January 2006 Archives

After years of anticipation the JetBlue deal seems to be reaching fruition, which is obviously good news for both locals and tourists alike.

It'll be interesting to see what happens to the fares on that NY route. It's pretty well served already between Continental and American with a number of flights daily, so we'll have to see what happens when a lower cost carrier is thrown into the mix.

Tourism Minister Brown may be overplaying the announcement of JetBlue and Spirit a little when he says:

"It is my belief that in 2006 we will eliminate high airfares as a barrier."

One of my concerns is that the expectations around JetBlue's impact have been raised to such levels, and that the politicians are looking to get such mileage out of it, that there's an expectation that the airline will single handedly resurrect tourism.

There's much more to turning around tourism than that. But more and cheaper flights is a big part of it.

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Ridiculous statement of the week goes to Tourism Minister Dr. Brown for this this gem in responding to a hotel developer's warning that the PLP Government's cavalier behaviour to tourism development is scaring away potential investors:

"If this fellow is not interested there are plenty of others lining up to come here."

Riiigghhhttt.

For years we've been told that all these dormant sites are about to take off, predictably nothing has come of it. And now we have the Government abusing major hotel developers, including marquee groups like Four Seasons.

The PLP's behaviour around tourism development is not just ineffective, it is surely turning off future investors as was warned in today's Gazette. But the Minister doesn't want to hear it.

I can cite, off the top of my head, three high profile and important developments whose developers were suddenly and without explanation kicked to the curb.

There's Morgan's Point, a project that was moving along under the UBP before the 1998 election and was suddenly stopped by the PLP when they took office. What's happening there now? Nothing. They're parking mobile homes on the perimeter.

Then there's the South Shore development that Bermudian Rammy Smith was far down the road on, to the tune of several million dollars, before he was suddenly advised that the site had been sold to another developer, and that Cabinet was privy to this.

And now we've got the 20 year dormant Club Med site which had a developer identified, but to be suddenly and without explanation turfed off the project. The Minister won't say why...not even to the investors he sent packing. He won't say who the new developer is.

That is unacceptable. There has been no significant development* since the PLP took office in 1998, and with the way they're acting the prospects are becoming more remote every day.

This behaviour won't just damage tourism development. It will cast doubt over the whole island as a business friendly and attractive jurisdiction for investment. But the impact on tourism development will be most severe. Hotels require a huge capital investment while reinsurance does not. Investors require stability, not unpredictability.

Dr. Brown is not unintelligent. It's his ethics that we should worry about. His role in deposing Jennifer Smith, the as yet unresolved pay to play scandal and his sale of a property to the BHC for example are testament to his lack of ethics.

What is he not telling us? We're entitled to know.

* CORRECTION: The original post has been corrected. The statement "There has been no development since the PLP took office in 1998..." was incorrect and has been amended to "There has been no significant development since the PLP took office in 1998...."

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It seems to be all the rage lately to take the position that there are no significant differences between Bermuda's two political parties, and that the voters aren't really given any choice at the polls.

While it may be true that there are less philosophical differences between the UBP and PLP of today, as both have moved to the political centre, difference do exist.

I've been meaning to write about one of the most significant for the past several weeks, but a virus (human not computer) and mechanical problems intervened. So I was pleased today to see UBP Senator Bob Richard's Op-Ed in the Royal Gazette entitled 'Bermuda needs a tax cut'.

This is an area where there are huge differences between the UBP and PLP. Simply put, the PLP as a Government believe that your money is theirs, while the UBP believe that it is in fact yours. Therein lies the fundamental differences between the parties; the UBP is fiscally conservative, the PLP are classic tax and spenders.

'The economy has done well under us' battle cry from the PLP rings hollow. The PLP Government have had no positive impact on Bermuda's finances or fiscal policy during their 7 plus years in office. None. The've simply allowed the UBP's economic policies to run, while living off the backs of a robust economy driven by two expansions of the international business sector post September 11 and Hurricane Katrina.

These expansions have generated excess tax revenue which has largely obscured their lack of fiscal restraint. As Sen. Richards suggests in today's column, when Government overcollects they should return this excess revenue not hold it up as fiscal prudence.

By not returning it they are implementing a tax increase.

The UBP's Grant Gibbons has been making this case for the past month, although too much like an accountant, until an interview with the Mid Ocean News on January 13th when I think he did a great job in bringing it down to everyday language.

I hope that today's article was the next step in a targeted plan to highlight what is a crucial difference between the UBP and PLP. Bermuda's strong financial position is entirely, entirely, a product of the United Bermuda Party and remains the key ideological differentiator between the parties.

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Due to an exploding air conditioning pipe spewing toxic fumes into my house, I'll be silent for a few days while my children's bedroom is disinfected.

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And there it is. The Royal Gazette leads today with the election by the UBP Parliamentary group of Wayne Furbert as Party/Opposition Leader, replacing Dr. Grant Gibbons at the top.

There's been a lot of talk over the past few months that the leadership of both parties should change, but this comes as a bit of a surprise. I was aware that a process was ongoing, as described by Dr. Gibbons himself in today's paper, but I did a double-take this morning when I picked up the paper nonetheless.

Wayne's a great guy and it will be interesting to see what his first steps are.

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Fair point by John Zuill in his rapid response Letter to the Editor in today's Royal Gazette (scroll to the bottom, second letter) to my column of yesterday on the idea of eliminating the UBP and PLP to usher in a new political era:

"I would not put idealism and Sharon in the same sentence. I would say Sharon is a political realist and quite amoral."

My intention wasn't really to get into the minefield of Israeli politics, but to touch on the fact that the only way ABC's objective can be achieved is if some MPs on each side say enough is enough and abandon the status quo.

I don't really think the All Bermuda Congress is the answer, but the idea of moving past the UBP and PLP has some real appeal to it. And I don't say that thinking that we're all going to join hands and sing kumbaya around a campfire afterwards.

People will still be cycnical about their politicians. Political fights will still go on. Politics will remain adversarial. But it might allow a little more focus on the current issues we face versus the ones we faced 40 years ago.

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (11 Jan. 2006)

If the first few weeks of the year are any indication, the United Bermuda Party and the Progressive Labour Party are going to have to start paying attention to their ABCs and 1, 2, 3s: the All Bermuda Congress (ABC), a new political party.

Perhaps surprisingly Khalid Wasi (Raymond Davis), one of the primary organisers of the ABC, is adamant that he isn’t in fact looking to start a third party; his intention is to replace the United Bermuda Party.

He contends that the current parties are no longer relevant, that their existence retards Bermuda’s political evolution, and that the demise of the UBP will have a cascading effect, eliminating the PLP and triggering the emergence of a new, healthier and more productive political paradigm.

He’s probably right. What he proposes should happen, but it probably won’t.

Politics is, at the best of times, an exercise in frustration. But we’ve taken it to a new level in Bermuda. Here, any issue – and I mean any issue – is without fail conveniently reframed by the PLP to fit the parameters of a forty year old racial argument which they feel they control.

Therefore, ABC proposes that the UBP’s mere existence, regardless of their best intentions, plays into the PLP’s hand and perpetuates this cycle, allowing the PLP to act as an agent of division and an impediment to progress.

In a recent television interview Mr. Wasi put it well when he characterized the parties as “two sides of a racial argument” (whether they know it or not). It’s precisely this outdated racial argument that is preventing the advancement of a modern social and economic vision and meaningful Parliamentary reform.

Ironically as some have pointed out, the ABC is targeting the UBP – the party which talks of moving past this racial argument – for elimination. On the surface this approach might appear backwards, a strategy that would entrench the PLP and their racial politics. Unless you consider the old adage that every action has an equal and opposite reaction that is.

If you regard the UBP and the PLP as two sides of the same coin, one minted in the 1960s but still in circulation today, the picture starts to take shape. While the PLP was created first, the two parties essentially formed as reactions to each other, two halves of a whole, opposite sides of an equation.

So while the ABC is proposing to take out the UBP, they are in fact aiming to drive both parties into irrelevancy; to unbalance the equation as such. Their draft manifesto states as much:

"The only moral authority legitimising the PLP, seemingly, is that the UBP exist. Every argument of the PLP is predicated by what the UBP did for 35 years if not 350 years. With the UBP gone the PLP will ideologically fold because it has no natural ideology asides from its reaction to the UBP.”

Two examples may help illustrate this point, one fictional, science fiction to be precise, and the other true and in play today.

Fans of The Matrix trilogies might relate to this (bear with me here) if they parallel the UBP and the PLP with the fictional foes of Agent Smith and Neo. These two adversaries remain engaged in a seemingly endless fight, capable of winning individual skirmishes but not total victory. Only when Neo realizes this and sacrifices himself – unbalancing the equation (and becoming one with Agent Smith) – does the war end. Idealistic? Maybe. But it’s worth considering.

Conversely a real world example of what ABC is proposing is currently being attempted in Israel, although recently complicated by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s recent stroke.

Mr. Sharon embarked on an ambitious and unprecedented bold course of action, one designed to obliterate the traditional political battle-lines in Israeli politics and clear the way for the emergence of a new paradigm: Mr. Sharon, a sitting Prime Minister and his party’s leader, resigned from his own party to found a new entity. Idealistic? Maybe. But it’s worth considering.

The latter is almost certainly what it will take in Bermuda for the ABC’s goal to be met. While admirable, it may not be achievable. The last election result is probably the problem.

The UBP came very close to a win in the popular vote, or at least a draw, after being written off in 1998. Conventional wisdom almost certainly maintains that the PLP Government has proven so ineffective, so scandal-plagued and so arrogant that a win at the next election is highly achievable.

It is that political reality which renders ABC’s efforts to woo away a few UBP MPs difficult, if not insurmountable; Opposition MPs can taste victory. Without significant defections from sitting UBP – and to a lesser extent PLP – Members of Parliament, ABCs goal will be unachievable.

It might just be worth a shot though.

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The next time a PLP member uses the horrible and overused phrase 'testicular fortitude' in Parliament I'd suggest a UBP member work the following word into a retort:


'TESTICULATING: Waving your arms around and talking Bollocks.'

[There's a whole email of these new words for 2006. Some are just brilliant but not necessarily appropriate for this website. If you click the feedback link below I'll send on the full list for some comic relief.]

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I was polled last night by Research Innovations, in what I assume is their 2 monthly poll commissioned for the Royal Gazette.

Apart from the usual and expected questions about popularity of the Premier, Opposition Leader, performance of the Government, Independence etc. there was a strong focus on immigration, labour and crime.

The immigration questions were interesting, along the lines of whether I thought our immigration policies were working, being violated, and adequately enforced and whether I would support extending more benefits to long-term residents.

With respects to labour there were questions about whether I thought the Government to be pro-union.

On crime there were the usual questions about perception of changing crime levels and the effectiveness of the police.

If anyone else is polled I'd be interested in their impressions.

I guess we'll see the results in The Royal Gazette shortly.

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Any guesses as to how much the first quarter air arrivals will be down this year? The loss of 536 arrivals for race weekend alone will have a huge impact.

...the 1,000-plus fields that have flocked to Bermuda's shores for the past five years will be absent while overseas competitors – the perfect January boost for the tourism industry – are down from 683 to a paltry 147.

But I bet we'll be told it's the hoteliers' fault and nothing at all to do with the local organisation.

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The PLP might want to be careful what they ask for with respects to commissions of inquiry into matters of public interest, as a reader points out:

So now we're going to have Royal Commissions into matters of pressing public interest? Surely one needs to be convened regarding the as-yet-unexplained goings-on at the Bermuda Housing Corporation. And presumably the Auditor General's disturbing finding that a culture of corruption now exists within Government also merits investigation by a blue-ribbon panel.

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Hallelujah. That idiotic portable message board that has been partially blocking the sidewalk on East Broadway has been removed as of this morning.

Apart from being ugly, it was pointless. Flashing messages at drivers to slow down while they crawl along in the morning rush hour isn't particularly productive. So let's hope they packed it up for good.

But it surely won't be the last attempt for the Transport Minister to recreate Bermuda in his American image. So far he's imported personalized license plates, glass bus stop shelters and 'fast' ferries that sit idle for most of the day, not to mention his shady US fundraising tactics in the as yet unresolved pay to play scandal.

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It's heart-warming to see that the Government is starting 2006 as they ended 2005: hypocrits.

The latest example of hypocrisy is on display with the Government's desire for a Commission of Inquiry into the BELCO fire, because according to PLP Senator Walter Roban on VSB news last night, the Government is both the "protector of the public interest" and the "chief regulator of BELCO as a monopoly".

Now I've already had it out in the press with Education Minister Terry Lister who seemed offended that I thought an inquiry into the 47% failure rate in the public school system was of greater public interest than a fire at a power plant. He disagreed.

So here we are again, in the New Year, with our bud Senator Roban prattling on about the public good and the need to prevent a repeat of this incident.

Which is funny really. Because you may recall that Government vehemently objected to calls for an inquiry into the burning of somewhere in the range of $70M, when all is said and done, at the Berkeley incinerator, er I mean school, project in addition to rejecting calls for the arbitration to be held in public.

It's amazing how this nonsense is delivered with a straight face.

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