The NeverEnding Narrative

It's pretty sad I know that I actually look forward to Fridays because I can listen to Parliament on the radio; masochism at its best. The upside is that more often than not I come away bemused with one of those "I can't believe they said that" moments.

The throne speech debate on Friday had a few of those moments, but none better than Zane Desilva, who floated the novel defence of Government debt as follows (paraphrasing):

The reason the PLP has so much debt now is because the UBP ran balanced budgets all those years.


Here's one mangled quote from the Gazette article:

"Think about what we have done and if the previous government, the UBP, had taken up a few of these initiatives they wouldn't have had a deficit like they did."

This is what I would call The Extreme Narrative, the extension of the "it's all the UBP's fault and will always be" to its illogical extreme.

Of course, what Mr. Desilva didn't acknowledge is that like any responsible household, the UBP lived within Bermuda's means which means making choices. Like families have to choose between essentials and luxury items - groceries versus a luxury car - Governments have to make choices. In fact, I think that's the basic role of politicians - choices and compromises. The PLP seem unable to do either.

It's fair game to argue over prioritisation - that the UBP should have done this but not that - but to defend the PLP debt on the basis that the UBP should have racked it up is novel at best. The reality is that the UBP's balanced budgets actually facilitated the PLP inheriting a strong financial position and being able to accumulate debt on the back of that.

He really should be thanking the UBP for balancing the budget, so the PLP had the freedom to unbalance it, not criticising them for it.

I suppose the point is that the PLP are providing more services than the UBP did during their tenure which costs more, but that argument is premised on the basis that deficit spending is without consequences.

You can't even argue that the debt has been stimulative, because it's servicing day to day expenses, and ignores the fact that tens to hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent above and beyond the value of the asset (Berkeley, TCD, Dockyard Cruise Ship Terminal), driving debt.

Premier Cox herself has suggested that deficit spending is unsustainable by promising $150M in savings but no layoffs, which implies massive cuts in services: Approx. $1B budget, 150M off is 15%, but half of the $1B is salaries which she won't touch so she's got to cut 30% from services. Good luck with that.

This speaks to the core difference between the PLP and the UBP/BDA, namely the PLP perpetuate the 'free' services political model where the UBP/BDA are advocating living within the Government's means.

There is no such thing as free FutureCare, or free public transport, or free anything. Government has no money, taxpayers have money and taxpayers also have the debt. Bermuda is unique in that we do not have a diversified economy with any natural resources to support debt payback. And just like when you fall behind on your credit card or habitually overspend as an individual, eventually the math catches up with you.

If I were the UBP, after that exchange with Mr. Desilva, I would publicly - I mean very publicly, print and broadcast ads - pose the question to the PLP of:

"Can the PLP tell us, so all Bermudians can mark their calendars, when it will no longer be the UBP's fault? Is it 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, 400 years? Always?"

Because if the UBP managing the public purse is the cause of the PLP mismanaging the public purse, there really is no end to The Narrative, and no beginning of the PLP Government owning their actions and decisions.

Perhaps The Narrative should be renamed "The NeverEnding Story".

| More