December 2009 Archives

Congratulations to Larry Dennis, Olga Scott and Wendi Fiedler for their mentions in this year's Queen's Honours.

Mr. Dennis deserves special mention for the attacks on his character and professionalism that he has had to endure over the past decade. This recognition will perhaps go someway in remedying and acknowledging his service to Bermuda which came with substantial personal sacrifice.

Well done Larry.

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I'd be more likely to pay attention to the Works and Engineering Minister's so-called 'refuting' of a media report regarding the new Court building, if said Minister didn't ask us to seriously believe that said building was substantially complete.

It isn't.

Not even close by any normal non-political reality suspending definition.

All of these photos were taken today, 30th December 2009, one month after the structure was declared 99% complete (click the thumbnails for the full size photos).

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The corner of Court and Church Streets, coincidentally the highest trafficked viewing spot, looks complete, with walls and roof painted, windows installed etc.. Clearly that one corner was given priority to give the perception of progress from Church St..

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The rest of the building? Not so much. Huge sections unplastered, unsealed, bare beams, pipes exposed, no windows.

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And we did a roof wetting on this? Bermudians don't bring out the rum until the exterior of the building is actually complete.

On Friday, Mr. Burgess said that the steel structure, reinforcing, external and internal walls and roofing on the building is 99 percent complete.

And that is before we're supposed to believe that completion excluded the complete interior fit out which will take 18 months. Survey contractors on whether normal clients let them get away with that.

If you're going to outright invent facts such as '99% complete", which any rational observer can independently verify as nonsense with a simple drive-by, you can't expect your 800 word 'refutation' on other issues to be accepted as credible, whether true or not.

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Need to get out on my bike, mountain bike that is. Too fat to ride the road bike with dignity.

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A quick plug if I may, for Don Grearson's book, USS Bermuda, which he self-published and released a couple of months ago. (Full disclosure, Don is a friend who I got to know quite well during my time in the UBP with his role as a Communications Consultant.)

I'm not quite through all 450 pages of the book yet, but I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in either history (Bermuda or WWII and Cold War) or Bermuda politics. (See Crombie's review, and excerpts here and here).

It's a very interesting look behind the scenes of the transition of the military bases/airport to Bermuda in the 1990s. You'll know plenty of the people and situations discussed in the book and probably learn a fair amount of new information as well.

What has struck me reading it is the parallels to the Bermuda of today in many regards. The departure of the US, Canada and UK presented a huge economic and social challenge to Bermuda's political leaders. This is also somewhat the emerging case today, with the global economy in transition, Bermuda's tax independence under attack and the continued decline of tourism intermingled with a politically unpopular independence agenda.

I apologise for the commercial (unsolicited and unpaid), but it's an entertaining and educational read for history buffs or political junkie - which is generally you nerds who read this site.

In fact, the book should be part of the Bermuda school curriculum because it covers a very important time in Bermuda's recent history.

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With the shooting war going on across the island, the Police have all that they can deal with.

While technically within their remit, it is unconscionable that Police resources are being wasted looking for someone who leaked a benign Cabinet memo.

Get a grip.

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The Gazette succeeded in having the injunction lifted and immediately (presumably to preempt an appeal) published the story online, which for many will be an anti-climax but is no doubt newsworthy.

I'll post a few thoughts later this evening.

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In response to the islandwide shooting gallery of the past couple of days Mr. Burch said the following:

The fact is that we are fast becoming an Island known for its lawlessness, instead of a Country known for its pink sand beaches and international business prowess. This is not a reputation to be proud of.

I agree.

But here's the thing: we were known for this before the shootings began, we were becoming known for this because of our political leadership.

It starts at the top.

  • The Premier threatened to physically assault a member of the Opposition in Parliament several years ago
  • The Premier secretly made a deal he did not have the legal authority to make with the US to bring the 4 Uighurs here
  • The Government, while decrying gang turf wars, has been reveling in their own turf war with the Governor over control of the Police
  • The Auditor General was forceably and without warning moved out of his office space by Minister Burch several years ago and dumped into smaller quarters for doing his job.
  • The election campaign of 2007 took on the tone of a gang war with the PLP declaring that the Opposition leader was a drug dealer and wanted to 'flog' and 'lynch' black Bermudians.
  • Contracts go out untendered and run massively overbudget without explanation or anyone held accountable
  • Government alleged that the Auditor General was a racist for qualifying an audit opinion, and challenging the Berkeley overspends and construction bond (which history has proven he was entirely correct on)
  • The Bermuda Cement Company was all but stolen out from its shareholders and handed to a Government crony
  • The political broadcasting regulations were disregarded during the election campaign by the PLP's radio station

I can go on but I'm tired of being outraged.

The tone, the culture of lawlessness, the attitude that no-one should be accountable for their actions comes from the top. The very top of our political leadership. I'm not surprised other segments of the community are acting out and emulating this behaviour, albeit in a violent manner.

Until we start seeing some improvement at the top, we're not going to see any further down the chain. This didn't start overnight and it won't end overnight. This isn't just about policing. It's about an erosion of values and an anything goes culture.

Mr. Burch is right. But he needs to get his own party's house in order too.

Rules matter. Laws matter. Accountability matters. Process matters. It all starts there. At the top. The very top.

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The ruling on the Government's temporary injunction against the Royal Gazette will be made at 2:30PM on Friday.

This is an interesting one from the sounds of it, which is a little different than the previous failed injunction to prevent disclosure of the leaked BHC documents.

This is a leaked Cabinet memo...oops, did I just say that? Well, everyone knows that at this point anyway.

So there's some issues around The Official Secrets Act, and as it doesn't involve allegations of criminality or corruption as with the BHC, there's a more tenuous balance between the public right to know and confidentiality in a legal sense I believe.

But at this point Government may want this thing released anyway because the rumours may be getting worse than the truth.

While the rumour mill is rampant it's also apparently pretty close. As the Gazette reported this story out I think they deserve the right to break it and sell a few papers and get a few hits on their site if they successfully overturn the temporary injunction. Otherwise I suspect all bets are off.

Regardless, the story is getting out whether the injunction against the Gazette... and it's only against the Gazette...is upheld or not.

The genie is out of the bottle.

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First squash game in 20 years. Owwww! Feet hurt. Can't wait for tomorrow.

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12 months ago you could never have convinced me that in 2009 we'd have more shootings (14+) than road fatalities (12).

Never. The escalation in gun crime is shocking.

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Kudos to @BermudaPolice for using Twitter and Facebook for rapid rumour response.

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Thinking about trying to secure an exclusive dealership for kevlar vests in Bermuda. It's a growth industry.

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The person with the most to lose in the mess that the Bermuda Government's finances have become is Paula Cox.

I said previously, and I don't think many would dispute it, that Paula Cox was one of those rare politicians who few people spoke poorly of, and most had very high expectations of. She is seen as the heir apparent, but her credibility is taking a huge hit due to her performance as Finance Minister.

The overspending, the massive increases in debt, the poor budgeting, the systemic lack of financial discipline throughout Government, all flows through her.

I'm a little surprised that she's allowed herself to become the owner of the Premier's lavish, wasteful and uncontrolled spending, as highlighted by two successive qualified audits.

Her response on Friday was characteristically verbose and full of platitudes but can't be seen as particularly inspiring based on her lack of action since the last qualified audit, not to mention the years and years of warnings from the previous Auditor General.

The Finance Minister proclaimed on Friday that:

"It has to be said, quite simply, that when the an Auditor General speaks, Government listen and take heed.

But she did not listen not listen and take heed of the previous Auditor General. If she had we wouldn't have a second successive qualified audit. Instead the Finance Minister sat by while her colleagues savagely attacked Larry Dennis' credibility and continued with business as usual.

This didn't have to be her problem. She was perhaps the one individual who could have stepped up in the past couple of years, but particularly after the Uighur controversy, and said "Enough, I resign from Cabinet".

It's hard to see how Dr. Brown could have survived that. She had such popularity and cross-over appeal but that seems to be coupled with little backbone to stand up for what is right and has propped up the Premier.

I'm not sure if it's party loyalty, or an overly cautious approach, or just a lack of initiative, but the Finance Minister and Deputy Premier has never exerted herself or her authority in the party or the Government. She's preferred to coast along in anticipation of a coronation it seems if, and that's a big if, the Premier leaves in October as he promised in order to buy himself some time so that 'this too shall pass'.

That's not to say Ms. Cox won't become the next Premier, but her silence in the face of obvious problems with Government financial controls means that she owns this mess as much as her Premier.

It didn't have to be that way.

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It's been 4 days since the new Auditor General submitted her qualified audit opinion to Parliament, and I've been waiting patiently for the Premier to do what he did last time; within 24 hours of Larry Dennis's qualified audit opinion on March 21st 2009 the Premier called for him to be fired and said the following:

"For more than two years, our Government has been calling for the Governor to request the resignation of Mr. Dennis. We think that he has politicised his post and he is decidedly anti-Government."

Acknowledging the Auditor General's August retirement, the Premier added: "He is determined to do damage to our Government on the way out. We do not mind being audited, but Mr. Dennis long ago diverted from the norm and really it does not deserve the respect of the Government."

....

Dr. Brown said the Auditor's special report was "a distressing example of an abuse of power, a manifestation of the politicisation of the high office in question and evidence of a clear intention on the part of the Auditor to inflict harm to the reputation of two ministers of this Government."

Does Ms. Jacobs Matthews opinion 'deserve the respect of the Government'? Is she decidedly 'anti-Government'? Is she 'abusing her power'? Did she 'politise high office'?

Oh, but before we consider that question, let's see what Dr. Brown had to say when Ms. Jacobs Matthews was appointed:

"I expect", declared Dr. Brown, "that Mrs. Jacobs-Matthews will be firm but fair; thorough but impartial; forceful but temperate and above all Mr. Speaker, focused squarely on the remit of her office".

Not a lot of room to maneuver here. So we're on plan B, blame the global economy for un-tendered projects, overspends and lack of supporting financial documentation.

Just to reiterate, the broadside against Mr. Dennis was delivered (via proxy) within 24 hours of the tabling of his qualified audit.

Surely the press should be asking the Premier whether his comments post Mr. Dennis' qualified audit apply to the new qualified audit from the new Auditor General, or whether he withdraws his previous attack on Mr. Dennis?

There's obviously an inconvenient issue here though that makes the previous excuses harder to apply to Ms. Jacobs Matthews; the previous attacks were all predicated on a multi-year campaign built around Mr. Dennis's pigmentation. That isn't really going to work so well against Ms. Matthews now is it.

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They're in a bit of a predicament here. The 'it's because we're a black Government' defense has been used extensively over the past 10 years and the signature item in that defense just went kaboom.

Auditing is auditing. It's not particularly subjective as disciplines go. Numbers can be twisted to lie, but a rogue auditor will be quickly called out. Mr. Dennis never was. And the new Auditor just validated his opinion.

The ball is in the PLP's court to either remain consistent in their attacks on any Auditor General who qualifies their opinion, or make one big ole public apology to Mr. Dennis.

We all know that won't happen.

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If a cop pulls you over (not I), starts writing a ticket, then races off mid ticket, do you still get a ticket & do you have to wait?

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This must be the one of the biggest, oldest Bermuda cedars around. And it's in Sydney Australia. http://bit.ly/7kpOYc

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It goes without saying that at a publicly traded company, a qualified audit opinion would result in the immediate dismissal of the CEO and CFO. What will happen here now that the Government received a not surprising qualified audit opinion from the new Auditor General (who they will have a much harder time shrugging off as a number crunching racist as they did her predecessor)?

Time will tell.

While generally popular, it has to be said that Finance Minister Paula Cox has been a colossal disappointment. She has never put her stamp on the Ministry, largely letting things run. She has not taken a pro-active role in building surpluses during the good times to carry us through when the inevitable downturns come. Instead we got an absurd budgeted increase in government revenues for 09/10 during a massive economic contraction.

It is laughable, delusional, embarrassing frankly, for her to even mention the economic collapse while talking about the qualified audit opinion as she did yesterday. That is sheer desperation.

The recession had nothing to do with the cruise ship pier running almost double budget, or any over-spending. It has had an impact no doubt on government revenues. But revenue shortfalls don't cause qualified opinions. Lack of documentation, unaccounted cost over-runs, capital projects built for far more than their construction costs do, or fraud do.

The Finance Minister's role is not to simply cut the checks for Ministers who either can't, or don't want to control costs and enforce budgets. The Premier of course being the prime offender here with his favourite contractor, money pit Music Festival, Love Festival and the like.

A qualified opinion is not something that the Finance Minister should welcome and attempt to bury in her characteristic empty pages of cliche filled nothingness.

This is not a minor issue. This was not unforeseen. This is not about institutions needing better internal controls. It's about not facilitating a culture which has dismissed established and worldwide standards of best practices and accountability as some great white political conspiracy. I hate the word 'enabler', but in this case it is entirely appropriate. The Finance Minister has been enabling the systematic collapse of Bermuda Government financial controls.

This has been building for years, and perhaps many people thought they could just dismiss it and say it didn't matter because the Government was collecting surplus revenues due to two unexpected expansions of the economy. Things still appeared ok on the surface to those who didn't want to scratch that surface.

The overspending (to put it kindly) has seriously impaired Bermuda's ability to weather an economic storm. The Finance Minister has been negligent in building a culture of accountability in Government, and standing up to rogue Ministers who either turn a blind eye, or, to take the sinister view, encourage massive capital project budget overruns.

This has to stop. The Finance Minister needs to take responsibility and either commit to standing up for the people of Bermuda instead of shirking her responsibility, or admit that she's not up to the position.

People across the political and economic spectrum held Paula Cox in very high regard and had high expectations of her for many years. Those same people are now expressing a deep disappointment in her performance and wondering just who in the Government is up to the task of running the Government in the best interests of the public.

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Santa drives a Prius. Who knew? http://tweetphoto.com/6193928

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Music Festival cost $2M, made < $1M in revenue attracting only 383 tourists. That's $2,600 taxpayer dollars per tourist if you're counting.

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Never seen the Bermuda airport so empty.

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It's one of life's great mysteries that Bermuda's travel forms use US date formats while the US forms use the UK date formats.

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In my previous post I said that Government is playing politics with the police. Right on cue the Premier, after issuing a joint statement with the Governor, comes out with his own and re-politicises things.

Dr. Brown said: "While we've taken action to address the crime issue, we are not yet satisfied and are calling for more reforms. Unfortunately, despite being in government, we are hamstrung in our abilities to act. In spite of the fact that the Bermudian taxpayer pays for our police service, an unelected Governor has full control over operational policing.

"We have repeatedly called for reform in operational policing strategies. Specifically, we are calling for a greater police presence in known hot spots. We are calling for greater community policing to build trust between the people and the police. And, we are calling for international experts to be brought in to help train our police in best practices for reducing gang violence.

"The people of Bermuda expect results. They're going to hold the people they elected accountable. Bermudians are rightfully outraged by the recent violence and are demanding action. We are taking action. We are pleading with Government House to adopt new operational policing strategies. And, we are making the case that those who pay the operational policing bill should have a say over operational policing strategies. We are making the case at the Overseas Territories Consultative Committee while we are in London. We believe that policing in Bermuda must be reformed, not more of the same.

It is clear that the Premier is more interested in the argument than the issue.

As the UBP, the Governor, Larry Burchall and others have pointed out, the Governor doesn't have operational control of the Police; the Commissioner and his Assistants do

That is the way it is and should be.

So this appeal, this 'plea' for operation control, is either disingenuous or demonstrates a willful ignorance of good governance.

The conspiracy theorists claim Government wants operation control to block investigations of themselves. I don't share that view. As I said earlier, Dr. Brown likes the politics of this argument.

I'm convinced that the issue of the Police is simply a convenient way to:

a) breathe life into the dead independence issue by trying to fabricate antagonism towards the UK;
b) draw the UK/Governor into a more active governing role to create the impression that we are under a colonial thumb and that the elected Government is powerless;
c) deflect responsibility for the escalation in crime during the PLP's tenure

The simple truth is that Bermuda has been self-governing in every material respect for decades; and modern democracies have separations between operational policing and politicians.

No amount of political brinkmanship can change that.

There is an ongoing campaign by the Government to try and increase the day to day role of the UK as a means to emphasize colonialism. The hope being that they can start chipping into the huge opposition to independence, issue by issue.

Present our status as a colony as an impediment to managing the island, rather than a neutral factor or even an asset, and hope that over time you can change hearts and minds.

I don't see it happening. But what I do see is a lot of issues getting worse rapidly while Dr. Brown revels in the politics and neglects the policy.

In fact, if the Governor is to blame for not letting the Police get all "draconian" on criminals, then the PLP should be supporting him. After all that was the crux of their election campaign.

This will continue to worsen. Not because the Police need to be told how to do operational policing by politicians, but because the Government are obsessed with using the Police as a pawn in an outdated dogmatic political argument that the overwhelming number of Bermudians are on the other side of.

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Amid all the comment on the apparent free fire zone that has spread across the island, Dale Butler was quoted as saying the following in response to the latest shooting:

Government MP Dale Butler said he is still trying to digest what happened: "When there is little or no discipline and basic values and institutions are ignored, you reap what you sow."

That applies to the way the island is governed as well. The lack of (fiscal) discipline and basic values (truth) and institutions being ignored (or in the case of the Auditor outright attacked) from our politicians shouldn't be ignored either.

This has a trickle down effect. The tone has been set at the highest levels.

Bermuda's criminals are not dumb. They know that the Government are playing politics with the Police rather than supporting them, and they'll take advantage of a lack of political will to crack down.

They surely noticed during the election campaign that the incumbent party declared that getting tough on crime was "draconian".

Message received. You reap what you sow.

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Apologies for the lack of activity lately. I'm a bit snowed in with offline life, but I'm hoping to get a couple of posts up in the next 24 hours.

If you want you can sign up for the email alerts on the right hand side. Each morning the prior days posts and tweets are emailed out.

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Real time case study of TV picture quality: Same NFL game on local NBC (11), ESPN (22) and TSNHD (410). Awful, ok, perfect in that order.

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Can't decide if I'm embarassed or proud that I like listening to Parliament and watch C-Span religiously.

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The organisers of the Santa Claus Parade shouldn't overreact by banning anyone from the parade or turn this into a witch-hunt.

The solution is to more actively screen the entries and music, and assigning marshalls to each float to address any problems that may arise.

Let's get it back to what it should be, a fun, family event to celebrate the holidays. Holiday music only would be a good place to start, as would no raunchy dance routines.

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In response to my previous reader's email commenting on the Cedarbridge Choir and Bermuda Philharmonic concert on Sunday evening, The Royal Gazette did preview the event and I understand will also be publishing a review of the event.

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A reader writes on an alternative to the Santa Claus Parade.

I, too, was at the parade, less by choice, and was shocked at the performances of not one, but all the dance groups. The costumes and moves of what were often very young girls was disturbing, not to mention the music. Interestingly many of the girls were followed in the street by their mothers who, judging by their dress, often seemed to have the same agenda.

But the real show, which the media didn't pick up on, was taking place inside Wesley
Methodist Church, where a group of Cedarbridge singers and music students with the
Bermuda Philharmonic were performing Vivaldi's "Gloria". Even if it was Vivaldi, who
can stir the soul of all but the most musically insensitive, the performance was outstanding. The talent and obvious dedication of these students was incredible, and
they did their school and country proud.

At one point, the conductor stopped the performance and motioned for one of the
soloists to sit down while the church vibrated to the beat of the latest 20 megawatt
hit right outside the church door. But the students took it in stride, and resumed
where they left off with confidence.

Too often we write off our teenagers, and Cedarbridge gets a lot of flak for the
actions of a few, but here we have a great example of something truly good.
Bermudians need to hear of this stuff - perhaps more would try to aim for something
better than showing off to gangsta rap.

A phenomenal performance. Hopefully the press won't miss it next time.

Well done to all those involved, parents, teachers and students.

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The UBP's PATI submission is here on their website, or in pdf here

Denis Pitcher's is here.

I hear through the grapevine that there was a large number of submissions at the deadline.

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Amen to Senator Wilson for speaking out in today's Gazette on the appropriateness of some of the dancing and music in Sunday's parade.

It was worse than she says though, because she left early.

It's no wonder we're suffering from an epidemic of violent crime and single parents when the Santa Claus parade becomes a rolling Gangsta Rap video.

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