November 2006 Archives

So, a reliable source informs me that the announcement "that will make all of you proud to be Bermudians" and will disprove the negative headlines which Premier Brown alluded to at Thursday night's meeting in St. George's is that the PGA Grand Slam of Golf will be confirmed for moving to Bermuda next year, despite the Premier's shameless premature headline grabbing which could have put it in jeopardy.

If it happens as I expect it will be a good announcement, and one that we'll all welcome. But 'proud to be Bermudians'?

Please, we've had these things before Dr. Brown, although you may have been in California at the time. Back then it was the Gillette shoot-out in the 90s which was also the Merrill Lynch event one year, although I can't recall the exact details.

So good news? Yes. Something that will improve national pride? No.

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The storm in a tiny teacup being manufactured over at Limey in Bermuda continues, over my post calling for disclosure, specifically that of the Royal Gazette's pollster who is a close relative of the Premier.

What's so odd to me is the implication that asking someone to disclose their potential conflicts means you're suggesting dishonesty or impugning their integrity.

Which is, if I may be blunt, a bizarre assertion that essentially kills any progress on disclosure.

Disclosure and integrity are not binary, quite the opposite in fact. Calling for disclosure does not imply dishonesty on the other party, but that's both the spin and the excuse.

Of course, if you accept that then any call for disclosure could always be countered with the claim that you're suggesting the other person is dishonest. But that twisted logic means we'll never get anywhere.

The fact of the matter is that modern societies and modern political systems mandate extensive disclosure for their elected and aspiring candidates, and parties who wish to trade with the Government. The US Senate just approved a bipartisan (imagine that) bill creating an online database for all Government contracts so that the public can see who gets what and from who and what there connections are.

Check out opensecrets.org if you're interested in campaign finance disclosure.

In Bermuda we have secret arbitrations, Public Accounts Committees held in private, MPs who require athletes representing Bermuda to be drug tested but not politicians representing Bermuda and political fundraising that is completely off the radar screen and is about to exploited to its fullest with massive foreign corporate influence over our Premier.

All this because we're engaged in some sort of 'they did it' politics of retribution. I'll defer to the ever reliable Smoking Gun at Limey in Bermuda:


The problem lies in the fact that most PLP supporters cannot accept that the members of today's opposition might have very little to do with what was going on 30 years ago...

So let's start anew. Full disclosure for all. No more inside deals...

Most importantly - just because someone points out that it might be in the best interest of all to know that someone is related doesn't mean they are suggesting corruption. But if there is a desire to hide the facts that friends & relatives are participating or benefitting from decisions made and contracts offered then yes corruption would be a possible conclusion. Or at the very least, flagrant nepotism.

As I said before, the spin is that "integrity trumps disclosure" while I maintain that integrity mandates disclosure.

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The Premier's entourage grows again?

The grapevine tells me that the Premier has hired a new chauffeur, dropping the Regimental driver used by his predecessors Smith and Scott.

You might recall that Ms. Smith fired the longtime Premier's driver shortly after taking office in 1998.

On a related note, last night and this morning I saw the Premier's car (GP1) at Collector's Hill, and I'm pleased to report that Dr. Brown appears to have had the good sense to have the Regiment soldiers put on a shirt and tie and drop the camouflage.

It always had a sort of third world dictator feel to it.

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A reader, and local business owner, writes in on the mechanics of the term limit exemption process:

In a letter dated 10 February 06 the Department of Immigration contacted all companies that have been issued work permits seeking to clarify policy W8 of the Ministry of Labour, Home Affairs and Public Safety with regard to Measures to Inhibit Long-Term Residency. At that time employers were invited to submit applications seeking exemption from the six year term limit for any “key employee” per criteria as set out in Appendix C (of the same letter) which detailed those positions and job categories that were eligible for a waiver of term limits.

To date and to the best of my knowledge government has still not finalised their response as evidenced by the absence of any correspondence from the Department of Immigration regarding this matter. As an employer who has submitted an application for one of our “key positions” together with a half dozen more for a number of our clients, I’m cautiously optimistic that we may actually hear something soon, maybe in time for Christmas.

What I find so annoying regarding the foregoing, however, isn’t so much the waiting game (which we are unfortunately so used to by now from a government department which clearly does not attempt to balance the interests of business owners and taxpayers (especially Bermudian ones!) with those of the community) but the recent remarks made by various PLP spokespersons who attempt to reprimand the local and international business community for not properly anticipating or planning for this term limit issue. If anyone is to be blamed for this debacle it is, without a doubt, the illogical, inefficient and growing behemoth of bureaucracy that has enveloped our government and civil service over the last +8 years.

Given the foregoing, however, I was surprised to learn (through a second hand source, mind you) that one of the largest (non-Bermudian owned) local employers of many work permit holders has in fact already received a written reply from the Department of Immigration confirming key employee status. What gives? Why are many locally owned and operated organistions still waiting to hear from government regarding the status of our applications? Is it because we can’t afford a seat at the PLP gala next year? Or perhaps we don’t have relatives in the right places?

I'm hearing more and more of this complaint from smaller and local businesses that they are treated like second class citizens when it comes to immigration policies.

The big international companies will feel the love, and get their exemptions, while the local companies fear they'll be used as the poster children for term limits.

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The Limey reports in:

Finally, Dr. Brown said that he will be making an announcement next week “that will make all of you proud to be Bermudians”.

I'm always proud to be Bermudian, as are every Bermudian I've met. An announcement from the Premier won't help in that regard. Is the Premier suffering from some self-esteem issues? A feeling of inadequacy perhaps, explaining the meaningless little fights he's trying to pick with the UK?

Maybe he'll announce campaign finance reform. Maybe he'll announce the Berkeley bond receipt has materialised. Maybe he'll announce that Berkeley didn't cost twice the budget. Maybe he'll announce that the Cedarbridge mould has miraculously cleaned itself up. Maybe he'll announce a racial code of conduct for Parliamentarians.

Maybe he'll announce that he's resigning. Now that would do it.

Nah.

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A reader writes in on term limits from a different perspective:

My wife... and I have visited Bermuda almost every year since 1985. We have some wonderful friends on the island and consider Bermuda our "home away from home." Knowing BDA like we do, I feel qualified to offer an opinion about the immigration discussion.

Bermuda is struggling with an issue not uncommon to the US. In the US, congress is attempting to control the influx of illegal immigrants, primarily from Mexico. The problem in the US is not jobs because the immigrants are taking jobs that Americans don't want. The Mexican nationals and other immigrants actually come to the US to get these jobs that in their own country would be great jobs. The problem in the US is that these people expect and demand every social service offered to American taxpayers. These people are payed in cash, most of which is exported back to their homeland to support their families. So, not only do these people not pay taxes, they ship US cash out of the country. Why would the Mexican government want to stop this employment opportunity and influx of US currency?

In Bermuda, it's not about taxes, social services or really even jobs. To me, it's about controlling citizenship, property ownership and protecting the Bermudian culture. The jobs that non-Bermudians are recruited for are not jobs that Bermudians are qualified for or even want. Furthermore, the companies hiring foreigners have to pay much more to get those jobs done than if they could find a Bermudian to do them. The foreign workers bring their culture with them, and they fall in love with Bermuda, and then they are forced to leave.

America is great because of the mixture of talents and culture from all over the world that has become America. Every country and culture in the world is a piece of America. Bermuda, of course, needs to preserve its nature and essence, but Bermuda also needs to open her arms to the talents and treasures of the world to achieve HER greatness. Bermuda needs to welcome visiting professionals, as they will become ambassadors in the future, and while in Bermuda, they will contribute greatly to what makes Bermuda so very special in the world.

I completely agree with the final paragraph in particular. We do need to open our arms to the world and welcome visiting professionals. It has, and will continue, to benefit us all and make Bermuda a better place.

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Jake over at Limey in Bermuda has his knickers in a twist over my post of a few days ago suggesting that some disclosure is warranted by the Royal Gazette when running polls produced by Research Innovations, run by Walton Brown, cousin of Premier Brown.

His argument seems to boil down to this statement:

"Walton Brown demonstrates that 'disclosure' is trumped by integrity."

Not quite. I would agree that it would be silly of Walton Brown to mess with his poll results, as an example, to pump his causes. He'd lose credibility.

And Jake is correct and fair in pointing out that Walton Brown routinely produces polls that are overwhelmingly against independence while he himself if an ardent independence advocate.

He's also right that Walton became an unlikely member of what Bermuda Independence Commission member - and now the Premier's consultant on race Rolfe Commissiong - termed the 'white cabal' critical of the BIC report (of which I'm an honourary member).

But the point remains. You err on the side of too much disclosure. The post was more about the Royal Gazette disclosing this as is their obligation in my opinion.

Research Innovations' polls have proven pretty reliable. That's true. But there are other aspects of the familial relationship that warrant disclosure beyond allegations of manipulation (which I don't argue is happening).

Situations like:

Would Dr. Brown get inside info on the polls?
Was Dr. Brown aware of the last poll results prior to publication and early enough to time his leadership campaign around that?
When Walton Brown interpets results and analyses situations (as he did the leadership challenge), could he not be swayed by his internal biases, best efforts to be objective notwithstanding?

I maintain that the disclosure if relevant.

My rule is that you always ask yourself if the shoe was on the other foot how would you feel. To PLP supporters such as Jake I'd ask: if the UBP leader's cousin was running polling for the daily paper would that be relevant and worthy of disclosure? You're damn right it would be.

The line that integrity trumps disclosure sounds nice, but integrity mandates disclosure.

For some reason in Bermuda we don't expect much disclosure, and that opens up challenges to integrity, and frankly many of the abuses of power we suffer from.

So I think Jake's defence of Walton Brown is valid to the extent that Walton and his polls have integrity. But that doesn't negate disclosure.

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (29 Nov. 2006)

Here’s a topical piece of trivia for you: What’s the difference between one non-Bermudian or two non-Bermudians filling a job over 12 years? Answer: A few votes.

There’s little else that can be read into the PLP Government’s stubborn persistence in pursuing the dangerously counter-productive work permit term limits policy; a policy that is a month away from triggering a mass exodus of non-Bermudian workers who will be replaced by…a mass influx of non-Bermudian workers.

That’s very sensible public policy indeed.

The only beneficiaries of this revolving door of non-Bermudians might be the moving companies, the airlines, and Premier Brown, who will classify a few more air arrivals as tourists.

It’s time for Cabinet to make a long overdue announcement. It’s time to admit the obvious: the work permit term limits policy was a 2003 election stunt that has run awry and can now be shelved. Except of course that we’re almost certainly facing a spring election, meaning we’re in a period when reality is irrelevant and the Government will act irrationally.

The refusal to change course on term limits is our equivalent of George Bush’s refusal to admit that his Iraq policy was failing, because that would amount to a pre-election admission that it’s failing…even though everyone knew it was failing.

Election or no election, the time has come for the Premier to announce that the policy was a mistake, that term limits won’t work, that they were never going to work and that sending experienced professionals to mentor young Dubliners or Cayman Islanders instead of Bermudians is economic suicide.

The policy itself admits that. Shortly after the 2003 election was resolved, the PLP Government announced that the ‘key employees’ of ‘good corporate citizens’ would be excluded; an admission that the policy was counterproductive, ill-advised and a cynical attempt to grab a few votes.

The irony of this policy is that it isn’t the non-Bermudians who we should subject to term limits; it’s the politicians who are implementing them who should be. Bermuda is led – in the loose sense of the word ‘led’ – by a collection of politicians well past their ‘sell by’ date; 1960’s thinking in the 21st century isn’t serving us well.

Not once in the past few years has the Government articulated what this policy will achieve, or has achieved, other than a sound bite or two that the PLP is the party of Bermudianisation; the facts notwithstanding.

The facts are that the eight year tenure of the PLP has been characterised by a reduction in the number of jobs held by Bermudians and a corresponding increase in the number of jobs for non-Bermudians. Those are the facts.

Inconvenient I know. But true.

The ratio of Bermudian to non-Bermudian jobs has worsened during the PLP’s tenure; the realization of which no doubt triggered the term limit window dressing to desperately shore up support.

In the past week we’ve heard the PLP Government espouse two disturbing positions: foreigners bad (term limits), foreign money good (Premier’s Gala Weekend); two myopic stances which are damaging both our economy and our reputation.

Let’s get real. Can we really call ourselves the friendliest place in the world when we greet our tourists and foreign workers with: “Welcome to Bermuda, when are you leaving?”

This pervasive attitude feeds into one of the most common of the many complaints we level at non-Bermudians: they’re insular; they don’t truly immerse themselves in our culture; they just come to work, work, work.

What do we expect? What would you do if you were told that you can’t stay here for more than 6 years – whether a local successor exists or not – because your presence is both the cause and solution of our problems. The Government has even gone so far as to blame the rush-hour traffic problem on non-Bermudians, with our at least two-car-Premier suggesting that foreign workers shouldn’t own one.

This hostile environment exacerbates ‘expatness’; a phenomenon where the more we demonize and scapegoat foreign workers the more they withdraw from the greater Bermudian community and maximize the economic benefit of their legislated short stay in Bermuda.

Term limits are bad. They fail to increase opportunity for Bermudians, but do increase the cost and operating burden on our businesses, which will look for more welcoming homes.

There’s no two ways about it. Government must step back and admit that it was a mistake.

This is absolutely critical to ensure the continued success of Bermuda’s prosperous but tenuous economy; the continued professional and technical education and training of Bermudians; and to prevent our Government from redirecting some of the most talented individuals in their fields to other jurisdictions, where they’ll ply their trade, share their knowledge and threaten Bermuda’s dominance in insurance and reinsurance.

Economic complacency isn’t unprecedented in Bermuda; we went through this twenty years ago and never recovered. Back then it was tourism’s success which we took for granted; now it’s international business.

Let’s not repeat history.

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I have a column to be published in tomorrow's Royal Gazette, on the issue of work permit term limits, calling for the policy to be withdrawn.

Today's evening news broadcasts carried a speech delivered by David Ezekiel of the Association of Bermuda International Companies suggesting that the Government may be looking to do just that.

Mr. Ezekiel claimed that the policy is solely geared towards preventing future claims on residency/Bermudian status, by long term residents and that Labour Minister Derrick Burgess has asked for alternatives to term limits that would achieve the same purpose.

That's obvious and has been discussed before; simply have work permit holders sign a waiver relinquishing any claim to permanent residency or citizenship. It's that easy.

But the policy was designed to do more than prevent citizenship claims; it was implemented to also try and show the PLP Government as pro-Bermudian before an election and shore up flagging support in the face of a growing foreign work force under their tenure.

So I'm optimistic that the policy may go away, but I'm realistic enough to know that the politics of that are messy for the PLP who have hitched their wagon to it in a big way.

Frankly the key employee and good corporate citizenship exemptions are so broad and subjective that the policy is completely meaningless anyway. Regardless, the term limit policy has managed to make Bermuda a less attractive place to do business, for both local and international companies and that perception will be hard to turn around.

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Two months ago I commented that the results from Research Innovations latest independence poll didn't make sense:

"Big swings in undecideds such as this, in a two month period, just don't happen - in either direction - barring some major development to change people's minds. And that hasn't happened."

I was right. The latest poll has things back on track, with the last poll clearly an anomaly, although one that makes me question the methodology and interpretation of the results. The article and pollster should have disclosed that the results were inconsistent and viewed skeptically.

I do however take issue with this idea that Dr. Brown has put Independence on the backburner:

Polls have consistently shown a majority of people against Independence, however, Dr. Brown stated before he was elected that Independence remained a "principal objective".

But he indicated he would be placing the issue on the back burner when he said it would not be an initial focal point of his leadership.

Nonsense. It's squarely on the front burner with the heat on high.

Since Dr. Brown was selected, he has done nothing but stoke the Independence flames.

The new Premier hoped to manufacture a confrontation over the location of his weekly meetings with the Governor (which the Dep. Gov. nonchalantly swatted away), attempted to exclude the Governor from the Overseas Territories meetings in the UK, is attempting to try and have the Governor become more active in managing issues which have been delegated for decades, refusing to consult on the Governor's appointment, and his opening comments of the 2006 Throne Speech which were not-so-subtle coded references to Independence:

Many wise Bermudians have lamented Bermuda’s motto, “Quo Fata Ferunt,” where the fates may lead us or whither the fates carry [us], and have remarked that the time has come to chart our own fate, our own destiny and our own future.

Every move that the Premier has made in his first 3 1/2 weeks has been toward achieving two related goals:

1) To try and force the UK through the Governor here to increase their profile and take an active role in governing rather than the hands-off approach of the past few decades, to try and create a perception that we are not self-governing.

2) To try and annoy/pester the UK to the point that they become the one pushing for Bermuda to go Independent, because he knows that he can't sell it to Bermudians.

Dr. Brown has cast aside the positive case for Independence (one no-one has been able to make yet) for the negative one.

He's trying to take Bermuda back more than a few decades to the technical but long since discarded constitutional model so that he can make the case that we don't run our own country.

Shrewd, but desperate.

The other aspect of all of this is that the confrontations are mostly about power. The appeal of Independence to a guy like Dr. Brown is not about achieving some democratic ideal but about acquiring more power.

That is abundantly clear.

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So let me get this straight, Dr. Brown wants to lead a sustained and open debate on race but says this:

However, one student at the Friday night event, argued that Dr. Brown’s own language was contributing to the racial divide saying terms such as “plantation questions” only increased the division. “I was born into a divided situation,” Dr. Brown replied. “My object is not to ignore a reality. If we are going to engage in a discussion then feelings on both sides will be hurt. We will have the pain of engagement – and then maybe some understanding.

“People seem to want a quick discussion so they can say it’s done, let’s move on. It doesn’t work like that.

“There are generations of social discomfort. I am saying let’s slow down for a minute and engage. Have a sustained conversation.

Being 'born into a divided situation' doesn't mean you continue to use the divisive tactics and language of that era. That's not denying reality.

You move on. To use Dr. Brown's favourite buzzword, you
'change'. Change the tone, change the atmosphere, change reality. Stop perpetuating it. That will foster an environment for a sustained discussion.

What we've got now is 1960's thinking and tactics in a 2006 world.

I understand that this is an uncomfortable discussion for some, and feelings will get hurt, but you don't do it intentionally as Dr. Brown does, and then claim you were born into division. That's the point.

All this ridiculous talk about plantations, using racially divisive language and running racially divisive election campaigns isn't at all about having a sustained conversation.

That's about generating more heat than light.

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I'm not disputing the results of today's Royal Gazette poll, but don't you think there is an obligation to disclose that the polling is conducted by Research Innovations, owned and operated by Premier Brown's cousin Walton Brown, who is rumoured to have been involved in Dr. Brown's successful leadership challenge (present at Dr. Brown's kick-off speech and swearing in weeks later at Government House) of Premier Alex Scott, launched hot on the heels of a Research Innovations poll with sky high tourism approval ratings?

And shouldn't they disclose that Dr. Brown's brother is the CEO of HSBC Bermuda when HSBC funds Government initiatives.

I'm not surprised by the poll results. A bounce was expected, but surely there needs to be some disclosure of these facts.

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A Jamahl Simmons Pembroke West constituent provides some empirical evidence that Jamahl has been pressing the flesh in his area:

"Jamahl (and Sherry) actually stopped by to see us two Saturdays ago so I can say from firthand experience that he is out canvassing ... at least in a very safe UBP area of Spanish Point which makes me wonder if he knew this challenge was on the horizon?"

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The House Orders, for Friday Nov. 24th can be found here.

The House will be taking up items 1 and 4.

You can listen to the debate on AM 1230. The session begins at 10AM.

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I did a little more digging today on this UBP Pembroke mess and must say that it's like a mini soap opera.

I managed to touch base with Jamahl who categorically denies the allegation that he's not canvassing or not canvassing effectively and says he's got the data to prove it. He says he's been canvassing hard and methodically in a targeted way. I believe him, which leads me to believe that this is less about politics and more about parochial power games and personalities.

So I'm not getting in the middle of this as it's way too much of a maze to navigate and doesn't seem driven by a specific issue, but what I will say is this:

GET FOCUSED PEOPLE

Now is not the time for the UBP to be getting dragged into internal bickering, there's a much bigger fish to fry.

As everyone should see from the news of the past few days, we have a less than a month old Premier who is playing Independence games, putting his cronies on the payroll and institutionalising corruption by selling access to the highest foreign bidder.

This is not the time for these sideshows, and it's definitely not time to be playing it out in the press. Have people not learned anything from the PLP over the past 3 years?

Contrary to what seems to be the conventional wisdom that the UBP is about to be demolished because the PLP selected Dr. Brown, I take a different view.

While Alex Scott was a bumbler, making him a pretty easy target, Dr. Brown is by no means unbeatable. In fact, I think he's very beatable.

It won't take long, and hasn't, for his supposed strengths to show up as huge liabilities. I predict that the public will tire very quickly of him and the recycled Cabinet he's presiding over as the stench of corruption and his lack of respect for the public and process permeates the island.

What Bermudian is going to pay thousands of dollars to play golf or have a picture taken with the Premier? How absurd.

If segments of the UBP want to get sucked into these games that's a shame. Defeating the PLP at the next election is very, very doable. If Alex Scott's interview yesterday didn't make it clear enough, there is plenty of disdain for the new Premier, his style and lack of an ethical compass.

So put your game faces on. Dr. Brown's in election mode. The UBP's branches should be too. They are in fact. But it only takes one silly little episode like this to cut the legs out from under you.

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I received a couple of unsolicited calls and placed a couple of my own this morning, attempting to clarify the backstory on the branch (or a portion of the branch) challenge that seems to be underway against Pembroke UBP MP Jamahl Simmons.

What did I find out? Not a ton really, except that the situation seems very messy, very intense, contained to that branch, driven by a core group of long-standing branch members, but really something that's been bubbling below the surface for awhile. Not too many of the people I spoke with wanted to go anywhere near it.

One of the things that does seem clear is that there is a level of discontent over the amount and/or quality of canvassing that Jamahl does.

It seems that over a year ago there was a Pembroke regional (multi-branch) meeting where Jamahl's canvassing came up and was a topic of heated discussion. After that I was told he did pick up the pace, but that it's dropped off again and that the branch doesn't equate socialising with canvassing...ie. they want hardcore data driven canvassing.

That seems to be a big issue: Jamahl says he's canvassing, a claim that seems to be being disputed.

There's also the issue of former MP Erwin Adderley having a long term interest in that seat, which after being redrawn for single seats largely covered his old geographic area. It seems that he is embarking on a path that would lead to a potential primary challenge.

That's about all I could really seem to get. No-one I spoke with was impressed with the way this was playing out in the press, but no-one seems to have the complete story.

So that's all I can make of it.

The one consistent message from people though was: "This is not what we need and is embarrassing."

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I rarely catch the evening news anymore as it's bedtime for the kids, but tonight I caught the end of a story on ZBM about UBP MP Jamahl Simmons's branch trying to replace him with Erwin Adderley, or maybe more accurately stated, Erwin challenging Jamahl (through a primary? - which is the way it would have to be done under the constitution. Or that's my recollection of how it would have to be done).

I couldn't quite figure out what the branch's issue is. The report suggested that there was some unhappiness in the branch that Jamahl was canvassing with non-UBP members. Which is a bit of an odd accusation because Jamahl said he'd been canvassing with his family (father and sister).

The one thing I'd say is that at least he's canvassing! Too many MPs don't do nearly enough of that, so it's sort of rare to hear a complaint about a candidate canvassing, particularly with his family.

There has got to be more to it than that.

The ZBM report also implied a racial component to it, which doesn't add up if the challenger is of the same race. That sounds like a little bit of reporter mischief playing into the PLP narrative about the UBP.

We'll have to see how this plays out over the next few days. From a publicity perspective it's a royal mess to have these type of internal battles played out publicly as the PLP can attest.

Challenges are ok as long as they follow the prescribed route, it keeps sitting MPs on their toes, but this situation seems a bit odd and having someone in the branch run to the press is a recipe for disaster. Another thing the PLP can attest to.

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In response to my article today in the Royal Gazette, a reader points me to an excellent article which makes the Milton Friedman free market case for school choice:

In the last 10 years of his 94-year life, Friedman and his wife, Rose, dedicated themselves to school choice. They viewed school choice as a companion to economic freedom. Through the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation they enthusiastically promoted school choice as a means of liberating the poor from failing government schools. Failing schools produced failing students, they reasoned, depriving children of the tools they would need to attain economic independence. Friedman first proposed school vouchers in 1955, but it wasn't until 1996 that he and Rose started their foundation to take advantage of the growing interest in school choice.

Friedman did not fit the stereotype of an economic conservative. He was genuinely interested in helping the poor by giving them a choice of schools that would offer them the best opportunity to escape poverty's cycle. He noted a 1999 National Opinion Poll conducted for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in which 60 percent of minorities support vouchers and a whopping 87 percent of African-American parents ages 26 to 35 and 66.4 percent of blacks ages 18 to 25 favor them.

The main opponents of school choice are the teachers unions and white liberal politicians who receive their campaign contributions. They mostly send their children and grandchildren to private schools, while condemning minority children to poorly performing government schools. How's that for "compassion" and a commitment to helping the poor? The poor are helped to escape poverty when they get a good education. Failure to give them what has been called "the last civil right" practically ensures they will remain poor.

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A reader remembers:

"Well, it's nice to know that Alex Scott would never support the PLP accepting financial support in return for political favours like, for instance, giving a sweetheart tenancy deal on a government-owned hotel to someone who bankrolled the PLP through two elections........"

Coco Reef is, of course, what the reader is referring to.

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Extraordinary.

That's the word that came to mind while reading recently deposed former PLP Premier Alex Scott's comments on the ethical problems with Dr. Brown's PLP Gala Fundraiser and reflecting on his tenure and what Dr. Brown has promised. (More on the latter article later.)

Premier's Gala Weeekend Money quote (in every sense of the word):

"I heard some large figures. You have to watch out for sweetheart deals."

As an example he said gaming interests had lobbied when he was Premier but had been resisted.

If such a lobby group donated and gaming prohibitions were lifted people would make an assumption of corruption said Mr. Scott.

"People will say 'Oh, that is the same individual who gave a large sum to the party'. The party should be wary of this sort of largess from outside."

Wow.

The former Premier has admitted that a 'gaming interest' offered to make a large donation to the PLP in exchange for favourable treatment in setting up a gambling operation here.

This quote doesn't feel like a random example to me. Why did the former Premier pick this one to cite?

I'm not sure I buy the defense of his (or Finance Minister Paula Cox's) oversight in Dr. Brown's Pay to Play scandal, and I'm not quite sure what this means:

"What I was seen to do publicly and what I did behind the scenes were two different things.

"I didn't leave any pay to play in place and I think the Minister of Finance felt equally strongly about it."

But the next sentence suggests that the former Premier doesn't hold his successor's ethical standards highly:

Asked if he was worried it would resurface he said: "Let's wait and see.

"Everybody knew that I didn't support that approach to our business and anyone involved in it had a conversation with me and had promised they would address the circumstances behind it."

I predict, that before too long, the PLP membership will be having some serious buyers remorse.

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (22 Nov. 2006)

‘When they want change the preacher says “shout it”.
Does shout bring about change? I doubt it.
All shout does is make you lose your voice.’

“Fishin’ 4 Religion” by Arrested Development

If raising the standard of Bermuda’s public education system were as simple as raising your voice, then Randy Horton, the latest Minister of Education, is the man for the job.

If there’s more to it than Mr. Boombastic waxing lyrical on the Parliamentary mic about taking the education system “by the scruff of the neck”, believing “that our young people can succeed” and having “passion” for education we’re out of luck.

Ring the bell, not just my ears Minister Horton. School’s out. Our public education system is broken. All the passion and belief in the world aren’t going to change that fact.

Now I know that I can’t make that statement without being accused of undermining our public school students, but it’s true. I believe in our children. I just don’t believe in the system. How can I?

All the belief in the world, all the shouting, won’t change the fact that we’re not equipping our public students with the skills they need to fully participate in our economy; a fifty-three percent graduation rate – of an inferior diploma – is a testament to that.

Sadly, Minister Horton’s speech reeked of the all too prevalent idea that we can fix education by building self-esteem and having faith. First the PLP brought us faith based tourism; now we have faith based education. Lord help us.

If there’s one thing our kids don’t suffer from it’s a lack of self-esteem. Too many of them have too much of it in fact; too much self-esteem and too little education.

The public education system has been overwhelmingly successful at instilling in our under-equipped students the belief that they possess the skills and tools to succeed in our economy – and the world. They don’t. And they never will if we refuse to face reality…and fast.

This mismatch between expectations and reality has been created and perpetuated by the Ministry of Education and some politicians to the point that it’s almost criminal.

For years we’ve been preaching the gospel of entitlement to our public school kids: the sky’s the limit; the best, highest paying jobs in our prosperous community are yours for the taking; racism and foreign workers are holding you back, not a lack of education.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is that too many of our young people, through no fault of their own, enter the workforce without the skills to cope, let alone advance. Frustration sets in as they see others moving past them into positions they’ve been told they are entitled to as Bermudians.

Not surprisingly the result of this is resentment and the outright revolt that we’re witnessing in some segments of society today. This isn’t a disaster waiting to happen, but one happening before our eyes on a daily basis; so much so that many of us don’t seem to notice anymore.

But there’s hope. Ironically, buried in the Throne Speech and Minister Horton’s passion was a solution; albeit not under the Education heading.

The closing of the Indigent Care clinic at the hospital, a move designed to allow those who can’t afford it to see the doctor of their choice at taxpayer expense, is one of the major ideas of the Throne Speech.

What does this have to do with education?

Simple: equal access to equal healthcare despite your economic means.

Surely, if the Government believes that everyone, despite their means, is entitled to private healthcare, they should also believe that everyone, despite their means, is entitled to private top-notch education.

Same concept. Different Ministry.

If, as Minister Horton declared on Friday, we should run the education system as a business, why not do just that? Why shouldn’t every student in Bermuda have equal access to any school of their choice?

The simple fact of the matter is that we have two education systems, one for those who can afford (barely in many cases) $14,000 a year in private school tuition (plus the taxes they pay to fund the public system) and those who can’t.

This has resulted in de facto segregation which is perpetuating a divide that is primarily economic, but often viewed as racial in nature. We can end this by giving every parent in Bermuda a school voucher redeemable at the institution of their choice, whether public or private.

Or take it a step further. If the private schools do education better and cheaper – as they do – why not get the Government out of the education ‘business’ all together?

While there’s hope, I’m not optimistic. For years we’ve had Education Ministers content to tinker with the system, looking only five years ahead to the next election – or a few months as is the case today, with Dr. Brown preparing for a spring 2007 election.

When our interests and those of our policy makers aren’t aligned you get platitudes and passion, not the massive structural change – or complete privatization – of public education that is long overdue.

Even under the best case scenarios, turning around public education will take at least a generation to bear fruit. It can’t be managed in a political timeframe.

The PLP Government, or any Government, must stop pretending that public education can be rescued by playing on the fringes. It can’t.

Our educators and politicians must stop telling our children that they can be whatever they want to be, that we believe in them, that we have a passion for them, while churning them through a broken system.

Only when we truly commit to equal educational opportunities for all of our children, will we begin to address the manifestations of a failing public education system: a widening economic gap, increasing crime or an increasingly alienated youth for example.

Without education there can be no empowerment, merely empowerment zones.

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Evil colonial master.

The PLP has ordered all flags be flown at half mast for eternity. Independence is officially dead.

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A reader agrees, and chimes in with another example revealing the problem with providing a 3 year average for the revenue guarantee loads that Dr. Brown continues to withhold from the public:

"The average effect over 3 years can be very distorting. For example the payments could be 100K in year 1 and 2, and over 1M in year 3 and you'd still get an ave of 400K."

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Here we go again. Dr. Brown sends out Airport Manager Jim Howes to selectively respond to calls for openness about tourism numbers:

Focusing on the crucial factor of reviving air arrival visitors to rejuvenate the Island’s hotel and hospitality sectors, Dr. Brown said: “Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the recent rumour mill surrounding tourism policy has been blog-fed, opposition-embraced fiction that the increase of air service to Bermuda has come through some extortionate, secret deal involving untold cash. I regret to advise the conspiracy theorists that nothing could be further from the truth.”

He invited Bermuda International Airport General Manager Jim Howes to explain the facts about incentives such as short-term waivers of airport landing fees, advertising support and revenue guarantee agreements as airlines expand into new routes.

The Tourism Minister and latest PLP Premier shoves out the airport manager to do his bidding, while not at all addressing the bulk of the criticism, which has never been about "the increase of air service to Bermuda has come through some extortionate, secret deal involving untold cash" but about the details of taxpayer subsidies of the airlines.

Extortionate secret deals of untold cash? Not quite, but nice try. Thats' classic Dr. Brown spin to paint reasonable requests for information as conspiracy theories.

The press release from the Airport Manger is very narrowly focused and fails to address a number of other criticisms that I laid out in a Royal Gazette column a few weeks back.

I wasn't just looking for info on the revenue guarantees, but also "tourist arrivals" not the much broader "air arrivals" which would seem to include the many many business travelers and local arrivals.

I also am interested in a full accounting of the Bermuda Music Festival, and also the apparently illegal charity Dr. Brown and "First Lady Wanda" set up around it this year.

But let's look at the press release from Mr. Howes.

The release ends with this statement on revenue guarantees:

"But, on an overall basis, we can report that the total revenue guarantee payouts by Bermuda Int'l Airport have averaged less than $400 Thousand per year since 2003."

Averages can be misleading and not all that informative. How's about the Government break it down? That $400,000 could be 0,0 and 1,200,000 over three years for all we know.

The rest of the press release focuses primarily on JetBlue and the Miami American flight.

We always knew that JetBlue's subsidies came in the form of 'marketing assistance' and other incentives (landing fee waivers etc.). Let's put some meat around those numbers shall we.

And as for the Miami flight, I don't doubt that it hasn't triggered the revenue guarantee payouts....because it's full of locals.

Again, this is more smoke, mirrors and spin. We're looking for information to evaluate the state of the tourism industry not the airline industry.

The information provided sheds very little light on the situation, and leaves as many questions unanswered as it sort of answers.

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Too funny...and true. A reader writes:

"I see Ewart running through foreign campuses like Stephen Colbert, hands (or fists) raised high in the air, aglow in the glory of his exalted position. I see his proposed visits to the youth as pure electioneering. A lot sexier visiting kids as Premier in other climes than trying to corner kids at home at Christmas or Easter, and all on the taxpayer's dime."

Exactly. Rather than try and connect with students in Bermuda, Dr. Brown figures that a pre-election taxpayer funding campaign swing for the youth vote will be more impressive as he tours the world with an entourage, swooping in like a big time power player.

Me, I don't think our students are that easily bamboozled. I respect their intelligence more than that.

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A reader beats me to it:

"So the question is, why would anyone from the USA be interested in coming to this Gala Event?

"People seeking to influence events, e.g. Lobbyists, or the Bermuda
equivalent, which unfortunately is now part of our system."

Yep. We've been through this before, but back then the cheques payable to "Dr. Ewart Brown (PLP)" were for $2,500. Now that Dr. Brown is President, I mean Premier, he's added a zero to the end.

The first we got wind of this event was a couple of weeks ago in the final two sentences of an article announcing that Dr. Brown would be taking a victory lap around North America and the UK under the guise of visiting overseas students:

Dr. Brown is also planning a victory party following his recent elevation to the Premiership of Bermuda.

He is inviting overseas friends and family to a Premier’s Gala Weekend on January 12-14 to raise funds for the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party.

After stumbling across the gala announcement on the PLP's website last night, I spent most of the day chuckling about the details of the party which is so obviously modeled after a US Presidential inauguration, but mostly that Dr. Brown's wife has adopted the tile "First Lady".

But now it's time to focus on the implications of this event, something we went through with the Pay to Play scandal back in 2003, where Dr. Brown solicited political donations from Bermuda's American pension fund administrators, a shakedown if there ever was one.

Now we have this on a much larger scale. The leader of the country and one of our two political parties is seeking political donations from foreign sources.

In the US that is illegal. For obvious reasons.

Now, Dr. Brown's press secretary did say he was inviting friends and family from overseas, but are we really expected to believe that Dr. Brown requires his friends and family to pay up to $25,000 to play a round of golf, have dinner and have a photo taken with him? Please. This is about selling favours.

Having your politicians being financed by foreign interests is a dangerous and extremely distasteful thing. I can't say that strongly enough.

As my reader says, why would anyone from overseas want to donate to our local political parties, unless they expect a quid pro quo?

Any donor, but foreign donors in particularly, aren't going to pay up to $25,000 to attend this gala unless they anticipate having the favour returned. Political money is ruining the US political system and has legalised bribery in Washington (lobbyists), and unfortunately, our American President impersonator is importing the worst aspects of the American system to our shores.

If the PLP are financed by foreigners what does that say? Well it says a lot of things, but mostly it says that the Bermudian government, and Premier, is selling us out to the highest foreign bidder.

Shame.

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Read it and weep.

Dr. Brown's exercise in ego building and self-congratulation aka "The Premier's Gala Weekend" (Presidential Inauguration) announcement is up at the PLP's website.

My favourite bit, other than the astronomical table amounts, is:

"Attendance for two (2) at First Lady Wanda’s Luncheon"

Yes, you read that right, "First Lady Wanda".

and

Photo portrait opportunities with the Premier at the scheduled events

He really does think he's the American President. Maybe he's taken some tips from Michael Douglas.

What level do you think that the Bank of Bermuda (aka Dr. Brown's brother Phil Butterfield) will participate at? My bet is Platinum after today's helping hand for the empowerment zone.

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Scratch one off the Dr. Brown got it done list.

But here's the kicker:

"Confusingly, Premier Ewart Brown claimed the media had been informed of the latest twist in the Club Med more than six weeks ago, yet the Royal Gazette has never received such notification and no other news outlet on the Island is known to have carried the story until it was confirmed by him yesterday lunchtime."

and

"A request by the Royal Gazette for proof that Government previously made public the collapse of the KJA deal has, as yet, not met with a response."

Hmmm. This happened six weeks ago but the press weren't notified, although Dr. Brown claims they were.

What was going on six weeks ago? Could it have been the early days of Dr. Brown's leadership challenge to then Premier Alex Scott as the "Minister who gets things done."

So no announcement that one of his great accomplishments fell through, but an announcement about an 'accomplishment' that wasn't - and still isn't - done.

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Surely by the PLP's own standards, the headline of today's Royal Gazette lead story should have been: "PLP Seeks Uncle/Aunt Tom".

Where to start with this one? Well, I'll start with this statement:

[Alex Scott] said there was a need to shift from the usual choice of diplomats and politicians and pick individuals the community knew and could identify with.

Except when the UBP pick a leader who is black (and Bermudian) that is. When that happens the PLP scream about window dressing, Uncle Tom's, sun-burns and playing the race card (and when the UBP select a leader who is white they're mocked as doomed to lose).

Does the PLP think that Baroness Amos or Scotland would more favourably entertain their anti-UK games due to their race?

I don't. I think they, or any other non-white diplomat or politician, know that they represent the Government of the United Kingdom, and would execute those duties no better or worse than the current and previous occupiers of Government House.

Alex Scott's suggestion that our relationship with the UK would be less 'tense' because the local representative was black, shows just how shallow he and his party are.

The PLP have no values. Just an obsession.

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I didn't catch this during Friday night's Throne Speech debate, but in a conversation last night someone brought up the significance of Dr. Brown's interpolation while David Dodwell was speaking:

In a rowdy exchange with the Premier, Mr. Dodwell then accused the PLP of not being comfortable talking about race. Dr. Brown branded this claim "ridiculous" and told the Opposition to "wait until we move from talk to action".

With the Mr. Dodwell struggling to be heard in the House amid noise from both sides, he asked why his questions had got the loudest reaction of the day, more so than housing or seniors. The Premier replied: "Nothing gets us excited like this one – it defines our entire existence." [emphasis mine]

"Nothing gets us excited like this one – it defines our entire existence."

That's the line that piqued our interest during last nights conversaion, because it begs the following question:

If race 'defines [the PLP's] entire existence' do they have an incentive to resolve it or perpetuate it?

The PLP's approach to race and race relations, both as an opposition and Government, and their lack of action to improve it (despite getting 'excited' over it) leads me to conclude that they've decided that their political interests are best served by perpetuating racial division.

If one issue 'defines their entire existence', and is resolved (for lack of a better term), what else do they have to offer? What would hold them together? What would be their relevance?

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Yawn.

This little non-event confirms that the current Premier is no different than his predecessor; he's just better at playing the game.

What a bore.

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Let's start with the good news.

Government has backed down from building a new hospital on the Botanical Gardens. Well done to all the campaigners and public who aggressively pushed back.

Now the bad news.

Has the new Premier (also a member of the previous Cabinet) or the new Health Minister read the Bermuda Hospitals Board Estate Master Plan? It doesn't appear to be the case (which is scary for an MD and former Deputy Premier) when they keep making statements like this:

And the Throne Speech, confirming this stance, said Government would shift the focus from where the hospital would be sited to working with the medical community to find out Bermuda’s healthcare priorities.

"Only after it is determined what services the hospital should deliver can costs, location or other decisions be made,” it added.

Take a look at the Executive Summary of the EMP:

3. Health Concerns / Profile of Bermuda 4. Current & Future Trends as it Relates to Population 5. Global Health Trends and their Impact on Bermuda 6. Service Profile for Bermuda (Existing & Proposed) 7. Services that will be Facilitated / Performed Overseas

While it's good that the Botanical Gardens and 'virgin land' (Arboretum?) are no longer on the table, it looks to me like the Premier and Health Minister are about to re-invent the wheel with respects to delivering services.

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Mid Ocean News (10 Nov. 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

IT WAS like I said last week, Mr. Editor: Been there, done that. Several times. All the pomp and the pageantry and the promises that typically accompany the opening of our Parliament , and the reading of a Speech from the Throne, can wear a little thin after a time. This was afterall Throne Speech No.14 for me as MP, for those of you who are also counting, and the ninth under the PLP, although it was the first under their latest leader and now third Premier in four years, Dr. the Honourable Ewart F. Brown - or, as they now prefer to describe themselves, which they did in the Throne Speech: the third Progressive Labour Party administration.

Third time lucky, Mr. Editor? Or third strike and you’re out? That’s the question.

But first things first. We need to spot the difference between the third and the second and the first administrations, although we were warned in the lead-up to the run-off at the Wreck not to be on the look-out for that much in the way of innovation.

The warning came from Minister Paula Cox, and now Deputy Premier, who was supporting the Other Guy at the time. “It seems to me extraordinary”, Ms. Cox was reported as having said in The Royal Gazette, “that someone who served at the Cabinet table, not just as Minister since 1998 but in the role of Deputy Premier for the last three years, to see the fleshing out of ideas which in many ways replicated those already discussed and or actioned by the Cabinet in which he served.”

Touche.

I am not sure that I could have said it better myself, Mr. Editor. But the fact is that we will never know what was in the first draft of the Throne Speech that was written under the Most Recent, Second Former PLP Premier, and how that compares with the words which the Governor read for the New Guy.

But we can guess.

I am sure that, like everyone else, you noticed that which was missing. Gone were the words, Social Agenda, Sustainable Development, and Independence, which had featured so prominently in the Second PLP administration in which, as Ms Cox rightfully pointed out, the Doctor was the Number Two Man.

We were meant to notice.

Old Premier, old words.

He went, they went.

In their place, we didn’t so much get new words but a grab bag of goodies, some of which we have heard before and some of which will be need to be fleshed out, if not thought out. Costed out too, I hope; although you have to wonder where the money is going to suddenly come from to fund this latest rash of new programmes and ideas. It’s the speak now pay later plan, I suppose.

Social Agenda may have been replaced by Social Rehabilitation, but it seems to me that some of the same initiatives remain – or ought to. They are being dressed up differently. New Premier, new words.
But nothing can change the fact that the country has been crying out for a housing plan for eight years. Promises have not provided shelter.

For a majority of Bermudians, education has always been about more than bricks and mortar. But bricks and mortar, and more and more bricks and more and more mortar, followed by claim and counter-claim and a secret arbitration, and a bill of $120-million and still counting, and now eight years later the PLP wants to shift their focus (finally) from concrete and glass to teaching and learning.

For those who have been following, the Shaggy “It wasn’t me” defence was once again trotted out on the proposed new hospital. We were told that we were wrong to focus on location, we should have been focusing on healthcare priorities first. Well, excuse me, Mr. Editor, but who is we? It was the PLP Cabinet afterall that led us down that garden path when they went along with the choice of the Botanical Gardens as the best site. Oh, I forgot: I am supposed to remember that was the Second PLP administration this is the Third.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars later, and after many lost months, and now a change of leader, they tell us they think they have it right now. The PLP Government is now going to focus on what services the KEMH should provide before deciding costs and location. Sounded like a plan to me. Finally.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars later and no mention of Independence. Not a word unless you count the comment in the Throne Speech that Bermuda is “constitutionally advanced”. Nice of you to recognize that. But what people want to know is is we or ain’t we going to let the people decide the issue now?

A couple of portfolio changes, a couple of recycled Ministers, and the return of a couple of Ministers from the First Administration, and suddenly everything old is new again. Mistakes are also meant to be forgotten. I don’t know about you, Mr. Editor, but as one senior politician whispered to me at the conclusion of the reading of the Throne Speech (and he shall remain nameless so as to protect the guilty): we’ve seen it before and heard it before.

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Here are today's House Orders.

The only item expected to be taken up I believe is the Throne Speech Debate.

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One of the most-hyped ideas in the build-up to the 2006 Throne Speech was the abolition of "the hospital’s indigent care clinic – dubbed a poor folk’s clinic – [to] allow the poor to see the doctor of their choice at the taxpayer’s expense":

The Government will move to abolish the so-called “Indigent Care” clinic at the hospital. Bermudians lacking financial means will no longer have their dignity undermined as a prerequisite to accessing basic and necessary healthcare.

A couple of points on this:

Firstly, in theory I don't have a problem with this idea, although I'd be interested in a little background and some numbers to flesh out whether it is indeed a poor folk's clinic.

Secondly, Dr. Brown, emphasis on the Doctor, should declare his interest here. As a practicing physician, and the owner and operator of a medical practice in Bermuda, he stands to directly financially benefit from this.

Thirdly, why stop there. If we're concerned about providing the poor with the best healthcare, what about education? Close down the public schools and let every Bermudian attend the school of their choice.

It's the same philosophy, in fact it's a conservative smaller government philosophy.

So how's about it Dr. Brown?

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From today's Royal Gazette:

"Premier Ewart Brown is planning an overseas tour of campuses with a high proportion of Bermudian students in a bid to convince them to eventually seek jobs at home."

Actually, the sentence should read:

"Premier Ewart Brown is planning an overseas tour."

Here's an idea, how's about you make the pitch in six weeks, in Bermuda, when they're all back for the holidays? Or is that not as fun as a taxpayer funded junket around the US, Canada and the UK.

Word of warning though, there's no seven star hotels in Nova Scotia.

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From the 2006 Throne Speech (Friday 06 Nov. 2006):

"Although an unpopular subject, the Government will limit the increase of cars on our beautiful island and investigate alternative means of transport: increased buses and mini-buses, expanded public transport routes, car pooling schemes, car usage schemes, water taxis and infrastructure improvements that are more walker-friendly."

From UBP MP John Barritt's View From the Hill (Friday 06 Nov. 2006):

"If you look closely you will see that the Speaker now has his own GP car with his gas bill apparently paid for by the Government."

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Mid Ocean News (03 Nov. 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

WHAT’S it been then Mr. Editor? Sixteen weeks since my last report from the House on the Hill – and, yes, we’re set to come back. As a House columnist, I thought I would warm up readers with some random musings prior to The Big Day, the Opening of Parliament, which is not to be confused with De Day which was last Friday up at Devonshire Wreck; although the two are inextricably linked as all eyes will be focused on the new Premier – and the newest most recent one, assuming he shows – as well as on the new team who want us all to believe that they are truly and honestly a team again, after all the words and barbs of the preceding weeks – and I’m only talking about the ones that made the front pages of The Royal Gazette, Mr. Editor.

Call them united now: The new United Progressive Labour Party – or UPLP for short.

Not that I mean to make light of their division, Mr. Editor. Pardon me but I’ve been there and done that, and I have the tattered and torn T-shirt to prove it.

The official line is that it was an exercise in democracy.

A very good line that. It was more or less – depending of course as to whether you were in or you were out when it came to voting or part of the group that was voted out. A lot was said leading up to the vote in the exercise of one democratic right which cannot be taken back or re-written – and that was revealing too.

Some of the more telling remarks were made by Minister Paula Cox who actually had some strong, fighting words in support of Alex Scott when she announced her candidacy to be DP in The Royal Gazette.

“I think if people conducted themselves with more integrity and decorum and put the interests of the country first we would have less public blood-letting”, Ms. Cox was reported to have said. Ouch.

“Having looked at the platform [of Dr. Brown]”, she continued, “I didn’t see anything that was distinct of innovative, particularly because much of the attributes of the former Deputy Premier was that he was seen as a man of innovation”.

Ouch again.

It may have been a good thing for Ms. Cox that she was elected Deputy Premier in her own right. She’s obviously no Brown-noser. Nevertheless her appointment to the Cabinet and to Finance was no surprise. But perhaps the return of the Burch was. The Colonel had previously been the object of some strong criticism and derision by one of Dr. Brown’s vocal supporters, Julian Hall, who not so long ago described him as a public relations train wreck – or words to that effect.

But hey, I suspect that the good Doctor recognizes that the need to develop unity in the ranks was the prescription here. At least for now.

As former US President the late Lyndon Baines Johnson put it: in politics it is sometimes better to have them inside the tent rather outside – and no mention here of the bodily function to which the late President was referring, Mr. Editor.

On the other hand, the return of Ministers Bascome and Lister was no surprise. They were among the new Premier’s earliest and strongest supporters dating back to Day One – the day the doctor lost his first bid to be Leader and they were shown the Cabinet door.

Speaking of the PLP Cabinet, some of the public exchanges leading up to the vote had to make you wonder about who was actually making decisions at the Cabinet. We saw both the incumbent and challenger back off any number of important decisions in their lead up to their run-off: like the siting of a new hospital in the Botanical Gardens, or the on-again off-again maybe-on-again but off-again issue of independence.

It must have been everybody else at the Cabinet table. Or maybe they are all singing Shaggy’s hit song: It wasn’t me.

Time will tell. It’s uncertain as to whether the Throne Speech will. the Speech is meant to be the outline of the Government’s legislative agenda for the forthcoming parliamentary year – typically very long on words but in inverse proportion to what is actually achieved - and the document is usually drafted and to the printer the week before.

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If, as President Brown says, "the centre-piece of his administration is work", why did I see Labour and Immigration Minister Derrick Burgess going for a leisurely bicycle ride on Monday three hours after Cabinet was sworn in and Social Rehabilitation Minister Dale Butler having a long lunch on the patio of Little Venice on Thursday?

I lightheartedly put this question to Derrick Burgess through a family member on Tuesday afternoon, to which I was told "he giggled and said he starts early"...which is apparently true, he does start early.

But I couldn't resist.

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I'll defer to UBP Candidate Mark Pettingill who telegraphed today's Throne Speech with this excellent quote:

Prospective United Bermuda Party candidate Mark Pettingill predicted nothing new would emerge. “But the lack of vision will be articulated better than it was before.”

I'll go into more detail later, there will be plenty of time for that, but right now there are two issues that shouldn't get overwhelmed by the underwhelming Throne Speech:

1) Cedarbridge's mold problem
2) The emerging Music Festival Charity scandal, first reported by the Mid Ocean News several weeks ago.

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You've got to love the personal addendum that the Governor attached as a parting shot in this year's Throne Speech:


Mr. President and Members of the Senate,

Mr. Speaker and Members of the Honourable House of Assembly,

Bermuda’s greatest resource is its people, and a cohesive and fair society is essential to Bermuda’s quality of life. As your Governor I want to emphasise that this means that each of us on this island must value the contribution made by each other, regardless of race, or gender, or age, or country of origin. There is no place in the modern Bermuda for prejudice or discrimination on any grounds. All parts of this community must now move forward together. I look forward to working with the Government to that purpose.

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Read the 2006 Throne Speech

ThroneSpeech2006Cover.jpg

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I've been off the island and just catching up on a few things, but with the negligence that is emerging in the Government's handling of the mold problem at Cedarbridge, shouldn't they start setting up the old Berkeley site as a temporary solution?

I'm sure this isn't how President Brown, fresh off of his inauguration, hoped to begin his term.

There are so many questions here, none of them good:

Was Cabinet aware? Was he aware as Deputy Premier and a physician? Why did the PLP not heed the advice to clean up the school in the summer? Why did they let teachers and students continue to use an unsafe facility? Why was maintenance so poor? Why did the PLP not act after Shadow Education Minister Neville Darrell raised the issue with former Education Minister Terry Lister? How long before the UBP gets blamed?

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The Royal Gazette
Opinion (3 Nov. 2006)

What a week it’s been. Bermuda now has its third Premier in four years, only one of whom has faced the electorate as their party leader and achieved a popular mandate (barely); and we all know what happened to her.

Monday’s swearing in at Government House made for great TV, as our media savvy Premier – whose first order of business (even before he was sworn in) was to secure the keys to GP1 – rolled out his new Cabinet to much fanfare and a simple message:

Out with the old and in with the…. old – and one really young one.

Alright, alright, that wasn’t quite the message. There were some fresh faces in the Senate to go with the permanently scowling one that survived the latest coup, but contrary to the spin, what’s new is old; and that’s without factoring in how much some PLP MPs have aged in the past couple of weeks.

Haven’t we been through this before? Don’t we already know what the probably soon to be called next general election will be run on?

In 1998, after 30 plus years in the wilderness, the PLP asked for a chance, and the public agreed it was finally their time.

Five long and empty years later the party asked for another chance to get it right, and the public begrudgingly obliged.

Now, three years later they’re back, asking for another, “another chance”.

Eight years since the PLP got elected - that’s as long as a US president can serve in total by the way - we’re advised that they’re ready to get started. And I’m supposed to be thrilled about this? Forgive me for not sharing in the excitement. The more things change the more they stay.

The carefully selected message of the past few days has been clear: Change. Work. Time to get things done.

As Dr. Brown basks in the glow of his recent ascension to number one – a position we were told he deserved because he’d always wanted it – the PLP are in hurry-up mode, with word that some PLP MPs want a quick election…before they have the chance to screw things up again I guess.

Normally the saying is “hurry-up and wait”, but in PLP-land it’s “wait for eight years….now hurry-up, an election is on the horizon”.

The reality is, much like Dr. Brown’s ‘results’ in tourism, the problems they say they’re now ready to address have grown exponentially after eight years of neglect and political infighting.

For example, the air arrivals that we are supposed to get excited about in tourism haven’t even got us back to the numbers we had two years ago, yet Dr. Brown is hailed as a tourism Messiah?

That’s the upside of low expectations: air arrivals plunge for seven years, and Dr. Brown buys a small up-tick through undisclosed subsidies and statistical manipulation, and suddenly he’s turned tourism around.

Any initiative on housing for example will, if its successful, only be able to get things back to where they were a few years ago, long after the PLP were elected and well aware that there was a problem.

Task one for the new Premier and his recycled Cabinet has been to go out and convince us that the party has changed. This angle might be palatable for those who want to forget about the two terms of inaction and mismanagement but it flies in the face of the party’s whole criticism of their political opponents.

The PLP, and Premier Brown in particular, tell us that the UBP hasn’t changed – and can’t change – from the party of 30 or even 400 years ago, despite the fact that the party didn’t exist 400 years ago, none of their MPs are 400 years old or, to be a little more serious, any of the current team served in Parliament before the early to mid-90s.

It’s takes an incredible amount of gall for those who were a part of the past eight years of two self-confessed negligent PLP administrations to disown that legacy and ask us to forgive and forget – as much as we understand why they want to do it – while persistently trying to tie the current UBP team to things that happened decades or centuries ago.

Dr. Brown and his new Cabinet have been intricately involved in what he and his own colleagues have conceded has been an eight year reign of error. Now-Premier Brown – the second in command for about half of this time – has emerged as the supposed agent of change, trying to make a clean break with the past. We’re supposed to see this as credible?

The new Cabinet is composed entirely of people who’ve been thoroughly embedded in the two failed administrations – and a number of scandals – either in front or behind the scenes.

It’s simply incomprehensible that Nelson Bascome, the Minister who allowed the BHC scandal to occur under his watch, is now the Minister who will manage the massive hospital redevelopment (as nice of a guy as he may be) - Bermuda’s largest ever capital project and one that will need strong management controls and oversight.

It’s amazing that the very same people who brought us the past eight year debacle don’t want to take responsibility for their own record, yet spend their days blaming the current United Bermuda Party team for things which go back centuries.

Personal responsibility is a selective thing it seems. In fact, responsibility of any sort seems to be a foreign concept.

The latest spin, after the predictable ‘our screw-ups are the UBP’s fault’, is that the civil service is to blame for the lack of results of the past eight years and that Premier Brown will make them perform. That remains to be seen.

While the civil service certainly has problems – not the least of which is that it has exploded in size under the PLP (contrary to their commitment to reduce it) – it’s pretty hard to get things done when you have no direction.

Put yourself in the shoes of a civil servant. Every morning you wake up with whiplash as yet another Cabinet Shuffle occurs, a new Ministry is created or a Premier has been replaced.

Bermuda is definitely in need of change – and stability. Rotating in another face off of the PLP bench – one that epitomizes division, excess and self-indulgence – isn’t it.

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The Royal Gazette covers the Cabinet Secretary retirement today.

It's unfortunate that he is leaving when there is a large restructuring of the social services going on, but he seems to have quashed the idea that the departure was not harmonious:

“I elected to meet with the Premier to give him my position. I do not know the Premier well but I have sat in Cabinet with him for a period and we have a cordial relationship. I do want to dispel any idea that Dr. Brown is trying to get rid of me, or anybody else. It’s simply not true.

Fair enough. Seems pretty unequivocal, but I'm surprised that the head of the civil service didn't know a Cabinet Minister of 5 years well, and described the relationship as 'cordial'. Surely there should have been more interaction.

I would expect however that we see more departures of senior civil servants on the heels of Dr. Brown's ascension. It was clear to me that internally in the civil service Mr. Drinkwater's retirement was a shock.

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