of Independence by way of a referendum.
But there's no sense letting the facts get in the way of an opinion, Mr. Editor, when you are on a mission to convert – and, of course, as we also now know the UBP submission didn't even rate inclusion in the published Appendix. Such was the disdain, it seems, for a submission the Commission didn't want – or didn't want to hear. Or to read either, it seems.
We might understand BIC's apparent disdain for the UBP, Mr. Editor: First, the Opposition UBP didn't agree to put one of their own on the Committee (few lambs ever volunteer for the slaughter) and, secondly, the UBP declined an invitation to make an oral presentation to BIC (we all knew that when BIC wanted an opinion, they gave you one). We cannot, however, excuse BIC's disdain for the facts.
Subtract and Divide
Take another example: in the section entitled "Race" under the heading "The Divide" we get a mention of the polls. Good. The reported polls in Bermuda have been reporting some consistent positions on the issue of Independence. But here's what you find in the Report: "Recent polls indicated that an overwhelming percentage of the White population oppose Independence".
Okay, that's worth noting and worthy of comment too – which the Commission gladly does, to the extent of even quoting one of their own presumably as proof of the truth of what they believe.
What really gets your goat is that this was the only finding on which the Commission elected to report – and the omission of other, equally significant poll results, once again reveals a lot. Those same polls have consistently shown that a majority of Bermudians are against Independence, and that while an overwhelming percentage (80 per cent) of white Bermudians are against, a pretty good majority of black Bermudians (58 per cent) feel the same way.
That majority, which cuts across racial lines, is deliberately ignored. Yet, later in this same Report, we find this poignant lament: "Bermudians have been focused for many years on the issues that separate them, potentially because they have failed to embody successfully that which they share."
Well, excuse me, Mr. Editor, guilty as charged: in reporting on the polls, the Commissioners in their Report chose to focus on that which separate Bermudians and not on those positions which they reportedly share.
The fact of the matter is they couldn't bring themselves to acknowledge in the Report even the existence of this strong majority of black and white Bermudians who have been pretty consistent in their opposition to Independence for Bermuda, not to mention the equally strong majority of white and black Bermudians in favour of a referendum to decide the issue.
Mind you, Mr. Editor, and to be fair, there was one instance in the discussion on Race where there was some attempt to acknowledge a shared position of white and black Bermudians – even if it was in a kind of a back-handed, snippy sort of way.
I quote the passage in full: "There is, however, one fundamental theme that seems to be common to both Blacks and Whites, albeit with some variation. Bermuda has developed into a very materialistic society. (The emphasis is mine).
"Successive governments have tended to define the measure of success of the economy and society in starkly material terms. Consequently, there is little evidence that any real effort has been made to initiate meaningful programmes to truly bridge the manifest racial divide.
"Bermuda, whether Independent or not, will have to ensure that the historical legacy of racism and its effects are addressed. Both Blacks and Whites do, however, share the concern of how Independence will affect them materially.
"It would appear that what will satisfy both Blacks and Whites is the assurance that the constitution of an Independent Bermuda will be one that is strong, inspires confidence and truly attempts to represent the interests of all citizens."
Dollars and sense
Materialistic, huh? But really, Mr. Editor, wasn't that one of the points of the exercise – if not the point for many: what will Independence cost? Can we afford it? What will it bring by way of improvements not just to our way of life but our standard of living, and what might be the risks?
And no one need apologise for engaging in this type of analysis. Most Bermudians, black and white, undertake such analyses every day. Can we afford this holiday? Can we afford to send our child away to school this year? Can we afford to purchase a home? How will we finance them? What can we reasonably expect in terms of expenses and can we make provision should the unexpected (and the worst) occur? What might we have to give up to make it happen?
The approach is not so much materialistic, Mr. Editor, as realistic – and when it comes to dollars and sense, realistic, frankly, is to be preferred in my books. On the price tag, the Commissioners also got it right when they stated in their opening paragraph under "Estimated Costs of Independence": "The final cost of Independence can only be determined when Bermuda has made the decision to go Independent and the Government of the day has made various policy decisions on the scale upon which an Independent Bermuda would conduct its affairs."
True that: BIC can speculate all it likes on estimated costs, giving us a range from a low to a high or, as people have said in the past, depending on whether we travel the route of the Volkswagen or that of the Rolls Royce.
But who is to say what the number of embassies there will be and the size of the missions? Although the good people of Bermuda know how this really works. Governments promise this but deliver that and the expenses rarely go down but up ... and up ... and up ... and ...
The voters have had some very real and recent experiences under the PLP Government to which they can point – and we don't have to look far to see how the millions mount whether it be the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal and the millions of dollars that had to be written off there according to the recent reports of the Auditor General, or the Berkeley construction project where the overspends are in the tens of millions of dollars and still counting.
Not to mention the general funding of the operation of the Government and the style to which the PLP Government has grown accustomed. I take the following three line items from the annual Government budgets over the last seven years to illustrate the point:
Travel: A reported expenditure of $2,055,00.00 in the financial year 1997/1998 compared with an estimated expenditure of $5,138,000.00 for the current financial year 2005/2006 – an increase of $3,083,000.00 or up 150 per cent.
Cabinet Office: From $1,953,000.00 in 1997/1998 to $3,128,000.00 in 2005/2006 – an increase of $1,175,000.00 or up 60 per cent.
Professional Services: From $29,267,000.00 in 1997/1998 to $47,097,000.00 in 2005/2006 – an increase of $17,830,000.00 or up 60 per cent.
You wonder too, about the priorities of a Commission which projects that as much money will be spent on Independence celebrations (from a low of $500,000.00 to a high of $1,000,000.00) as will be spent on the careful and comprehensive work that would necessarily be expected to precede Independence through a constitutional conference and legislative review (the costs of which are estimated to run from a low of $350,000.00 to a high of $1,000,000.00).
Mind you, Mr. Editor, the Progressive Labour Party in their submission took no stab at costs, probable or otherwise.
But that's not so surprising. We must understand that there are those among us who want Independence regardless of the price. For them costs are not an issue.