May 2006 Archives

Normally I give people the benefit of the doubt, but we're reaching a new low here as Limey in Bermuda summarises.

There's a rule in politics that goes something like this, "when in a hole stop digging". Time for a little refresher course on the hill.

The sidebar on the Bermuda Sun story today is both revealing and confusing.

The most glaring flip-flopper, wanting it both ways (not in the gay way) is UBP MP Jamahl Simmons. I'm not sure what the hell he's thinking.

Before Friday's vote on the Human Rights Code amendment he told Phil Wells at Limey in Bermuda that he would vote in favour. He told the Royal Gazette the same thing, with a dopey disclaimer at the end:

"Shadow Transport Minister Jamahl Simmons said: "I will vote for it.

"I don’t think people should be discriminated for what they do in their private lives although I am not a fan of the whole thing."

And now he says that he voted against:

"MP Jamahl Simmons said: “I voted no. At the end of the day I have to respect the wishes of my constituents.”"

There's a few other "againsts" in there that are both surprising, and don't make sense. Trevor Moniz for example. The only thing that makes sense there is that he wasn't going to work with Renee Webb.

I'm also a little surprised at Cole Simons, Suzann Holshouser, Neville Darrell and Michael Dunkley on the UBP side.

UBP Wayne Furbert doesn't help things by suggesting they had no strategy. Political parties always have a strategy in Parliament. The UBP's strategy seemed reasonble to me, let the Minister responsible speak first. So for Wayne to suggest that they didn't have a strategy is dishonest.

This whole thing is such a mess. There are so many reasons that this failed, but the more information comes to light the more it seems that Renee Webb had no allies to call on, no-one was prepared to work with her, and the topic is just too hot to handle with a likely election on the horizon.

As a politician the only thing that you have is your integrity. For our MPs to be changing their stories on a minute by minute basis like this is very very disheartening and only feeds into public cynicism.

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The Bermuda Sun does a good job today of fleshing out just why the proposed sexual orientation amendment to the Human Rights Code failed on Friday.

It provides a number of direct quotes from MPs, confirming a lot of what I discussed in my Royal Gazette column today, but goes into more detail about the control that the PLP Central Committee appears to have over Cabinet.

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (31 May, 2006)

Last week certainly was an unusual one. On Wednesday a drag queen defied Cabinet to take centre stage at the Bermuda Day Parade, before Parliament was invaded on Friday by drama queens who delivered a collective “talk to the hand” to the sexual orientation amendment for the Human Rights Code. Someone seems to have confused holidays; I thought we were celebrating Bermuda Day last week? The Queen’s holiday is in June.

All jokes aside, and there’s an abundance of material here, last week was a sad chapter in Bermuda politics. No-one emerged from these embarrassing episodes looking good…except the drag queen that is – two snaps for Sybil. Fabulous!

Ok, no more jokes I promise.

Last week produced no winners; not the PLP, the UBP, those who opposed the change, those who supported the change, not even Ms. Webb who sponsored the amendment. We should all take a step back and consider what transpired last week. Two of the most high-profile segments of our community, our elected officials and segments of the clergy, sent a message that discrimination is ok.

That our MPs on both sides of the House sat silently when presented with an opportunity to stand strong and united against discrimination has been rightly condemned and all too sadly praised. There’s little value in revisiting that argument, Monday’s The Royal Gazette editorial summed it up nicely.

The irony of the defeat of the Webb amendment is that while its time had clearly come, and a majority of MPs almost certainly supported it, timing is what killed it.

Even without the benefit of hindsight it was a safe bet that the amendment adding sexual orientation as a protected class under our Human Rights Code stood little chance of succeeding, for a number of reasons.

The most obvious impediment being the Premier’s positioning of his party for an election (sometime after July 24th 2006 – once his 3 year Premier’s pension vests at a dramatically increased level). Whether he takes the leap and drops the writ is anyone’s guess, but the stage is clearly being set.

The past eight years have seen one debacle after another with the PLP Government desperately trying to make nice with as many voters as quickly as possible. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Premier and his colleagues wouldn’t want to alienate the huge ‘church vote’ – for lack of a better term – on the eve of a potential election.

The same goes for the UBP.

It’s no secret that Bermuda’s black middle class are religious, but more importantly in the political context, they constitute the much-sought after swing vote – the Holy Grail of elections. As distasteful as it may seem, there’s one thing that all politicians can do, and that’s count votes.

Both parties made the calculation that this amendment was a net vote loser; something every MP other than Ms. Webb decided had to be sacrificed with the anticipation of an election in the air. This is the type of change to be made early in a term so people can get over it, not on the eve of an election. This complicating factor leads to another.

It’s all but certain that Ms. Webb is not running for re-election. According to UBP MP Michael Dunkley, Ms. Webb has already assumed part-time resident status. Whether to run again and how much time to spend in Bermuda are entirely Ms. Webb’s prerogative, but the political impact is that Ms. Webb’s colleagues on both sides of the aisle felt that she had less skin in the game than they did. And it showed.

Politics is not a zero-sum game. Nor is it always about being right. It’s about building consensus to achieve a desired outcome – the art of compromise and the art of the possible. By this measure Ms. Webb’s attempt to do the right thing failed miserably, arguably to the extent that it may have actually set back the cause she was championing. I certainly hope not, but time will tell.

A skilled and shrewd politician would have been cognizant of all of these potential obstacles, understood that this process required a gentle hand and deftly guided it through the political minefield.

Unfortunately Ms. Webb opted for the opposite approach, drawing a bright spotlight to a sensitive issue and attempting to publicly cajole her colleagues into agreement.

The approach was all wrong. If Ms. Webb had done her homework she’d have known that the votes weren’t there and held the amendment back until they were.

Several MPs have indicated that they had heard nothing from Ms. Webb since she tabled her amendment. That’s not good politics and suggests that Ms. Webb lost sight of her primary goal: to amend the Human Rights Code, not to simply be right – which she is.

Contrast last week’s shenanigans with the events of 1994, when the Stubbs Bill decriminalized homosexuality, and you have an interesting case study in managing politically sensitive changes through a skittish Parliament.

There was no more skilled a politician than John Stubbs, a man who was acutely aware of the climate in the community, the sensitivities of his colleagues and the art of enacting legislation. Dr. Stubbs spent months working tirelessly behind the scenes, lining up the required votes, and fostering a climate where those who supported the bill but found themselves in a political bind felt secure that they could do the right thing, not what was politically expedient. Only then did he move the debate forward.

Unfortunately political expediency won this time. But it can’t end there.

If those seeking to discriminate feel empowered by last week’s events they shouldn’t. We must stand against discrimination while engaging all sides in an open and honest dialogue about equality and respect for each others human rights. Vilification serves no useful purpose, no matter how disappointing the outcome or how angry one might be.

Bermuda is a community which responds to incremental change. While this slow pace may not satisfy everyone, it may be the only way.

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Any doubts that the PLP Government are engaging in a direct attack on the Auditor General's office should be put to rest with the revelations of the past few days.

With VSB news reporting last night, and the Royal Gazette today, David Burch engaged in a serious abuse of power by using his 48 hour stint as acting Finance Minister to engage in cowardly attempts at intimidation with the threat of an audit. (Not that Mr. Dennis seemed intimidated, hell he's been asking for this for years apparently.)

The combination of the unannounced move conducted by Sen. Burch's Ministry (let's get real, nothing happens in the civil service at 4PM on a Friday without being pre-planned...) to insufficient and inadequately prepared office space with the threat of an audit by an Acting Minister is not just politics; it's a direct assualt on government oversight, and the rule of law.

Bermuda's credibility is diminishing rapidly.

Sen. Burch should be immediately fired and removed from Cabinet, the Premier should issue a contrite apology for his rogue Minister, and the Auditor should be provided with adequate accomodation to perform his duty.

If space is at such a premium, perhaps the auditor should relocate to the recently renovated but uninhabited offical Premier's residence, Clifton.

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Come on Dale.

Surely you don't think the electorate is so stupid that they'll buy this excuse. [Note the explanation was delivered in Parliament -- an unique place where MPs have 'privilege' and can't be held liable for what they say...although misleading the House is a no, no.]

You said it. It was dumb. You regret it. So apologise.

You did it once before. Remember? The thing about Europeans and hygiene.

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This snipped from slate.com (half way down the page) seems topical in light of Bermuda's Parliamentarians rejecting the amendment to protect sexual orientation under the human rights code:

"A study hints at the mechanics of prejudice in your brain. College students were asked how two hypothetical people—a young liberal and a fundamentalist conservative—might feel about various questions. The students relied more on a frontal brain region while thinking think about the liberal but relied more on a back region while thinking about the conservative. Previous research suggests the frontal region is involved in putting yourself in another person's shoes. Researchers' conclusions: 1) You discriminate against people different from you by using stereotypes rather than empathy to guess how they think. 2) So the key to fighting prejudice is to help people see others as similar. Cynics' view: We could have told you that much. Good luck with the hard part."

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Mid Ocean News (26 May 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

HANDS up then anyone who thinks the House on the Hill is often no more than a rubber stamp. We’ll pause for a moment, Mr. Editor, to allow readers to pick up their newspapers before I share with them how events last Friday were a classic example.

There were four pieces of legislation which the PLP Government wanted to amend. It made sense to take them up on the same day. We were told that we were being asked to give Government, and three quangos, Bermuda Housing Corporation, WedCo and the Base Lands Development Company, the power to grant leases for periods of up to 120 years with the proviso that any lease longer than 21 years must come to both the House and the Senate for approval by way of resolution.

Minister Without Portfolio Walter Lister led the debate for the Government. He was subbing for the real Minister who isn’t a House anything except spectator. He’s a Senator who sits in a place down the Hill which we on the Hill are required to refer to as “other”.

But Minister Lister came prepared. Sort of. Someone somewhere in the service which we call civil, had put together a brief which he could read to us.

This was his first point: the overriding objective was to have the power to grant leases up to 120 years across the board.

Okay, but why?

What we heard was this:

1. The advice they had was that WedCo and BLDC could only give leases for up to 21 years, and the BHC leases up to 35 years; and
2. Prospective and potential developers were “clamouring for longer periods” to obtain a return on investment.

Minister Lister, a former chairman of WedCo, as he reminded us, said that during his tenure the West End body was “prohibited on a number of occasions” from granting leases longer than 21 years. Some of us always thought that WedCo had the power, it was just that it has to first obtain the approval of both houses of the Legislature.

Never mind. According to Minister Lister, the legislative change “proves once again that Government is listening”.

Really. You have to wonder, Mr. Editor.

A senior PLP MP serves as chairman of WedCo, which is charged with development of the Dockyard area, but complains in its annual reports that the body is being thwarted in attempts to encourage development by the inability to grant long term leases, which can be cured by a relatively straightforward and simple amendment, and it takes this long to act. The last time I counted, Mr. Editor, the PLP are well into their eighth year in power.

The listening part may be easy; the acting part isn’t, I guess.
Still, inquiring minds wanted to know: what can Bermuda expect to see as a result of the legislative changes? Who were these people who were clamouring for leases of up to 120 years and what do they have planned?

The questions were asked but there were no answers.

Sure, PLP MP Ottiwell Simmons conceded, “one hundred and twenty years is a long long time”. But, he said: “people will be better off”.
Meanwhile, his PLP colleague Glenn Blakeney chastised the Opposition for even taking up the points of why – and what for. “They need to take the veil off their rose-coloured glasses, Mr. Speaker”.

But not one of them, Mr. Editor, not even the Minister in charge, could tell us why Parliament was being asked to now give the Housing Corporation the power to not only grant leases up to 120 years, but mortgages as well.

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Renee Webb's bill proposing the inclusion of sexual orientation under the Human Rights Code was resoundly and swiftly defeated moments ago. It appeared that no-one other than Ms Webb was willing to speak on it, although I did miss a little bit of the debate, if we can call it that.

The Bill was defeated in committee, therefore there was no formal vote in the House and therefore - no names.

Profiles in courage indeed.

Update: Nelson Bascome spoke briefly on the bill

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Today's House Order paper can be found here.

The schedule of proposed Parliamentary salaries can be found here.

For those who are looking towards the amendment to the Human Rights Code regarding sexual orientation, that is likely to be the final item of the day (other than the motion to adjourn that is).

I'm not optimistic that it will succeed, but I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised. It'll be close whatever happens.

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (Friday 26 May, 2006)

If the recently staged production of “Premier Scott: International Man of Diplomacy” is any indication, we’ve opened a new chapter of Alex in Wonderland. Down the rabbit hole and off to Washington DC we all went last week, with the Scott hype machine firing on all cylinders for this highly orchestrated image makeover.

Desperately in need of some high-powered, well-connected statesman mojo, the Accidental -- and unaccomplished -- Premier embarked on a long overdue visit to our most valuable friend and economic partner.

While the Premier delivered such awe-inspiring pronouncements like “very few countries get that kind of access”, “they now know the Premier by name” and noted that the trip had been the highlight of his political career, reality paints a very different picture.

Even the most casual observer of Bermuda politics would be aware that this trip was by no means ‘unprecedented’, nor did it provide a higher level of access than we’ve been afforded in the past.

This trip confirmed an uncomfortable but undeniable truth: decades of close relations with our closest ally have been squandered during the PLP Government’s eight year tenure. You don’t have to believe me, listen to the words of the US Government’s representative in Bermuda on his return from the whirlwind visit:

“For ten years both Governments, frankly, did not speak to each other too much.”

We’ll attribute the ten year comment to some diplomatic rounding error -- Mr. Slayton is a diplomat after all -- but the Consul General bluntly pointed out that dialogue between Bermuda and the US came to an abrupt halt on the PLP’s ascension in 1998, while relations with Cuba and Caricom flourished.

For every junket our jet-setting Cabinet have taken to the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East or even Brunei over the past eight years, not once have they found the time to call on our closest trading partner, a mere two hour flight away.

It’s Mr. Slayton who deserves the credit for taking the initiative and organizing this brief meet and greet; a refresher course on just whom our friends are. We should thank him for that, despite his co-starring role over the past two weeks in the creepy Premier-Consul Mutual Adoration Society.

On the other-hand, Mr. Scott remains so characteristically self-absorbed with his new found and weighty world power-player status that it’s not clear he’s taken the hint. From the Premier’s perspective this visit was little more than a shallow opportunity to seek some desperately needed uplift for his sagging popularity; an attempt to gain some street cred and position himself as the viable leader of a dreamy independent Bermuda where all problems vanish as we hold hands and sing Kumbaya around a campfire.

Nonetheless the reviews are in; at least the Premiers are, in a textbook example of the self-graded exam:

Mr. Scott boldly laid out his agenda to the world’s superpower on their home turf: relax the travel stop list, set up a coast guard outpost and give us our respect as a financial jurisdiction.

The meetings were presented very much as a one-way street: behold our very own international man of diplomacy telling US lawmakers what they can do for us.

Message: Alex Scott is the chosen one to lead us to the promised land of independence, at which point tiny Bermuda will assume our rightful place on the world stage as a powerful micro-state. [Cue nationalistic music and video of Bermuda’s new PLP Green flag waving majestically in the breeze.]

Reality: That’s best left to the Consul. In responding to questions about the stop list, “The Hat Guy” put it all in succinct perspective when he said that “we don’t need to be importing felons to our country … if you want to maintain the right to travel don’t get involved in crime, even smoking drugs.”

Translation: Not a chance, but thanks for showing up.

In two short sentences the Premier’s pipe dream goes up in smoke. Admittedly one can’t understate the entertainment factor of our legends-in-their own-minds Cabinet, but it’s time to emerge from the rabbit hole with our eyes wide open.

The moment for a dose of hard political reality is long overdue for the gang that can’t shoot straight but have delusions of grandeur.

We’re a politically insignificant spec in the middle of the Atlantic; a unique spot on the map which has achieved success like few others, the continuation of which is by no means guaranteed. We’d all be better served if the PLP Government accepted reality, dropped the sideshows and showmanship, and re-focused on our historically winning formula of “think global, act local” to borrow a phrase.

We’re by no means perfect, but the Bermuda miracle can be attributed to a coupling of an entrepreneurial spirit and a brutally honest self-awareness that we’ll never be a world player. Pretending otherwise is either delusional or dishonest; but primarily it’s self-destructive.

We’ve prospered both socially and economically through an understanding that the homegrown issues and longstanding friendships deserve our utmost attention. Vanity projects like Independence, Cuba and Caricom are irresponsible and potentially damaging.

This visit was better late than never. It’s a shame that it’s taken eight years and a US Consul to make it happen.

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Seems there was a little bit of excitement on Bermuda Day other than the races and the parade, of which the latter was filled with excruciatingly long gaps between floats that pretty much killed it for me.

The excitement I refer to was the banning of our very own drag queen from participating as the "Queen of the Gomeys".

The first I caught wind of this was Tuesday night when ZBM News reported that Cabinet had rejected the drag queen's entry as it didn't reflect Bermuda's heritage or our "social and cultural mores". Which is a pretty flimsy excuse really considering that we had clowns, uni-cyclists and in the past US Marching Bands.

Shouldn't Cabinet have just come out (pun intended) and said that "they don't like fags", or maybe more like "we don't want to appear to like fags for fear of alienating the AME church" (see today's RG story)? That would have been much more honest, at least I could respect them for that.

Cultural mores? It seems that the mores we celebrate in Bermuda now include xenophobia (remember the problems that the Filipino entrants experienced several years ago), hate speech (David Burch's digusting tirade) and homophobia.

Surely that's not the Bermuda we're builidng.

On a related note, the stage has been set for the rejection of Renee Webb's amendment to the Human Rights Code tomorrow in Parliament. The likelihood of that passing with the talk of election in the air, and todays shot across the bow by the AME church (9,000 members) is unfortunately slim to none.

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Today's RG editorial drops the C-word, no not the one you're thinking of. Cuba to be precise.

That's been the one thing that hasn't been said about the Premier's grand tour of Washington DC.

US Consul Gregory Slayton also lays it down today with respects to the Premier's much trumpeted efforts to get the US to relax the travel restrictions on those with a criminal record:

"We don’t need to be importing felons to our country,” he said. “If you want to maintain the right to travel don’t get involved in crime, even smoking drugs."

Translation: "Ain't gonna happen."

I'd lay some serious money down that this whole trip was the Consul politely saying to the Premier and his Cabinet: "Let me remind you who your friends are."

Typically, all we've heard from the Premier -- on a daily basis for the past week - has been the things the US can do for us: drop the stop list, a coast guard etc..

In life, and particularly international relations, no-one receives something for nothing; and definitely not a politically insignificant island of 60,000.

Hence the C-word. We're not getting anything, not a thing, until we drop that pointless exercise. And even then the Premier won't be getting his little stop-wish wish. But it does make for good election material.

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Money quote from the US consul:

“We are sitting down and having substantial discussions on real issues which is extraordinary, and extraordinarily productive.” He added: “You can’t criticise this. For ten years both Governments, frankly, did not speak to each other too much. We now have excellent relations and respect – that’s how good laws are passed.”

You certainly can criticise it.

"For ten years both Governments, frankly, did not speak to each other too much."

Exactly.

Relations between the US and Bermuda have suffered terribly during the PLP's era (approaching 8 years). So while the Premier crows about how US lawmakers now "know the Premier by name", what he's really saying is that our key economic and political partner has been neglected by his Government, both the current and prior.

The spinning of this trip has moved into comedic territory; farce seems most appropriate. It is however necessary, 8 years overdue. How many trips have our Cabinet Ministers made to Caricom while not one has bothered to make the short hop to DC?

The harshest condemnation of all is that the one chance the PLP actually had to sit face to face with US officials and represent our interests -- as well as develop relationships with their US counterparts -- was in negotiating the Baselands agreement.

So how was this handled?

Government kicked it over to the UK to negotiate on our behalf and accepted an appallingly inadequate $11M settlement for pollution cleanup and bridge maintenance. A drop in the bucket in terms of both the real cost and the US Government's annual budget of several trillion dollars.

Don't believe the hype.

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As the Premier calls his DC trip one of the "highlights of his political career" in today's paper -- if you haven't got the picture yet that this trip was about Alex Scott, Alex Scott and Alex Scott you never will -- a reader chimes in with some perspective:

I’m still trying to predict how Alex will spin his DC trip into the independence debate/brainwashing. Clearly he has taken every opportunity to communicate to the media and the public (before, during and presumably after) every successful meeting opportunity with a Washingtonian heavyweight and this certainly serves to reinforce his already ludicrously high opinion of himself but, after all is said and done, how will this trip reconcile with his government’s misguided stance that we Bermudians aren’t able to represent ourselves on the world stage and must inevitably run to mother Britain every time we want to negotiate an international treaty, agreement, memorandum, etc.?

Perhaps he’ll suggest this trip evidenced that we Bermudians can do it ourselves and don’t need the assistance of others when establishing and promoting relationships with other nations … well … except of course for the American (chapeau wearing) Consulate and the immeasurable contributions made by Sir John before, during and after his stint as Premier. Unfortunately, however, he would be dead wrong.

As a matter of comparison Sir John (and a host of very capable Bermudians) successfully negotiated and entered into a Tax Information Exchange Agreement (“TIEA”) with the United States in 1985. To the bet of my knowledge, the then UBP led government completed this landmark agreement almost entirely on their own and without the assistance of the UK. It ended up as the legislative framework that paved the way for the tremendous success Bermuda enjoys today; establishing a bond with the U.S. that solidified our collective commitment which has proved to be mutually beneficial ever since.

By comparison, the current government (at the behest of the OECD) recently entered into a TIEA with Australia that is completely one-sided and has provided absolutely no material benefit to Bermuda, our economy or our people … and never will. Already the international tax pundits have hailed this Agreement as a great success for Australia and have questioned why Bermuda agreed to it in the first place given its completely skewed language in favour of the Aussies.

Again, we did not rely on the UK to assist us in this matter. The difference this time of course was the government. Alex and his stable of international neophyte ministers thought they knew what they were doing and rather than using the 1985 agreement as a precedent they decided to have a go at it on their own and as a result have established a new precedent (that Bermuda will presumably be using for other planned TIEAs with Mexico, UK, etc.) that will perpetuate and reinforce the one-sided nature of this document for generations to come.

Unfortunately Alex and the current PLP government have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that when given the opportunity he and his party are neither capable nor able to represent our interests overseas or, for that matter, at home.

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The House is in today, and the orders can be found here.

It would appear that Renee Webb will not take up her amendment to the Human Rights Code today, waiting until next week, nor does it look like the Premier will be taking up the Parliamentary pay-raises today as that does not appear on the order paper.

Doug DeCouto's has taken his online feed of the radio broadcast down, hopefully temporarily, while he sorts out some technical issues.

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Mid Ocean News (19 May 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Here's a Government that can talk by the mile and move by the inch

FOR a moment there, Mr. Editor, I thought we were on to something last Friday – maybe even a breakthrough in the House on the Hill.

Government and Opposition appeared to be working together. The day’s agenda was going to include an Opposition motion –and at a reasonable hour. The PLP had indicated through their whip that they only intended to take up two pieces of legislation and they were looking to the United Bermuda Party to bring on their motion to consider the benefits of whistleblower legislation for Bermuda.

The motion – in my name – had been on the Order Paper since late November, but the opportunities to take it up had been quite limited. Unlike some other jurisdictions, we have not had a history and practice in Bermuda of the Government and Opposition working together to agree on a set time for Opposition motions. It just doesn’t happen and the Opposition takes up its motion when it can, which is often at the end of a long day , sometimes in the dead of the night, when members are tired and uninterested and irritable and hungry and restless and unprepared. It rarely makes for productive and scintillating debate.

So there I was on my feet shortly after three in the afternoon leading off a very serious and important and timely debate initiated by the Opposition: and that was that the House take note of whistleblower legislation in other jurisdictions, and in particular the Public Servants Disclosure Bill of Canada, and consider the benefits of enacting similar such legislation for Bermuda.

If you’re thinking there must have been a catch, Mr. Editor - because there usually always is in politics – well, you’re right .Why Government were happy for us to take up our motion soon became apparent when Cabinet Minister Randy Horton led off the debate in reply for the PLP. They had their own angle on this one. They had in mind a debate not on our motion but their own, as Minister Horton quickly moved an entirely new motion really, although he tried to call it an amendment.

The PLP wanted everyone to take note of Government’s criminal law reform programme to date “and the Government’s commitment to further reform that will include whistle blower legislation”. Someone somewhere in the swivel service had prepared a brief and that was the approach which Minister Horton just had to get it out – which he did, even though the so-called amendment was withdrawn.

It wasn’t long before the gloves were off, either.

The PLP Minister questioned the Opposition’s motives for bringing forward the motion at all – which overlooks the fact that the Auditor General has been recommending such legislation for two years now and that it comes on the heels of another damning Annual Report on the state of Government’s finances.

“We will never be fooled or misguided by the Opposition”, declared Minister Horton, “and neither will the people of Bermuda”.

That moment was gone – and debate was on.

It ended five or so hours later when Mr. Horton’s Cabinet colleague, lawyer Michael Scott, moved once again to amend the Opposition motion.

The PLP now preferred that the motion read that we take note of the Whistleblower legislation of other jurisdictions “and within the context of Government’s criminal law reform programme consider the benefits of such legislation to Bermuda.”

The Speaker asked us whether we objected – and why would we? The PLP were desperate to make a change that really didn’t amount to much of a change. Sadly, the recommended legislation is still (only) to be considered.

The PLP Government had failed to actually commit to its introduction. Instead all they did was opt to have the last word on their amended motion which was adopted without objection. It looked once again like all talk and no action proving once again how the Government can talk by the mile and move by the inch – and invariably in opposite directions.

No micing, Mr. Editor

STILL, UBP MP Grant Gibbons thought he saw what he termed “a ray of hope” in the prepared PLP presentation. Dr. Gibbons noted that it was only recently that the Attorney General was reported as saying that “further cross-Ministry work is required before a definitive position can be reached on whether there is a need for such legislation”. On top of that, their official responses to date to the repeated calls for the legislation by the Auditor General in his last two Annual Reports have been lukewarm, at best.

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As predictably putrid as now Cabinet Minister David Burch's "house nigger" comment was, the Human Rights Commission probably made the right call in dismissing Shadow Finance Minister Pat Gordon-Pamplin's complaint; although I think we're all aware that if the shoe was on the other foot the HRC would have taken a different view. Insulting someone is not a human rights violation in my book.

They did not however make the right call in charging out with a press release chastising Ms. Gordon-Pamplin as follows:

"While the HRC advocates the fundamental democratic right of free speech and welcomes constructive criticism, it encourages all persons, particularly representatives of the people, to be mindful and to exercise discretion so as not to reduce this or any public body to political sport for personal ends.

"Such irresponsibility brings with it only further contention and does not, in the opinion of the HRC, serve the interests of the community."

That press release was ill-advised and sounds awfully politically itself. Ms. Gordon-Pamplin, or anyone else frankly, is entitled to make a complaint. It's the HRCs job to decide whether the code does or does not apply. So the HRC comes out of this looking badly even thought they got the decision right in my book - and I hear their decision was neither unanimous nor uncontentious, despite the lecturey statement.

The Broadcasting Commission is a more appropriate forum for the complaint, but there's no chance of those PLP stooges -- led by PLP PR hack Scott Simmons -- giving that a fair hearing. So it'll be 0 for 2 on this front.

Lack of official reprimand notwithstanding, Colonel Burch and his colleagues are more than entitled to practice their vicious brand of racial politics. It's up to the public to stand up and put a stop to it, saying that enough is enough by not validating this behaviour at the polls.

Race based politics will persist as long as its practitioners believe that it will achieve the desired outcome ... despite the corrosive effect that it has on us as a community.

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Well, the Royal Gazette may have never put yesterday's joint op-ed by the Premier and US Consul on their website, but it has shown up today on the National Review Online.

I understand the intent of the piece, and the need to point out Bermuda's value beyond a vacation spot, but as one reader pointed out to me, the op-ed presented a rather shallow and distorted view of Bermuda's historical relationship with the US:

"Not only has an entire decade of very close US/Bermuda relations been written out of history, the early history of Bermuda's ties to the 13 colonies (and later United States) has been reworked almost beyond recognition. Yes, Bermudians collaborated in the gunpowder plot; left unmentioned is the fact the British fleet that burnt Washington DC to the ground embarked from Bermuda during the War of 1812 -- and that Fort Cunningham, the Commissioner's House and numerous other fortifications were built here to prevent a US invasion! And let's not talk about the Civil War -- when Bermuda openly backed the Confederacy and poor Mr. Allen, the US Consul here at the time, was routinely stoned as he walked to his office!"

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Ok folks, the planets are clearly lining up (or being lined up) for an election sooner rather than later.

- Premie's off to DC trying to rehabilitate his image and convince people that he could actually be the leader of a country, or at least play one on TV.

- rumour has it that the PLP are getting parochial again with little projects in long-neglected but key areas...

- while unpopular projects in key areas are being pulled -- a victory for John Barritt and the UBP in the Mary Victoria Rd. case no matter how the PLP try and spin it

- there's been a resurgence of contrived press events dressing up policy failures as successes, like those mobile homes finally finding a home (just in time for hurricane season)

- the independence propaganda sessions -- aka fire up the base -- have started with the usual suspects providing their usual level of insight

- Dr. Brown does his best to make declining air arrivals look like a positive

- the UBP's racial code of conduct was rejected (what a shock) out of hand and without explanation by the PLP; the motive being self-evident -- it would render the PLP's election playbook useless.

and finally, the most important piece of the puzzle is about to fall into place:

- MP pay-raises are set to go through this week after I recently suggested that there would be no chance of an election -- no matter how good the timing looked -- until pay/pension raises were put in place.

Now if only we could get confirmation that Roy Boike has been on island....

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This love-in between the Premier and US Consul General Gregory Slayton is getting a little creepy, with a joint op-ed in today's Royal Gazette (not yet online). Could the Premier be any more giddy and self-important ("Why should a Premier take the Opposition into that cauldron of politics?") about this trip?

Lost amid all of the collegial back-slapping, press conferences and bickering over who was or was not invited, is what the purpose is, or should be.

There's a variety of things in play:

Let's start with the 'official' reason, this nonsense about an 'unprecedented' and 'first-ever official bi-lateral meetings' -- key word being 'official'. That means the Premier needs a chaperone, in the form of the US Consul, who is probably using this for his own networking purposes (he's a big Bush fundraiser). Former Premier John Swan is well known for his genuine contacts during his 14 year tenure. But we all know that Alex Scott has a short and selective memory.

Then there's the Premier, who's sees a chance for an image makeover (Alex Scott the Statesman) after a lacklustre Premiership.

The real reason should be for the PLP to start repair work on a previously strong relationship which they have damaged through forays into Cuba and a love affair with Caricom resulting in a lack of attention to the one relationship that counts.

Let's just hope they don't take along the Deputy Premier, Dr. Brown, who displayed his penchant for diplomacy by ridiculing US President George Bush's intelligence, with a comment about the President and his 'colouring books' at an anti-Iraq-war rally several years ago.

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Ok, so here's what I can tell on this tax change to US expats that makes their housing allowances taxable.

It looks like both the House and Senate have approved this bill (click here for PWC Bermuda's analysis), so it goes on to President Bush to be signed, which he is expected to do.

So it will be interesting to see what the impact is on the local real estate market, if any. Maybe the companies here will just make this tax neutral to their employees, grossing up for the associated tax impact, or maybe they'll start getting a little more sensitive on rents.

That doesn't come without a cost. High rents has been one way that international business dollars have been transferred into the local economy (understanding the trickle down effect), and those folks who are highly leveraged in Bermuda real estate based on high expectations of rental returns from American expats with housing allowances, might get a little skittish.

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Following-up on my earlier post on the potential impact (positive or negative depending on your perspective) of the proposed removal of the tax exemption for US citizens on their foreign housing expenses, I've been trying to find out if this is the final bill to be presented to the President.

If this is the Senate bill, my understanding is that it will have to be reconciled with the House version, which tends to create a lot of room for modification.

It does seem that every year this housing exemption issues crops up, only to be eventually removed. So maybe it won't happen as it's not clear just what stage this bill is at.

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Mid Ocean News (12 May 2005)

UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

AFTER an eight-week recess, Mr. Editor, it looked like we were in for House Lite. The PLP were proposing to take up on only two items on the agenda, both of them minor and pretty straightforward and unlikely to engender much in the way of debate – particularly when they also had the support of the Opposition United Bermuda Party.

But unlike the beer commercial, Mr. Editor, Lite on the Hill doesn’t necessarily mean less filling..

It wasn’t the legislative agenda that kept us there until after six in the evening. There was plenty else to keep members going, starting with a slew of Ministerial statements – there were seven-up in total– which took a total of six different Ministers just about an hour to read … to us and the listening public.

When it comes to Ministerial statements, Mr. Editor, listen is all any of us can do – aside from the odd interpolation from those of us who have a front row seat in the House. The Rules provide no opportunity for questions or debate.

But listen we did, intently, to the first statement, that of Minister for Finance, Ms. Paula Cox - and it didn’t take us long to cotton on as to why the Minister was taking so much time to explain the role of Auditor General in the governance of Bermuda. The Minister knew what was coming.This was also the day the Auditor General happened to publish his latest Annual Report, this one for the year 2005, and, as we now all know, it wasn’t exactly complimentary.

But the Finance Minister’s statement gave us a clue.

For instance, Ms. Cox told us that:

• The Auditor General tends to focus on what’s wrong and not what’s right (mind you that’s his job);
• That “a sea change” in financial accountability had been launched within the civil service;
• That reform and improvement in financial reporting had been “jump-started” with the re-establishment of an Internal Audit section;
• That there were now a total of 25 qualified accountants on the job in Government; and
• That this new wave of accountability had been enhanced by the establishment of the Office of Ombudsman and by “the introduction” of a Freedom of Information Bill - which, incidentally, hasn’t actually been introduced: what we have had is a Discussion Paper and while legislation was promised, we were told that actual implementation would be 3 to 5 years away .

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As the saying goes, when the US sneezes Bermuda catches a cold. Well, this unexpected change to the US tax code will surely have an impact on the local rental market as housing costs are no longer tax exempt:

"American taxpayers working abroad can deduct some housing expenses, a benefit that has helped attract American executives to jobs in high-cost European capitals such as London or Paris.

"But under the new system, this tax exemption on housing will be capped at $11,536, although is some cases the Internal Revenue Service could adjust it based on geographic differences in the cost of living."

There's a bit of wiggle room in that last sentence, and the bill hasn't been passed into law yet, but how many Americans currently residing in Bermuda pay more than $11,536 in rent? A fair amount pay that in a month! And how many Bermudians are highly leveraged based on the guarantee of that rental income? And how much of the current valuation of Bermudian real estate is driven by a crazy rental market, particularly at the high end?

Of course this is a tax issue. And I'm sure it's extremely complicated and some enterprising accountant will find a loophole, but I've got to believe that this will have an impact locally.

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Parliament is in session today from 10AM.

I don't have the agenda yet but when I get them I'll post them. I've also got hold of the minutes from some past sessions and will post those as well shortly.

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I've been waiting for the Gazette to post a story from Tuesday on their website. But alas, it hasn't happened. Their website is a mess right now from both a design and content perspective.

So, on that basis, I'll shoot this one without being able to link to the story.

I couldn't help but be amused at the Dr. Brown's crowing about our new 'floating hotel', which he'll no doubt be adding to his little list of new hotel inventory.

For those of us who live in the real world, and not fantasy island, a floating hotel is more commonly referred to as a boat, or in this case a small motor yacht.

The idea here being to rent out (or in marine terms 'charter') rooms overnight for divers and others who want to cruise the waters of Bermuda, and elsewhere.

A good business venture? Time will tell. A "Floating hotel"? Not quite.

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Well, there's one surefire way that parents can ensure success for their children on the Terra Nova test (read today's above the fold lede in the Royal Gazette [not yet online]) -- buy them in advance.

A simple Google search for "Terra Nova, test" delivers a link (currently the second) which takes you to CTB/McGraw-HIll's website where anyone can purchase them.

Rumour has it that you have to be certified to receive the answers, but most (with emphasis on the most) parents should be able to figure out the answers -- at least for the primary level tests.

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A little food for thought on the appalling revelation by the Auditor General that the Government's financials are in an appalling, irreparable state of $800M unaudited.

- $800M is one years total expenditure by the Bermuda Government

- Finance Minister Paula Cox tried to brush off the Auditor's concerns because "His function requires him to focus on the exceptions".

Precisely. Those quangos who filed audited financials were the exception -- only 10 of 37 complied with this most basic requirement.

- The Premier, in posturing for his trip to Washington DC told reporters that "We guard jealously our reputation for fiscal prudence" -- only days before the release of the Auditors Report revealing little regard for fiscal standards.

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Parliament resume today after the post-budget break.

Today's agenda can be found here.

I'd expect the online feed to be up today.

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Here's what a lobbyist like Alcade & Fay can do for you:

Essentially, these parties are a way of saying thank you," said Jennefer Hirshberg, a partner of Alcade & Fay, a lobbying firm that bankrolled an event for the Virginia Republican Party on Wednesday night. Guests were treated to jumbo cocktail shrimp and lobster claws, crispy egg rolls and baked desserts beneath movie props such as model planes from "Top Gun."

"It's all part of the networking and relationship building that lobbying firms in Richmond and at the federal level do," she said.

Business, Pleasure, or Both?

Here's another good one from someone seeking reform:


Public interest groups and campaign finance reform advocates say conventions give businesses the most lobbying bang for their buck. "I'd say there's no better setting than a presidential convention for showing big donors the kind of access money buys," said Common Cause/Maryland's James Browning. "A convention gives donors a chance to lobby under the radar, which is to say, beyond the reach of . . . Maryland's lobbyist ethics law."

Sounds right up Dr. Ewart "7 star hotel" Brown's alley.

All in the public interest of course:

Speaking to us from the hotel, where the cheapest suite costs $1,000 a night, Dr. Brown said he knows some people expect him to stay in “Holiday Inns” when he’s away on business and those same people will probably have a go at him for staying in the Burj, but he makes no apologies.

He said: “I wanted to stay in the hotel and see and experience it for myself. Now when we’re talking about standards I can refer people to those at the Burj.”

Welcome to Dr. Brown's America...er I mean Bermuda: lavish trips and lobbyists. Pay to play.

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A reader comments:

"An observation: this may be the first time that a developer has used a big-dollar lobbying firm to handle their relationship with the Bermuda Government."

The reader is probably correct and is referring to the announcement regarding the latest potential development of Morgan's Point.

Here's the reference to the lobbyist:

"A team from the consortium has been in Bermuda during the past year assessing the potential of the site said Andrew Wahlquist, of Virginia-based government and public affairs consultants Alcade & Fay, which has issued preliminary details of the proposal on behalf of Clark International."

"Public affairs consultant" is the polite term for lobbyist, a largely American creation best-known for smoozing legislators and throwing lots of perks their way in exchange for massive Government contracts.

This is a bad sign. It could be the forerunner of the importation of a trend that has resulted in massive corruption and influence peddling in the US political system. (Washington DC has a whole street, K Street, full of lobbyists, which triggered the Republican strategy known as the K Street Project where former political figures and their aides exit public life only to come back in the revolving door as a lobbyist for huge fees.)

If potential developers feel that the way to get things done in Bermuda is through lobbyists we're on a very slippery slope.

The Bermuda Government, as well as some of our international companies, do retain lobbyists in Washington, but this is the first concrete example I know of where we're on the receiving end.

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Finally I've tracked down free links (part 1, part 2, part 3) to Stephen Colbert's absolutely hilarious skewering of President Bush, and the White House press corp...to their faces at the Annual White House correspodent's dinner.

If you are yet to watch this, I can't begin to describe how uncomfortably hilarious Colbert's masterful monologue was.

Here's the transcript. It's funny by itself. But you've got to watch Colbert for the full impact.

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