November 2005 Archives

The Royal Gazette
Opinion (30 Nov. 2005)

Architectural design is an inherently subjective thing; what’s attractive to one is hideous to another. You can test that statement by trying to find a consensus on whether the ACE or XL buildings are more aesthetically pleasing. This is why the response to HSBC’s Front St. glass tower has been so surprising.

Remarkably, the bank has achieved something unprecedented in Bermuda, they’ve identified an issue that virtually everyone can agree on (other than opposition to Independence that is): The feedback to the proposed HSBC building on the former Trimingham’s site is ugly, or ‘Ogly’ as we prefer to say.

Let’s be thankful then that something positive might arise from HSBC’s redevelopment of the historic site; but let’s also be realistic.

Objecting to the development because it is ugly is an exercise in futility; there are lots of ugly buildings in town. And whether or not you believe that we need a glass palace towering over the charm of our flagging retail district, something other than a quaint department store will be built. The only question is scale.

But before we can decide what can be done to rein this in, it’s important to understand how we arrived at this point, and what the respective responsibilities of the public, Government and HSBC are.

If we’re honest with ourselves, the writing has been on the wall for some time, ever since Cabinet approved the sell off of Bermuda’s landmark retail real estate space to a foreign corporation – notwithstanding Finance Minister Paula Cox’s rather disingenuous assurance that the Bank of Bermuda is a local company, despite its 100% ownership by HSBC.

Conversely HSBC didn’t do itself any favours by pitching such a massive development – and a potential turning point in Front St. development – as a selfless act of corporate benevolence; this is primarily in Bermudians’ best interests we were told, shortly before the CEO of the "world’s local bank" rather presumptively told locals what our capital city should look like.

What is needed in this process, one that is going to act as a benchmark for future Front St. development, is for all the parties to this process – and that’s everyone – to be honest about whose interests they are representing, and then represent them honestly.

Whether they’ll admit it or not, HSBC’s sole responsibility is to maximise their shareholders’ return. And that’s exactly what it should be. All this noise about how much the bank cares about Bermuda is just a distraction.

The decision to buy the Bank of Bermuda was an economic one, as were the decisions to take over the Trimingham’s site and its subsequent redevelopment. Sure, they’ve made some concessions along the way, but those were designed to facilitate the goal of maximizing the return on that real estate.

HSBC is a shrewd operator, more so than most international conglomerates. Modern corporations are well aware that building and maintaining an image in the community as a ‘good corporate citizen’ can be good for business, but it isn’t because they’re benevolent, it’s because they want to make more money.

Then there’s the Government. The current leadership have displayed a penchant for rolling over to the banking giant; whether it be approving the buyout of the Bank of Bermuda or the subsequent takeover of the Trimingham’s site; two acts which required explicit Cabinet level approval.

But that’s water under Flatts bridge. We are where we are. The question before us now is where do we go from here? And the answer to that rests entirely with us. We have the power to put the brakes on this project and ensure a satisfactory resolution for both Bermudians and the bank.

What is clear from the fast-track planning request by HSBC is that they are looking for the fastest path to Ministerial approval by sidestepping the usual bureaucratic channels, aware that the proposal will almost certainly be rejected as is.

And that brings us to our responsibility as Bermudians. The Minister, the Government and the Opposition, need to know that they are expected to prevent this unsightly blot on the Bermudian landscape or suffer the political consequences. But both political parties have been suspiciously quiet to this point, at least publicly. John Barritt’s comments during the Throne Speech are the only ones I’ve heard from anyone thus far.

As a last resort, there is one surefire way to get HSBC’s attention, particularly as they’re so enthusiastically playing the role of caring corporate entity. If enough customers feel strongly that the Bank is over-reaching and not acting in the best interests of the community, you can take your business elsewhere.

Then they’ll sit up and notice.

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Education Minister gets a lump of coal in his stocking this Christmas.

Why? Well, because apparently he recently sent out a directive to at least one east end school, no prize if you can guess which one, that they are not allowed to go Christmas carolling outside of the east end - as they did to great reviews last year.

Well done. Thataway to fix the 47% failure rate.

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Mid Ocean News (25 Nov. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Poor planning, plain and simple - or as one wag said: 'It's a good job these guys aren't running the country'

WOULDN’T you know it, Mr. Editor. We sit on the Monday for 16 hours to get through the Throne Speech debate, finishing up at three thirty in the morning on Tuesday, and then on Friday of the same week we’re all done after four hours and out for the day by two o’clock in the afternoon. Go figure.

But let me give you a little help along the way. It’s poor planning, plain and simple.

I told you last week how we could easily have spread the Throne Speech debate over two days, possibly three, and still have gotten on with any bills or motions or business the Government wanted to take up. It’s done elsewhere and it’s a practice that we’ve followed before.
But the Government a.k.a. the PLP get to call the shots. They wanted the debate over in a day – even if it went into the early morning hours. We presume that they didn’t want to subject themselves to the Opposition spotlight for more than a day, although the official line from the PLP was that they have lots of business they want to get on with, and they want to get it done before we break for Christmas.

Business, huh? What business?

We learned on Thursday that the PLP intended to only take up three of their seven items on the agenda – all of them quite simple and straightforward and unlikely to engender much in the way of debate. As it was the Opposition actually supported all three: amendments to the Motor Car and Auxiliary Bike Acts so as to permit the refusal of vehicles licences in cases where there are unpaid court fines as well as regulations for what we hope will become widespread use of defribrillators.

There were four other items which could have been taken up by Government which they chose not to do: the introduction of the demerit or point system for traffic offences (which the Opposition has also proposed); new landing and air navigation fees (the cost of flying in and out of here); and the PATI paper (PATI? Don’t tell me you have forgotten already: Public Access To Information). They have all been held over, I’m guessing, to give us something to do this week.

Three new pieces of legislation were tabled:

* The Clean Air Amendment Act which, according to the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum, is designed “to enforce the Ministry’s enforcement capability”.

* An amendment to increase the number of people who can serve on the Bermuda Hospitals Board; and

* A Taxes (Rates) Amendment Act which will see cruise ship passengers become liable to a daily departure tax rate of $20 per day or part of any day.

The Minister Without Portfolio Walter Lister also proposed three take note motions. He wants us to take note of the financial statements of the golf courses for the year ended March 31 2001; for the BLDC for the year ended March 31, 2004; and for the Housing Corporation for the year ended March 31 2005. It’s nice to see this new-found enthusiasm. We wait to see the purpose.

Bottom line, Mr. Editor: Perhaps the pace will now pick up, and we’ll soon find the House in better order. However, as one observant wag was overhead to say on the way out the door on Friday : “It’s a good thing these guys aren’t running the country”.

Point.

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The House goes into session at 10AM this morning. You can pick up the web stream at:

http://bermuda.lcs.mit.edu:8000/hp.m3u

Today's Order Paper can be viewed here.

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Here are the:

- (unapproved) House Minutes for Nov. 18, 2005.

- Orders of the Day for tomorrow's session - Nov. 25, 2005.

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (24 Nov. 2005)

Welcome to the New Bermuda, a twilight zone where our political leaders exist in a parallel universe, one where up is down, regress is progress and wrong is right. With consistency having no place in the PLP Government it’s become abundantly clear that Cabinet functions as little more than an auto and dining club, a fragmented collection of individuals with competing agendas, little cohesion and a lack of leadership.

The sole unwavering message emanating from the Cabinet Office is that the United Bermuda Party is the big baddie; PLP mantra has long dictated that the UBP are responsible for all that is wrong, nothing that is right, everything that will be wrong and most importantly all that the current Government have screwed up.

What’s striking in all of this is just how much Mr. Scott and his colleagues are emulating exactly what they decry; whether it’s the rolling back of democratic reforms and accountability, back-room deals or most remarkably the discarding of the Holy Grail of “one man one vote”. The PLP Government’s ability to hold entirely contradictory positions on simple issues, blissfully oblivious to the patent absurdity of it all, is impressive.

The PLP’s position on Independence is a useful starting point to demonstrate the extent of the cognitive dissonance which grips our current political leadership. For a party that claims to abhor all things British, their desire to shatter our flimsy but advantageous ties and go it alone is oddly predicated on retaining everything British. Juxtapose that with their fervent desire to entrench Bermuda in Caricom – oddly predicated on rejecting everything it stands for – and the issue becomes all the more unintelligible.

The PLP advocates that we cut ties with the UK - but retain the Privy Council, Queen as Head of State, EU passports and British citizenship ie. keep all our UK ties.

And it advocates joining Caricom but rejecting its raison d’etre – the Caribbean Single Market Economy – which includes the free flow of labour, single currency and the Caribbean Court of Justice for example.

Therefore establish no meaningful ties with Caricom other than the Ministerial trips.

It’s little wonder then that no one outside of the ideological fringe find either of these positions coherent, let alone appealing.

But the PLP leadership can’t even remain consistent with their own intellectually inconsistent positions; whether it’s Dame Lois – the PLP’s guiding light and legal advisor to BIC – recommending that Bermuda cast aside the Privy Council, or Dr. Brown – the number two man in Government – recently expressing his desire for Bermuda to expand our role in Caricom’s Single Market Economy.

The Government is as predictable as the weather, hence the increasing public concern. Sadly, it’s not just around policy that Cabinet fails to demonstrate consistency or follow their own advice; it’s also evident in their interactions with those who they serve.

A good rule of thumb in politics is to not insult the intelligence or character of the electorate. Recently we’ve seen both. As leadership starts at the top, let’s start at the top. Several months ago “The Man” led his party straight into the gutter when he publicly insulted the intelligence of the 14,000 registered voters who’d like a direct vote on Independence. Generally that’s not a good idea, and you don’t have to be a PR expert like the Premier to understand that.

But it gets worse. The Premier’s favourite tagline is “Bermuda works best when Bermuda works together”. Sounds nice right? Except he doesn’t believe it, judging by the Colonel’s – who doesn’t care what you think – successful audition for a return from Cabinet exile.

On his officially non-political but obviously totally political radio talk show - the one where he routinely hangs up on callers – the newest PLP Senator uttered a phrase so heinous that it will no doubt supercede his previous efforts at infamy.

Back in August Mr. Burch, frustrated that his talk show callers wouldn’t fall into line like his regimental conscripts, referred to anti-independence black Bermudians as “house n***ers”. Impressed, Premier Scott promptly invited the shock jock back into Cabinet; because Bermuda works best when Bermuda works together. Or not.

Again, that type of comment isn’t smart at the best of times, but it does seem to fly in the face of the Premier’s professed desire for unity and rational debate does it not? While Senator Burch may not care what people think, he’ll surely think twice about lobbing that slur again outside of Cabinet.

It’s an inconvenient fact for a Cabinet which strives to polarize Bermudians around race, but polling consistently indicates that not just a majority of Bermudians oppose independence, but a majority of black Bermudians do so as well.

Well done Mr. Burch. In two statements you’ve insulted and ostracised 48% of the voters who didn’t vote PLP in 1998, and now more than 50% of black Bermudians who you deem “house n***ers”. Nice. Welcome to Cabinet.

In fact, whether he cares what anyone thinks is irrelevant. What matters is that most voters will care what he and his colleagues think, and that type of offensive, intolerant and outdated mentality has no place in politics, let alone Cabinet.

A twilight zone indeed.

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There's a UBP Townhall meeting tonight if you're interested:

The Smith's & Devonshire Regions of the United Bermuda Party will be holding a Town Hall meeting at Somersfield Academy Auditorium, 107 Middle Road, Devonshire on Tuesday, November 22, 2005 at 7:30pm.

In attendance will be the Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister of Finance, Dr. The Hon. E. Grant Gibbons, PhD, JP, MP. and Ms. Gwyneth Rawlins JP, Party Chairman. The following Shadow Ministers will also be present:-

Mr. Michael H. Dunkley JP MP - Deputy Opposition Leader & Shadow Minister of Labour, Home Affairs & Public Safety

Hon. Wayne L. Furbert JP MP - Shadow Minister of Housing

Mr. John Barritt JP MP - Leader of the House & Party Whip

Mr. Cole Simons JP MP - Shadow Minister of the Environment

Mr. Trevor G. Moniz JP MP - Shadow Attorney General & Shadow Minister of Legislative Affairs, Justice, Telecommunications and E-Commerce

Hon. Maxwell A. Burgess JP MP - Shadow Minister without Portfolio

Mrs. Louise A. Jackson JP MP - Shadow Minister of Health & Family Services, Seniors, Community & Cultural Affairs

Should you have any questions, please call our central office at 295-0729

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Lost amidst all of the the political sparring over the final cost, quality and completion date of the new Berkeley school building is an important question:

Wouldn't moving buildings in the middle of the year be extremely disruptive for both the students and the staff?

Whether you believe Sen. Burch's assurance yesterday or not, I struggle to think moving schools in January is a good idea.

The problem Sen. Burch couldn't overcome with his announcement yesterday, is that because of the long and sordid history of lies and deception around this project - many of which remain unanswered - no-one believes anything Government says anymore.

Consequently, my read from yesterday's press conference - and I imagine it's not a unique one - is that the building won't be complete, but that they're going to put students in it anyway to satisfy a political deadline.

Surely a January occupancy will, apart from being disruptive, incur substantial overtime costs for teachers working over the Christmas holiday, not to mention the inevitable teething issues which will occur when the spring term begins in a brand new facility.

Wouldn't it be smarter to just wait until September and do the move the right way, over the summer holidays, without rushing now for political expediency?

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

CALL me crazy, Mr. Editor, but there I was at two o’clock in the morning rising to my feet in the House on the Hill to deliver my own Reply to the Government Throne Speech. It took me about 50 minutes. But you have to wonder whether anybody was actually listening at that hour aside from the reporter from The Royal Gazette whose job it is to listen, or at least to appear to be listening, and to make sense of it all for the newspaper the following day. Good luck to him, Mr. Editor, along with a good night’s sleep, I hope, before he started typing up his notes.

And I wasn’t the last speaker either. That distinction fell to George Scott of the PLP who spoke after me for just under half an hour.
So for those of us who were still there at that hour - not everybody does stay to the bitter end: can you really blame them? – we didn’t make our way off the Hill, in what appeared to be varying states of consciousness, and back home to our beds until three thirty or so in the morning.

So here I am the next morning writing this column and thinking – as I hope all of my colleagues were – and please no cracks about how thinking can be a dangerous thing – that there must be a better way to do the country’s business.

Of course there is.

One of the practices around here over the years has been to spread the Throne Speech debate over at least two sittings - and look to adjourn each day at a reasonable hour. This would appear to be give more members an opportunity to speak at reasonable hours as well. In fact, we did do just that as recently as last year, and while we rose fairly early in the night on the first day I seem to recall that we went rather late into the night on the following Friday.

The challenge is to get members to limit the length of their speeches, voluntarily.

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Here are the Minutes for the House session of Nov. 14, 2005 - The Opposition Reply to the Throne Speech and the ensuing debate.

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The US House of Representatives have passed a resolution honouring the Airmen who disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle 60 years ago:

The disappearance of Flight 19, a Navy mission that began the myth of the Bermuda Triangle, is still unexplained, but not forgotten, 60 years later.

The 27 Navy airmen who disappeared somewhere off Florida's coast on December 5, 1945, were honored in a House resolution Thursday. Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Florida, said he hoped the gesture would help bring closure for surviving families.

Strangely now, only taxpayer dollars not people disappear into the Bermuda Triangle.

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While Government fiddles with their propaganda TV others just get things done.

So for the past couple of months I've been working with Doug DeCouto on putting the AM broadcast of Parliament online, and he's pulled it together.

The idea is to archive each session and tie it to the House Minutes and Agenda which I've been posting for the past year or so (when I can get hold of it).

The feed is can be found at http://bermuda.lcs.mit.edu/hp and begins at around 10AM.

Last week was a test run that a few people had access to, and it worked well. So let me know if you have any problems, but it worked like a charm last week.

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Tourist Minister Dr. Brown is quoted extensively in this Carib World Radio article giving indications that Bermuda is looking to expand it's role in Caricom:

Dr. Brown, a physician, said that Bermuda believed it was important for the country to work closer with Caribbean nations, especially as Caricom states moves closer to the launching of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy.

"I think there is a role for Bermuda in the Single Market and Economy but it is yet to be figured out," he said. "The Bermuda economy is different from most of the other economies but that doesn't mean we cannot work together in some way. Bermuda is an Associate member (of Caricom) and we have been very cautious in terms of what commitments we make inside of Caricom, but I can tell you that it's inevitable that over a period of time we will have to find ways to cooperate and to help each other, whether it is the Single Market and Economy and how we play in that, it is up to speculation at this time."

Dr. Brown hedges somewhat in his comments, but he seems to be suggesting that we're on our way to much closer intergration with Caricom, even perhaps the single market and economy which brings with it a single currency and free movement of labour.

This is a very worrying development. And why is it that we don't hear about these things at home first? The Premier, and now his Deputy, have a habit of running their mouths overseas and clamming up locally.

And wouldn't it be useful for the Minister of Tourism and Transport to understand geography:

"It is very important for us as people from the Caribbean and the U.S. to come together like this and as often as we can," added Dr. Brown, who is also Bermuda's Minister of Tourism and Transport.

What's a few thousand miles of open ocean among friends? Does the PLP suffer such an identity crisis that they feel the need to pretend Bermuda is in the Caribbean?

No wonder most people don't have a clue about Bermuda. We keep telling them to fly to the wrong place.

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From the just in time file, here's the Order Paper for tomorrow's House session, Nov. 18 2005.

I'm not sure what will be taken up but if I find out I'll let you know.

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From the better late than never file, the United Bermuda Party's full 2005 Throne Speech Reply is available here in my document archive, or at the party's website.

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Due to the annual busy season at my paying job, posting will likely be a little lighter than usual for the next couple of months.

But when the feeling hits and issues come up, I'll be posting (in the evenings most likely). And with Parliament in session lots of issues will come up if last night's session was any indication.

More on that later.

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Parliament sits today for the Opposition's Reply to the Throne Speech and the beginning of the debate.

The House will convene at 10AM and the broadcast will be on AM1230.

I'll post the reply once I've got it.

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The Royal Gazette
Opinon (12 Nov. 2005)

If you’re looking for a copy of the 2005 Throne Speech you probably won’t find it where you expect. Bermuda’s librarians and archivists face an interesting conundrum this year: just where should it be filed?

Convention suggests that it be categorised no differently than the myriad of other Throne Speeches. However this year they might contemplate the appropriateness of that approach. A more efficient approach would be to classify it by one of the many genres it encompasses: fantasy, fiction, ancient history and self-help. Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde can’t hold a candle to our Premier.

Fantasy: Throne Speeches are, by design, little more than lists of initiatives padded with flowery political verbosity. In that regard this installment was a success, if not terribly predictable.

The goal however was much greater than the usual trumpeting of minor initiatives as mind boggling examples of political ingenuity; we can all agree that the PLP Government is proficient at that, albeit unconvincing.

The ability to actually accomplish anything of note, or complete a project at all, on time or on budget, is what has been in short supply. Nowhere was that issue addressed. We were never told what has changed that will suddenly render Cabinet adept at public policy implementation. On this front the Premier and his Cabinet have failed miserably, by the speeches own admission:

“The next phase of the Social Agenda will see the introduction of legislative and
social initiatives designed to protect and sustain Bermuda’s growth, environment,
economy and culture.”

Any guesses at what the first stage involved then? The mindlessly parroting of the phrase “Social Agenda” and a glossy mailing come to mind. Even ‘P’ himself is lamenting the fact that, despite his underperforming Ministers best efforts, they haven’t been as mindless as he’d hoped. The Premier’s recent publicly scolding of his Cabinet colleagues for not promoting his “Social Agenda” enough confirms that. Perhaps it’s because there wasn’t – and isn’t – anything to promote? If you’re still a kind-hearted soul giving them the benefit of the doubt, get a load of this passage:

“Therefore, in the coming months, the Government will appoint respected members
of the community and research groups to provide assistance to a newly established
Social Agenda Management Resource Team (SAMRT). This Team will serve
as a think tank to provide high level and independent advice from the private sector
and wider community. The Team will also be utilised in the implementation and
long-term management of the Social Agenda.”

To summarise: a year after the roll-out of the much-hyped “all-encompassing, cross ministry, Social Agenda”, Government has realized they need to add some substance to the slogan.

Just how are they going to do this? By appointing a think tank. Why do they need a think tank? Well, to think for the ever-expanding Cabinet of course, in addition to implementing these as yet un-thought of initiatives. Why are we paying Cabinet then? To work the cocktail circuit and lounge in air-conditioned Music Festival luxury boxes?

The Social Agenda: found in the fantasy section of your local bookstore, right next to The NeverEnding Story.

Fiction: While fantasy is fun, fiction is an endearing genre, and the Throne Speech dabbled in that quite effectively. Credibility clearly wasn’t a concern, with Government hitched their wagon to that dead horse known as the Bermuda Independence Commission.

Referring to the Commission’s report, Premier Scott stated that the “work of the Commission and the contribution by the public has left an indelible mark on Bermudian society”. An indelible mark? A scar might be more appropriate. But this Premier has never been one for facts. They’re so passé.

Unashamedly then, the Government will plow ahead to ‘educate’ the public – two-thirds of whom aren’t interested in Independence – about BIC’s intentionally erroneous and dishonest conclusions through more public meetings.

Note to the Premier: the public knows what they think; BIC are the ones who failed the class and should be in detention. Drop it.

All this leads us quite nicely into the next genre of this dynamic piece of literature, one the Premier’s literary idols of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde would be hard-pressed to duplicate: Ancient History.

Ancient History: Undoubtedly the most worrying but revealing initiative is the Orwellian pledge to launch a Government Information Television Channel, aka Propaganda TV.

Any pretense of the PLP’s move to the centre has just been blown away, with Alex Scott returning to his extremist roots and deciding to dive right back in and emulate his Cuban idol. Who said the Cuban Cultural Agreement isn’t bearing fruit? Gramma, the state news agency, is going to take over Bermuda’s media.

Much like the Premier’s London announcement in 2004 when he announced his intention to retool Bermudian society through ‘social engineering’, the idea of propagandizing through state sponsored television stations is a long discredited relic of a long discarded communist era.

Whether this chilling effort at indoctrination goes ahead or not, the damage has been done. Alex Scott and his colleagues are so desperate to have someone, somewhere, anyone, anywhere, praise their lackluster efforts that they’ve decided to do it for us.

The speeches equating of propaganda with Public Access to Information confirms that “The Man’ and his colleagues are political fossils frozen in a bygone era and a bygone ideology, one comprehensively discredited as a fundamentally flawed and failed.

While the Premier was no doubt disappointed that Chairman Mao was unavailable to deliver the Throne Speech (due to his untimely death in 1976), and had to settle on Prince Andrew in his place, next year he should simply end the façade and invite one of his ideological peers of Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez to do the honours – if ‘P’ is still around that is.

You can also find the 2005 Throne Speech right alongside Alex Scott’s copy of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

Self-help: Almost as notable as Government’s official foray into propaganda was the promise to tackle race. Like credibility, evidently sincerity wasn’t an issue either:

“…the Government will facilitate and support the Human Rights Commission, CURE and Non-Governmental Organisations in a major race relations initiative. Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda – or CURB – will be the vehicle tasked with recommending to the Government tangible, achievable strategies for the elimination of racism.”

While it’s heart-warming to hear that the Government has now decided to support the Human Rights Commission and wants to eliminate racism, may I suggest that CURB implement a 12 step program for Cabinet – now that they’ve seen the error of their ways and are taking up the modern literary genre of self help:

Step 1: admit you have a problem
Step 2: confiscate the Premier’s blackberry or never let the Premier write his own apologies or place print ads
Step 3: never allow a PLP MP to speak publicly
Step 4: develop new talking points for PLP MPs
Step 5: prevent the PLP from participating in election campaigns or producing radio advertisements
Step 6: keep trying to develop new talking points for PLP MPs
Step 7: pull the plug on Sen. Burch’s talk show
Step 8: don’t give up trying to develop new talking points for PLP MPs
Step 9: focus group led by Minister Dale Butler on the perils of stereotyping
Step 10: tell the Tourism Minister that the colour of a tourist’s money not skin matters
Step 11: hire a political consultant to develop new talking points for PLP MPs
Step 12: return to step 1

We should support the Government in their efforts to change their ways. But don’t forget, recovering addicts will fall off the wagon several times while they engage in the process of recovery. Be patient.

Or was that not what they were really getting at?

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Mid Ocean News (10 Nov. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

THERE we were, Mr. Editor, back from our summer recess, sitting under the shade of the Big Tent on the manicured lawn of the Cabinet Office, listening as attentively as we could to a Prince; no, not the Prince who plays basketball for the Detroit Pistons, and not the son of Michael Jackson, and not the artist who was formerly known as Prince. No, this Prince was the real deal: Prince Andrew, His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, British royalty no less, and the occasion was, as most people know, the opening of Parliament and the reading of the Throne Speech.

I think the Prince later said that it was his first time – reading a speech for the Throne on behalf of his mother, the Queen, not just in Bermuda, but anywhere. It was my first time too – listening to a Throne Speech in my capacity as MP being read by someone other than the Governor of Bermuda.

I thought the Prince did a pretty good job too, reading a speech which he had not written. That was done for him by our Man in Bermuda, the P and his Cabinet – and that of course is the way Throne Speeches are done. They are an outline of what the Government plans to do in the parliamentary year ahead.

The Prince also showed a pretty good sense of humour ( and some local insight as well, I thought) when he misread thirty months as thirty years for the time which Government plans on taking to build 330 new rental units.

The still, solemn atmosphere of the occasion was punctuated with almost instant, unabashed laughter all around when the Prince said it would take thirty years, and when he promptly corrected himself, not once, but twice; and more emphatically actually the second time around, Mr. Editor, when the guffaws continued in some, but not all quarters.

If he didn’t know then why the mistake was so funny, I’m certain someone filled him afterwards – and it would not necessarily have had to have been the Shadow Minister for Housing, Wayne Furbert, such is the PLP track record on housing after seven years in power. People have heard the promises before.

I was going to say that this was also the first time that I can recall enjoying a really good laugh at the reading of a Throne Speech. But on reflection, Mr. Editor, that would be quite disingenuous of me as a member of the Opposition.

The difference is that you don’t normally laugh out loud. That isn’t done – and it certainly isn’t expected.

The ceremony is after all a serious and special occasion on the political (and social) calendar, replete with all the pomp and pageantry that goes with the parade that marks the re-opening of Parliament: the Bermuda Regiment soldiers resplendent in black and red striped trousers with white tunics, led by the stirring sounds of their world-reknown Band; a horse-drawn landau with the Prince and H.E. in stiff, starched whites; and MPs and Senators as well as a host of other officials and dignitaries making their way into the shade of the Big Tent by way of a red carpet laid over the lawn; and let me tell you, Mr. Editor, negotiating carpet draped over grass is no easy feat ( pun intended) – it can bunch easily and my sympathy goes out to those of my colleagues who wore heels. The last thing you want to do it trip and fall flat on your face on such occasions. Luckily for us the paparazzi in Bermuda are not so overwhelming.

Ask The Colonel

THE Prince of course had the only real speaking part and the Throne Speech took about 30 minutes – although it might have seemed longer to those, like the soldiers in the Bermuda Regiment, who were at attention in a surprisingly warm, November sun. Spare a thought for them, Mr. Editor: we were seated in the shade and they were standing ...the whole time.

Some quick thoughts then on what I heard and on two items that stuck out. I defer to the Official Reply of the Opposition which comes next week from Leader the Hon. Dr. Grant Gibbons.

On Independence: The Premier and his Government are going to continue to push the issue – surprise, surprise – notwithstanding what the polls are saying. They are promising more public meetings to “educate” the public about the conclusions of BIC, to be followed by a Green Paper ( a discussion paper for Parliament) and then by a White Paper outlining Government’s proposals for an independent Bermuda. No mention of decision by referendum or general election or simultaneous general election and referendum or general election followed by referendum or …. or what? My guess is that people are going to get this education whether they want it or not. In the meantime, we will have to vote with our voices and our feet.

A Government Information TV channel: I wonder who thought this one up and why? I mean if the true intent is to simply promote Government services and programmes, it can’t be cost effective. Surely it’s easier and less expensive to buy the time on the local stations? I was going to say just ask the Colonel – and I will. But wait a minute, Mr. Editor, this latest brainwave came wrapped with the explanation that this will also be a means “to increase Bermudian content on the airwaves and provide an opportunity for young people to enter the field of public media”.

Something fresher than Fresh, I presume ? I wait with interest to see who did the costing research on this one, and whether we will ever see a copy of the study which recommended this course of action.

You have to wonder too, who will be watching: Those waiting in lines maybe, like at Immigration and Customs at the airport?

Speaking of television, if given a choice, I would have thought that maybe the time had come to explore televising the proceedings of Parliament. This is becoming fairly standard in most jurisdictions and a part of the development of accountability and transparency for better governance. As The House Turns, All My MPs etc. etc.
But all jokes aside, Mr. Editor, it’s a show that might actually draw some viewers and have some (positive) effect on parliamentary performance.

3 x 35 = 2

TRADITION has it that when the House first meets no other business is taken up other than the reading of the Throne Speech. Excepting for that quaint feature, Mr. Editor, of congrats and obits – and after a three month recess there were a lot of people and events to be remembered. It took members well over an hour to get through this portion of the agenda, even though each MP was (as always) limited to three minutes in total: I mean it can take up two hours, give or take, if all 35 speak to the limit.

Some of us sought to use our three minutes wisely by associating ourselves with the congratulatory remarks or condolences of previous speakers. Just like PLP Whip Ottiwell Simmons tried to do when he began by saying that he wished to associated with “most” of the condolences which he had heard thus far.

“Most?”, inquired Minister Terry Lister, leaning back in his seat to ask his question of Mr. Simmons, adding: “Which ones then do you not wish to be associated with?”.

We all got the point – smiles all around.

Remembering 11/11

NO Ministerial statements, Mr. Editor – and why would there be? The Throne Speech is meant to be The Statement of the Government. Their day in the sunshine, you might say. But we might reasonably count on a raft of them when we next meet. That’s when Dr. Gibbons will get to present the Opposition Reply – and the Reply doesn’t come up on the order paper until after Ministerial Statements which can, in both number and length, distract and delay from what the Opposition has to say. Watch for it.

By the way, the House won’t be meeting again until Monday the 14th. It can’t be Friday as usual, as this week it is Remembrance Day when we remember those who fought and those who died so we could actually enjoy the freedom of a Parliament - no matter the day we meet.

Enjoy, Reggie

BEST wishes in retirement, Mr. Editor, to former MP and Senator Reggie Burrows of the PLP. He was one of those who was remembered on Friday in congrats and obits for his 37 years of service in the Bermuda Legislature. I was reluctant to join in ( but did anyhow) as we thought he had retired when he quit membership the House on the Hill in 2003, only to return as a Senator for two years. Reggie assures that this time it is for real and there were those on both sides of the House who were moved to wish him well. I can’t help but think that if all members, myself included, had the temperament of Reggie Burrows – or even half of it, Mr. Editor – the House on the Hill would be a very different place. Televised or not.

So much then, for the system, being to blame.

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It's a good thing this blog is written and not spoken, because for once I'm speechless.

The hypocrisy is simply astounding, and the Mid Ocean News was kind enough to lay it out in adjacent articles.

Read it and weep:

- PLP Cabinet Minister and Senator David Burch's political radio talk show = a great thing - direct communication with the masses - no conflict of interest.

- PLP PR Officer Scott Simmons and a PLP Cabinet Minister Wayne Perinchief sit on the Broadcasting Commission (which regulates political broadcast) = no conflict of interest

- PLP Senator and Chairperson of the Bermuda College Raymond Tannock participates in the decision to try and block Bermuda College employee Gina Spence's appointment to the Senate = no conflict of interest, doesn't recuse himself

- the newly appointed UBP Senator Gina Spence, who runs a radio talk show with Bermuda College students, that has not been political = conflict of interest, has the last broadcast stopped and is told that it could be used inappropriately for political purposes

If people sit back and say nothing we deserve exactly what we're getting.

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Things have been quiet for the past few days I know. But now that things have returned to normal I'll resume posting tonight.

With regards to the Throne Speech, I put together a column for the Gazette on it (well sort of). So I'll be posting that tomorrow.

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I'm still trying to carve out some time to put together some thoughts on the 2005 Throne Speech, but it isn't going to happen tonight (due to my single parent status for the duration of the weekend).

I would say though, that if you played the Throne Speech Drinking Game you would have probably been in pretty bad shape.

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Mid Ocean News (04 Nov. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

IF at first you don’t succeed, Mr. Editor, try, try again. On the other hand it’s often good political advice to put down the shovel and stop digging when you are in a hole. Either way it is never over until it’s over, and it doesn’t look like the P’s push for independence is going to end any time soon. For those who have been following along, and God bless you if you have been able, we now appear to be moving into options that remind me of the football pools and the permutations punters play to pick a set of sure score draws that actually never do occur.

To summarise, in recent weeks we seem to have gone from decision only by general election; from no jurisdiction ever made the decision by referendum to, sorry, our mistake, maybe there have been some after all; to decision by general election and referendum on the same day; to decision by general election followed by referendum.

On the bright side, it looks like there’s at least some shifting towards what people prefer – a referendum; assuming, Mr. Editor, that it is shift and not spin from The Man who put the extra P in PLP.

I guess that we will hear more on the newest version in the Throne Speech which, while read by the visiting Prince, will have actually been written by the P and his Cabinet, not to mention how BIC also gave them the perfect cue to prolong a debate on independence which BIC could not get off the ground except possibly among the captive audiences of schoolchildren who had no choice.

After all their work BIC came up with a six-pack of recommendations which - surprise, surprise – also serve as six good reasons to encourage the PLP Government on: -

1. The PLP Government should open dialogue with the people of Bermuda on the topic of independence and present its proposals on “the type of government and constitution and all related matters”. BIC: The Sequel, I presume – which also assumes the proposals of the PLP Government will be different than those which the PLP party made to BIC under the auspices of The Man Himself. Go figure.

2. The PLP Government should consult closely with international business companies to remove “any uncertainties” that might arise from a debate on independence and to make sure “myth is separated from reality” by keeping them fully informed. Good idea, close consultation: but shouldn’t this be standard operating procedure with all of us? When it comes to separating myth from reality, Mr. Editor, whose myth and whose reality are we talking about? How about some listening too?

3. Go back to the UK Government and ask them to reconsider withdrawal of British citizenship upon independence. At least that’s an acknowledgment of its value, but haven’t the British already made their position clear, not just to us on any number of occasions but to others as well? They may wonder of course what part of NO we do not understand.

4. The state of race relations in Bermuda needs to be improved, although we do not necessarily need independence for that to happen. BIC suggests “a process of truth and reconciliation” but gave no details on what they had in mind. The P has told us he has plans on this front which will be unveiled in the Throne Speech and I assume he has in mind something more than lessons on how to operate a Blackberry (or write a column).

5. Get from the FCO a list of all Bermuda’s treaty obligations. I don’t know about you Mr. Editor but I would have thought that might been the sort of work which would have been undertaken by a Commission appointed to inquire into independence.

6. I felt the same way too, about this sixth and final recommendation: Government should conduct a review of all international opportunities that currently exist (in international organizations of which we are members) and “the many additional prospects should Bermuda proceed to independence”. The many? But apparently not so important or so obvious or so great to be investigated and reported on by BIC in its Report.

So much then for the comprehensive, fact-finding approach which we were promised by P when he first appointed the Commission. Turns out it ain’t.

Like so much about the report and its findings, Mr. Editor, its selectivity and its language, the discerning reader may hear the voice of Jacob but sense the hand of Esau..

Getting it

BY the way Mr. Editor, before concluding on BIC, let me pause for a moment and see if I have got this straight. I did read - with more than just a passing interest - that advertorial which ten of the fourteen Commissioners paid to have published in The Royal Gazette last week.

They explained to us that BIC only published in the Appendix those submissions to which reference was made in the body of their Report. If there was no mention, the submission was relegated to a the summary found elsewhere in the Appendix. The UBP submission was on the need to decide the question by way of referendum and how it had employed for that purpose in other jurisdictions. But as BIC had asserted in the body of the Report that it found no instance of where a referendum was used to decide the question of independence (which they now say was a mistake) the submission of the Opposition wasn’t mentioned and thus didn’t qualify for publication in the Appendix.

Oh, a kind of convenient Catch 22, I guess: If you’re in, you’re in; if you’re not in, you’re out – mistake or not.

Mr. Editor, I could not make this stuff up if I tried.

Fallen soldier

ASIDE from more on independence in the Throne Speech, I expect the PLP will continue with the Social Agenda theme.

We might hear something on housing. Last year there was the promise of a new Housing Initiative Team, and the promise of a housing programme. Instead what we now have is a change of Ministers. Now I have had my disagreements with Ashfield DeVent, and he has faced up to the criticism, but from where I sit he looks very much like the Fall Guy to me. He gets appointed by P to take on the Berkeley mess (which P created when he was the Minister responsible) and Ashfield takes the heat for axing Pro-Active ( which was a collective Cabinet decision) and soldiers on with a housing programme (which never actually materialised), and stand up for the struggling Bermuda Housing Corporation following the scandal and criminal investigation and millions of dollars being written off, (all of which he inherited from his predecessors in the PLP because it happened on their watch).

Lucky guy, Ashfield.

But who ever said politics was fair? It isn’t.

A ThreePeat

A couple of other items to keep an eye out for –important holdovers from last year:

Parliamentary Election Amendment Act: a move to introduce (finally) absentee balloting which, in the last version which was tabled, didn’t actually provide the right to vote by absentee ballot to everyone. If the amendment isn’t amended, you still won’t have a vote if you happen to be traveling abroad on either the day of the vote or the advance poll.

PATI: the much ballyhooed public access to information paper which does not seem to have excited the masses. Not surprisingly, I think: the information which most people today want are straight answers to their questions .We are being told that this legislation may not be in place until 2011. I’m all for it, Q, but we are not inventing the wheel here. For instance, there’s a draft Bill in circulation in the Caymans.

P.S. I like the idea of a Whistleblower’s Act too. That shows where you really stand on disclosure, transparency and accountability.

PACE: This bill – Police and Criminal Evidence Act – wasn’t taken up before we rose for the summer. It is modeled on the UK Act and their experience and trumpeted as part of the tough new PLP Government package on law and order. What will be interesting to see is whether or not the PLP have in fact been tough in face of behind the scenes criticisms from attorneys of the Bermuda Defence Bar. One of the more contentious, but significant parts of the Bill, in the fight against crime, was the inclusion of a provision which allowed magistrates, judges and juries to draw adverse inferences from defendants who choose to remain silent in certain circumstances when accused of a crime. Did they or did they not back down? Inquiring minds will soon know.

Horsefeathers

FINALLY, Mr. Editor, speaking of independence, the BIC report and the Throne Speech, the following tale comes to mind. It isn’t original, but it is apt.

It’s about the young boy who was eternally optimistic. Too much so. Or so his parents thought. While they sincerely admired his optimism, and regarded it as a good trait, they thought that he also needed to learn that life also had its difficulties as well as its challenges and thus its disappointments. So one Christmas when his expectations were high, they put horse droppings in his stocking.

When on Christmas morning the young boy discovered what was there, he was visibly crestfallen. But not for long.

“Oh, Mum and Dad”, he shouted out – unable to contain himself any longer. “ I know what this means: it means that there must be a pony around here, somewhere!”
There wasn’t – and there isn’t.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November.
Happy Guy Fawkes Day No. 55 everybody.

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The 2005 Speech from the Throne is available here.

I'll have more comprehensive comments tonight but my first impression listening on the radio was that this was a big miss. Scott needed to come out big, and this isn't it.

There are a few interesting bits which will be overshadowed by the desperate attempt at the opening of the speech to portray the BIC report as relevant and useful and things like a Government TV station.

Somehow I doubt that this will be along the lines of CSPAN; rather it will be nothing more than a direct feed from the spin doctors at the Department of Communication.

Equating a Government TV station with Public Access to Information is astounding.

Anyway, more to come later this evening...

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The Royal Gazette Opinion
02 Nov. 2005

With Friday’s reconvening of Parliament all eyes and ears will be on the Cabinet lawn for the delivery of the 2005 Throne Speech, or “Social Agenda version 2.0: the second attempt at the second attempt”.

While Governor Vereker will no doubt be pleased that his cameo role of Englishman will this year be filled by Prince Andrew, if this Throne Speech is anything like its predecessors there will be little for the rest of us to smile about.

As the past seven years under the PLP Government have driven so many of us to drink, it’s only appropriate that we derive some pleasure from Friday’s festivities. Therefore, as Bermuda works best when Bermudians drink together, it’s time for the Throne Speech Drinking Game; yes the speech takes place at 10AM…but it will be Friday after all.

(Disclaimer: I do not condone the excessive consumption of alcohol – know your limits and drink responsibly – but after seven years of living through the New Bermuda, I completely understand.)

The Throne Speech Drinking Game is quite simple really, as any good drinking game should be: with a sufficient supply of your favourite beverage handy, sit back and listen for any of the following words, phrases or issues. Each item’s utterance signals the need for a different number of drinks, with a drink being either a shot or a gulp.

If the Government lives up to their part of the deal, and normally they don’t but in this case they will, you’ll be comatose well before the Speaker is.

Take one drink whenever you hear:

• Mr. Speaker
• Social Agenda
• Sustainable Development
• Housing
• Seniors
• Crime
• Youth
• Independence, Bermuda Independence Commission, BIC
• Sovereignty, nation, nationhood or national pride
• Unique solution
• Community or community spirit
• Public Access to Information
• Watershed or unprecedented
• Grass roots
• Partnership or collaboration
• Refocus or recommit

Take two drinks if you hear:

• “Have’s continue to have and the have-nots will have more”
• “Bermuda works best when Bermuda works together”
• “One man, one vote”; or any reference to democracy
• Divisiveness, voices of division, or “those who seek to divide us”
• Caring Government, listening Government
• The invocation of God or a higher being (excluding the Premier or anyone in Cabinet)
• Racism, race or race relations
• Media bias
• Free speech

Contain your laughter before taking a generous swig if you hear:

• Openness, accountability or transparency
• High standards, ethics or ethical standards
• “Government that delivers”
• Tourism has turned around
• Fiscally responsible

Wipe the spray off your neighbour and take two drinks if an actual example is provided of:

• Openness, accountability or transparency
• High standards, ethics or ethical standards
• Anything that the Government has delivered for anyone other than themselves
• Tourism’s turnaround
• Fiscal responsibility

Pick yourself up from the floor; you’re half hot, but take a drink anyway if you hear:

• “People who look and sound like…”
• bringing us together or uniting us
• a quote from Shakespeare and/or Oscar Wilde
• 14,000 people didn’t know what they were signing
• any reference to Cuba
• a reference to the new $300,000 Parliamentary parking lot
• a reference to the unfinished bus terminal

Stop drinking; you’re full hot, if you hear:

• an apology for the past seven years
• “We’ll continue to mislead you when we have to…”
• BIC was biased
• a date for a stand-alone referendum on independence
• an apology to the 14,000 signatories to the Bermudians For Referendum petition
• an apology for screwing up the Bermuda Homes for People project
• an apology for the Berkeley debacle
• the announcement of an independent investigation into the “pay to play” scandal
• a reduction in Cabinet travel
• the use of satire or irony
• “John Swan had it right”

Enjoy, but don’t blame me when you can’t go back to work; blame the Government.

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Cabinet expanded by one today with the appointment of PLP backbencher Wayne Perinchief to a new Ministry to tackle drugs.

The Premier said:

"Today I am here to announce the establishment of a new Ministry, and to introduce the new Minister for that Ministry. It is a bold and innovative step taken by the Government to combat drugs and crime in our country. The Honourable Wayne N.M. Perinchief CPM JP MP will be the Minsiter for a newly formed National Drug Control Ministry. The Government policy statement setting out the rationale for the new Ministry will be provided in this year's Speech from the Throne."

The Premier went on to gush about Mr. Perinchief's qualifications, in his usual over the top manner, eventually seeming to realize the ridiculousness of what he was about to say and pausing to find a graceful exit. Nonetheless he still sounded typically insincere and boastful while discussing Mr. Perinchief's resume:

"This man knows law and order in Bermuda...this man is qualified...I don't want anyone to doubt why we put him where he is going and I don't want anyone to question whether he is capable of doing the job we assigned for him. He is probably, in my humble estimation, the most qualified person in Bermuda if not [pause] within and without Bermuda for this post."

The most qualified person within and without Bermuda? Premier Scott actually caught himself at that point, it looked like he was about to say "the world" but stopped and then came up with 'within and without Bermuda'.

Over the past two years the Premier's speaking style has become increasingly theatrical, translating into a sense that he's trying to sell you something you probably don't want or need. The style overwhelms the content and undermines whatever he's attempting to convey.

Maybe this Ministry is a good idea, we don't know yet as the details will come on Friday, but today's announcement was typically over the top.

My first impression however is that the creation of a whole new Ministry for Drug Control, particularly after the PLP undermined and eventually absorbed the National Drug Commission into the Ministry of Health, seems grand and excessive. Do we really need a separate Ministry to deal with drug control? Wouldn't a single department within a Ministry suffice?

This probably doesn't have much to do with drugs anyway. The more likely answer is that the Premier is working to consolidate his position in an increasingly fragmented Parliamentary group by expanding Cabinet and pulling more backbenchers in.

When Cabinet is bigger than the backbench, and that's the case now with the existence of two frivilous standalone portfolios of Minister Without Portfolio and a Minister for Drug Control, it pretty much negates the power of the backbench to restrain Cabinet's more unwise impulses. Under Collective Responsibility when Cabinet presents an initiative to Caucus it now comes as a done deal with all Cabinet Ministers being obligated to support it if the majority carry it within Cabinet.

Perhaps most significantly, adding this new Ministry is the Premier throwing himself a a lifeline by linking the futures and fortunes of as many MPs as possible to his own.

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