October 2010 Archives
Well, there you have it, Brown is gone, and the overwhelming majority of Bermudians who disapproved of his tenure will now collectively exhale.
Paula Cox as expected cruised to the Premiership.
I wish her well, and time will tell if now that she has been selected as party leader will she begin to walk back on items that are damaging to Bermuda but she had to show allegiance to publicly pre-selection, such as her billion in debt and public commitment to term limits for example. Can she bring her party back from its radicalism in both politics and policy under Brown.
The first step surely must be changing the tone and tenor from anger and antagonism to inclusion and collaboration.
Cabinet and Senate selections will of course be interesting. As will the fate of the political taxpayer funded entourage and 'advisors'.
Update: The choice of Derrick Burgess as Deputy Premier, while largely a meaningless designation, does affirm that the PLP membership has not grown with today's changing Bermuda. That choice has indicated through this combination that it sees no need for modernisation or introspection and has reaffirmed the mistakes of the past few years that are making Bermuda less attractive and competitive.
For Terry Lister, and to a lesser extent Dale Butler (due to his almost non-existent campaign and seeming indifference), to be rejected outright when they were the sole voices of moderation and centrism is a bad sign.
Time for the Opposition(s) to get their s#!t together. The PLP are sitting still while Bermuda has changed.
The UBP and BDA have the better ideas and are firmly grounded in pragmatic realism, but lack viability. Bermuda can't afford to be governed by dogma and antiquated ideas.
The Swiss and other jurisdictions chomping at the bit to take our industry are surely loving this.
Nothing speaks to the outgoing Premier's moral and political bankruptcy more than his effort to redirect the outrage from the $10M arguably criminal overspend at TCD (exact same M.O., contractor and Minster as the Dockyard overspend) to that against the Auditor herself for making the report public prior to Parliament reconvening, and reaching the same conclusions that her predecessor did in his audits.
"The Auditor General's Reports are to go to the Speaker of the House, who in turn tables them for the House to consider," Dr. Brown said. "We're two weeks away from the first opportunity for that usual process, so I found this Report's timing and very media-based release strange.
"This reminds me of the style of the former Auditor General and it diminished the stature of the office when it's done that way.
The outgoing Premier has never expressed outrage or genuine dissatisfaction about the repeated fleecing of the taxpayers of Bermuda during his tenure, but routinely rants against the media and independent oversight bodies that point it out.
Perhaps the Auditor released the report directly to the media to prevent the PLP engaging in the well-worn tactic of quickly tabling a report in Parliament but not taking it up for months on end. This allows them to hide behind the Speaker who would enforce a procedural rule of not permitting discussion in Parliament of tabled items until the relevant Minister decides it's an opportunistic time.
The PLP has used this tactic to bottle up un-favourable reports for months at end on a number of occassions.
So point to the Auditor who has affirmed the independence and responsibility first and foremost to the public interest of her position.
With respects to his second point:
"Commentary and sensational headlines based on the findings of the Report without the benefit of proper context or the full facts of the Ministry position do a disservice to the hard-working public officers of the Ministry and the Department who spent countless hours addressing these issues."
Here's an idea. Perhaps the Auditor didn't believe the excuses. Unlike the PLP's belief that they can press release themselves out of any situation, financial controls tend not to mesh with politically driven false equivalencies and excuses. Unlike the media who feel an obligation to report complete nonsense in the pursuit of perceived objectivity and 'balance', the Auditor probably just dismissed what wasn't credible.
Additionally, the obvious problem with the political strategy of defaming and discrediting previous Auditor General Larry Dennis for his repeated findings based on his race, is that when his black female successor reaches the same conclusions the public begin to reach two devastating conclusions of their own:
- It's the PLP and their cronies that are corrupt, not two Auditors and Opposition.
- As Audit reports are now race independent, whereelse have and will the PLP exploit race? This from a party that claims it as their raison d'etre.
Politically number 2 is huge: the PLP's brand is undermined and begins to erode, particularly when the Finance Minister and Presumptive Premier in Waiting issued 404 words of absolutely incoherent verbosity in response to the report. "An identity of interest", "as signposted", "review of the regime has considered the framework that exists", "latent ambiguity" and "overriding authority" for example.
The old blind-em-with-BS strategy. How's about "This is completely unacceptable and we will get to the bottom of it and recover the misappropriated public funds and cease contracting with the offenders"? Couldn't Ms. Cox have found that kind of clarity and purpose rather than a 400 word episode of verbal diarrhea?
And finally, we now have two major capital projects by the same contractor which have both run suspiciously over-budget, and where the Auditor doesn't appear to think that the asset values are remotely close to construction cost.
Both appear suspiciously similar in how the overruns were executed: low-ball the budgeted cost, move the project out of the Ministry of Works and Engineering and into Ewart Brown's relm of Tourism and Transport, ignore established financial controls and crank up costs and come in multiples of original cost.
Which leads to my final point. How on earth has Correia Construction not been disqualified from any future Government, at least until the Auditor's findings have been fully investigated with a complete forensic audit?
Surely the Finance Ministry should stop contracting with a company which appears either incompetent or malicious in their business practices.
If Ewart Brown and Paula Cox were the CEO and CFO of a corporation who handled their shareholders' funds this badly they'd both be fired.
Yet the PLP appear poised to promote the CFO? Shocking and telling.
I'm just surprised that the PLP as a party want to own Ewart Brown's legacy like this. Surely they'd be much smarter to try and paint the past 4 years as some sort of aberration.
I suspect we'll see attempts at this after this weekend's leadership vote, Brown will be to the PLP as George Bush immediately was to Republicans once out of office. But both parties own those legacies now as much as their leaders do.
Fortunately for the outgoing Premier, he'll be comfortably ensconced in the Vineyard while we deal with the disastrous fallout of his tenure.
Unfortunately for his party they will have to face the voters again. It might not be at the next election, but corruption is now firmly entrenched as a theme of the PLP's performance as Government, and at some point the voters will react.
This article is written from a US context, but I am convinced the conclusions and discussion apply identically to Bermuda:
If you pay attention only to politics, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the current debate about immigration in America is limited to how severely it should be restricted--whether we need only to seal the border or actually change the birthright citizenship clause in the Constitution.
But among economic pundits, the discussion is heading in exactly the opposite direction. Pro-immigration arguments are booming, and reached a zenith this week with the publication of a paper by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, arguing among other things that immigrants, despite popular misconception, do not displace American workers. This has led a number of economic bloggers to make the very rational argument that one of the best things America could do now to fix our sagging economy is to encourage more people to come here and work.
The PLP has made discussion of immigration so toxic that there is little room for a rational conversation, and economic analysis, of the impact of immigration on Bermuda and Bermudians.
There's plenty of rhetoric about being 'firm but fair' and blaming foreigners for all our ills, but little in the way of hard numbers and analysis, but I suspect that a study by economists would conclude that immigration was a rising tide that lifted all Bermuda fitted dinghies.
Ah, that oh so familiar ritual of announcing that construction is imminent at the old Club Med site.
15 Nov. 2007 - Action, Not Words: PLP Delivers for St. George's
3 April 2008 - Bazarian Intl. to build hotel at Club Med
26 Aug. 2008 - Once the dust settles
17 Dec. 2008 - Work on new hotel to start next year; completed by 2012
6 Aug. 2009 - Bazarian expects to secure $120m in financing from HSBC
I hope this happens. I really do. Hyatt appearing to sign on is progress. But it's obvious that today was just a made for TV event for the outgoing Premier's lame self-tribute videos. Time was running out.
"Must show progress by October 30th. Must show process by October 30th." Rinse. Repeat.
I suspect I'm not alone, and I've said it before, but wake me when Island and Correia Construction equipment is idling on site.
Until then the public is being treated as victims of tourism Stockholm Syndrome, our very own non-reality 'reality' show.
I suppose it would be political suicide, on the eve of the PLP leadership selection, to concede that term limits needs to go away for the betterment of Bermuda, and Bermudians, but it was disheartening to see presumptive Premier-in-waiting Paula Cox re-commit herself to term limits today.
Noticeably absent was a rationale, other than 'firm but fair'. I'd call it long term economic suicide. Of course Ms. Cox could have an about face after securing her delegates, but it seems unlikely.
At a time when the economy is contracting, businesses are downsizing their Bermuda operations and redomesticating overseas, have established global options where they can locate key staff (more cost effectively and with open arms), persisting with a policy which is a disincentive for investment in Bermuda and Bermudian operations - both present and future - is just plain dumb.
It really is.
I know that term limits is an article of faith, a litmus test for PLP dogma, but at some point the PLP is going to have to admit that the interests of Bermuda and international business are symbiotic and complementary.
In practice the PLP have given themselves the ability to completely ignore the policy through exemptions, which are widespread for the big business players, but the policy is akin to hanging a sign in your store which says "Bermuda is closed for business".
It sends the wrong message. Term limits says that Bermuda really doesn't want to attract job creators and is happy for investors and corporations to set up shop elsewhere.
If Immigration does their job in vetting permits then there is no need for term limits. It simply churns expats.
In fact, if Bermuda was smart we'd start going in the opposite direction and implement a rational immigration policy, one which offered job creators and investors long term stability and residency in Bermuda. Sir John Swan offered up this suggestion earlier this year, and our competitors are absolutely going down this road.
"We've had it so good for so long that we don't want to talk about it. If you don't talk about it, you're not prepared for it and that's when you really get hurt.
"Bermuda is standing alone much more than we think we stand alone. They say pride comes before the fall. We are so proud we think we don't need anybody else.
"We are a capital-driven society, a country that depends on capital flows, as we have no resources. It's foreign capital brought here by foreign-owned companies. If we lose sight of that fact, we are in trouble."
And I was no fan of former US Consul and serial self-promoter Gregory Slayton, but he was absolutely correct when he said that Bermuda makes intellectual capital unwelcome and needs to attract job makers:
Mr. Slayton said a company or country's biggest asset was its personnel, of which he reckoned there were three types of worker, including job makers (business leaders, entrepreneurs and employers), job takers (those who offer more value in work output to their company than their salary and benefits) and job fakers (those who do not offer value and are a burden on the whole economy).
"Here in Bermuda there are really two types of job makers -- there are local Bermudians who are making good jobs, but the biggest job makers are international business leaders who bring their companies here and expand those companies in Bermuda," he said.
He believes Bermuda is at a turning point with the current global financial crisis and other off-shore destinations are lining up to take advantage if it slips up.
"I think given this and the fact there is going to be a significant impact on Bermuda's economy, this is the time for Bermuda's business leaders to get together and figure out how to maintain its competitive advantage," he said.
Mr. Slayton proposed allowing more job makers to come into the Island or leave better trained job takers, having more effective public/private partnerships across the board, in terms of the labour market, and following up the Bermuda Monetary Authority's Solvency II model equivalent and it and Government's work and legislation on anti-money laundering the regulatory front.
The business leaders know what Bermuda needs to do, the Government just won't act. So business, jobs, wealth, investment and opportunity for Bermudians is leaving. It's happening.
But no. The PLP continue to pretend that we can pick and choose while the economy shrinks and the Bermuda model is eroded, perhaps permanently, through political stupidity.
The PLP are as irrational and dogmatic about immigration as the Tea Partiers in the US.
I didn't make it to the PGA Grand Slam this week, but I have been watching it on TNT and the island looks great on TV as always, and the course has held up well to the pros.
The Grand Slam of Golf proved to be one of the rare examples over the past 4 years of the benefits for Bermuda when the outgoing Premier and Bermuda's interests align.
Sadly golf seemed to be about the only case of this.
The key is for Bermuda to use the Grand Slam as a spring board to really leverage this and attract or create a bigger PGA event, a full four rounds with a larger field to generate much more exposure for the island for a key tourism target market.
I'm not sure how you credibly measure the economic value of an event like this relative to Bermuda's tourism spend, but it does demonstrate just how great a venue Bermuda is for these kind of events.
It's a longer term goal, and won't happen overnight, but I don't think the island should be content with this as the sole professional golf event on the island.
It occurred to me that the perfect soundtrack for the outgoing Premier's legacy would be Shaggy's "It wasn't me".
Cost overruns at Dockyard? Wasn't me. Blame Planning.
Escalating violent crime? Wasn't me. Blame the Governor.
Tourism off a cliff? Wasn't me. Blame the global recession.
Massive debt? Wasn't me. Blame the global recession.
Ferry debacle? Wasn't me. Stay silent.
And while we're on the topic of a failure to own up to your legacy, the RG editorial did a good job of unpacking the lies in just a couple of segments of the outgoing Premier's rewriting of history.
While we're on the topic of lies, a recent column by Michael Kinsley highlighted the epidemic of intellectual dishonesty in political life:
These three different but overlapping concepts -- accuracy, honesty and intellectual honesty -- are honored by our political culture in reverse order of their actual importance. Accuracy is treated with holy reverence. Almost every day, The New York Times runs a "Corrections" column, solemnly cataloging its mistakes of the recent past. Last Thursday, for example, the Times confessed that it had given financier Steven Rattner the wrong middle initial, had miscounted the number of swamp white oak trees at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and had identified the author of a new book as a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland when he was really a professor of media and public affairs at The George Washington University. (He'll be at Maryland next year.) And there were three more items of similar weight. (The Times ombudsman told Publisher Arthur Sulzberger to say six Hail Marys and stop running columns by Bono.)
Intellectual dishonesty, meanwhile, is so built into the Washington culture that you have to force yourself to notice it. It even has a more familiar and less pejorative name: "spin." Spin is not just another word for lies. A better definition might be "indifference to the truth." The really great spin artists, like Karl Rove and James Carville, are celebrated as masters of their craft. Journalists crowd around them, longing to get spun.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a master spin artist, plays on this social insecurity among journalists. Barbour doesn't literally wink as he spins, but he manages to send the message: This is all a big game -- a big wonderful game -- and you have the privilege of playing it with me.
The last 4 years have seen the professionalisation of spin in Bermuda politics, marked most notably with a Press Secretary, which is essentially a taxpayer funded position to 'spin' the media.
The media in Bermuda go along with it less than their US counterparts, but I think largely fail to counter it by exposing the spin rather than simply quoting press releases, despite their lack of intellectual honesty.
If for example a politician says something demonstrably false, or patently absurd, the media's role isn't to simply report what they said as if credible. The headline should then become "Politician lies". What we've seen in Bermuda is a lot of regurgitating of half-truths and untruths without the required debunking.
The most obvious example of this was when the PLP issued a press release declaring that a number of people - myself included - were members of the new Bermuda Democratic Alliance.
ZBM news just read the release verbatim, without a simple phone call to check the veracity of the claims, and got defensive when I called up to point out that the release was complete BS. That's terrible journalism and submitting to the spin culture.
The story there should have been "PLP lie about BDA members".
The Bermuda Sun profiled the online personas of many of our local politicians recently, while Malcolm Gladwell wrote a hotly debated article entitled "Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted".
I've been online in one form or another in a political context since 2003 with this blog, Twitter and Facebook, although I don't really use the latter two for much political discussion. But I'm with Gladwell.
The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That's why you can have a thousand "friends" on Facebook, as you never could in real life.
This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances--not our friends--are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It's terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
I'm not convinced that social networking is particularly effective as a tool of social activism. I think it's a largely passive activity, which is complimentary to social/political movements but by no means critical.
In the Bermuda context I think this is absolutely the case. This is a small retail politics environment, and social media is largely about fostering weak ties.
That's not to say there is no value, but I'm more and more convinced that politically astute Bermudians need to come out from behind their keyboards and start fostering stronger ties and more direct relationships than online social media.
I include myself in that.
Bermuda has a desperate need for more direct, active participation than Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums (which are different than blogs) and radio talk shows.
Bermuda suffers from too much talk, not enough action.
Generally it's better to just admit that mistakes were made and that you're working to rectify them rather than trotting out utter nonsense.
And so the ferry saga continues with PLP Senator Marc Bean trotting out this statement:
"In terms of ensuring quality, I ask the question; If the public does not find acceptable, the idea of flying on a 20-year-old airplane, or riding on a 20-year-old bus, then why would we think that they should ride on a 20-year-old ferry?
I thought Marc Bean was a pilot?
How old does he think those Delta, AA, USAir, BA, Air Canada planes are that fly in and out of the island every day? They're over ten, in many case twenty to thirty years old. The only planes younger than that will be the newer airlines like JetBlue which has a young fleet but those planes will be in service well over 20 years. You thought tickets were expensive now, imagine replacing billions of dollars of a fleet every 7 years?
Where does he get the idea that the public doesn't find it acceptable to fly on 20 year old airplanes? They must find it acceptable or no-one would travel by air.
Ask anyone in the aviation insurance business what the hull ages are on commercial airlines and they'll tell you 20-30 years is common, and design life is much longer.
Apologies for the lack of posts lately.
However I'll take the easy route for today and suggest that if you haven't read the first two installments of John Barritt's ongoing 4 part series on how we can move forward politically you should.
John proposes solid and progressive ideas which can have a real impact on how we conduct our politics and how to drive performance and results from our elected representatives.
I presume parts 3 and 4 will be published Friday and Wednesday and I'm looking forward to them.
The online links to the outgoing Premier's self-tribute video have now all been removed and the video made private [now on YouTube in two parts here and here], however I did find a much more succinct video that perfectly demonstrates Ewart Brown's tenure, and has the added benefit of saving you about 17 minutes of your life:
And another company moves to Switzerland. They won't be the last either.
When will Government wake up, or are they going to sit idly by and let international business end up like tourism?
One day Bermudians looked around and said "Where'd all the tourists (and their dollars) go?"
How much longer before we look around and say "Where'd all the (re)insurers (and their dollars, jobs, tenants) go?"