November 06, 2006

View from the HIll

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.

We’ve been told that it has undergone a re-write since the election of the New Premier Brown. However, the extent to which the Newest Premier has been able to put his own thumb print on it – and that of his new Cabinet –may never be known. The Most Recent Old Premier Alex Scott kept promising in the lead-up to his de-selection that this Throne Speech was truly going to be the road map pointing the way forward under what would be a new but the old UPLP.

Confused? Don’t be. This is politics and when it comes to politics everything old can be new again. We can but wait and watch, Mr. Editor, to see whether this but new wine in old skins.

Gee-P, Mr. Speaker

OF COURSE, when we show up for work now it will be at a higher rate of pay. You will recall those increases piloted through the House on our last day of sitting in July by The Man who is now Premier but who was then Deputy. Who knew, Mr. Editor?

Those increases were meant to be a compromise in the face of mounting public criticism – no, scratch that – make it, public outrage. Half now (but back-dated to April 1st, and the other half later, next April 1st).

Some compromise.

Let me refresh your memory.

The basic MP salary has gone up 13 percent from $39,428.00 to $44,714.00 a year – or some $5,286.00 more a year.

The real winners – surprise, surprise – were the members of Cabinet. Their salaries went up 70 per cent from $78,856.00 to $134,142.00 a year – or some $55,286.00 more a year.

Pity the poor Senators who only saw their base salaries increase by $408.00 – or by half the cost of living – as they went from $26,287.00 to $26,695.00 a year.

But Senators weren’t the only ones who were overlooked by a PLP Cabinet hell-bent on looking after themselves. In comparison to Cabinet Ministers, the Speaker of the House on the Hill got shafted too. He now makes $68,071.00 a year putting up with us lot on Fridays. He used to make $62,423.00.00. So the Speaker only got a 9 percent raise or an increase of $5,643.00.

Feeling badly for him, Mr. Editor?

They did. 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.

My guess is that they are trying to make it up to the Speaker – it’s not good to mess with the Man in Charge in the House – but they have done it through a back door rather than through the front door i.e. in the light of the day, on the floor of the House, and out in the open for all to see.

By the way, Mr. Editor, the President of the Senate didn’t do very well either when it came to the salary increases –and, no, the last time I looked he was still driving his own car.

The Dame and I

HOW’S this for irony, Mr. Editor? There I was at Government House last Tuesday in the evening, at the Queen’s awards ceremony, acting for Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert who was abroad, and among the recipients were those who had served on the Bermuda Independence Commission and whose reward for service were Queen’s Certificates – and no that’s not the irony.

I looked around and around and there I was, one of the more outspoken critics of BIC, its work and its report, all by my lonesome.
There wasn’t one representative from the PLP administration in attendance – that’s the old PLP, not the new UPLP. The old was busy elsewhere – as we now know. Counting heads, Mr. Editor. Talking heads too, I bet.

But hey, we all made the best of the situation. I even managed to have my photograph taken with Dame Lois Browne Evans, a member of BIC and awardee. “For my memoirs”, said the Dame as we smiled for the camera. Political rivals we may have been – and may still be – but friends always. Politics can be like that too.

Give them the vote

WITH talk now of an election sooner rather than later, here’s hoping that one of the things that new UPLP will get on with is absentee balloting. The Most Recent Old PLP Premier promised the necessary legislation a year and half ago. He even tabled a draft in the House. Since then nothing.

Well, not nothing, I suppose. We in the UBP made some submissions and there were some presentations to the Government and Opposition by the Parliamentary Registrar. But that was it as far as we were aware.

Not that the draft which we saw goes as far as it should. It only made provision for voting by absentee ballot where someone was either in school abroad or working abroad or receiving medical treatment abroad.

If you happen to be traveling on both the date of the advance poll or election day, you won’t have a vote.

That can’t be right, Mr. Editor. It isn’t either in the New New Bermuda in the 21st Century.

True or false

FORGET party, remember the people. All the people. That was the admonition earlier this week, Mr. Editor, from Anglican Bishop Ewen Ratteray who each year on the Sunday before the start of the parliamentary year invites parliamentarians to join his church at worship at the Hamilton Cathedral.

He reminded us too, that service means that nothing is too small and no one too great to help the least among us.

The message is not new, Mr. Editor, but delivery might be.
I also rather liked the Thought for The Week in the Cathedral bulletin. It seemed so right and apropos in light of recent events and those to come. It was: -

“There is no conflict between the old and the new; the conflict is between the false and the true”.

Strikes me, Mr. Editor, as a sound approach to take into the new parliamentary session – and beyond.

Posted by Christian S. Dunleavy