Forgive me for not sharing in the excitement

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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