June 2006 Archives

The controversial Tuckers Town House GoldenEye is being offered for sale on Coldwell Banker Bermuda Realty's website this morning. [I can't do a direct link. It shows up as a new listing on the first page right now, but if you really want to find it easily just sort by price descending.]

Interestingly the price is pegged at $22M. The numbers during the court case were much more in the 40M plus range I thought.

According to the reporting of the legal battle, the Marshall's invested $37M.

It's a bargain!

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Just quickly, I had a chat with a lawyer friend who having an admittedly very brief glance at Section 36 of the constitution suggested that the Government's problem in circumventing the Senate may lie with the introduction to Section 36:

36 (1) The Senate shall not—

(a) proceed upon any money bill, other than a money bill sent from the House of Assembly, or upon any amendment to a money bill;

The problem? The phrase 'other than a money bill sent from the House of Assembly'.

The Parliamentary Salary Resolution was 'sent from the House of Assembly'.

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The BIU, at a press conference, has come out in support of the Parliamentary pay increases claiming that Premier Alex Scott deserves it as our "leader and commander-in-chief".

Very nice. But of course, they have a vested interest in creating an upward death spiral of increasing compensation.

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Bumper day today for Governmental stupidity:

"I am at a complete loss to identify where this totally un-Bermudian sense of entitlement emanates from," he said. "Government is not the candy store for everyone to dip into at will."

Senator David 'Sweet Tooth' Burch

Spoken like a truly out of touch member of a Cabinet attempting to circumvent the Senate in order to dramatically increase their salaries and plunge the Parliamentary pension fund into the red.

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The Parliamentary Salary increase saga gets even more bizarre, with the news that the BIU is holding a press conference on the matter.

I wonder where they'll fall with all their MP/BIU conflict of interests: Derrick Burgess and George Scott (union organiser) to be precise.

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Let's just point out Larry Mussenden's all-encompassing role(s) in this Parliamentary Salary saga:

- as Attorney General he personally stands to receive a $35,000 raise if the increases go through
- he was prepared to vote on his own increase in the Senate, until defeat loomed
- he's now acting as his own (and the Government's lawyer) in attempting to circumvent the Senate with the nuclear option so that he can raise his own salary without the approval of the Senate, ignoring past precedent and practice according to the UBP's John Barritt in today's Royal Gazette.

Can someone say conflict of interest? Oh I forgot, that term has no place in the New Bermuda.

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Following up on my last post with respects to the challenge being made to the Senate's authority to vote on the Parliamentary Salary increases, here's the Bermuda Consitution Act (may not be the absolute latest) and here's the MINISTERS AND MEMBERS OF THE LEGISLATURE
(SALARIES AND PENSIONS) ACT 1975
.

The area of the constitution that is about to be tested must be Section 36, which addresses the Senate's ability to proceed upon certain financial measures:

Restrictions with regard to certain financial measures

36 (1) The Senate shall not—

(a) proceed upon any money bill, other than a money bill
sent from the House of Assembly, or upon any amendment
to a money bill;

(b) proceed upon any other bill, other than a bill sent as
aforesaid, that, in the opinion of the person presiding,
makes provision for any of the following purposes —

(i) the imposition, repeal or alteration of taxation;
(ii) the imposition, repeal or alteration of any charge upon the Consolidated Fund or any other public fund of Bermuda;
(iii) the payment, issue or withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund or any other public fund of Bermuda of any moneys not charged thereon or
any alteration in the amount of such payment, issue or withdrawal; or
(iv) the composition or remission of any debt due to the Government;

(c) proceed upon any amendment to a bill other than a money bill that, in the opinion of the person presiding, is an amendment that makes provision for any of the purposes specified in paragraph (b) of this subsection or an amendment to any provision for any of those purposes
contained in the bill; or

(d) proceed upon any motion (including any amendment to
a motion) the effect of which, in the opinion of the person
presiding, would be to make provision for any of
those purposes.

(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall be construed as preventing the Senate from returning any bill to the House of Assembly with a message recommending any amendment to the bill that the Senate may consider desirable.

Any lawyers out there? I'm aware that the constitution overules legislation, but I'd be interested in interpretations of this.

And what about precedent?

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I called it a "shallow money grab", Shadow Finance Minister Patricia Gordon Pamplin called it a "smash and grab" and John Barritt describes yesterday's developments as a Senate 'end run'. We're all right.

Any doubts that the PLP intend to get paid come hell or high water should be put to rest after the move by the Attorney General on Tuesday, further pre-empting -- and potentially killing -- the Senate's authority to vote on Parliamentary Salaries per the 1975 Act.

What did the Attorney General (and PLP Senate Leader do)? He advised the Senate President that under the Constitution the Senate could not prevent the implementation of Parliamentary salary increases as they are prohibited from voting on items that impact the Consolidated Fund.

This argument has pretty broad implications one would think, although I'm no lawyer or Constitutional expert. Just about any time Government does anything they impact the Consolidated Fund, which means if this move succeeds, the Senate could be rendered irrelevant.

Today's Royal Gazette has an article, and Bryan Darby on VSB actually did a useful interview with Senate President Alf Oughton last night; Senator Oughton seemed unamused but wisely deferred pending legal advice.

Hopefully someone can get hold of the letter which the Attorney General wrote, so that we can understand exactly the argument that they're making.

It's very interesting that Government has invoked the nuclear option of challenging the Senate so directly, unprepared to run the risk of losing the vote (which appears virtually certain based on the PLP's actions).

Could it be that waiting a year would postpone some plans for a sooner rather than later election, one which the Premier isn't willing to hold if it runs the risk of having to sustain himself on a pension based on a $120,000 salary versus the proposed $200,000 one?

This is shaping up to be an important battle.

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Today's Washington Post has a guest Op-Ed by Daniel Mitchell of The Heritage Foundation, calling for the repeal of the recent US expat tax enacted by Congress.

UPDATE: A point of clarification. The article was not just calling for a repeal of the recent reduction in tax exemptions (ie. a tax increase) for US expats, but ceasing to tax US expats on their non-US income at all.

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Not surprisingly, as the Bermuda Sun reports today, the Human Rights Commission rejected the complaint by Mark Anderson (aka Sybil Barrington) that Government discriminated against him based on his sexual orientation by throwing him out of the Bermuda Day parade.

According to the Sun:

But the HRC said he didn't have a case. The HRC said in a letter there were no grounds under the Human Rights Act on which to proceed with a formal complaint.

Duh! There's no provision protecting sexual orientation. There is a provision on the basis of 'sex', a term which clearly means gender, although I've been told that the UBP's Neville Darrell - a former CEO of the Human Rights Commission - argues that 'sex' is interpreted in Europe to include sexual orientation.

That seems to me like a big leap.

Regardless, the Premier has repeatedly stated that he would revisit the issue if it became clear that 'all Bermudians' weren't protected. So what will happen now?

Nothing, except more double talk.

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Well, the Senate adjourned today without debating the Parliamentary salary increases for the second consecutive week.

Maybe the Bermuda Sun is correct; the pay increases may not happen at all now...

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Dammit. I had to stop listening to the Senate for a couple of minutes and it appears the vote went down.

I can't be sure, but judging by the comments from the 3 independents they were all going to vote no. So my guess is that the limousine amendment was defeated.

Can anyone confirm?

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Hmmm. Today's Senate session is shaping up as an interesting one.

The first item being debated now, is the change recently passed in the House on a party line vote implementing a limousine service to compete with taxis. I've been listening in this morning.

So far, it's clear the 3 UBP Senators will vote no, and at least two independents appear to be indicating likewise.

I'll post the outcome of the vote when it happens.

Following on that could be the Parliamentary salary hike. It's not clear if the Senate will debate it today, but two Senate defeats in one day would be unusual, and affirm the Senate's usefulness is serving as a check on the impulses of the governing party.

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Can some reporter, any reporter, ask the Premier to point out the section of the Human Rights Code which protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?

If I have to hear Alex Scott profess that 'all Bermudians are protected' one more time, as he did in Parliament on the Motion to Adjourn Friday night, I'll go postal.

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I picked up Saturday's paper extremely pleased with the headline [Bank loses battle for new building] that the Bank of Bermuda's proposed development of the Trimingham's site had been rejected and was off the table.

That's what I gleaned from the introduction at least:

In hindsight of the Environment Minister agreeing with the inspector’s recommendation to dismiss the Bank’s appeal, the Permanent Secretary of the Environment Wayne Carey said yesterday it was important to have Listed Buildings in the City.

I didn't know what to make of the last paragraph however, which suggests a further appeal to the Minister could be made:

However, a bank spokeswoman would not say whether it would proceed with an application for a Special Development Order that would bypass the DAB to go directly to the Minister for approval, or how much the bank had spent on the application to date.

If the Minister agreed with the independent inspector's rejection of the appeal, doesn't that mean that she's already made her decision and it's time to move to Plan B?

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Does anyone buy PLP Senate Leader and Attorney General Larry Mussenden's claim that the deferral of Parliamentary pay increases had nothing to do with the Police and Civil Service indicating that they'd like their pound of flesh as well please?

Any rationale observor would be aware that the PLP Senators saw defeat of their distasteful little money grab and couldn't afford to risk it yesterday. It's hard to believe that the comments from the Police and the BPSU didn't give the independents something unpleasant to chew on.

Mr. Mussenden, a main beneficiary of the raises, reached admirally on VSB news last night when he stated that he wanted more time to digest comments from non-Government Senators, or as someone emailed me, time to 'educate' them on the matter.

Classic politician BS. What he really wants is time to change some minds and strategise.

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And it begins.

Everyone wants their cut of the taxpayer gravy-train.

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Parental duties prevented me attending the Open House today of the Premier's new residence at Clifton.

If anyone did go I'd be interested in your comments.

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What a bunch of idiots. And that's being kind.

After dropping some serious change on a foreign lawyer (I guess the guys who crow about being pro-Bermudian have no faith in their own lawyers) to handle their appeal in the GoldenEye case, the Minister realizes that he's about to get his ass kicked a second time and begs for mercy.

The Minister feigned concern that a precedent would be set (ie. he was going to lose his appeal) and called off the appeal, allowing his impotent policy to stand...for now:

The impact of events on other Bermudians who may wish to sell their top-of-the-market homes to foreigners remains unclear. Mr. Jowell told the Appeal judges that the declaration that the policy was unlawful related entirely to Mr. and Mrs. Marshall who, he found, had their legitimate expectation to sell GoldenEye breached. He said that while that did not technically set a precedent for other people there are others who would like Mr. Froomkin to establish that they, too, had a legitimate expectation to sell their homes on the international market.

"The Minister is concerned that we don't in any way endorse the notion of a legitimate expectation," he said, explaining that the Government wishes the policy to stay in place. Mr. Froomkin said "anyone can bring a case at any time. The declaration is personal".

So, to be clear, the only reason the policy stands is because the decision overturning it has been stayed, not because it has withstood a legal test. No matter how they dress it up, Government completely and unequivocally capitulated.

I hope someone has informed the hapless Minister that a precedent has already been set. The next person who wants to sell will make the exact same case of legitimate expectation, and win; the Government's own Solicitor General was unable to argue successfully against that case, and it's obvious the big-money foreign lawyer they hired was about to suffer the same fate.

The lawyers must be salivating over the easy money they're going to make bringing case after case against the Minister.

We'll be back in November presumably, to revisit the appeal if Goldeneye isn't sold by then. Why did they defer it? Bad press? Imminent election?

Idiots.

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (16 June, 2006)

An open letter to the Independent Senators:

Bermuda’s Parliament is frozen in time; grid-locked by partisan bickering and an antiquated political process. Sadly, the only thing both sides seem able to agree on – either by design or by accident - is to not debate a human rights amendment. Surely we can do better than this.

You will soon have an opportunity to return a semblance of sanity and gravitas to our political process; I refer to the recent Parliamentary pay hikes approved on a partisan 16 (PLP) -13 (UBP) vote.

While the relative pros and cons of this have been widely discussed, the issue goes much deeper than the distasteful manner in which 16 PLP MPs dramatically and retro-actively raised all MPs compensation without deferring implementation until the next set of Parliamentarians arrive; or the patently absurd system where Ministers opt to collect either a full or part-time paycheck – a setup that will likely result in the ridiculous situation of a part-time Minister of Finance but a full-time Minister Without Portfolio; or the top-loaded nature of the increases; or the fact that the Premier’s true compensation includes 2 homes and – like his colleagues – taxpayer funded cars and credit-cards where all charges are “assumed to be legitimate”.

We’ve heard much about the disparity in political pay between Bermuda and other jurisdictions. The arguments were uninspired, unoriginal and unconvincing.

The crux of the matter is that this move enabled MPs to have their cake and eat it too. The Premier’s formula authorised his Cabinet Ministers to optimize their take home pay as they see fit, at vastly increased levels.

A Minister with a presumably better-paying ‘day-job’ will maintain that post while creaming a few extra dollars off the top as a part-time Minister (a la Minister Cox). Alternatively, if becoming a full-time Minister is a better financial arrangement they’ll opt for that designation. It’s a no lose proposition.

Typically in Bermuda, we’re putting the cart before the horse. A more fundamental question needs answering before discussion of Parliamentary pay-scales is appropriate:

What type of Parliament do we want? Does Bermuda deserve modern democratic institutions, or a continuation of the current antiquated framework?

Predictably, the PLP MPs who voted to reform their salaries – in a bid to be paid like modern politicians in other jurisdictions – haven’t shown the slightest interest in reforming the Parliament and Government to keep pace with these other modern jurisdictions.

Smooth operators indeed; all the money, none of the responsibility.

A comparative analysis of politicians’ salaries is meaningless without an accompanying comparative analysis of the accountability measures and democratic protections in place.

The fact of the matter is that in Bermuda it’s easier to stay abreast of foreign politics than the local antics. I can watch live debate in the US Congress on TV or the internet, courtesy of C-SPAN. I can read transcripts of debate and speeches on Congressional websites. I can search the US Library of Congress online at thomas.loc.gov.

I can also watch the UK Parliament’s Question Time – questions which by the way aren’t submitted in writing ten days in advance as they are here. Nor can verbal responses be avoided through tired tactics such as extending the pandering Congrats and Obits (little more than canvassing via the House clerk), or filibustering through Ministerial Statements until question time’s time is up.

Bermuda’s Parliament is not broadcast over television, only via a muffled AM transmission. Video or still cameras are only permitted for useless ceremonial exercises, and Lord knows Fresh TV could use the content for their ongoing experiment in appallingly bad TV.

By one recent account, those watching from the public gallery are not permitted to take notes. Even pen and paper is too high tech and transparent for our Parliament.

There is no official transcript of Parliament, a most basic feature of legislatures. None. There are minutes of the proceedings, but they’re as illuminating as one of David Burch’s trademark tirades.

In 2006 Bermuda’s Parliament lacks its own website which should contain contact information for our MPs, the legislative agenda, official documents, policy statements or bills to name a few items of interest. The much ballyhooed Government portal doesn’t cut it either; it’s little more than a million dollar brochure designed to caress the fragile egos of a fragile Cabinet.

And then there’s the alien concept of openness, transparency and accountability.

Committees? What are they? Well there are a few, but they meet behind closed doors – if they meet at all.

All the hype of the Public Access to Information initiative is just that. A projected almost decade-long implementation may be warp speed in Governmental terms, but in this case it’s a cynical attempt at information suppression under the guise of actually opening it up.

A PATI act might make for good headlines, but a Government truly committed to openness wouldn’t hide its Cuban memorandum, the mysterious $700,000 Berkeley bond receipt, the Coco Reef lease or years of backdated annual reports. They wouldn’t just talk about it, they’d just do it.

And then there’s the lack of any sense of accountability, either financial or professional.

Un-audited public sector expenditures of almost a billion dollars – or one fiscal year – have accumulated. Direct and unambiguous attacks on the checks and balances of our political system are so commonplace few seem to notice and none are held to task; the most recent example being an out-of-control unelected Minister abusing his 48 hour stint as acting Finance Minister to threaten an audit of the Auditor General before operationally shut down the AG’s office through his own Ministry.

Senators Oughton, Basset and Hughes, it’s up to you to block this blatantly shallow money grab and send an unequivocal message to those mindlessly roaming the halls of power.

Broader parliamentary reform is a mandatory precursor to parliamentary pay hikes.

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I received the following email which was circulated at 12:38 today advising that every department in the Ministry of Works, Engineering & Housing would be closing for a staff meeting at 3PM.

2 1/2 hours seems like short notice don't you think?

Anyone know what's up?

-----Original Message-----

From: Dept. of Communications & Information
Sent: Wed 6/14/2006 12:38 PM
To: All GOV Users
Subject: ADVISORY - MWEH Closing early today

Good day Colleagues,

Please be advised that the Ministry of Works and Engineering and Housing will be closing today at 3.00 p.m. in order for all staff to attend a meeting.

All Ministry Departments will be affected, including Ministry Headquarters, all Quangos under the Ministry, the Quarry, the Rent Commissioner's Office, Tynes Bay and the Prospect Depot.

Any related queries should be directed to the respective Departments prior to 3.00 p.m. today.

Offices will reopen for regular business tomorrow morning (Thursday June 15).

The Ministry apologises for any inconvenience and thanks you for your understanding.

Nea N. Talbot
Public Affairs Officer (MWEH and MoT&T)
Department of Communication & Information
Bermuda Government
Global House
43 Church Street
Hamilton HM 12
BERMUDA

ntalbot@gov.bm

1 (441) 294-2779

http://www.gov.bm

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I must be, without a doubt, the most polled person in Bermuda. In the past few weeks I've been polled multiple times, moments ago by the Government (and by that I don't mean the PLP, I mean the taxpayer was footing the bill for this one). It was probably the Omnibus poll which is conducted quarterly I think.

I seriously question the quality of sampling used by all the pollsters. It seems to me like if you get a live one, who actually takes the polls, as I always do cuz I just love it, then they keep pinging away.

But I don't just answer the questions. I take notes. You can thank me later.

So here's the content of tonight's poll - not verbatim, conducted by a subsidiary of Total Marketing and Communcations:

What is your age range?

What is the single most important issue facing Bermuda?

What is the single most important issue facing the Ministry of National Drug Control?

How do you feel about independence (ie. Strongly agree to strongly disagree)?

Explain why?

Education

How would you rate the quality of Public Education?

Compared to 5 years ago?

How would you rate the quality of private education?

Please state your opinion (ie. Strongly agree to strongly disagree) on the following questions about public education:

- Are teachers held accountable for performance?

- Is discipline handled appropriately?

- Public school students are prepared for post-secondary education?

- The student teacher ratio is appropriate

Utilities

Who is Bermuda’s best wireless provider

What are the most common uses of your cell phone?

How likely are you to replace your home phone service with cellular in the next 12 months?

The Bermuda utility companies provide value for money?

How would you rate the overall quality of service?

To what extent are the public’s needs met by the utility sector?

How satisified are you with the attitudes of workers in the utility sector?

Retail Business

Would you like to receive KFC via home delivery?

Which drug stores do you shop at?

Do you shop at People’s Pharmacy?

Are you aware that they have a toy shop?

Are you aware that People’s Pharmacy has a caby shop?

Banks

Which banks in Bermuda do you currently own shares?

Which bank do you do the majority of your household banking with?

In the next 12 months how likely are you to make a term deposit?

In the next 12 months how likely are you to open a savings account at another bank?

What influences your use of financial institution? Print ads? Broadcast media? Word of mouth?

What comes to mind when you think of Butterfield Bank?

Which financial institution provides the best customer service?

Which financial institution offers the most competitive products and services?

Which financial institution has the best reputation as an employer?

Which financial institution is most involved in community?

Ad campaign awareness

Are you aware of the print ad campaign called “Did you know” promoting the advantages of DSL?

Are you aware of the radio ad campaign sponsored by the Dept. of Health entitled “Healthy people, healthy community”?

Are you aware of the ad campaign around AIDS and AIDS prevention?

Are you aware of the “Cover your Cost” campaign?

Economy

How would you rate the economy versus 12 months ago? (ie. about the same, better, worse)

How do you see the economy in the next 12 months?

Household finances

Is your standard of living become better or worse in the past 12 months?

How would you rate the economic prospects for your household in the next 12 months? (ie. Better, about the same, worse)

Do you own your own home?

Have you renovated in the past 12 months?

Do you own one residence but don’t live in it; own one residence and live in it; own more than one residence and live in one; own more than one residence but don’t live in any of them?

In what year did you purchase your first residential property?

Do you have a parent or sibling who owns a home in Bermuda?

Internet

What are the primary reasons you use the internet at home?

Which online weather site do you visit?

Do you visit weather sites on a regular basis or infrequently?

Business in Bermuda

What is your opinion on work-permit term limits in Bermuda? (ie. support or oppose)

In April the first work permits expired under this policy? What was the impact? (ie. Free form answer requested)

Politics

Are you satisfied with the government’s overall performance under Alex Scott?

How would you rate your satisfaction with Specific Ministers?

The Minister of Telecommunications – Michael Scott

The Minister of Tourism and Transport – Dr. Ewart Brown

The Minister of Finance – Paula Cox

The Minister of Health – Patrice Minors

The Attorney General – Larry Mussendon

The Premier – Alex Scott

If an election were held today would you be eligible to vote?

Which party would you vote for?

Charity

Have you heard of YouthNet?

What is the primary focus of YouthNet?

Demographics

Do you have someone in your household under 18 years old in public education?

What is your highest level of education?

Are you Bermudian?

What is your household income range?

What is your parish?

What is your race?

Would you be interested in participating in focus groups? Contact info if yes.

Online surveys: willing to contact online survey? Email contact info if yes.

What is your postal code

What is your first name for my supervisor to prove I conducted this interview?

What is your phone number for verification by my supervisor?


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Tom Ehrich of the Herald Sun waxes eloquently on the gay marriage ban pseudo proposal in the US Senate.

The Constitution doesn't exist to resolve religious disputes. It exists to provide a just and equitable environment of laws and rights in which citizens can address religious issues, along with equally thorny issues involving human rights, property rights and competing claims for power.

The Constitution doesn't exist to implement a certain "American way of life." It exists to ensure an environment of freedom in which the ways Americans live can flourish and evolve, within a common commitment to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

The Constitution doesn't exist to implement certain religious beliefs. The colonies had been down that road and it was disastrous. The Constitution exists to provide an environment in which all citizens are free to worship and to believe as they choose. It is difficult to imagine a situation more antithetical to the American way than faith by fiat.

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Delayed a week but through regardless on a 16 (PLP) to 13 (UBP) roll call vote, the PLP today granted themselves chunky pay raises.

Talk about accountability.

My primary complaints on this are twofold:

Firstly, pay-raises should not take force until after the next general election.

Secondly, there should not be pay-raises without associated parliamentray reform including proper transcripts, openness, committees that actually function, televised sessions etc..

There's a lot more wrong with the raises that were enacted, but it's a done deal after a lengthy debate.

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Reader SM discovers the true culprit of Wednesday's cruise ship grounding, Minister of National Drug Control Wayne Perinchief who was quoted on Nov. 15, 2006 as saying:

He said the PLP was now going to take control of the ship “and take it in the direction we think it should go”, adding the country was heading towards a “new horizon” and could not stay in the “doldrums”.

Time for a little drug testing.

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I suspect that David Burch was piloting the cruise ship which ran aground this morning, intentionally beaching it in an effort to change the news cycle.

If it wasn't Burch, I'm sure he'll be quick to point out that either the Governor, the Auditor, the UBP or expats are to blame.

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"Hear ye, hear ye. Today, I, William J. S. Zuill, Editor of The Royal Gazette, do proclaim that June 7th, 2006 be David Burch Day. O yea, o yea, o yeah."

Or something like that, pardon the butchering of Town Crier-ese.

The political neutron bomb that is PLP Sen. Burch achieved a rare feat today, 3 front page lede stories...covering a range of offensive offenses:

1) the attacks on the selectors of the new Regiment Commanding Officer
2) the attacks on the auditor
3) the Broadcast Commission's ruling on the "House N**gers" attack

Well done. That's hard to duplicate.

I must say that when I heard last night that the Broadcast Commission had ruled against Sen. Burch's "House N**ger" slur I thought I'd be eating crow after ruling any rebuke out.

But it was a pretty mild rebuke so the jury is still out. I'll start marinating the crow, but it's too early to start cooking it.

The ruling that Sen. Burch violated the 'spirit' of the Broadcast Act rather than the act itself, seems to be the laying of the ground work for letting him off the hook. I hope to be proven wrong.

And who's writing the press releases lately for these commissions, or did the Broadcast Commission decide to emulate the Human Rights Commission and have a go at Pat Gordon-Pamplin?

Both commissions couldn't bring themselves to deal solely with the offense itself, but decided to cast aspersions on the complainant(s) as a way to provide some political cover for the rabid Senator.

The ball should be over to Alex Scott now. Surely he's got to know that Sen. Burch is a loose cannon, a disgrace and a liability. So why's he keeping him in Cabinet?

Lack of better options, which is a pretty sad indictment, or is he necessary to hold together his fragile governing coalition?

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (June 07, 2006)

It’s too early to declare Friday’s Parliamentary protest a turning point in Bermudian politics, but it was significant.

If those who converged on the hill to confront their mute politicians take one thing from the exercise it should be that a little anger, appropriately channeled, produces results.

Immediate results.

After indicating that he’d be taking up the Parliamentary salary increases, the Premier changed course, acutely aware that for MPs to raise their own pay, hard on the heels of an unexpectedly large protest, would further inflame matters.

Rest assured that our elected representatives do take notice when they’re being watched by a public no longer willing to tolerate fast-ones being pulled at their expense.

There are a number of important lessons from the past several weeks, as well as the unintentional exploding of some long held myths and misconceptions – to borrow a quaint phrase from the Bamboozle Indoctrinate and Condition (BIC) Report – about Bermuda politics.

First, one of the lessons.

While the churches have received a disproportionate amount of attention for their political lobbying, their methods should be emulated not attacked. Churches will always be a potent political force; they’re active, organized and unafraid to air their views. That’s not a negative.

Those angered over the lack of debate and rejection of the Human Rights Code (HRC) amendment shouldn’t get mad, they should get even by tearing a page out of the Church’s handbook: get active, organized and air your views.

Sitting around with the expectation that politicians will understand what’s expected – simply by osmosis – and do the right thing is pointless.

On Friday, the protestors succeeded in getting the attention of the Premier, Dale Butler, the Opposition Leader and most of their colleagues. While they’d all wish the issue went away, it continues to dominate the news cycle.

This issue has legs. The next step is to keep up the pressure.

Another important outcome of this Human Rights saga is that an old political adage may have been turned on its head; what you see is not always what you get, perception doesn’t always equal reality.

For decades the PLP have presented themselves as the party of principle, a de facto civil rights movement which views the world through a prism of right and wrong; a collection of individuals committed without exception to the cause of equality and human rights.

The lie has been put to that idea. It’s evident that the PLP leadership does not stand against discrimination nor for equality; they’re not interested in right and wrong, only black and white.

This pro-discrimination view was laid bare by PLP Central Committee member Laverne Furbert in her recent – no doubt angrily penned and hence highly revealing – Letter to the Editor (The Royal Gazette, June 2nd, 2006).

Setting aside the classic ‘but I have gay friends’ lead-in and subsequent inference that homosexuals are AIDS riddled heroin addicts, her defense of discrimination was rife with hypocrisy and prejudice, the likes of which she’d rightly rage against were the word “homosexual” exchanged for “black”.

Ms. Furbert confidently states that a sexual orientation amendment to the HRC is unnecessary as she “saw no evidence of either of [the only two gay people she’s ever known but who are now dead] being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.”

Is that so?

What would the reaction be if someone were to make the following statement?

“I know a couple of black people and I’ve never seen any evidence of them being discriminated against because of their race, therefore there’s no need to list race in the HRC.”

Rest-assured you should run for cover while Ms. Furbert and her PLP colleagues fuel their flame-throwers.

And let’s dispense early with the predictable response to this comparison: homosexuality is a choice, race is not, therefore there is no parallel. While meaty fodder for debate, it’s absolutely irrelevant from a human rights perspective.

Not only is Ms. Furbert protected from discrimination based on her race, so are her political and religious views which are choices. The Human Rights Code doesn’t just cover matters genetic, it covers choices such as those political or religious; ironically the very protected classes which are being used as the foundation for her pro sexual discrimination stance.

The most damning and revealing statement in the letter comes at the end, with the suggestion that in Bermuda a hierarchy of discrimination exists, with race firmly perched on top:

“I must remind those who think that the matter should have been debated last Friday, that slavery was abolished in Bermuda in 1834, however it took over 100 years of debate, public demonstrations, and other forms of protest before blacks were legally considered equal to whites”.

Which is loosely translated to “race trumps sexual orientation, you’ve got another hundred or so years before you should expect to be treated as an equal.”

A lovely sentiment indeed. Not only does it cut to the heart of the politics of the PLP but it exposes a key myth.

The PLP Government and their puppet masters don’t value broad based human rights; they’re interested in race and only race. Everything else comes a distant second, as confirmed on Friday by one unmoved PLP MP who was overheard saying “these are your people” to a UBP MP, reflecting on the complexion of the protestors.

This myth feeds into another, one long overdue for debunking.

How many times have we seen supremely-assured-in-their-blackness PLP members verbally assault black UBP members as “sell-outs”, “Uncle Tom’s” or “House N**gers” for their involvement in a supposedly “white” (ie. anti-black) party?

Apply this same logic to Dale Butler for example, who recently espoused this position when he accused blacks who join the UBP as wanting “to be white” – and for the record Mr. Butler, no-one buys your belated “I said wanted to be ‘right’ not white” nonsense.

So how do these racial attacks, black or white, all or nothing positions reconcile with his stance on sexual orientation?

Mr. Butler is a supporter of the amendment (but had to pee), was unable to garner the support of his political colleagues yet continues to serve in a party espousing an anti-gay pro-discrimination agenda?

The answer is they don’t.

Even more striking were Julian Hall’s comments about the PLP leadership, which touched on the open secret of Bermuda politics (and the ultimate irony of the defeat of the sexual orientation amendment):

“It isn’t for me to ‘out’ anybody but they have enough gay and bisexual members in their own ranks, I would have thought, to protect.”

Uh-oh. Sell-outs anyone?

Bermuda’s political evolution has been held hostage to a single issue for too long. It’s time to get active, organized and unafraid. Race is but one human rights issue, not the only one.

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Renee Webb still doesn't get it:

Ms Webb also hit back yesterday at MPs who have criticised her for not lobbying harder to get her bill approved. She said: "I don't think it's a matter of lobbying. "I think you either support human rights or you don't. How can you lobby a conscience vote? It's nonsense."

She said it was up to members to research the subject. "Tell them to go on the internet. Talk to their constituents. Do whatever they like but don't use the cop out that they haven't been educated."

She's been around politics long enough to know that when you bring a bill to Parliament, particularly a Private Members Bill, even more so a controversial one, it's your job to do the heavy lifting behind the scenes.

Robin Stubbs, widow of Dr. John Stubbs who moved the bill to decriminalise homosexual sex in 1994 gets it though:

“I’m appalled by the action of the MPs. I believe if my husband had been here it would not have happened like this,” she said. “He did a lot of work and lobbying.”

If Ms. Webb is serious that she wants to waive the House rules to retable the bill in a few weeks, she'd better wise up and do the leg work involved in moving an unprecedented rule suspension:

Stanley Lowe, the Speaker of the House, agreed yesterday that it was possible for the House to suspend Rule 47 but that it would be highly unusual. He said: “I have never ever seen that happen. When a bill or measure has failed it hasn’t come back. They usually sit it out and wait until the next session of the House. In theory it could be done. In theory only.” He said Ms Webb would have to be sure she had the support of the House. “We can’t just arbitrarily suspend the rule,” he added.

Dale Butler, Minister for Community Affairs and the Cabinet member responsible for human rights, said his advice to Ms Webb would be to take the issue back to the Progressive Labour Party’s caucus meeting tomorrow to see if there was any support. “My guess is that they are going to say ‘leave it until October’.”

I'm not optimistic based on Ms. Webb's track record of confrontation over collaboration.

But if this is a genuine good faith effort to enact a change to the HRC she'll do what's necessary -- and expected.

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Further complicating matters with respects to sexual orientation in the Human Rights Code, I inadvertently came across the Bermuda College Code of Conduct which explicitly prohibits discrimination on that basis:

"a) Be free from discrimination on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation "

and under "Violations Against the College Community":

"Actions that violate the human rights of any member of the College community including but not limited to areas of culture, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation."

If the college can do it why not Parliament? And if someone were to successfully allege discrimination on this basis could the discriminator challenge the College's code of conduct in court?

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Interesting development in Parliament today.

After advising both the Opposition and the media that Government would take up the Premier's resolution on Parliamentary salaries, Mr. Scott simply carried it over on the agenda -- without explanation.

One would have to believe that the show of force on the Hill today had some effect. Presumably the Premier felt that raising Parliamentary salaries moments after being pilloried as feckless underperforming cowards wouldn't sit well.

Methinks so. Particularly after I heard a number of people telling their MPs that they did not deserve a raise after last week's debacle.

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Just quickly, my favourite two signs from the protest:

"Mandate my ass"

and

"I'm not gay, my girlfrend is"

Inspired.

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I popped by Parliament Hill today for the Lunch for Democracy protest and was pleasantly surprised at the turnout, which was much stronger than I think anyone had expected. I couldn't hear any of the speeches, but I think most people were being respectful but vocal.

I'll comment more tonight, because there could be some good knock on effect from this, but I'm optimistic that a largely politically dormant segment of Bermuda has been awakened and that people realize that you have to mobilize support for an issue before the debate (as Hector points out today).

The crowd was a good mix, although predominantly white, which puts the lie to the idea that Bermudian whites are conservative. The truth of course is quite the opposite, that black Bermudians are far more socially/morally conservative than white Bermudians (admittedly a generalisation).

My favourite part of the protest was the people who came out to spectate from across the street.

I say we have a weekly protest! Lord knows there's no shortage of material.

On a slightly more serious note, I would say that it would be nice to see this type of outrage on issues such as education, accountability, crime and parliamentary reform for example.

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Here are today's House Orders.

The Premier's resolution is regarding the parliamentary salary increases, which is expected to be taken up today.

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Mid Ocean News (02 June 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

OKAY, you’re right, this was not our finest hour. But it happens, Mr. Editor … and last Friday it happened in the House on the Hill.

Two speakers: one long and the other short; the first for and the second against; and then a form of parliamentary brinkmanship of wait and see. Each side waited for the other to speak first; the Opposition looked to the Government; Government to the Opposition; and when no one rose, the Speaker had no choice but to bring debate to en end.

In the end, myself (and others) were caught looking.

It happens – and, Mr. Editor, this isn’t the first time debate has collapsed in this way in the House on the Hill, and I doubt it will be the last, absent any serious changes to the Rules – which is to raise once more the subject of reform, a favourite subject of mine, as you know, but not of the powers that be; although perhaps now it has piqued the interest of a few more members of the listening – no, scratch that – watching public.

Of course what was surprising, to some, Mr. Editor, was that this happened with this particular Bill, most especially in view of all the advance publicity which it had received, its purpose, and the controversy it had attracted. But therein probably also lies the explanation.

That this was a Private Member’s Bill in the first place spoke volumes too. It came to us not as a Government Bill, but as an amendment to Human Rights Act proposed by one of their backbench and former Cabinet Minister.

Its purpose was to make unlawful discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation – just like it is unlawful to discriminate against others for example on account of their race, religion or political beliefs or because they were born out of wedlock: in short, the Bill was looking to extend and ensure equal protection for all from discrimination under the law.

Ms. Webb put the case when she spoke first – as she was required to do as the private member who brought Bill. She took just under 90 minutes and gave a comprehensive account of the need and the reasons for the Bill.

The public gallery to her immediate right was pretty full for the debate, and it included a number of the more prominent and visible and vocal members of Bermuda’s clergy. So full, in fact, that it prompted Ms. Webb to wonder aloud that she couldn’t remember the last time the gallery was so packed. “I do”, shouted out Ms. Pat Gordon-Pamplin, whose memory, Mr. Editor, is as strong as her voice. “That would be when the residents of Mary Victoria came up here to flog Glenn Blakeney and the Government [for their plans to build more homes in the neighbourhood – which were subsequently abandoned]”.

On the other hand, Mr. Editor, the Chamber wasn’t so full for the whole time Ms. Webb was speaking – not that that is that unusual when it comes to debates in the House on the Hill. Members do have a habit of drifting in and out from time to time, and they are able to keep an ear on what’s going on inside the Chamber through radios in the communal committee room and in our respective caucus rooms. Meanwhile, the Speaker had informed us at the start of the day that three members had written to say that they would be absent for the entire day, abroad, for various reasons: namely, Ministers Michael Scott and Terry Lister of the PLP Government and Mrs. Louise Jackson of the Opposition UBP.

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Probably my last comment on the whole sexual orientation amendment before I move on.

The first point I think needs reiterating is that the timing of this bill was completely wrong.

As someone put it to me this morning, the difference between the Stubbs bill in 1994 and the Webb bill in 2006 was 4 years. Meaning that there were 4 years between the Stubbs bill passing and an election in 1998.

Renee Webb's amendment was pitched right before a highly anticipated early-ish election.

Secondly, I haven't spoken to any MPs who feel good about the way this all went down. Paula Cox put it well in the Bermuda Sun when she said:

"I think that all players were diminished somewhat in the actual proceedings."

Ms. Cox also shed light on what I think is a unanimous consensus in Parliament that Ms. Webb didn't do the standard legwork, work that is much more critical for a private members bill to gain support:

"To credibly discuss this issue, I would have approached the process completely differently. We all know the hype and emotionalism that surrounds the issue of sexual orientation. Some clear, objective and factual discussion and consultation needed to occur prior even to any debate. If not, you contribute to a situation where in the absence of information there is a vacuum and in which fear and misinformation can flourish."

It seems pretty clear to me after some feedback that I've received that some of those 'against' votes were actually 'I could have been persuaded but Renee didn't go about it properly'.

That may not make some people happy but that's politics.

As I mentioned in my article in yesterday's RG, there's a lot more to politics than voting your conscience. A number of MPs seemed torn by what some may characterise as self-preservation (which is probably the case in some instances) but was actually the push pull between voting your conscience and representing your constituents, while others resented what they saw as a lack of respect given them by Renee.

The rapid defeat of the bill is more indicitive of a lack of support for Renee Webb than the amendment itself.

I was told this morning that after Renee spoke for an hour and a half and Nelson Bascome began to speak, she started to leave the gallery. At that point Environment Minister Neletha Butterfield said something to the effect of: "Where do you think you're going. We sat here and listened to you", which caused Renee to return to her seat.

That's very revealing. MPs felt like they were disrespected through the process and returned the favour.

One other thing I'd like to mention. There's also been a fair amount of consternation about who should have spoken to continue the debate after Nelson Bascome.

I maintain that the UBP's position that the Minister responsible (ie. Dale Butler) or a Cabinet Member should have gone next is entirely reasonable, particularly when I've been reliably informed that Renee Webb had indicated that both Dale Butler and Ewart Brown would speak in support of the amendment -- one who claimed to be in the bathroom (oldest excuse in the book) and the other (Dr. Brown) who engaged in characteristic double talk:

"I elected not to speak today. I intend to speak on this issue another time and another place."

If a private member can't even get a member of the Government to support her bill, only having one of her backbenchers oppose it, then there is no hope of it moving forward with or without the opposition.

Ms. Webb has been around long enough to know that and should have read the writing on the wall. But she's a politician who thrives on confrontation, and it seems to me that she was led down the garden path by her own party in particular.

Someone got punk'd.

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Burch engages in a classic redirect today, trying to change the topic from his attacks on the auditor to a rather hysterical cry to recall the Governor over the appointment of the Commanding Officer of the Regiment.

Pitiful.

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