November 10, 2006

Third time lucky? Or third strike and you're out? That's the question.

Mid Ocean News (10 Nov. 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

IT WAS like I said last week, Mr. Editor: Been there, done that. Several times. All the pomp and the pageantry and the promises that typically accompany the opening of our Parliament , and the reading of a Speech from the Throne, can wear a little thin after a time. This was afterall Throne Speech No.14 for me as MP, for those of you who are also counting, and the ninth under the PLP, although it was the first under their latest leader and now third Premier in four years, Dr. the Honourable Ewart F. Brown - or, as they now prefer to describe themselves, which they did in the Throne Speech: the third Progressive Labour Party administration.

Third time lucky, Mr. Editor? Or third strike and you’re out? That’s the question.

But first things first. We need to spot the difference between the third and the second and the first administrations, although we were warned in the lead-up to the run-off at the Wreck not to be on the look-out for that much in the way of innovation.

The warning came from Minister Paula Cox, and now Deputy Premier, who was supporting the Other Guy at the time. “It seems to me extraordinary”, Ms. Cox was reported as having said in The Royal Gazette, “that someone who served at the Cabinet table, not just as Minister since 1998 but in the role of Deputy Premier for the last three years, to see the fleshing out of ideas which in many ways replicated those already discussed and or actioned by the Cabinet in which he served.”

Touche.

I am not sure that I could have said it better myself, Mr. Editor. But the fact is that we will never know what was in the first draft of the Throne Speech that was written under the Most Recent, Second Former PLP Premier, and how that compares with the words which the Governor read for the New Guy.

But we can guess.

I am sure that, like everyone else, you noticed that which was missing. Gone were the words, Social Agenda, Sustainable Development, and Independence, which had featured so prominently in the Second PLP administration in which, as Ms Cox rightfully pointed out, the Doctor was the Number Two Man.

We were meant to notice.

Old Premier, old words.

He went, they went.

In their place, we didn’t so much get new words but a grab bag of goodies, some of which we have heard before and some of which will be need to be fleshed out, if not thought out. Costed out too, I hope; although you have to wonder where the money is going to suddenly come from to fund this latest rash of new programmes and ideas. It’s the speak now pay later plan, I suppose.

Social Agenda may have been replaced by Social Rehabilitation, but it seems to me that some of the same initiatives remain – or ought to. They are being dressed up differently. New Premier, new words.
But nothing can change the fact that the country has been crying out for a housing plan for eight years. Promises have not provided shelter.

For a majority of Bermudians, education has always been about more than bricks and mortar. But bricks and mortar, and more and more bricks and more and more mortar, followed by claim and counter-claim and a secret arbitration, and a bill of $120-million and still counting, and now eight years later the PLP wants to shift their focus (finally) from concrete and glass to teaching and learning.

For those who have been following, the Shaggy “It wasn’t me” defence was once again trotted out on the proposed new hospital. We were told that we were wrong to focus on location, we should have been focusing on healthcare priorities first. Well, excuse me, Mr. Editor, but who is we? It was the PLP Cabinet afterall that led us down that garden path when they went along with the choice of the Botanical Gardens as the best site. Oh, I forgot: I am supposed to remember that was the Second PLP administration this is the Third.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars later, and after many lost months, and now a change of leader, they tell us they think they have it right now. The PLP Government is now going to focus on what services the KEMH should provide before deciding costs and location. Sounded like a plan to me. Finally.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars later and no mention of Independence. Not a word unless you count the comment in the Throne Speech that Bermuda is “constitutionally advanced”. Nice of you to recognize that. But what people want to know is is we or ain’t we going to let the people decide the issue now?

A couple of portfolio changes, a couple of recycled Ministers, and the return of a couple of Ministers from the First Administration, and suddenly everything old is new again. Mistakes are also meant to be forgotten. I don’t know about you, Mr. Editor, but as one senior politician whispered to me at the conclusion of the reading of the Throne Speech (and he shall remain nameless so as to protect the guilty): we’ve seen it before and heard it before.


The proof will be in what they produce.

Still, you have to have a certain sympathy for PLP backbenchers like Glenn Blakeney who were wondering where it all went wrong – leading up to the Wreck vote.

“ What?”, he was reported by The Royal Gazette to have asked, “has the PLP done so miserably wrong that deserves three PLP leaders and three Premiers – if there should be change – in eight years?”

Miserably wrong, huh? Sounds about right to me.

There are explanations that I cannot wait to hear when debate begins this week on the good Doctor’s prescription aka Throne Speech 2006. All change now, I bet.

Smart Alex

BUT I won’t be holding my breath, Mr. Editor, waiting for any such analysis in the House on the Hill from the PLP backbench. The ranks are closing – at least for public viewing.

The example was set last Friday by the Most Recent Former PLP Premier when he rose to speak on Congrats & Obits from his new seat on the backbench, to the rear and to the right of the seat he used to occupy as Premier, facing the back of the Man who replaced him ( and no, Brutus, I don’t think that’s why they call it the backbench: there’s also a new trio that sits in a corner on the other side of the aisle next to the Opposition facing the New Premier – Messrs. DeVent, Lister (Walter) and Blakeney replacing Messrs Bascome, Lister (Dennis) and Scott (George) who all went over to the Other Side – perhaps another story for comment at another time, Mr. Editor).

The Speaker confessed to having difficulty in not referring to Mr. Scott (Alex) as the Premier – and said so.

“Thank you”, said the Most Recent Former Premier.” Thank you for recognizing me at my new political address”.

Laughter all around [or LOL for all you bloggers, yes Dennis?]

Many an uncomfortable situation is eased by a sense of good humour. The Most Recent Former PLP Premier had one and he used it to great effect on a number of occasions last Friday. But he also delivered a party political message when he congratulated his rival on his victory. It was a point that was not meant to be lost on his colleagues i.e. those who voted for him and now join him on the backbench, as well for those who did not and now sit on the frontbench.

We could have heard a pin drop. I don’t know about the penny, Mr. Editor.

One final word on this: It was a testament to both personal character and class that MP Alex was there on the day. Smart . Very smart.

Backbenchmarks

CONGRATS and obits, we had a lot of, Mr. Editor. A lot happened in the 16 weeks we were out for the summer – and I don’t just mean the election of a new leader and a new Premier by the Other Side. Traditionally congrats and obits is all we do speak on following the reading of the Throne Speech. Powder and shot is saved for debate this week after the Opposition United Bermuda Party delivers the Reply.
Among the more notables to whom tribute was paid by both sides was the late John Irving Pearman, a former Deputy Premier of the United Bermuda Party who served in both the Upper and the Lower Houses, down the Hill and up the Hill, with distinction. There was also a minute’s silence, along with obituary remembrance of former Mayor of Hamilton Jay Bluck who had died not long after taking office.

Looking in on our quaint tradition, Mr. Editor, was a visiting high level delegation from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, headed by the Secretary General Dennis Marshall, who had not come for the opening of Parliament but had spent the week here putting the finishing touches to a policy document that will seek to establish benchmarks or minimum standards for democratic legislatures throughout the world.

A couple of us had an opportunity to sit in and participate in some of their sessions. It’s good stuff, Mr. Editor. They are actually trying to give meaning (and bite) to the words accountability and transparency and ethical conduct.

I won’t pre-empt what it is they will have to say, but I know I won’t be disappointed. Bermuda truly is in another world and parliamentary reform is long overdue.

Hook, line and stinker

FOOD for thought, Mr. Editor: I noticed in the Throne Speech a return to a line that’s been around before. I know I am mixing my metaphors but there was something in their about beefing up our commercial fishing industry, local and offshore. I can’t help but wonder if they are asking us to fight a losing battle. Just by chance, I also happened to read a news story that same day advising that oversight of commercial fishing has to be strengthened, otherwise there may eventually be no more seafood. That was the conclusion of a report in last week’s Science journal which is projecting that 90 percent of the fish and shellfish species that are hauled from the ocean to feed people worldwide may be gone by 2048.

Yikes! I am not suggesting that we put all our eggs in one basket but maybe it is farming and farmers that we should be focusing on. In the background, a rendition of Danny Boy please.

Fireworks

BY the way, did anyone remember, remember, the 5th of November? I am sorry but it’s the real fireworks that I miss on that day, Mr. Editor. They are so much more, well, illuminating, don’t you think?

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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.

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July 17, 2006

Clash again highlights the need for overdue reform of House rules

Mid Ocean News (14 July 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

MAYBE, Mr. Editor, this is as good as it is going to get up here in the House on the Hill before we break for the summer recess. The agenda looked – and was – pretty light last Friday:

Amendments to the 1972 Fisheries Act, one of the purposes of which was to establish licences for recreational fishermen, the actual implementation of which Government decided to delay by amending the amendments.

l The substitution of a whole new Endangered Animals and Plants Act to replace the 1976 Act which was really an update on which both parties could agree – and did; and

A resolution to approve the sale of the leasehold interest in 11 Southside cottages for a term of 120 years in the form of a blank cheque: it did not state at what prices and to whom and on what terms
– to which we could not agree.

It turned out to be a full day though – thanks in part, Mr. Editor, to Ministerial statements which got us off to a slow start. There were five of them in total, the longest and largest and arguably most important of which, was that of the Minister charged with Government responsibility for Public Safety, Randy Horton.

A statement, any statement, on criminal activity, in view of recent events, was bound to be topical and timely – and welcome.

This one was 13 pages long and took the Minister almost half an hour to read. He started by talking about the tragic deaths of 17-year-old Derick Paynter and 26-year-old Travis Smith, the promising cricketer from St. George's who was Cup Match MVP the first year he played in the Classic; the drive-by shooting; handbag snatchings; break-ins and cycle thefts which statistics show are on the increase; not to mention the general lawlessness – which he did mention – which now manifests itself in town and country gangs.

Minister Horton wanted us to know that any suggestion that his Government "is doing nothing" to address the problems is "irresponsible and untrue". He listed the following:

A Police Task Force charged specifically with tackling handbag snatching and robberies, which becomes yet another special unit in a list that includes the Police Support Unit (PSU) which targets violent offenders, in addition to the Violent Crime and Traffic Enforcement Team and the Tourist Crime Unit, as well as the Serious Crimes Unit at Prospect and the Narcotics Enforcement Team and Community Beat Officers (and that presumably, Mr. Editor, is where all the policemen are, if you're wondering why we don't actually see more officers out and about, on the streets).

The employment of the services of a New Jersey police officer experienced in policing gang activity as well as a new Assistant Commissioner from the UK.

The introduction and use (finally) of CCTV cameras in the Court Street area and talk of plans to extend coverage into other areas of Bermuda like handbag snatch haunts in the Pitts Bay Road-Rosemont Avenue area (that's must-see TV, Mr. Editor, and if cost is a factor, why not scrap those plans for a Government station, please ), and

An admission that the Police Service is some 40 officers below full strength with plans to step up recruiting here and abroad.

Whew! Comprehensive you might think, Mr. Editor, except that the Statement contained no mention of the ugly, vicious and cowardly attack outside Docksiders earlier in the week. That was left to others – on both sides of the House – to condemn on the motion to adjourn. The commitment to crack down on crime was also called into question when, a few days later, we learned that the police, for all their special alphabet task forces, had still not been around to even interview the victim and get on with identifying the cowardly attackers.

Connect the dots, Mr. Editor, the public do. These are the origins for the growing lack of confidence in public safety – regardless of what the Minister says or what he says that the statistics say. Public perception can be difficult to shake.

But if you're a Government Minister you can always attack the Opposition and blame the messenger; and so it was that Education Minister Terry Lister went after his Shadow Neville Darrell with a misplaced vengeance in his Ministerial Statement – number two on the day.

The Opposition Shadow spokesman for Education had publicly questioned the graduation rates at CedarBridge Academy and given voice to the concerns of some of the teachers there. It could have made for an interesting and illuminating debate, Mr. Editor, but it didn't – and here's why:

The Minister got to launch his attack on Mr. Darrell (and answer the concerns) through a prepared statement.

Members are not permitted under the Rules to question or even respond to the statement or its content at the time of delivery, and
Mr. Darrell had to wait until the Motion to Adjourn to engage in debate – which he did – but that was some four or five hours later as it turned out.

The clash – if you can call it that, Mr. Editor – highlighted once again the continuing need for overdue reform of the House Rules. It's been almost 30 years since they were last reviewed and revised. There was the Minister complaining that his Shadow had asked parliamentary questions with the press before they were answered (which is contrary to practice, not the Rules), and the Shadow complaining that the Minister has in the past simply refused to answer some of the questions he has asked (which is contrary to practice, but not required under the Rules). The same Rules also require that the questions be submitted in writing ten days in advance and there is no provision that allows questions to be asked of Ministers on issues of the day, such as the issues that they raise in Ministerial Statements. Meanwhile, we might like to think we're a modern Parliament and they call themselves progressive. Go figure.

This brings me nicely to two of the other Ministerial Statements, Mr. Editor, delivered by the Premier. One of them was on sustainable development and the development of a plan that started in March 2005 and is now about to be shared with the public for their further input, and by the way, he said, if you want to help cut down on traffic congestion take the bus to work once a month like he said that he is going to do to "lead by example".

Hmmn.

If we are talking of leadership by example how about cutting back voluntarily on the numbers of cars on our roads, starting with some of those GP cars? But it was the second statement that particularly caught my attention. The Man was giving us an update on the Public Access to Information legislation; PATI, for short – pati-cake pati-cake, bake me some legislation as fast you can. Well, actually, it won't be that quick, Mr. Editor. The Premier is hoping he might be able to table something next year.

OK we'll see – but don't hold your breath. We've had promises like this before. Remember, for instance, the amendments to the Parliamentary Election Act and provision for absentee balloting? A draft was tabled before we broke for summer last year.

We haven't seen or heard a whisper since. The need to provide for absentee balloting was first raised by the UBP by motion in the House back in November 2002 when the then PLP Government under Dame Jennifer promised they would get on with it: one election later, and another fast approaching, and still nothing.

What's an Opposition to do? Our leader Wayne Furbert tabled a motion last week deploring Government's failure to get on with it. We can but try.

They're not into it

TRYING is what it can be, Mr. Editor, when you do try. Take, for instance, the debate on the Southside cottages. The written resolution simply called on the House to approve the sale of the leasehold interest for 120 years.

There was a plan attached which showed the 11 cottages and prices for each one, ranging from a low of $775,000 to a high of $1.1 million. The Bermuda Land Development Act – which we only recently amended – requires the prior approval of both Houses of the Legislature (Down the Hill and Up the Hill) "for any lease or letting".

There were no leases attached. There were no commitments to prices – the attachment was only that, an attachment – and no information on to whom the cottages would be sold, and on what terms.

This, Mr. Editor, is precisely the sort of information we expect to see when it comes to the sale of Government property. It has also been the practice with previous sales – under different but similar legislation.

There was no explanation or justification for this deviation from transparency – and ultimately lack of accountability. Face it, Mr. Editor. They're just not that into it.

There was also some question as to how they arrived at the prices. They seemed awfully high for Government housing given the current crisis.

"This is not a sale of affordable housing," explained the Minister In Charge in the House, Minister Without Portfolio, Walter Lister. Apparently, the sale proceeds are going to be used to fund the construction of the failed Bermuda Homes for People project, the lottery that was but wasn't.

Defending the proposed sale prices, Minister Lister said they were going to be set ten per cent below market price. "Ten per cent is a bit of relief," he claimed.

"But for whom?" shot back UBP MP Trevor Moniz, "that's what we want to know." Quite.

We don't know and you won't know unless they tell us – and they won't.

Good time

SUMMER recess may be on us quicker than we think, Mr. Editor. No new legislation was tabled on Friday gone. We're down to two Bills – Ministry of Finance matters which ought not to detain us for any length of time – and three motions.

It's hard to see how this will keep us busy beyond this week. To mangle a line from Mr. Berra, Yogi of baseball and now AFLAC commercial fame, we may not know when we will rise for the summer but we're making good time.

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July 07, 2006

A comedy of errors? More like a farce

Mid Ocean News (07 July 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

UNFORTUNATELY, Mr. Editor, there is nothing like getting the day off to a bad start. It does little for the disposition and there’s every chance it will influence (badly) the rest of the day’s events - and that, sir, is exactly what happened last week in the House on the Hill.

Telecommunications Minister Michael Scott was leading the debate for Government on amendments to the Criminal Code – stiffer penalties for sexual assaults and other related offences. He wasn’t just standing in for the Attorney General and Minister of Justice (who sits in the other place, down the Hill). We were told that he was, in fact, the Acting Minister because Senator Mussenden was abroad.

But that’s not why the trouble began.

It started shortly after Minister Scott began reading from his prepared Brief when he told us Government intended to make further amendments to the amendments. He said that the changes were as a result of representations from the Judiciary with whom, we presume, they consulted after drafting and after tabling the legislation in the House.

The purpose of the original amendments were to increase the maximum sentences judges and magistrates can hand out. However, it was apparently the considered view of the Bermuda bench – after they were asked - that magistrates should not have the power to sentence offenders to any longer than five years imprisonment. So initial attempts to give them sentencing power of up to ten years were to be scrapped. Government also intended to add a couple of new offences which had apparently been overlooked the first time around; two offences were to be dropped from the initial list as well, as we later found out.

I have said it before, Mr Editor: It’s not brain surgery that we are being asked to perform each week on the floor of the House on the Hill, but it would be nice to have better notice of what we are being asked to approve, especially when we were being asked at the last minute to cut and paste legislation.

The first we learned of the amendments to the amendments was halfway through the Minister’s presentation when he directed the Government Whip, Ottiwell Simmons, to share copies of the changes with us. The trouble with that was that were insufficient copies for all of us on the Opposition benches - and no, Mr. Editor, I don’t know what they knew on the PLP side of the aisle or when they knew it if they knew it.

It did not get any better either, Mr. Editor, when the Minister finished reading from his Brief and sat down, he said, to hear the views of other members.

He heard them alright, but it was not what he wanted to hear.
The Opposition had not yet even received their photocopies and when we did – as we were subsequently to learn –we were missing a page.

A comedy of errors?

Farce is more like it.

There we were, Mr. Editor, going back and forth, complaining that this was no way to do the country’s business. I remembered the caution of former colleague and senior politician Jim Woolridge: no bull in a hurry ever made a calf. This is how mistakes get made – and missed. In this case, if there was going to be calf, there was a risk it would be two-headed with two different sets of amendments flying around, one of them icomplete.

Bull-headed is how Government appeared to those of us on the Opposition benches as speaker after speaker on our side exhorted the Minister to do the right thing and rise and report progress to give us time to study the changes and consult; in short, to give us time to do our homework.


Discord set in and bickering broke out and even the Speaker seemed powerless to turn the mood around until Finance Minister Paula Cox had a quiet word with her colleague Mr. Scott (we could not hear what was said), before moving that we go to lunch a half hour earlier than usual, presumably to see if we could sort things out, outside the Chamber and off the air.

“There seems to be some unreadiness and disconnect”, Ms. Cox told the Speaker in moving the early adjournment. It was the understatement of the day as it turned out.

One apology, one meeting, and one explanation later, Mr. Editor, we were able to resume debate after lunch. We were back on track. UBP members Suzann Roberts-Holshouser and Louise Jackson were able to make their points for the Opposition. There were chiefly three:

* First, the legislation should be gender neutral and provide equal protection for boys as well as girls when it comes to sexual offences. Cabinet Minister Wayne Perinchief had remarked on the unique offence of intruding on the privacy of females – but not males. “We used to call them peeping Toms”, said the ex-cop of a time when he walked the beat, “when webbing was a national past-time before we had TV”;

* Secondly, the infrastructure which provides support and assistance to victims also needs to be improved. Far too many cases go unreported and far too few convictions are secured in those cases which are reported ; and

* Thirdly, if Government is truly serious about cracking down on sexual offenders then they ought to be looking at introducing minimum sentences of imprisonment – like they did with bladed weapons (otherwise more commonly known to most of us as machetes and knifes).

Government Whip Mr. Simmons didn’t think increased punishment was the answer, but he didn’t say what was, exactly. He turned instead to clichés to give us one of the more entertaining moments in an otherwise serious debate.

“I am one of those who believes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, the PLP backbencher told us.

“I am, you might say, a cautious man, Mr. Speaker”, he continued, “who believes that you should look before you leap or that you should think before you speak …so to speak”.

Speechless – that’s what the rest of us, were.

Incidentally, and just to be clear, Mr. Editor, notwithstanding his reservations, Mr. Simmons voted for the amendments. “They are just not the total answer”, he clarified.

Limping up Hill

THAT, Mr. Editor, was all we had for the day, by way of legislation – and sadly we in the Opposition helped Government make a meal of it but through no fault of our own.

It’s the second consecutive meeting in which we have only met to tackle one Bill and the pace doesn’t look it will improve any, any time soon. Only two more pieces of legislation were tabled, both of them of the major sort that tend to end up as part of a dialogue between the Finance Minister and her Shadow. They are: -

Insurance Amendment Act 2006: Some 26 pages, the main purpose of which, according to the attached Explanatory Memorandum, “is to enhance the regulatory framework for the supervision of persons engaged in the insurance industry as insurers, insurance manager and intermediaries. The bill also clarifies the role of the Authority and makes provision for appeal tribunals”.

Bermuda Monetary Authority Amendment Act 2006: Not quite so long at nine pages and, according to its Preamble, the objectives of which will include provision “to extend immunity from suit to reporting auditors and accountants; to make new provision for executive members; to make provision for the regulation of money service businesses; [and] to make provision for a fee in respect of exempted collective investment schemes and money service businesses”.

Somehow, Mr. Editor, I don’t expect that these Acts will generate quite the same interest – and debate – as stiffer sentences for sexual offenders. But there again, looking at the Order Paper (see insert) it may be all we have to talk about if we continue to limp along until the summer recess.

Going down Hill

WHATEVER we are doing in the House on the Hill, Mr. Editor, it doesn’t seem half as exciting as what they’re doing in the Chamber down the Hill. Or may not be doing with those salary increases which we know the Government wants. But what we don’t know is what Government wants the Senate President to decide and on which the President has sought legal advice. On the other hand what we do know is that there was a meeting between the President and the Attorney General, and a letter, and an opinion, the contents of which to the time of writing seem to be some sort of a state – or is it Senate? – secret.

Speculation - which fills the vacuum in the absence of Government’s transparency i.e. an explanation of what they are trying to do and why – has it that the PLP Cabinet wants the salary increases treated as a money bill and thus unable to be rejected by the Senate.

This makes for good argument – if the Senate ever gets to argue the case.

The increases came to the Senate – as they have always done – by way of a resolution. The resolution is required by the 1975 Ministers and Members of the Legislature (Salaries and Pensions) Act - and incidentally the actual provision calling for approval by resolution of both the House and the Senate was first introduced in 1979 when the Senate was still called the Legislative Council.

The records show that the PLP have followed the practice each year since they have been in power and sought and obtained the approval of the Senate – after the increases were first approved by the House. The Senate did not initiate this process. It was brought to the Senate by the Government pursuant to validly enacted legislation – and it came as a resolution and not as a motion and not as a bill.

Incidentally, the Bermuda Constitution Order sets out quite clearly what constitutes a “money bill” as well as the restrictions that apply when the Senate considers a money bill which is “sent from the House of Assembly”.

But the same Constitution Order also provides as to who is to determine what is or is not a money bill – and that is the Speaker of the House of Assembly. If the Speaker determines that something is a money bill he is required to attach a certificate to that effect, and, according to the Constitution Order, where a certificate has been issued any such certificate “shall be conclusive for all purposes and shall not be questioned in any court”.

I understand that the Speaker attached no such certificate to the salaries resolution. He didn’t think it was a money bill, presumably.

The plot, Mr. Editor, thickens.

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June 02, 2006

The day we were caught looking

Mid Ocean News (02 June 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

OKAY, you’re right, this was not our finest hour. But it happens, Mr. Editor … and last Friday it happened in the House on the Hill.

Two speakers: one long and the other short; the first for and the second against; and then a form of parliamentary brinkmanship of wait and see. Each side waited for the other to speak first; the Opposition looked to the Government; Government to the Opposition; and when no one rose, the Speaker had no choice but to bring debate to en end.

In the end, myself (and others) were caught looking.

It happens – and, Mr. Editor, this isn’t the first time debate has collapsed in this way in the House on the Hill, and I doubt it will be the last, absent any serious changes to the Rules – which is to raise once more the subject of reform, a favourite subject of mine, as you know, but not of the powers that be; although perhaps now it has piqued the interest of a few more members of the listening – no, scratch that – watching public.

Of course what was surprising, to some, Mr. Editor, was that this happened with this particular Bill, most especially in view of all the advance publicity which it had received, its purpose, and the controversy it had attracted. But therein probably also lies the explanation.

That this was a Private Member’s Bill in the first place spoke volumes too. It came to us not as a Government Bill, but as an amendment to Human Rights Act proposed by one of their backbench and former Cabinet Minister.

Its purpose was to make unlawful discrimination on the grounds of a person’s sexual orientation – just like it is unlawful to discriminate against others for example on account of their race, religion or political beliefs or because they were born out of wedlock: in short, the Bill was looking to extend and ensure equal protection for all from discrimination under the law.

Ms. Webb put the case when she spoke first – as she was required to do as the private member who brought Bill. She took just under 90 minutes and gave a comprehensive account of the need and the reasons for the Bill.

The public gallery to her immediate right was pretty full for the debate, and it included a number of the more prominent and visible and vocal members of Bermuda’s clergy. So full, in fact, that it prompted Ms. Webb to wonder aloud that she couldn’t remember the last time the gallery was so packed. “I do”, shouted out Ms. Pat Gordon-Pamplin, whose memory, Mr. Editor, is as strong as her voice. “That would be when the residents of Mary Victoria came up here to flog Glenn Blakeney and the Government [for their plans to build more homes in the neighbourhood – which were subsequently abandoned]”.

On the other hand, Mr. Editor, the Chamber wasn’t so full for the whole time Ms. Webb was speaking – not that that is that unusual when it comes to debates in the House on the Hill. Members do have a habit of drifting in and out from time to time, and they are able to keep an ear on what’s going on inside the Chamber through radios in the communal committee room and in our respective caucus rooms. Meanwhile, the Speaker had informed us at the start of the day that three members had written to say that they would be absent for the entire day, abroad, for various reasons: namely, Ministers Michael Scott and Terry Lister of the PLP Government and Mrs. Louise Jackson of the Opposition UBP.

When Ms. Webb completed her presentation and sat down, PLP backbencher Nelson Bascome, also a former Cabinet Minister, like Ms. Webb, rose to speak next. But he wasn’t that long, maybe ten to fifteen minutes. He was against. He thought (I think) that the proposed change was unnecessary, and that he was going to be voting against.

It was when he sat that all hell didn’t break loose. The opposite, in fact.

Now I don’t know what the Government plan was (no surprise there, Mr. Editor) but I do know that we in the Opposition had decided to wait to hear from the Government first. They have a member of the Cabinet, the Minister for Community Affairs, Mr. Dale Butler, whose portfolio includes some responsibility for the development and protection of human rights in Bermuda – and we wanted to know the position of his Ministry on the efficacy of the proposed change.

We had also been led to believe that more than just Minister Butler was going to speak.

But in the end, no one rose from the Government benches. Neither did any member of the Opposition – and that, Mr. Editor, as the Speaker brought down his gavel, was that. At least when it came to debate on the Bill.

We then moved to the committee of the House – a standard parliamentary (next) step when the Speaker comes out of his chair, the Deputy Speaker, Dame Jennifer Smith, assumes chairmanship of the Committee of the House, and members review and speak to the Bill clause by clause.

There weren’t many clauses.

There were no questions.

There were no exchanges.

The Dame put the question – and the practice on the Hill is to call for a voice vote in the first instance, and in this instance the nays out shouted the ayes, and the chair declared that the no’s had won out.

A roll call is only required when three or more members in the Chamber stand (and here I am quoting the rule) “to challenge the opinion of the Chair” and request “a division” and shouting “names, Madam Chair, names”: members inside and outside the Chamber then have two minutes to get to their seats to have their votes recorded.

But no one did stand – and that became that, Mr. Editor.

Write and wrong

NOW, you’re no recent arrival, Mr. Editor, and neither am I, and neither are many of your readers.

But according to Minister Dale Butler it was a “recently arrived” news reporter who misheard what he had to say when she reported him in The Royal Gazette as having told her that: “Black people who want to join that party [the UBP] want to be white.”

Not true, said Minister Butler in a prepared statement which he read to the House earlier in the day. He claimed he had been misquoted.
What he said he said was this: “Blacks who want to join that party want be right”.

Oh.

Like right as opposed to left on the political spectrum, I was wondering? Well, actually, no, according to Minister Butler, what he meant was right in the context of the constant criticism he and his colleagues take to the effect that they are “learning on the job”, and that they are “incompetent, incapable and inadequate”.

So, the Minister explained in his statement: “I went on to comment that because of the constant labeling of our Party this way, who would want to join something that was so wrong”.

Oh.

Now this was a statement, mind you, about an interview that appeared in The Gazette on the Tuesday, Mr. Editor, and, as you know, members of the House cannot ask questions, much less interrogate a Minister on its contents, unless they take the matter up on the motion to adjourn.
But we were wondering what had happened to the retraction and the apology for what Mr. Butler declared “a gross misrepresentation of the truth”.

We had not seen or heard of one – and that of course was because there wasn’t one - and ike you, Mr. Editor, we learned the next day, in reading The Gazette, that the reporter was standing by what she reported the Minister as having said.

Oh.

Right then: whose write and whose wrong? Inquiring minds want to know … but we’ll have to figure it out for ourselves, I guess.

All in the timing

WE don’t just mark time in the House on the Hill, Mr. Editor, for the sake of it. But I’m sure to the outsider it looks that way from time to time. We had three relatively straightforward Bills before us in the morning before we got to Renee’s Bill after lunch. It was a wonder really that they took as much time as they did.

One was the amendment needed to bring us in line with the new daylight saving period which has been adopted by the United States, the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. The Premier explained that just about everyone was agreed on this, including the Opposition. Nevertheless we got a short history on the origins of the practice here and abroad. On the other hand, Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert was inclined to be brief (and pun-ishing) in his response: “It’s a timely motion, Mr. Speaker, but let’s not waste any more time and get on with it. We support it”.

We then had amendments to the 1951 Public Transportation Board Act and an even more dated piece, the Partnership Act of 1902. The former actually abolishes the Board as a separate statutory entity; it now becomes a Department within the Ministry of Transport.

On the other hand, the latter is going to give partnerships the option to assume the status of legal persons by registration.

Transport Minister Dr. Brown told us that the PTB move was to enhance accountability and extend the benefits of being public service officers to all PTB employees. It’s an end to a quango that we didn’t know was a problem.

The partnership amendment was one of the recommendations that comes up from those in the industry, and was needed to keep Bermuda competitive with other international business jurisdictions. But we also heard this recommendation dates back three years – which makes you wonder, Mr. Editor, just how competitive can Bermuda be if it takes this long for the legislative machine to produce.

The case for reform continues.

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May 29, 2006

Straining at the lease...

Mid Ocean News (26 May 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

HANDS up then anyone who thinks the House on the Hill is often no more than a rubber stamp. We’ll pause for a moment, Mr. Editor, to allow readers to pick up their newspapers before I share with them how events last Friday were a classic example.

There were four pieces of legislation which the PLP Government wanted to amend. It made sense to take them up on the same day. We were told that we were being asked to give Government, and three quangos, Bermuda Housing Corporation, WedCo and the Base Lands Development Company, the power to grant leases for periods of up to 120 years with the proviso that any lease longer than 21 years must come to both the House and the Senate for approval by way of resolution.

Minister Without Portfolio Walter Lister led the debate for the Government. He was subbing for the real Minister who isn’t a House anything except spectator. He’s a Senator who sits in a place down the Hill which we on the Hill are required to refer to as “other”.

But Minister Lister came prepared. Sort of. Someone somewhere in the service which we call civil, had put together a brief which he could read to us.

This was his first point: the overriding objective was to have the power to grant leases up to 120 years across the board.

Okay, but why?

What we heard was this:

1. The advice they had was that WedCo and BLDC could only give leases for up to 21 years, and the BHC leases up to 35 years; and
2. Prospective and potential developers were “clamouring for longer periods” to obtain a return on investment.

Minister Lister, a former chairman of WedCo, as he reminded us, said that during his tenure the West End body was “prohibited on a number of occasions” from granting leases longer than 21 years. Some of us always thought that WedCo had the power, it was just that it has to first obtain the approval of both houses of the Legislature.

Never mind. According to Minister Lister, the legislative change “proves once again that Government is listening”.

Really. You have to wonder, Mr. Editor.

A senior PLP MP serves as chairman of WedCo, which is charged with development of the Dockyard area, but complains in its annual reports that the body is being thwarted in attempts to encourage development by the inability to grant long term leases, which can be cured by a relatively straightforward and simple amendment, and it takes this long to act. The last time I counted, Mr. Editor, the PLP are well into their eighth year in power.

The listening part may be easy; the acting part isn’t, I guess.
Still, inquiring minds wanted to know: what can Bermuda expect to see as a result of the legislative changes? Who were these people who were clamouring for leases of up to 120 years and what do they have planned?

The questions were asked but there were no answers.

Sure, PLP MP Ottiwell Simmons conceded, “one hundred and twenty years is a long long time”. But, he said: “people will be better off”.
Meanwhile, his PLP colleague Glenn Blakeney chastised the Opposition for even taking up the points of why – and what for. “They need to take the veil off their rose-coloured glasses, Mr. Speaker”.

But not one of them, Mr. Editor, not even the Minister in charge, could tell us why Parliament was being asked to now give the Housing Corporation the power to not only grant leases up to 120 years, but mortgages as well.

Yet that’s what the House was asked to approve. The BHC now has the power to grant mortgages up to 120 years.

We were wondering whether maybe the change was part of a larger plan to break the back of the affordable housing crisis in Bermuda. But if it is, we didn’t hear about in the House.

There was however, one new statutory requirement for the Housing Corporation that requires no explanation. Any leases greater than 35 years will require the prior approval of Parliament, both lower and upper – as has been the case with WedCo and the BLDC and with Government property generally, for any leases greater than 21 years, and for outright sales too.

It makes for transparency and accountability – and the extension of the principle is a welcome development.

We might have benefited from the exposure had it been required for that loco Coco Reef lease which came to light when the Auditor General uncovered some serious and glaring deficiencies and he exposed them in his Special April 2004 Report to Parliament. Sadly though, exposure came after the fact and after it was too late to do much about it - and that was a 50- year lease.

The pity is that the principle of prior Legislative approval was not being extended to the Bermuda College as well – or any other quango, for that matter, which may be governed by separate legislation.

There is something to be said for consistency, Mr. Editor. It need not always be the hobgoblin of small minds.

Reading along

THE day didn’t get any better, Mr. Editor, when Government turned to the next item of business – a take note motion of Environment Minister Neletha Butterfield. We were to take note of a State of the Environment Report commissioned by her Ministry. We in the Opposition had taken note of the fact that it was a very nicely bound document, some 229 pages long, and that we could be for a long afternoon of listening if the brief prepared for the Minister in any way matched the report in length.

It did.

The Minister rose to commence reading to us just before three o-clock and didn’t stop reading to us – in what must have seemed like story time to some - until a good two hours later, around five thirty in the afternoon –yes, the same afternoon.

The state of our environment was such that at times during the reading there were as few as half a dozen members in the Chamber, including the Minister and the Speaker who was in fact the Listener - as well as the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary who spent the afternoon listening as well.

“What page are you on?”, asked Speaker Lowe, about an hour into the brief which wasn’t looking so brief. He was trying to follow along with his copy of the Report.

“Page 85”, replied the Minister.

“Oh, we are moving along then”, said the Speaker - wryly, I think.
Those of us who there, trying to follow along, quickly did the calculations … 85 pages at one hour, means 230 pages will take two hours and …. and we were spot on – as it turned out.

There were in fact four further speakers after the Minister – two from either side – and we were done some two hours after the Minister sat down. I was inclined to agree with Opposition Shadow Cole Simons . The real pity is that the Government seems unable to apply its resources to where they are needed:

• The last Bermuda Development Plan was produced in 1992. The Department is expected to produce one every ten years. The law requires it. Here we are almost fourteen years on and still counting.

• The Department of Planning is without a Director and has been for some time now and there are reports of staffing problems and applications taking far too long for turn around and decision.

We need to take action, Mr. Editor, not note.

On the other Hill

THIS was also the day Premier Scott returned from Washington. He could not restrain himself from giving us an insight on what he and his team had achieved on their short visit. He had a prepared statement he wanted to read at the end of the day on the motion to adjourn – with the Speaker’s indulgence.

The Speaker indulged him.

As the Premier also gets the last word on the motion to adjourn, it meant that none of the rest of us could comment, or question, and certainly not interrogate him on the contents, notwithstanding what the new Sessions House booklet says.

But we could interpolate - and it was hard at the outset to resist.
“I rise assured that this tiny little country we call our home has found its footing in the larger global society”, declared the Premier.
“My, my, my”, came the quick comment from the Opposition benches, “ and all that without having gone independent!”

Premier Scott paused – but continued on, waxing on, about his whirlwind trip around Capitol Hill.

“Bermuda sits geographically as an isolated island in the midst of the Atlantic”, he said (I kid you not), “but our significance to the world economy has far surpassed our size or our location”.

“Yes”, interjected Maxwell Burgess from his seat in the Opposition benches, just across from the Premier, “but please don’t tell me that you had to go to Washington to find that out”.

Only money

MAXWELL also happened to the featured speaker in one of the better – and funnier – exchanges of the day. He was speaking in the debate on the environment and the need for water treatment plants and mentioned the relatively inexpensive cost of some such machine or the other. “Only $30,000”, he was heard to say.

Allowance money for Maxwell, shouted out someone on the Government benches.

Excuse me, came the reply back, but he is not a Minister. Yet. Silence.

The proposed increases in salaries, Mr. Editor, will be up shortly.

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May 19, 2006

Here's a Government that can talk....

Mid Ocean News (19 May 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Here's a Government that can talk by the mile and move by the inch

FOR a moment there, Mr. Editor, I thought we were on to something last Friday – maybe even a breakthrough in the House on the Hill.

Government and Opposition appeared to be working together. The day’s agenda was going to include an Opposition motion –and at a reasonable hour. The PLP had indicated through their whip that they only intended to take up two pieces of legislation and they were looking to the United Bermuda Party to bring on their motion to consider the benefits of whistleblower legislation for Bermuda.

The motion – in my name – had been on the Order Paper since late November, but the opportunities to take it up had been quite limited. Unlike some other jurisdictions, we have not had a history and practice in Bermuda of the Government and Opposition working together to agree on a set time for Opposition motions. It just doesn’t happen and the Opposition takes up its motion when it can, which is often at the end of a long day , sometimes in the dead of the night, when members are tired and uninterested and irritable and hungry and restless and unprepared. It rarely makes for productive and scintillating debate.

So there I was on my feet shortly after three in the afternoon leading off a very serious and important and timely debate initiated by the Opposition: and that was that the House take note of whistleblower legislation in other jurisdictions, and in particular the Public Servants Disclosure Bill of Canada, and consider the benefits of enacting similar such legislation for Bermuda.

If you’re thinking there must have been a catch, Mr. Editor - because there usually always is in politics – well, you’re right .Why Government were happy for us to take up our motion soon became apparent when Cabinet Minister Randy Horton led off the debate in reply for the PLP. They had their own angle on this one. They had in mind a debate not on our motion but their own, as Minister Horton quickly moved an entirely new motion really, although he tried to call it an amendment.

The PLP wanted everyone to take note of Government’s criminal law reform programme to date “and the Government’s commitment to further reform that will include whistle blower legislation”. Someone somewhere in the swivel service had prepared a brief and that was the approach which Minister Horton just had to get it out – which he did, even though the so-called amendment was withdrawn.

It wasn’t long before the gloves were off, either.

The PLP Minister questioned the Opposition’s motives for bringing forward the motion at all – which overlooks the fact that the Auditor General has been recommending such legislation for two years now and that it comes on the heels of another damning Annual Report on the state of Government’s finances.

“We will never be fooled or misguided by the Opposition”, declared Minister Horton, “and neither will the people of Bermuda”.

That moment was gone – and debate was on.

It ended five or so hours later when Mr. Horton’s Cabinet colleague, lawyer Michael Scott, moved once again to amend the Opposition motion.

The PLP now preferred that the motion read that we take note of the Whistleblower legislation of other jurisdictions “and within the context of Government’s criminal law reform programme consider the benefits of such legislation to Bermuda.”

The Speaker asked us whether we objected – and why would we? The PLP were desperate to make a change that really didn’t amount to much of a change. Sadly, the recommended legislation is still (only) to be considered.

The PLP Government had failed to actually commit to its introduction. Instead all they did was opt to have the last word on their amended motion which was adopted without objection. It looked once again like all talk and no action proving once again how the Government can talk by the mile and move by the inch – and invariably in opposite directions.

No micing, Mr. Editor

STILL, UBP MP Grant Gibbons thought he saw what he termed “a ray of hope” in the prepared PLP presentation. Dr. Gibbons noted that it was only recently that the Attorney General was reported as saying that “further cross-Ministry work is required before a definitive position can be reached on whether there is a need for such legislation”. On top of that, their official responses to date to the repeated calls for the legislation by the Auditor General in his last two Annual Reports have been lukewarm, at best.

A ray of hope maybe, but we’re not blinded by what’s going on either.
Part of the problem here, Mr. Editor, is that the PLP think that the call and the push for reform is just political.

Minister Horton touched on it first when he questioned the Opposition’s motives and he accused the United Bermuda Party of trying to “poison the minds of the voters”.

Finance Minister Ms Paula Cox also took up the theme – as did other PLP MPs who spoke in the debate.

“One recoils, resents and recants, at the subtle and not so subtle inference from certain quarters that this Government is in need [of such legislation] because it suffers from sleaze and corruption”, commented the Finance Minister, “and it’s not true”.

On the other hand, Mr. Editor, what is true, is reasonably well-documented : -

• The mal-lingering Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal and the millions of dollars that have been written off (nine million was the last estimate) plus the conviction of a former employee who, that very day in the court downstairs, was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in bilking the BHC of hundreds of thousands..
• The $50-million overspend at the Berkeley Institute (and counting) and all the unanswered questions as to where all the money went.
• The misappropriation of $160,000 from the Government Employees Health Insurance Fund.
• The theft of $1.9 million by an officer within the Accountant General’s Department.
• Missing revenues of $3.6 million at the Immigration Department which at last report was still under active police investigation.

The Opposition United Bermuda Party didn’t make these up. They are taken from the top five list of the Auditor General. Their existence, he reports, along with other “apparent or alleged frauds and misappropriations that have come to light in recent years”, have him worried about “a growing culture of opportunism or dishonesty”. He thinks that whistle blowing legislation may help detect as well as deter.

Such a legislative scheme would also be but one more plank in the development of a solid floor for better governance – and we all know it, Mr. Editor.

Meanwhile, the recent Ombudsman Act isn’t the only answer: the Ombudsman is limited in scope by statute as to what she can investigate – and remember that the administrative actions of Ministers are off limits. But the office is part of the package of better governance.

The same is true of proposed Freedom of Information legislation – which we are still expecting to see this year, but which Government last told us will take a further three to five years to implement once the legislation is in place.

Finally, Mr. Editor, their last defence: if it’s so good why didn’t the UBP put it in place when they were Government? Well, let’s not overlook that the Canadian Act which was under discussion was dated May 2004 and the U.K.’s Public Interest Disclosure Bill was passed in July 1999.

The need for the scheme is also a recent recommendation of the Auditor General – one that first emerged two years ago.

Enough said.

Finance Minister Ms Cox said her Government was always prepared to look at a better mouse-trap to see how it would fit within accountability framework.

But it’s not just mice we need to watch out for, Mr. Editor. It’s the cats too.

No micing.

Not another

LET’S hope it doesn’t take another scandal to galvanise this Government into action, Mr. Editor. The Finance Minister has let slip that we nearly had another recently. The disclosure came in another Ministerial Statement, a follow-up to the one which she gave last week, once again trying to re-assure taxpayers that Government has not lost control of the public purse. Ms. Cox told us that a newly re-established Internal Audit team had uncovered “a serious financial lapse” somewhere in Government (where wasn’t disclosed) and which had apparently led to a dismissal and that criminal charges are pending.

Stay tuned to the news media, I suppose, for further details.

Meanwhile, it very much looks like the Auditor General’s concerns are not misplaced – and that this latest disclosure is but one more reason to get on with adding to the checks (and I mean checks, not cheques, Mr. Editor), and the balances, that will provide for greater scrutiny and accountability.

Don’t ask, don’t tell

SPEAKING of Ministerial Statements, Mr. Editor, which I often do, you’ll love this if you’ve been following the plot for reform. The House on the Hill now has a brand-new glossy booklet to hand out to visitors entitled “Sessions House”. We were informed that it was produced by the House and Grounds Committee under the chairmanship of the Deputy Speaker Dame Jennifer Smith. It’s a pretty smart-looking document and purports to tell the uninitiated what it is we do each time we meet on the Hill.

In it we find this piece entitled “Scrutinising Government”:

“A major role of the House of Assembly is to subject the policies and actions of the Government to public scrutiny. The Government runs the country, but Parliament holds the Government to account. When Government Ministers make statements in the House of Assembly, they are interrogated by the Opposition and by individual members.”

You might say it’s a nice theory – and would that this were so – but it isn’t. Interrogate? You must be kidding, Mr. Editor, we don’t even get to ask questions and questions when they are asked, have to be in writing ten days in advance, and anyway aren’t always answered when they are asked.

There’s also this short passage in the booklet which should draw a wry smile if not a few guffaws: -

“The size of the Chamber and its confrontational design contribute to the special nature of debate, which is lively and robust, but also intimate and often, conversational.”

Lively and robust, but intimate and conversational, Mr. Editor?

Whistling Dixie

AS for the term whistle blowing and how it came about, one of my favourite explanations was this: “bringing an activity to a sharp conclusion as if by the blast of a whistle”. That prompts an interesting thought: To date, in the House on the Hill, Speakers have relied on a gavel which, according to our fancy new booklet, “was made from the remains of a cedar tree which had grown in St. Peter’s churchyard, the site of the first Parliament in 1620.”

I wonder, Mr. Editor: time to trade in the gavel for a whistle? Now that would be some blow in the campaign for reform.

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May 15, 2006

Looked like we were in for House Lite


Mid Ocean News (12 May 2005)

UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

AFTER an eight-week recess, Mr. Editor, it looked like we were in for House Lite. The PLP were proposing to take up on only two items on the agenda, both of them minor and pretty straightforward and unlikely to engender much in the way of debate – particularly when they also had the support of the Opposition United Bermuda Party.

But unlike the beer commercial, Mr. Editor, Lite on the Hill doesn’t necessarily mean less filling..

It wasn’t the legislative agenda that kept us there until after six in the evening. There was plenty else to keep members going, starting with a slew of Ministerial statements – there were seven-up in total– which took a total of six different Ministers just about an hour to read … to us and the listening public.

When it comes to Ministerial statements, Mr. Editor, listen is all any of us can do – aside from the odd interpolation from those of us who have a front row seat in the House. The Rules provide no opportunity for questions or debate.

But listen we did, intently, to the first statement, that of Minister for Finance, Ms. Paula Cox - and it didn’t take us long to cotton on as to why the Minister was taking so much time to explain the role of Auditor General in the governance of Bermuda. The Minister knew what was coming.This was also the day the Auditor General happened to publish his latest Annual Report, this one for the year 2005, and, as we now all know, it wasn’t exactly complimentary.

But the Finance Minister’s statement gave us a clue.

For instance, Ms. Cox told us that:

• The Auditor General tends to focus on what’s wrong and not what’s right (mind you that’s his job);
• That “a sea change” in financial accountability had been launched within the civil service;
• That reform and improvement in financial reporting had been “jump-started” with the re-establishment of an Internal Audit section;
• That there were now a total of 25 qualified accountants on the job in Government; and
• That this new wave of accountability had been enhanced by the establishment of the Office of Ombudsman and by “the introduction” of a Freedom of Information Bill - which, incidentally, hasn’t actually been introduced: what we have had is a Discussion Paper and while legislation was promised, we were told that actual implementation would be 3 to 5 years away .

Good stuff huh? It sounded pretty good too – until we learned the real reason for the back-slapping and promotion. Of course, the Minister knew what was in the Auditor General’s Report. Members did not at the time. It had only just been tabled, and while we were scrambling through a quick read, we actually didn’t need calculators to figure out. the contents. The first couple of pages provided a pretty good summary of a not so pretty picture:

*Late accounting and reporting within Government had deteriorated to the point that it has led to a loss of financial control [ “of a significant portion of the public purse”, he later said in a press release.];
• Only ten of 37 Government organizations, and funds, had been able to produce audited financial statements in time for his Annual Report, and 17 of the 27 delinquents are in reporting arrears for multiple years, some as many as up to four years; and – here’s the kicker, Mr. Editor;
• This means that the total Government expenditures which are unaudited “and therefore unaccounted for” as of March 2005 amount to more than $800 million.

That’s pretty serious stuff, Mr. Editor – serious enough for the Auditor General to warn – and I quote -that:

“Late financial reporting … is contrary to legislated requirements, precludes managerial and ministerial accountability, frustrates effective management control, prevents the preparation of consolidated financial statements, and creates an environment where fraud can thrive and remain undetected. In a well-run organisation it would not be tolerated”.

This isn’t just some fanciful theory of his either. As the Auditor General himself goes on to point out: he has in his previous two Annual Reports “identified and expressed concern about the growing number of frauds and alleged frauds discovered in Government in recent years”. Let me give you the short list from his 2004 Report – for those who may have been living on another planet :

* The lingering Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal;
* The Berkeley Senior School overspend and unanswered questions, particularly those which he had about that $700,000.00 performance bond;
* The misappropriation by a claims assessor of $160,000.00 from the Government Employees Health Insurance Fund;
* The $1.9-million taken from a Government bank account by an officer within the Accountant General’s Department; and
* A police investigation into missing revenue of $3.6 million within the Immigration Department.

It was no wonder then, Mr. Editor, that the news headlines the next day were not about what we debated in the House but rather about that which we were not able to debate – namely the contents of the Auditor General’s Report.

Readers might wonder why that is so. Allow me to explain. It underscores what’s wrong with our system of government and why the Legislature of Bermuda is in urgent need of reform.

1. The Minister of Finance is able to deliver a Ministerial Statement in the House before members have had an opportunity to read the report.

2. But MPs are unable to debate it or mention its contents – although Grant Gibbons and Pat Gordon-Pamplin tried to have a go, later on the motion to adjourn. But the Speaker wasn’t having any of it. “We have to wait to debate the report of the Public Accounts Committee”, he explained.

3. Rules and precedent provide that the Auditor General’s Annual Report be referred to the Public Accounts Committee (known as PAC, for short, man), a standing committee of the House of five members, chaired by the Opposition spokesman for Finance.

4. The Report - and most importantly it s contents - isn’t debated in the House until PAC comes back with the results of its own review and recommendations. But it may well be history by the time that happens.

5. PAC is already two years behind in its review of previous reports of the Auditor General. We are still waiting for the committee to report on the Auditor General’s Reports for 2003 and 2004.

6. PAC is falling behind because it often has difficulties making up a quorum. There is an outstanding recommendation that membership be increased to avoid the quorum problem.

7. If that isn’t enough, when it does meet, PAC meets in private. There’s an outstanding recommendation that this too, be changed, in line with what is common practice in other modern parliamentary jurisdictions and the meetings be opened up to press and public.

But, sadly, nothing changes. The Opposition is pushing for change but the PLP appear dead set against reform of the Rules of the House, and PAC in particular, which would bring about greater transparency and accountability of the sort that the Auditor General is crying out for, and which taxpayers deserve.

It’s done elsewhere – and effectively.

There is no good reason, Mr. Editor, why it cannot be done in Bermuda.
In fact, there are now 800 million reasons why it should.

It’s the custom

SO what did keep us there on the Hill until six in the evening? Well, eight weeks is a long time to be down and out, Mr. Editor, and there were a good number of people to be acknowledged during the period set aside for congratulatory and obituary remarks.

It’s a quaint and unique custom by which members are given three minutes each to deliver their comments. [The Speaker actually has a timer, by the way, which rings off when the three minutes are up.]

What’s surprising perhaps is that this feature follows Ministerial statements on the agenda and comes before the introduction of new business and before we take up the Orders of the Day, and on this our first day back congrats and obits took us just about an hour and a half – approximately 30 members at 3 minutes a piece – and through to the luncheon interval.

There were some giants who had passed ,who were remembered on both sides of the aisle, for the contributions they had made to Bermuda during their lifetimes.Five of those who headed the list were: Margaret Swan, mother of Sir John; Marion Lindo of Lindo’s fame; philanthropist David Barber; Reuben Alias, a former civil servant and football administrator; and Stanley Gascoigne, also a former career civil servant and later independent Senator.

As is the tradition, Mr. Editor, the names of all those who were remembered will appear in the House Minutes and the Speaker will be sending appropriate letters of condolences in the coming weeks. The clerk and her staff are going to be very busy for a while.

Truth be known

FEATURE bout of the day, Mr. Editor, came on the motion to adjourn after we got through those two small pieces of legislation. The question was whether the Premier did, or didn’t, invite the Opposition Leader to join him in on the trip to Washington D.C. In the House on the Hill, we can’t actually accuse each other of lying. We can try, but the Speaker will remind us that such language is unparliamentary. Honourable members do not lie. We suppose instead that they only forget the truth – or that they are mistaken – or that they can’t recall.

The Premier – who always gets the last word on the motion to adjourn, and that’s a long-standing tradition as well – thought that this was but just another ploy by the Opposition Leader and his colleagues who were only trying to grab headlines with unfounded allegations, in this case, and unfounded speculation in other cases.

But truth, Mr. Editor, is no ploy. It’s pretty fundamental.

Besides, the Premier told us, the Opposition really ought to know their place – and it isn’t working with Government on a trip to Washington. But we do; it’s in the House and working those fields we call constituencies.

So there, Mr. Editor– and hand the Man some Scott towels.

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December 16, 2005

It's the usual Govt. last-minute rush...

Mid Ocean News (16 Dec. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

HERE we go again, Mr. Editor, the usual last-minute rush on the House on the Hill as Government piles on the legislation on the eve of the Christmas recess. It's back to the future, you could say, bah, humbug, as it seems that the more things don't change, the more they stay the same. Surprise, surprise.

Your Progressive Labour Party Government tabled ten new pieces of legislation last Friday and told us to be prepared to do them all this week along with six other items they just happen to have on the agenda.

You want some idea of how ridiculous that is, Mr. Editor? In the six sittings we have had since Parliament was opened by another P in November, we have tackled a total of 11 pieces of legislation, and that includes the gert big, mammoth PACE Act for which we set aside an entire day.

We're being asked to take them up on a week's notice – when the usual practice is to give members two weeks to review and consider – and over a week in which we scheduled the special sitting on Monday to tackle PACE (the Bill, not the speed of debates). There are some important matters too, in those ten new pieces of legislation, which merit a good airing in the House:

There is what appears to be enabling legislation for tax information exchange agreements with other jurisdictions; and,

Amendments (finally) to the Timesharing (Licensing and Control) Act; and,

Changes to the Motor Car Act which will see the introduction of "passenger trucks" as well as trucks for hire; and,

A re-write of the Hotel Concession Act which apparently hasn't turned out to be the great shot in the arm for tourism that it was once proclaimed to be.

They're just four of 13 Bills we may be taking up in a day – lucky us. It could turn out to be a long last day before Christmas as we in the Opposition try not to rubber stamp our way through the country's business.

Meanwhile, some extraordinary effort was at least attempted with PACE. A whole day was set aside. But it was always going to be heavy going, especially when it came to clause by clause examination of the Bill – which is what members are expected to do in the House on the Hill.

This Bill has 103 clauses. It is 109 pages long. In the end, we agreed to examine and approve it by section (six in all) and members raised questions about any of the clauses as we went along. It wasn't scintillating and, frankly, it wasn't as thorough as it should have been and could have been. The irony? PACE is intended to raise standards and to increase professionalism when it comes to policing in Bermuda. Like I said in the House, if you want the job done you have to give the people responsible the proper tools, resources, money and support.

Oh my, Mr. Editor, doesn't that sound familiar?

No made-up makeover

YIKES, Mr. Editor. Now we know why they delayed answering our questions about Clifton. We thought the costs were running into the hundreds of thousands – and I suppose they were, but little did we know that they were $1 million and counting.

A further $450,000 will apparently be spent on the new home for the Premier as the PLP budgeted the sum of $1,459,836 for the housing project. That compares to the last estimate we had of $500,000 in March from their former Housing Minister, Ashfield who DeVent from the Cabinet at the request of P, the prospective tenant.

Instead of the answers last week when we should have received them, we got a press conference instead. I suppose they wanted to give the impression they were explaining without having been asked (not true), and the impression they wanted to give is one which they could try to spin to advantage (true).

Nice try, but the headline the next day in the Royal Gazette said it all: "Premier's $1.5m makeover." It also made room for Saturday's too, arising out of another set of PQs (parliamentary questions) which had set down for answer by my colleague Michael Dunkley about four suspended police officers, two ousted prison officers and one sick firemen: "Dunkley: Why is $750,000 being wasted? Taxpayers face big tab for suspensions, sick leave."

This, Mr. Editor, on top of other recent disclosures of PLP spending – the African Diaspora Conference ($162,000) and the Bermuda Independence Commission ($335,000) – and people start to get some idea of the PLP priorities when it comes to spending the People's Money, funds collected from the taxpayer.

No wonder then that they want voters to think of Clifton as the People's Home – what does that make Camden then? The People's Second Home? – and that the money is an investment in property owned by the Government.

By the way, and just for the record, Mr. Editor, here are the answers to our PQs on what's planned for Clifton, which we received in the House on Friday, the day after the press conference, one week after they were supposed to have been given:

Internal renovations (House & Apt) $786,611
Furnishings (House & Apt) $240,000
Exterior works $276,000
Infrastructure $78,000
Professional Services $79,225
Total: $1,459,836

That, Mr. Editor, was their accounting of the budget, and no, they did not tell us for whom the apartment has been renovated. We asked as well for an itemised list of expenditures to date and this is what we were also told:

Salaries $14,282
Consultants $73,712.50
Interior Designer $9,648.16
Maintenance Materials $32.05
Contractor Payments $772,379.17
Building Section $163,663,02
Total: $1,033,716,90

If we want to know any more about the People's Home, I presume we'll have to ask again. Meanwhile, I can tell you there are a group of seniors just up the road, Mr. Editor, who will wonder how it is that the PLP Government couldn't find the funds to invest in actual Homes for People to spare them dramatic increases in rent. I suspect too, that they are not alone.

Get Pro-Active

ODDLY enough, Mr. Editor, the public's right to information happened to be the subject of debate in the House on the Hill. We were asked to take note of Government's proposals for Public Access To Information legislation for Bermuda. If all goes well, according to the Paper, the system should be up and running in three to five years' time.

Well, we in the Opposition are all for a statutory right to information but in the meantime, if the PLP really do believe in transparency, in openness, and in sharing information, why don't they follow the recommendation of their advisers and get Pro-Active – now.
No, not the contractors, Mr. Editor, although the need for such legislation was most certainly underscored by no better example then the way in which the PLP managed the Berkeley construction contract. Their actions from day one on that project have spoken louder than any fancy words or promises of change.

If there was the will to get on with it, there are ways we can go about it today – and without a great deal of expense either. There will be expense: the Premier told us it will cost anywhere from $4-$6 million to implement the necessary legislation over a five-year period.

But for my money, Mr. Editor, any meaningful change has to start at the top and in the way in which we conduct our business in the House on the Hill. We wouldn't be re-inventing the wheel either, but rather implementing recommendations that have been urged on all Legislatures by Parliamentarians across the Commonwealth.

Here's some of their recommendations arising out of a study group which met in Ghana over a year ago – which sadly did not feature in Government's PATI Paper:

MPs should lead the way for civil servants by setting a positive example through their own openness.

Parliament itself should play a key role in overseeing and reviewing access to information regimes.

Any access to information legislation should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it is effective in ensuring the public's right to know.

All public bodies should be required to report annually and the information should be laid in Parliament in a public document.

Parliament's oversight role should include such mechanisms as questions to Ministers and holding Ministers to account for any failures to implement access to information law in their ministries.

Parliament should play a key oversight role regarding the independent administrative body responsible for implementation of access to information legislation, including its appointments and funding.

Parliament should take the lead by opening up its own practices and procedures to the widest possible extent, including televising debates and operating from the presumption that committee meetings are open to the public such that closed meeting are the exception rather than rule.

We don't need to wait until 2011 to bring about those changes. We could get on with them now. If there was the will, Mr. Editor, if there was the will.

Speaking of which, the PLP Government certainly made their position on transparency once again clear when it came to Wayne Furbert's motion to have a select committee of the House investigate and report on what went wrong with the Bermuda Homes for People housing project at Southside.

Not only did they not want to debate it, first chance they got Minister Walter Lister moved to for a vote to kill any discussion – and they succeeded. We should have known – they do have the numbers,

Mr. Editor, to cut off access to information when they want to.

Lord knows, Wayne

'TIS the season to be jolly, Mr. Editor, so let's end with a couple of lighter moments from debate in the House.

First up was this exchange between Wayne Furbert in his capacity as Opposition spokesman for Housing, the Premier, and Deputy Speaker Dame Jennifer Smith who was chairing the debate. Mr. Furbert was arguing his motion for a select committee of MPs to investigate the Bermuda Homes for People project at Southside.

Mr. Furbert said at one stage that he doubted members of the PLP Cabinet and Caucus knew what had gone wrong.

The Premier took a point of order. The Cabinet were fully informed, he said.

But he didn't say his Caucus knew, Mr. Furbert observed.

The Premier took another point of order. The PLP Caucus were told, he insisted.

Dame Jennifer called on Mr. Furbert to withdraw his comments.

"I guess," said an exasperated Mr. Furbert, "the Lord only knows."
Then there was this exchange between the UBP's Maxwell Burgess and Walter Lister of the PLP. Maxwell was expressing in the strongest possible terms his chagrin that the Royal Gazette headline, "Affordable and Available", was not about homes, but about drugs, and he called on the Government and the new Minister for Drugs to get concerned and get on with the job.

"We are," interpolated Mr. Lister, "and we are concerned about drugs in containers."

"That's the problem, Mr. Speaker," replied Maxwell without missing a beat. "They worry about drugs in containers when they should be containing drugs."

The interpolations then ceased, Mr. Editor and Maxwell continued on, uninterrupted.

Wait 'til next year

FOR those like yourself, Mr. Editor, who follow these things closely, you will recall the promise to ask about all of the consultants in Government's employ. We tried. We tried asking the question of the Man in charge aka the Premier.

It has been refused. We have been instructed by the Speaker that what we actually have to ask the question of each of his Ministers if we want to know what, if any, consultants are in the employ of their respective Ministries.

With the House on the Hill going down for the holidays today, this is one time we actually have to say: wait 'til next year.

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December 09, 2005

Total Government silence greets Opposition's questions over Clifton

Mid Ocean News (09 Dec. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

ASK and you shall receive. Well, not always, Mr. Editor – and at least not always in the House on the Hill. Parliamentary questions last week for the Government from the Opposition stand as a case in point.

If you travel in and out of town via the Middle Road in Devonshire, you will have noticed a recent upsurge in work on one of Government’s more visible housing initiatives –the property known as “Clifton”, once home to whomever held the post of Chief Justice but more recently earmarked as the new residence for the Premier. So the Opposition went to work too, and asked Government the following questions for answer last Friday: -

* What’s the nature and extent of the work being undertaken at Clifton?
* What was the budgeted cost for the work inside and out?
* What’s been spent so far and on what ?

We have been hearing all sorts of figures, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But we didn’t get the answer we were expecting. The fact of the matter is that we got no answer at all. There was no explanation either in the absence of written answers.

Just silence.

We checked and double-checked and discovered that the questions had been received in time –nine “clear” days in advance, Mr. Editor, in accordance with the Rules – and that they had been passed on by the Clerk for answer, also in accordance with past and current practice.

So we wait - and waiting is apparently all that we can do, too. There is no mechanism in the Rules to compel the Government to answer, and no sanction if they do not. The Speaker could intervene – if he wanted to - but again the Rules neither authorise or require him to do so.

Meanwhile, this is the same PLP Government that has before the House a Paper on how to provide for better public access to information – which, if all goes well, will see a legislative scheme for disclosure up and running by the year 2011.

I have to tell you Mr. Editor, at the risk of repeating myself, that we don’t so much need legislation as we need the will from the PLP to share information on a timely and a regular basis – and I am not talking about the kind of information that’s likely to be shared on must see Government TV.

I’m also talking about answering the hard and not so pleasant questions – particularly on the floor of the House in the sunshine of public scrutiny.

On the other hand, Mr. Editor, perhaps the PLP thought that one spending shock per week is all the voters can take. Give the Premier his due, he did after all answer in writing one other – again straightforward question – which we asked: the cost to the taxpayer of the Bermuda Independence Commission? $335,252.66.

I don’t suppose nine “clear” days were needed to research that answer.

They certainly weren’t needed to answer three other questions which had been asked about the terms of the consultancy contract which had been granted to Colonel David Burch by the Minister whom the Premier subsequently dumped – the youngest black male in his Cabinet, Ashfield DeVent.

In his new capacity as the Minister Who Replaced Ashfield, the Colonel told everyone at the bottom of the Hill, in the Senate, less than a week later, that he had been hired for eighteen months at the rate of $12,500.00 a month or $150,000.00 a year, and that he had in fact been paid $26,346.16 over the 67 days he was employed – a rate of just under $400 a day.

Colonel Burch gave the information by way of a Ministerial statement in that “other place” – as we in the House are required to refer to the Senate – rather than just have the answers shared in the House where the questions had been asked.

The word up from the Minister who replaced Ashfield was that he will soon be hiring a replacement consultant – but the new person will only be paid $8,000.00 a month.

By the way, it also sounded very much like the new Minister was aggrieved that we singled out just his consultancy agreement this time around. After all, he said, there were close to 100 other Government contracts but we asked only about his.

Good suggestion.

We’ll make a point of asking the necessary PQ.

It seems, Mr. Editor, if you don’t ask, they won’t tell.


A co-operation operation

EVEN minor amendments in the House can be taxing, Mr. Editor, especially when members are given the wrong bill to approve. Such was the case when Transport Minister Dr. Ewart Brown tried to pilot through the Miscellaneous Taxes (Rates) Amendment (No.2) Act 2005. The reason it was labelled No. 2 was because it was earlier this year that we passed a similar amendment – that would be No. 1 - to change the cruise passenger head tax from a flat rate of $60.00 to $20.00 per passenger per day. But the new Bill seemed to overlook what we had done in the House nine months ago. So there we were on the floor of the House, trying to figure out what went wrong and how it could be amended.

It was amended – but with a caution from the Opposition. No bull in a hurry ever made a calf - as senior politician and former MP, C.V. Jim Woolridge would so often remind us, inside and outside the House.

He was right.

It turned out later that we had amended and approved an early draft of the Bill which was incorrect.

“We have to perform a little surgery”, Minister Brown told members later that night when he explained to members why he had to withdraw the earlier bill and introduce a new draft. In this case, the patient had to die.

“The first bill was flawed”, explained Dr. Brown.

“And who proceeded with the flawed bill?”, ribbed Maxwell Burgess of the UBP.

“The surgeon”, confessed Dr. Brown.

But with the co-operation of the Opposition, who agreed in principle with what was proposed, and who had spotted the error, the way was made clear for passage of the correct bill that same night.

Even the Deputy P himself, Mr. Editor, was moved to describe this cooperation as “an unique experience”.

We had two words for him by way of reply: You’re welcome.

Turtles & skinks: No WMDs

THERE wasn’t much in the way of disagreement either, Mr. Editor, on Government’s plans for Cooper’s Island. Another take note motion, this time on a proposed land use and management plan which was up for discussion. But even where there is agreement, it can take time. Minister of the Environment Neletha Butterfield picked up where she left off last week when she presented Government’s White Paper on Bermuda’s Marine Resources – and read to us again, almost word for word, from a report on plans for Cooper’s Island that most of us were supposed to have read. It took her over just over an hour.

Her Shadow, the Opposition spokesman for the Environment, Cole Simons, took all of ten minutes to reply. Good report, he said, we agree with the recommendations: make this East End island a part of our national parklands and a living museum.

But agreement didn’t stop other members from talking. It is a fascinating place: -

* Suzanne Roberts Holshouser from St. David’s wanted to give her full backing to the project and hoped that the museum there would show the history of St. David’s “and in that way give back what was taken away.”

* Turtles still come to Cooper’s Island to lay eggs. “Turtles crawling across the sand is something every child should see”, said Suzanne who encouraged supervised field trips.

* Others were fascinated by the so-called sunken forest and the fact that there was a rifle range there that dated back to 1901, as well as some 15 storage bunkers, some of them underground, which the US Navy left behind. But, thank goodness, no trace of any WMDs, Mr. Editor.

* Cooper’s Island was also once home to the endemic skink (haven’t seen one of those, Mr. Editor, since I was a boy) and while sadly none have been spotted there recently, the hope is that they will come back through reintroduction to an area that has all the makings of becoming a first class nature reserve.

Environmental terrorists

TAKING greater care of the environment must have been on our minds. Just earlier in the morning we had worked our way through amendments to the Clean Air Act. The objective there was to enhance the enforcement powers of the Ministry to crack down on those who would pollute the air. Again, the Opposition was in support, and again Shadow Minister Simons was brief. He has no truck with people who disrespect the environment. “Environmental terrorists”, he called them.

MPs Ottiwell Simmons and Maxwell Burgess wanted to see something done about the noise too, especially those operations who like to go 24/7.

But Minister Butterfield said that she would like to know who they are. Licences are usually issued with restrictions, typically limiting operating hours from seven to five six days a week only.

Call me if you hear of any breaches, she said. Her number is in the book.

“That’s what I like to hear”, said Maxwell, adding: “and that’s why we deserve those increases [in pay].”

As a matter of interest, the Act only applies to “controlled plants” which, as you might expect, includes the incinerator, BelCo, stone crushing, cement and asphalt facilities to name a few - and no, Mr. Editor, it does not include the House on the Hill.

The Clean Air Act only covers “ambient air” the air that we breathe outside a controlled building and not the air inside. That’s the responsibility of the Department of Health.

The Christmas PACE

LOOKS like longer days and nights, Mr. Editor, as we countdown to Christmas. As it was we didn’t finish up until after midnight, and we have been told to expect at least one extra sitting on Monday the 12th assuming that our last day before the holidays will be Friday the 16th. The special sitting is being set aside to set the PACE – The Police and Criminal Evidence Act, a humungous bill (read girt big) of some 100-plus clauses, which stretches out over 100 pages, the explanatory memorandum of which – some 26 pages - exceeds most Bills.

But I also notice that it is minus a couple of controversial provisions which were there when the Bill was first presented earlier this year – those are the provisions which allowed for the court or jury to draw inferences from an accused’s failure to mention facts or provide an account when confronted with allegedly incriminating evidence. It looks like the Defence Bar has prevailed.

I can’t imagine the police are very happy with the change – the provisions are after all in use in the U.K. – or the prosecution? - but that’s another story, Mr. Editor. For another day?

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December 04, 2005

Wheels of Government grind slowly . . .

Mid Ocean News (02 Dec. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

ALL in a day’s work, you might say Mr. Editor: One piece of legislation designed to curb bad habits on Bermuda’s roads (we hope), a set of regulations to increase landing fees for all planes landing at our airport (we expect), and two take note motions – one of them on Government’s plans to step up protection of the marine environment around our shores, and the other on an accounting of the accounts of Government, i.e. how they spend the money they collect each year in taxes. Then to top the day off we had one or two dust ups on the motion to adjourn - Berkeley again - and we weren’t done until after nine o’clock in the evening.

It was all pretty civil too – until members got to that motion to adjourn.

We started on the road to co-operation with the Bill to introduce the demerit or points system for Bermuda’s road users. Offences are going to be assigned points. You rack up a dozen and you’re done: off the road automatically, all vehicles, up to six months. This was another initiative which found favour with the Opposition. Not surprisingly. As the UBP spokesman for the day, Wayne Furbert, pointed out the points system was first muted in a Discussion Paper on Traffic and Road Safety produced by the UBP back in December 1997. He ought to know too, he was the Transport Minister at the time.

The wheels of government grind slowly. Seven years later it’s finally on the road to implementation.

Debate focused on how it will work – and whether it will. One key ingredient doesn’t require legislative change. It requires commitment. More policemen on the roads at the right times at the right places if we are truly going to get on top of bad driving habits in this island. That won’t necessarily be sufficient either. We need follow-through too. While technology makes possible coordination between the courts and TCD - between the two of them they will be keeping track of the accumulated points –human application will still be required to make the scheme work.

But there’s hope. The changes won’t automatically become law. There’s provision in the legislation for the Minister responsible to delay its implementation – and for good reason.

Explained Minister Dr. Ewart Brown: “We will embark on a sustained period of public education on this Bill to both advise the public of its contents and importance and to also allow our police service and courts to become familiar with the proposed system”.
Good. We would like to see this new law work.

The price of freedom

NOSTALGIA was the catch of the day when we took up the Government White Paper on the Marine Environment and the Fishing Industry (?) in Bermuda. Government Whip and recreational fisherman, Ottiwell Simmons, dropped the first line.

“Please Minister”, he pleaded, “don’t let the environmentalists become so serious about the environment that they take away all of its joys and pleasures”.

Say what? Say this for Mr. Simmons. He likes to speak his mind. He also likes to fish for fun – on the ocean, Mr. Editor – and brings the occasional one, or two, home for dinner. Now his Government is recommending that all recreational fishermen, like himself who take to the sea for pleasure, be licensed from now on – and that they pay a fee for that licence and that they report on their catches.

Mr. Simmons isn’t too keen on what he sees is too much regulation. “There are some things I just don’t like”, he told his colleagues. “No keys, no licences or permits, please.”

“I’m a free man and I prefer it that way”, he declared.

Well, he won’t be fishing for free much longer once the new regime is in place – unless he fishes from the shore. Licences are not proposed if you remain on land when you cast your line.

Mr. Simmons was joined in part by newly appointed Cabinet Minister Wayne Perinchief who also took us back to the good old days when fish were far more plentiful and the fishing easier.

“I would encourage my Government”, he began – and ended when he was hauled up abruptly by a quick-witted Maxwell Burgess who shouted out: “What do you mean your Government? You are the Government!”

Mr. Perinchief caught himself and took another line. He said instead that he hoped the Opposition would press his Government on some of these issues.

We did go back and forth for some four hours. There were 12 speakers in all, six from each side, for an average 20 minutes each. Now there’s a nice orderly change, don’t you think? Until you take into account that Minister Neletha Butterfield took the first 90 minutes to read through the Paper. Literally, Mr. Editor, literally.

Thank goodness, as Mr. Simmons also pointed out, that it was “not an unnecessarily bulky document”.

It was also coloured green and not white - and the subject of take motion rather than a vote. The Minister later explained that it was a deliberate decision on her part not to put proposed Government policy to a vote. She was still interested in opinions on what is recommended.

Stand by then folks, legislation to follow when we’ll see exactly what is or is not planned.

Time to step off

LINES started to draw tighter, Mr. Editor, when we moved on to the Report of our Public Accounts Committee. This is a standing committee of the House established to keep under review Government accounts and the reports of the Auditor General, both the annual and the special. It’s a five person body chaired by the Opposition spokesman for Finance but on which Government has the majority of members (3).

Current chairman Dr. Grant Gibbons –he’s been the chairman for 7 years now – described the group and their work as “bi-partisan in a very functional way”.

That’s nice to know. But the fact of the matter is that you probably don’t know much about their work (even though we were told that they met 18 times over the last session) and what it is they do in between reports. There’s a good reason why that is so. The committee meets in camera, that is behind closed doors. No press allowed. No members of the public either.

Elsewhere the days of secret meetings are over and it looks like they could be in Bermuda too. The committee was recommending they be opened to press and public. Unanimously – or so we thought until one of the members, PLP MP, Glenn Blakeney, after signing the report, expressed some concern over “how it will work”.

He was concerned, he said, about “the partisanship” of some of the members of the Committee (read the Opposition, Mr. Editor, but not of course himself and his PLP colleagues), and how the Committee might be hi-jacked to go on “witch hunts” (and of course one party’s witch hunt is another party’s duty).

So what else is new?

As Opposition Leader and chairman Dr. Gibbons pointed out there are few, if any, jurisdictions that continue to meet in private. “It’s now best practice [to open the meetings up]”, he said matter of factly. “It not only brings some immediacy to the work which we are doing”, added Dr. Gibbons, “it also brings a greater degree of transparency.”

Finance Minister Paula Cox didn’t disagree. She had seen the UK model in action in London. “The Public Accounts Committee is the scrutineer and overseer of the public interest”, the Minister acknowledged.
But in Westminster she learned that the chairman was usually someone who was no longer in the hey day of his political career, a kind of grey-haired wise head, who has the respect of members of both parties.

No offence, Doc.

None taken, said Dr. Gibbons. He acknowledged his hair was graying but wasn’t so sure he wasn’t still in his hey day. Of course, over there they have some 600 members to draw from. We only have 35. But if it helps, continued the Opposition Leader he was prepared to step down.
Step down, Mr. Editor ?! If you ask me we just need to step off and get on with it. This is the practice elsewhere. We can draw on their experience and adopt their rules. What we need is the will from the PLP Government to bring us up to standard.

Berkeley and the new math

CLASH of the more usual variety flared on the motion to adjourn. Berkeley again. We know the Government wants to put the funding of this project behind them, to make the over-runs a thing of the past, but Pat Gordon Pamplin was not about to let the Minister (who sits in another House down the Hill) or the Premier re-write history.

Pat was getting back up from her colleague Michael Dunkley who described Walter Lister’s explanation that cost over-runs are not that unusual on project that size as “the lamest excuse” he had ever heard. It’s now $50-million over the original budget – and still counting, and we have the costs of arbitration still to come.

But the Premier, the original Minister responsible, sought to intervene. He wanted to dispute that the original budget was $70-million and to claim extra unbudgeted works of $23-million.

Excuse me, shot back Ms. Gordon Pamplin, taking a counter point of order as she read directly from the 2000/2001 Budget Statement of then PLP Minister of Finance the late Mr. Eugene Cox who proclaimed in plain and simple language that they had “carefully” reviewed the plans for the construction of the new school and the total budgeted sum was
$71.2 million.

Ouch. The silence was suddenly deafening .You could have heard a pin drop. They might want us to forget, but think of what could have been done with those millions of dollars, 50 or 23 million dollars would have built a lot of homes and assisted those who were – and still are - unable to afford their own.

For a good cause

NOW I don’t usually do requests, Mr. Editor. As everyone well knows, the Colonel included, this is a column and not a radio show. But this week, with your permission, I am going to make an exception. The Minister in charge of all of the Community’s Affairs (or so it seems) Dale Butler challenged me to put this in my piece: Twenty four members of Parliament put their hands in their pockets (our own, I believe) and we came up with a $2800.00 donation to help fund the cost of sending Bermuda students on a 2006 Raleigh International expedition.

They will be going to either Borneo or to Namibia for three months and the trip will cost $12,000.00 per student. Minister Butler and his Shadow Jon Brunson, deputy leader of the UBP, combined forces over two weeks ago to shake us down and they made a presentation to the organisers jointly – outside the House, of course, during the lunch hour.

You might say that we were bi-partisan once again in a very functional way, Mr. Editor, and for a good cause.

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November 25, 2005

Poor planning, plain and simple -

Mid Ocean News (25 Nov. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Poor planning, plain and simple - or as one wag said: 'It's a good job these guys aren't running the country'

WOULDN’T you know it, Mr. Editor. We sit on the Monday for 16 hours to get through the Throne Speech debate, finishing up at three thirty in the morning on Tuesday, and then on Friday of the same week we’re all done after four hours and out for the day by two o’clock in the afternoon. Go figure.

But let me give you a little help along the way. It’s poor planning, plain and simple.

I told you last week how we could easily have spread the Throne Speech debate over two days, possibly three, and still have gotten on with any bills or motions or business the Government wanted to take up. It’s done elsewhere and it’s a practice that we’ve followed before.
But the Government a.k.a. the PLP get to call the shots. They wanted the debate over in a day – even if it went into the early morning hours. We presume that they didn’t want to subject themselves to the Opposition spotlight for more than a day, although the official line from the PLP was that they have lots of business they want to get on with, and they want to get it done before we break for Christmas.

Business, huh? What business?

We learned on Thursday that the PLP intended to only take up three of their seven items on the agenda – all of them quite simple and straightforward and unlikely to engender much in the way of debate. As it was the Opposition actually supported all three: amendments to the Motor Car and Auxiliary Bike Acts so as to permit the refusal of vehicles licences in cases where there are unpaid court fines as well as regulations for what we hope will become widespread use of defribrillators.

There were four other items which could have been taken up by Government which they chose not to do: the introduction of the demerit or point system for traffic offences (which the Opposition has also proposed); new landing and air navigation fees (the cost of flying in and out of here); and the PATI paper (PATI? Don’t tell me you have forgotten already: Public Access To Information). They have all been held over, I’m guessing, to give us something to do this week.

Three new pieces of legislation were tabled:

* The Clean Air Amendment Act which, according to the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum, is designed “to enforce the Ministry’s enforcement capability”.

* An amendment to increase the number of people who can serve on the Bermuda Hospitals Board; and

* A Taxes (Rates) Amendment Act which will see cruise ship passengers become liable to a daily departure tax rate of $20 per day or part of any day.

The Minister Without Portfolio Walter Lister also proposed three take note motions. He wants us to take note of the financial statements of the golf courses for the year ended March 31 2001; for the BLDC for the year ended March 31, 2004; and for the Housing Corporation for the year ended March 31 2005. It’s nice to see this new-found enthusiasm. We wait to see the purpose.

Bottom line, Mr. Editor: Perhaps the pace will now pick up, and we’ll soon find the House in better order. However, as one observant wag was overhead to say on the way out the door on Friday : “It’s a good thing these guys aren’t running the country”.

Point.


Senior moments

FACT of the matter is, Mr. Editor, it was a wonder that we were even there in the House on the Hill until two o’clock that afternoon. What it was, was that we got a little extra lift from – wait for it, they’re baaaack – a plethora of lengthy Ministerial statements. There were eight or nine in total from half a dozen Ministers (yes, some have more than one) that took close to an hour to read.

There was even one from the Head Man - and no, not on independence, and no, not on his recent discussions in London, but on seniors. It was this statement of the Premier’s coupled with that of Finance Minister Paula Cox that caught my attention. The two of them didn’t connect the dots, but I will.

The Man Who Called Himself P wanted to trumpet the publication this week of “The Changing Face of Bermuda’s Seniors” – a study covering some 50 years which has been put together by the Statistics Department which is now part of the Premier’s portfolio of Government departments.

He teased parliamentarians with some of the facts:

* In 1980 some 69 percent of our seniors owned the homes in which they were living and the number had increased to 71 per cent by the year 2000. Eight out of ten also own their own home mortgage free.

* While some 27 per cent of home-owning seniors owned more than one property in 1991, the number had slipped to 25 per cent by the year 2000.

* While the Premier didn’t tell us the year, he told us that the study will show that some 1258 seniors were renting and paying an average monthly rent of $768.00 as compared to the average rent for everybody else of $1,021.00 per month.

* Half the seniors have a household income of less than $36,000.00 per year and - to quote - “they depend on their Government pension for their income”. Good luck to them, eh Louise?

A little later Finance Minister Ms. Cox gave us an update on those pensions. The Minister was reporting on the state of the Contributory Pension Fund. Government policy to date has been to broadly increase benefits in line with prices (as expressed through the CPI) and to increase contribution rates at a slightly higher rate – that is 1 ¼ per cent a year more than benefits.

That’s now about to change and the rate will be increased to 1 ¾ per cent per year.

Meanwhile, an actuarial review of the Fund – also tabled Friday by the Minister – not only helps to explain why, but also gives us some insight into the challenges ahead. Here’s just a sample of their findings:

* Over the three year period of their study (up to August 2002) the numbers of seniors receiving pensions rose from 8,156 to 9,179.

* By the year 2022 we can anticipate 13,000 or so pensioners rising to a high of 17,194 pensioners by 2032 ( I should live so long, Mr. Editor: I would be 82).

* While in August 2002, there were roughly five working people per pensioner (they are the ones who make the contributions) they are expected to decline in number over the next forty years to about two working people per pensioner.

* Over the next thirty years, total “outgo” ( payments, I presume) is projected to increase to more than two and a half times its current level, from about $70-million in 2003 to an anticipated $180-million in 2033 – a staggering $110 million increase.

* Then there was this finding: “Over the three years ended July 31, 2002, the real rate of return earned on the Fund was about a negative 3 percent per year, as compared to the real rate of return of 4 percent a year assumed at the 1999 review. As a result, the value of the Fund as at 31 July 2002 is some 20 percent lower than projected at the 1999 review (taking into account the different monetary values in which the current and previous reviews are expressed).”

Serious stuff, Mr. Editor – and remember this actuarial review was as of August 2002, and the copies which we received in the House were dated January 2005, so we’re three years later and counting already.
What makes it even more serious is that the average monthly payout in 2002 was approximately $630.00 and, according to the Minister, the maximum possible today is just over $1000.00 a month.

You start to get a sense of what our seniors are facing now, and in the future. With rising costs, especially in health care, you have to wonder whether we as legislators are doing enough to (1) assess the extent of the problem which the community will face in the coming decades and (2) whether we are sufficiently addressing what’s coming.
If Government is going to throw money around, they might think it worth it to spend some more in this direction, eh Louise?

Agreed – sort of

UNUSUAL, you think, Mr. Editor, when Opposition and Government agree? Well, that’s the way it was on those amendments which will allow TCD to refuse vehicle licences where there are outstanding traffic fines. The Opposition UBP was more than prepared to go along with this one – and in fact suggested extending the principle to include unpaid taxes and child support.

Unpaid taxes and outstanding child support are not new issues, countered PLP MP Dennis Lister, taking a typical PLP line. “You had he opportunity to do something about this and you didn’t”, he said. “What you should be doing is applauding the Minister for bringing this forward”.

Pat Gordon-Pamplin is no cheerleader. She spoke next and had little truck for that logic. If it’s a good idea, it’s a good idea, she said, and get on with it. “You’re the Government now”, she reminded the PLP.

There were some lighter moments too.

Maxwell Burgess pointed out that where husband and wife are joint owners of the car and one of them has an unpaid fine, the other will be punished as well when re-licensing is refused.

“I can see the headline now”, interpolated one MP, “Government comes between husband and wife”.

Actually what we might see, Mr. Editor, are some hurried transfers in ownership.

The amendments specify no renewal where “the owner” has an outstanding fine.

Expensive education

IF it wasn’t for the Motion to Adjourn, Mr. Editor, we would have been out of the House shortly after 12.30 p.m. That’s when we were through Government business for the day. But seven of my colleagues weren’t quite prepared to let the PLP off that easily.

Mr. Burgess, Maxwell again of UBP fame, raised reports of yet another delay to the opening of the new Berkeley Institute, and the project’s potentially escalating costs. He was joined in his dismay by the Shadow Minister for Works & Engineering Pat Pamplin who also wanted to know not only how long but how much.

It’s $50-million over the original budget of $70-million – and counting.

There was no reply that day from the Government benches. We learned later – from the TV evening news – that Education Minister Terry Lister was being coy about the date at a press conference.

But any way you slice it, dice it or spin it, Mr. Editor, Berkeley is almost certainly going to turn out to have been an expensive education for the people of Bermuda, seniors included - and no chance, I suspect , that the PLP frontbench will want to put down a take note motion on this project and its finances.

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November 18, 2005

Late, late finish: There must be a better way to do country's business

Mid Ocean News (18 Nov. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

CALL me crazy, Mr. Editor, but there I was at two o’clock in the morning rising to my feet in the House on the Hill to deliver my own Reply to the Government Throne Speech. It took me about 50 minutes. But you have to wonder whether anybody was actually listening at that hour aside from the reporter from The Royal Gazette whose job it is to listen, or at least to appear to be listening, and to make sense of it all for the newspaper the following day. Good luck to him, Mr. Editor, along with a good night’s sleep, I hope, before he started typing up his notes.

And I wasn’t the last speaker either. That distinction fell to George Scott of the PLP who spoke after me for just under half an hour.
So for those of us who were still there at that hour - not everybody does stay to the bitter end: can you really blame them? – we didn’t make our way off the Hill, in what appeared to be varying states of consciousness, and back home to our beds until three thirty or so in the morning.

So here I am the next morning writing this column and thinking – as I hope all of my colleagues were – and please no cracks about how thinking can be a dangerous thing – that there must be a better way to do the country’s business.

Of course there is.

One of the practices around here over the years has been to spread the Throne Speech debate over at least two sittings - and look to adjourn each day at a reasonable hour. This would appear to be give more members an opportunity to speak at reasonable hours as well. In fact, we did do just that as recently as last year, and while we rose fairly early in the night on the first day I seem to recall that we went rather late into the night on the following Friday.

The challenge is to get members to limit the length of their speeches, voluntarily.

There are no limits on length – or line either, Mr. Editor, although as we all know, politics is not cricket, although these days the reverse is probably true, but I digress. But there are limits when it comes to the motion to adjourn (20 minutes)or congrats and obits (3 minutes), and in each case I am always amazed at how much we actually can and do cram in when we have to.

But that, Mr. Editor, if you will pardon the expression, is actually easier said than done. There was a suggestion at the outset of the debate – and it came from the two party whips, of which I am one, the PLP’s Ottiwell Simmons is the other – that our members try to confine their speeches to 15 minutes or so. The suggestion came about because the Government wished to shoe horn the Throne Speech debate into the one day, Monday the 14th.

It’s their call. They are the Government and they control the House agenda. The Opposition can only follow. Follow we proposed to do, after the Premier gave his short wrap of the Throne Speech ( and, Mr. Editor, I don’t think that P was any longer than fifteen or twenty minutes), and after Dr. Grant Gibbons delivered the Official Reply of the Opposition to the Throne Speech.

But we went off track almost immediately when the first speaker for the Government Minister Dale Butler took all of 90 minutes to make his contribution: half an hour before lunch and one hour after.

Any hope for 15-minute contributions faded with each minute that ticked by after the luncheon interval. Meanwhile, I kept a record of the day’s speeches (that helped keep me interested and alert, along with plenty of tea, brisk walks around the precincts, a rest in the Opposition’s sitting room, and a glance at TV – outside the Chambers - from time to time: and how did those Cowboys come from behind to clip the Eagles, Mr. Editor?), and by my accounting the shortest of the day belonged to Suzanne Roberts-Holshouser who was up and down inside 22 minutes. Walter Lister of the PLP was a close second at 25 minutes. He was one of only six Ministers to participate in the debate (excluding the Premier).

One of that group was the newest Minister Wayne Perinchief who ran in second to his Cabinet colleague Mr. Butler on length with 65 minutes, and despite the time he spent we heard not a word, not a peep, on this new Ministry of his and its plans.

As it was, the scorecard reads 21 speakers in all: 11 for the Government ( by George, they always have to have the last word and they have the greater number to make sure that is so) and an even ten for the Opposition. I reckon the average was around 40 minutes per member with half a dozen of us taking to our feet to speak in the late evening, early morning hours.

Working it out

ROCKET science it isn’t, Mr. Editor, but if every member spoke for 15 minutes minimum we would be talking (and listening presumably) for a solid nine hours.

That would take us until nine in the evening and that seems like a reasonable day in which to speak and be heard. But when it comes to the Throne Speech the debate can be quite wide-ranging: Government is supposed to outline its legislative programme for the year, and its policies, while the Opposition wants to hammer away at where it thinks the Government has gone wrong and what it would do were they in charge – and, give and take a little here and there, Mr. Editor, that was pretty well the thrust of the debate in the House on Monday, and some of us, er, most of us, took a little longer than others.

Meanwhile, the expected is both planned for and accommodated in the U.K. where they appear to have worked out an alternative way. I was interested to learn from that Parliamentary Bible, Erskine May, Mr. Editor, that the Throne Speech debate in the UK is divided into three parts (reading a book can be a good diversion too, in a long debate).

The first part is that stage in which Government policy is debated, especially in relation to the contents of the speech. The second part is usually directed to more specific areas of policy which are chosen by the Opposition – can you imagine? - of which the House (and Government) is informed in advance. The third part allows for a series of amendments to be made to the Speech which are typically moved by the frontbench of the Opposition. Meanwhile, time is also set aside for the usual transaction of public business, i.e. bills or motions, if there are any.

A key number of speakers are chosen by each side and almost certainly they don’t try to squeeze it all into one long day’s night.

What’s coming

WE were told that Government wanted to do the Throne Speech debate in one sitting because Government wants to get on with a crush of business expected between now and the Christmas recess. Funny then that no legislation was introduced on Monday. But we do have some bills (3) and regulations (3) to get on with this week which were tabled on day one.

They look pretty straightforward but you never know: two of the Bills have to do with forbidding the issue of vehicle licences where fines are unpaid, and a third prepares the way for the introduction of a points system for traffic offences.

The regulations have to do with airport landing fees, air navigation fees and defibrillators – and, yes, as far as I can see, while tourism may be hurting, it’s only a coincidence, Mr. Editor, that the regulation of defibrillators has been tabled with the first two items.

There’s a quartet of motions too – all of them the take note variety: Government’s White Paper on Marine Resources; another on plans for Cooper’s Island; a third on the Public Access To Information Paper; and lastly, but not least, the most recent report of the Public Accounts Committee of the House on the Government Accounts for the four years 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. Take note or not, they could be quite lively – and I mean the debates, Mr. Editor, and not just the Accounts.

R.I.P. Frankie

SURPRISE, surprise, Mr. Editor, the raft of Ministerial statements which I had expected, never materialised. Not a one. It was an unexpected but welcome change as it meant we did get on to the Throne Speech debate quicker than anticipated.

Still there were congrats and obits to contend with, and one of Bermuda’s outstanding footballers was remembered by both sides of the House on the day he was buried: Frankie Brewster.

It is always a shock to lose someone so suddenly, and so young, Mr. Editor, and such was the case with Frankie. He stood out as a terrific role model, as solid and as dependable off the field and he was on it.

May he rest in peace.

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November 10, 2005

Why guffaws continued in some quarters over the Prince's gaffe

Mid Ocean News (10 Nov. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

THERE we were, Mr. Editor, back from our summer recess, sitting under the shade of the Big Tent on the manicured lawn of the Cabinet Office, listening as attentively as we could to a Prince; no, not the Prince who plays basketball for the Detroit Pistons, and not the son of Michael Jackson, and not the artist who was formerly known as Prince. No, this Prince was the real deal: Prince Andrew, His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, British royalty no less, and the occasion was, as most people know, the opening of Parliament and the reading of the Throne Speech.

I think the Prince later said that it was his first time – reading a speech for the Throne on behalf of his mother, the Queen, not just in Bermuda, but anywhere. It was my first time too – listening to a Throne Speech in my capacity as MP being read by someone other than the Governor of Bermuda.

I thought the Prince did a pretty good job too, reading a speech which he had not written. That was done for him by our Man in Bermuda, the P and his Cabinet – and that of course is the way Throne Speeches are done. They are an outline of what the Government plans to do in the parliamentary year ahead.

The Prince also showed a pretty good sense of humour ( and some local insight as well, I thought) when he misread thirty months as thirty years for the time which Government plans on taking to build 330 new rental units.

The still, solemn atmosphere of the occasion was punctuated with almost instant, unabashed laughter all around when the Prince said it would take thirty years, and when he promptly corrected himself, not once, but twice; and more emphatically actually the second time around, Mr. Editor, when the guffaws continued in some, but not all quarters.

If he didn’t know then why the mistake was so funny, I’m certain someone filled him afterwards – and it would not necessarily have had to have been the Shadow Minister for Housing, Wayne Furbert, such is the PLP track record on housing after seven years in power. People have heard the promises before.

I was going to say that this was also the first time that I can recall enjoying a really good laugh at the reading of a Throne Speech. But on reflection, Mr. Editor, that would be quite disingenuous of me as a member of the Opposition.

The difference is that you don’t normally laugh out loud. That isn’t done – and it certainly isn’t expected.

The ceremony is after all a serious and special occasion on the political (and social) calendar, replete with all the pomp and pageantry that goes with the parade that marks the re-opening of Parliament: the Bermuda Regiment soldiers resplendent in black and red striped trousers with white tunics, led by the stirring sounds of their world-reknown Band; a horse-drawn landau with the Prince and H.E. in stiff, starched whites; and MPs and Senators as well as a host of other officials and dignitaries making their way into the shade of the Big Tent by way of a red carpet laid over the lawn; and let me tell you, Mr. Editor, negotiating carpet draped over grass is no easy feat ( pun intended) – it can bunch easily and my sympathy goes out to those of my colleagues who wore heels. The last thing you want to do it trip and fall flat on your face on such occasions. Luckily for us the paparazzi in Bermuda are not so overwhelming.

Ask The Colonel

THE Prince of course had the only real speaking part and the Throne Speech took about 30 minutes – although it might have seemed longer to those, like the soldiers in the Bermuda Regiment, who were at attention in a surprisingly warm, November sun. Spare a thought for them, Mr. Editor: we were seated in the shade and they were standing ...the whole time.

Some quick thoughts then on what I heard and on two items that stuck out. I defer to the Official Reply of the Opposition which comes next week from Leader the Hon. Dr. Grant Gibbons.

On Independence: The Premier and his Government are going to continue to push the issue – surprise, surprise – notwithstanding what the polls are saying. They are promising more public meetings to “educate” the public about the conclusions of BIC, to be followed by a Green Paper ( a discussion paper for Parliament) and then by a White Paper outlining Government’s proposals for an independent Bermuda. No mention of decision by referendum or general election or simultaneous general election and referendum or general election followed by referendum or …. or what? My guess is that people are going to get this education whether they want it or not. In the meantime, we will have to vote with our voices and our feet.

A Government Information TV channel: I wonder who thought this one up and why? I mean if the true intent is to simply promote Government services and programmes, it can’t be cost effective. Surely it’s easier and less expensive to buy the time on the local stations? I was going to say just ask the Colonel – and I will. But wait a minute, Mr. Editor, this latest brainwave came wrapped with the explanation that this will also be a means “to increase Bermudian content on the airwaves and provide an opportunity for young people to enter the field of public media”.

Something fresher than Fresh, I presume ? I wait with interest to see who did the costing research on this one, and whether we will ever see a copy of the study which recommended this course of action.

You have to wonder too, who will be watching: Those waiting in lines maybe, like at Immigration and Customs at the airport?

Speaking of television, if given a choice, I would have thought that maybe the time had come to explore televising the proceedings of Parliament. This is becoming fairly standard in most jurisdictions and a part of the development of accountability and transparency for better governance. As The House Turns, All My MPs etc. etc.
But all jokes aside, Mr. Editor, it’s a show that might actually draw some viewers and have some (positive) effect on parliamentary performance.

3 x 35 = 2

TRADITION has it that when the House first meets no other business is taken up other than the reading of the Throne Speech. Excepting for that quaint feature, Mr. Editor, of congrats and obits – and after a three month recess there were a lot of people and events to be remembered. It took members well over an hour to get through this portion of the agenda, even though each MP was (as always) limited to three minutes in total: I mean it can take up two hours, give or take, if all 35 speak to the limit.

Some of us sought to use our three minutes wisely by associating ourselves with the congratulatory remarks or condolences of previous speakers. Just like PLP Whip Ottiwell Simmons tried to do when he began by saying that he wished to associated with “most” of the condolences which he had heard thus far.

“Most?”, inquired Minister Terry Lister, leaning back in his seat to ask his question of Mr. Simmons, adding: “Which ones then do you not wish to be associated with?”.

We all got the point – smiles all around.

Remembering 11/11

NO Ministerial statements, Mr. Editor – and why would there be? The Throne Speech is meant to be The Statement of the Government. Their day in the sunshine, you might say. But we might reasonably count on a raft of them when we next meet. That’s when Dr. Gibbons will get to present the Opposition Reply – and the Reply doesn’t come up on the order paper until after Ministerial Statements which can, in both number and length, distract and delay from what the Opposition has to say. Watch for it.

By the way, the House won’t be meeting again until Monday the 14th. It can’t be Friday as usual, as this week it is Remembrance Day when we remember those who fought and those who died so we could actually enjoy the freedom of a Parliament - no matter the day we meet.

Enjoy, Reggie

BEST wishes in retirement, Mr. Editor, to former MP and Senator Reggie Burrows of the PLP. He was one of those who was remembered on Friday in congrats and obits for his 37 years of service in the Bermuda Legislature. I was reluctant to join in ( but did anyhow) as we thought he had retired when he quit membership the House on the Hill in 2003, only to return as a Senator for two years. Reggie assures that this time it is for real and there were those on both sides of the House who were moved to wish him well. I can’t help but think that if all members, myself included, had the temperament of Reggie Burrows – or even half of it, Mr. Editor – the House on the Hill would be a very different place. Televised or not.

So much then, for the system, being to blame.

Posted Thu by Christian S. Dunleavy | Feedback | TrackBack

November 04, 2005

We appear to be moving into options that remind me of the football pools

Mid Ocean News (04 Nov. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

IF at first you don’t succeed, Mr. Editor, try, try again. On the other hand it’s often good political advice to put down the shovel and stop digging when you are in a hole. Either way it is never over until it’s over, and it doesn’t look like the P’s push for independence is going to end any time soon. For those who have been following along, and God bless you if you have been able, we now appear to be moving into options that remind me of the football pools and the permutations punters play to pick a set of sure score draws that actually never do occur.

To summarise, in recent weeks we seem to have gone from decision only by general election; from no jurisdiction ever made the decision by referendum to, sorry, our mistake, maybe there have been some after all; to decision by general election and referendum on the same day; to decision by general election followed by referendum.

On the bright side, it looks like there’s at least some shifting towards what people prefer – a referendum; assuming, Mr. Editor, that it is shift and not spin from The Man who put the extra P in PLP.

I guess that we will hear more on the newest version in the Throne Speech which, while read by the visiting Prince, will have actually been written by the P and his Cabinet, not to mention how BIC also gave them the perfect cue to prolong a debate on independence which BIC could not get off the ground except possibly among the captive audiences of schoolchildren who had no choice.

After all their work BIC came up with a six-pack of recommendations which - surprise, surprise – also serve as six good reasons to encourage the PLP Government on: -

1. The PLP Government should open dialogue with the people of Bermuda on the topic of independence and present its proposals on “the type of government and constitution and all related matters”. BIC: The Sequel, I presume – which also assumes the proposals of the PLP Government will be different than those which the PLP party made to BIC under the auspices of The Man Himself. Go figure.

2. The PLP Government should consult closely with international business companies to remove “any uncertainties” that might arise from a debate on independence and to make sure “myth is separated from reality” by keeping them fully informed. Good idea, close consultation: but shouldn’t this be standard operating procedure with all of us? When it comes to separating myth from reality, Mr. Editor, whose myth and whose reality are we talking about? How about some listening too?

3. Go back to the UK Government and ask them to reconsider withdrawal of British citizenship upon independence. At least that’s an acknowledgment of its value, but haven’t the British already made their position clear, not just to us on any number of occasions but to others as well? They may wonder of course what part of NO we do not understand.

4. The state of race relations in Bermuda needs to be improved, although we do not necessarily need independence for that to happen. BIC suggests “a process of truth and reconciliation” but gave no details on what they had in mind. The P has told us he has plans on this front which will be unveiled in the Throne Speech and I assume he has in mind something more than lessons on how to operate a Blackberry (or write a column).

5. Get from the FCO a list of all Bermuda’s treaty obligations. I don’t know about you Mr. Editor but I would have thought that might been the sort of work which would have been undertaken by a Commission appointed to inquire into independence.

6. I felt the same way too, about this sixth and final recommendation: Government should conduct a review of all international opportunities that currently exist (in international organizations of which we are members) and “the many additional prospects should Bermuda proceed to independence”. The many? But apparently not so important or so obvious or so great to be investigated and reported on by BIC in its Report.

So much then for the comprehensive, fact-finding approach which we were promised by P when he first appointed the Commission. Turns out it ain’t.

Like so much about the report and its findings, Mr. Editor, its selectivity and its language, the discerning reader may hear the voice of Jacob but sense the hand of Esau..

Getting it

BY the way Mr. Editor, before concluding on BIC, let me pause for a moment and see if I have got this straight. I did read - with more than just a passing interest - that advertorial which ten of the fourteen Commissioners paid to have published in The Royal Gazette last week.

They explained to us that BIC only published in the Appendix those submissions to which reference was made in the body of their Report. If there was no mention, the submission was relegated to a the summary found elsewhere in the Appendix. The UBP submission was on the need to decide the question by way of referendum and how it had employed for that purpose in other jurisdictions. But as BIC had asserted in the body of the Report that it found no instance of where a referendum was used to decide the question of independence (which they now say was a mistake) the submission of the Opposition wasn’t mentioned and thus didn’t qualify for publication in the Appendix.

Oh, a kind of convenient Catch 22, I guess: If you’re in, you’re in; if you’re not in, you’re out – mistake or not.

Mr. Editor, I could not make this stuff up if I tried.

Fallen soldier

ASIDE from more on independence in the Throne Speech, I expect the PLP will continue with the Social Agenda theme.

We might hear something on housing. Last year there was the promise of a new Housing Initiative Team, and the promise of a housing programme. Instead what we now have is a change of Ministers. Now I have had my disagreements with Ashfield DeVent, and he has faced up to the criticism, but from where I sit he looks very much like the Fall Guy to me. He gets appointed by P to take on the Berkeley mess (which P created when he was the Minister responsible) and Ashfield takes the heat for axing Pro-Active ( which was a collective Cabinet decision) and soldiers on with a housing programme (which never actually materialised), and stand up for the struggling Bermuda Housing Corporation following the scandal and criminal investigation and millions of dollars being written off, (all of which he inherited from his predecessors in the PLP because it happened on their watch).

Lucky guy, Ashfield.

But who ever said politics was fair? It isn’t.

A ThreePeat

A couple of other items to keep an eye out for –important holdovers from last year:

Parliamentary Election Amendment Act: a move to introduce (finally) absentee balloting which, in the last version which was tabled, didn’t actually provide the right to vote by absentee ballot to everyone. If the amendment isn’t amended, you still won’t have a vote if you happen to be traveling abroad on either the day of the vote or the advance poll.

PATI: the much ballyhooed public access to information paper which does not seem to have excited the masses. Not surprisingly, I think: the information which most people today want are straight answers to their questions .We are being told that this legislation may not be in place until 2011. I’m all for it, Q, but we are not inventing the wheel here. For instance, there’s a draft Bill in circulation in the Caymans.

P.S. I like the idea of a Whistleblower’s Act too. That shows where you really stand on disclosure, transparency and accountability.

PACE: This bill – Police and Criminal Evidence Act – wasn’t taken up before we rose for the summer. It is modeled on the UK Act and their experience and trumpeted as part of the tough new PLP Government package on law and order. What will be interesting to see is whether or not the PLP have in fact been tough in face of behind the scenes criticisms from attorneys of the Bermuda Defence Bar. One of the more contentious, but significant parts of the Bill, in the fight against crime, was the inclusion of a provision which allowed magistrates, judges and juries to draw adverse inferences from defendants who choose to remain silent in certain circumstances when accused of a crime. Did they or did they not back down? Inquiring minds will soon know.

Horsefeathers

FINALLY, Mr. Editor, speaking of independence, the BIC report and the Throne Speech, the following tale comes to mind. It isn’t original, but it is apt.

It’s about the young boy who was eternally optimistic. Too much so. Or so his parents thought. While they sincerely admired his optimism, and regarded it as a good trait, they thought that he also needed to learn that life also had its difficulties as well as its challenges and thus its disappointments. So one Christmas when his expectations were high, they put horse droppings in his stocking.

When on Christmas morning the young boy discovered what was there, he was visibly crestfallen. But not for long.

“Oh, Mum and Dad”, he shouted out – unable to contain himself any longer. “ I know what this means: it means that there must be a pony around here, somewhere!”
There wasn’t – and there isn’t.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November.
Happy Guy Fawkes Day No. 55 everybody.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy | Feedback | TrackBack

October 28, 2005

Independence? What we could use around here is more critical, independent thought

Mid Ocean News (28 Oct. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

LIKE you, Mr. Editor, I am never surprised by the growing number of people who seem to have the answer to our problems, but not the solution. Independence for Bermuda, and those who push for it, appear to fit comfortably into that category. BIC included. Let’s go to the Report for an example of what I am talking about. This time it is about the way in which we govern ourselves – or, more accurately, the way in which we allow ourselves to be governed. The passage to which I am referring is found in a chapter entitled “Findings of the Commission” in a short section headed “Political”:

“The Westminster style of government has served Bermuda well; however, the challenges facing Bermuda today demand a change in this inherent adversarial approach”.

We could quibble about the use of the word “style”. But I think we know what BIC meant. It’s the system – and the Westminster system of parliamentary government is decried because, in the eyes of the Commissioners, the political parties (I assume they mean both PLP and UBP) spend too much time in the Legislature trying to score political points, and, further, according to BIC, the fundamental issue of what’s right or wrong for the country takes a back seat to the political balance sheet.

Strong stuff, Mr. Editor – and who am I to disagree? But the criticism is not new. We have it heard before – for some long numbers of years in fact, and not just under the PLP but the UBP as well. Speaking for myself, I think we do not spend enough time actually debating the issues of the day: too much time and effort in the House of Assembly has long since been given over to the laborious reading of lengthy statements and prepared briefs by Government Ministers. This worst trait is best illustrated when the annual Budget rolls around in February when you can see for yourself just how choreographed and predictable and tedious debate has become. But I digress. Back to the Report and the Commissioner’s recommendation:

“The challenges facing Bermuda today require that there be a change in this style of governance.”

A change in the style of governance: what’s that got to do with independence, Mr. Editor? Nothing, in my view. But as long as we are on the subject let me make a few of my own observations and, yes, this won’t be the first time I have gone on about the need for parliamentary reform in Bermuda. We can change the way in which we govern ourselves now. We don’t have to wait until independence. All we need is the will to change and a willingness to act. But the PLP Government has shown itself to be steadfastly uninterested, if not flat out against any suggestion of parliamentary reform. Attempts to bring about reform in the House of Assembly have either been rebuffed or allowed to languish without action within the Rules and Privileges Committee, a committee headed by the Speaker and controlled by a PLP majority.

This isn’t rocket science. Nor is it radical surgery. We have fallen well behind the modern practices and procedures of other parliamentary jurisdictions whether they are to the west of us, the east, the north or the south.

Meanwhile, selected local parliamentarians traipse off annually on all expenses paid trips to conferences and seminars organized by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, of which Bermuda is a member, where they are exposed to presentations on changes and improvements which have been made to the Westminster system of government, all of which have been designed to bring about and have brought about better governance.

But here, we continue to ignore the value of standing committees, comprised of members, backbenchers, from both sides of the House, who can monitor and investigate and, where appropriate, expose goings-on in Government. Here we continue to hold fast to holding meetings of committees behind closed doors. We are not just out of step with modern parliamentary practice either. We are falling behind because our Government chooses not to join us in moving forward.

Independence wouldn’t change a thing.

Try exasperation

What is it that BIC recommends in place of the Westminster system? Well, nothing, as far as I can see from their Report, except maybe independence. It isn’t at all clear. But we do get is a waffled discussion on “perceived scandals” and an oblique suggestion that maybe what we need is “a code of ethics”. I quote:

“Political leadership should exhibit the core values of any community. The mainly White-held view questioning Bermudian (Black) ability to govern may have been exacerbated by a series of perceived scandals. Whilst it is appreciated that at least some of these issues might have been politically exaggerated, the perceived failure of the country’s leadership to quickly and decisively embrace a national code of ethics for the governance of Bermuda, only serves to reinforce this fear. This sentiment is contributing to the negativity on the issue of independence. It is encouraging to note the PLP submission suggesting a code of ethics, and the Premier’s subsequent comments on this matter.”

That’s quite the mouthful, Mr. Editor. Exacerbation? Exaggeration? Why not try exasperation?

First, for someone who looks like me, and sounds like me (and I mean that in the ordinary sense of the words so there’s no need to spend four or five days scrambling through the collected works of William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde - or Shaggy for that matter – to figure out what I mean), I am familiar with the criticism. I think I understand it: I pause. I reflect. I move on. I also have a constitutional duty to perform as a member of the Opposition.

The facts remain the facts.

Perceived scandals? Now there’s a kinder and gentler way of approaching some of the bigger problems generated by the PLP Government during their tenure – and I will come on to my list of them shortly. Perception doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, I guess, and on top of that, BIC wants to explain some of them away as “politically exaggerated”.

Really, Mr. Editor, you have to stop and wonder where we would be without the Westminster system and the opportunity to try and air these matters in Parliament. Doesn’t anyone around here pay attention to, if not read the reports of the Auditor General? I am not just talking about the findings of his special reports into the Bermuda Housing Corporation (the one which we could not even mention in the House of Assembly for months and months and months because there was an on-going police investigation), or into the construction of the new Berkeley Institute, or the Stonington lease fiasco.

There was his most recent report of Government finances for the financial year 2003/2004 and this disconcerting, if not damning summary of what the Auditor General has found:

“The number of apparent or alleged frauds and misappropriations that have come to light in recent years in Government entities concerns me greatly. I worry lest it indicates a growing culture of opportunism or dishonesty by some in the public service.”

It ain’t a pretty picture, folks.

Speaking of the office of Auditor General, and the need for a change in the style of governance, Mr. Editor, BIC was conspicuously silent in its Report on the continued role on the need for an independent Auditor General in an independent Bermuda. Their silence was all the more curious in the face of the recommendation of the PLP in its submission that the Auditor General be appointed for a limited term of six to ten years by the Public Service Commission. If you ask me (and even if you don’t) this isn’t the sort of independence we need if we are going to improve on not just the style but the substance of governance in Bermuda.

A code of ethics? That must be a joke. The reasons are twofold: (1) The PLP shared with the Commission the contents of a 1995 Policy Paper (on Independence no less) in which one of their stated commitments was to “Establish a Code of Ethics for Cabinet Ministers”.

I kid you not. Now that they have actually been in power for seven years, and in a position to implement and apply such a code, nothing, nada, zip – and no further mention of it either in the PLP’s written submission to BIC, no explanation, no promise to pursue. (2) The Commission, having raised the issue, then sidesteps it by seeming to actually compliment the PLP by telling us that they were encouraged by the “Premier’s subsequent comments”.

As to what those comments were, and whether they were transmitted in person or by email, we don’t know. They were not reported – at least not in my copy of the Report. But, Mr. Editor, would it have made any difference if they were? Independent thinking I repeat Mr. Editor: we don’t need to be independent to bring about this sort of meaningful change. What we need, what we could use around here, is more critical, independent thought.

News to boot

We could have used some independent, critical thinking on two other issues that caught my eye in the BIC Report.

The first was this finding of BIC at page 9 of the Report: “Bermuda is a non-self-governing territory administered by the United Kingdom”. Non-self-governing, huh? Sounds like a pretty absolute description to me – and news to boot. What we do learn later in the Report is that we are non-self-governing, according to the definition supplied by the U.N., which BIC is happily prepared to swallow whole, notwithstanding the precedent and practice which has built over the years, which has seen Bermuda come to enjoy a large degree of internal self-government. In the face of that, BIC offers up the following justification: -

“The U.K. Government could revoke part or all of Bermuda’s Constitution at its will, without consultation with the Bermuda Government, and effectively rule through the U.K. Parliament”.

Yup, and if pigs had wings, Mr. Editor, they would fly, but they make unlikely birds. The second instance has to do with the comments on education.

I quote from page 39 of the BIC Report:

“The success of education today is judged largely on academic achievement. Of equal value, is the importance of individual self-worth, of core values and of a national ethic. As long as a society values insurance professionals over carpenters, bankers over teachers, or lawyers over hotel workers, it establishes a caste system, a system that erodes the self-worth of some in the community”.

I have never been the Minister for Education, nor have I ever been the Opposition spokesman for Education, but speaking as a parent and someone who works for a living, I suspect that we owe it to our children to ensure their self-worth comes from academic achievement, and in particular from a strong grounding in the fundamentals no matter what occupation or living they pursue.

We need greater not less emphasis on the need for academic achievement. We really need to be preparing our children for the real world in which Bermuda and Bermudians will compete, Mr. Editor, independent or not.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy | Feedback | TrackBack

October 22, 2005

BIC Report traffics in opinions

Mid Ocean News (21 Oct. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

FIRST the sugar, Mr. Editor: I actually thought the BIC Commissioners presented a pretty fair summary of the opinions for and against Independence near the end of their Report – see pages 62 through to 66 inclusive entitled "Opinions Offered in Oral and Written Submissions".

In fact, Mr. Editor, you might even say that that they appeared to have gone out of their way to be fair as they seemed to have made a point of listing an equal number of opinions for and an equal number against Independence.

But the rest of the Report, Mr. Editor, was in my view not so even-handed. The early critics alighted on the obvious. There was little or no fairness when the Commission chose to highlight "Myths and Misconceptions" and "The Benefits" to Independence, but gave no separate and equal treatment to "The Drawbacks" and "The Facts".

Mere superficiality? I don't think so, Mr. Editor, when compared to the reported analysis and findings in the rest of the Report; and most especially when you bear in mind that the Man Who Set Up The Commission, aka "P" The Premier, told us at the outset that the appointment of BIC was to be "a comprehensive, fact-finding, analytical and reasoned approach".

You can, of course, read the Report yourself to make up your own mind (don't wait for the movie), but it seems to me that what the Report does is traffic in opinions and is itself an opinion on the way in which Bermuda should go on this question of Independence.

We don't just get facts, but the facts which BIC thinks important – even if they get some of them wrong. The biggest clanger was the assertion that the Commission in its research could uncover "no instance" where the issue of Independence was determined by means of referendum. Some research, Mr. Editor – which tells you a lot about the scope and the depth of the work which the Commission undertook.

This calls into question not only their objectivity but their credibility when you consider that the entire UBP submission was not only about the need for a referendum, but even went further and actually catalogued for the Commission those countries which had decided the issue of Independence by way of a referendum.

But there's no sense letting the facts get in the way of an opinion, Mr. Editor, when you are on a mission to convert – and, of course, as we also now know the UBP submission didn't even rate inclusion in the published Appendix. Such was the disdain, it seems, for a submission the Commission didn't want – or didn't want to hear. Or to read either, it seems.

We might understand BIC's apparent disdain for the UBP, Mr. Editor: First, the Opposition UBP didn't agree to put one of their own on the Committee (few lambs ever volunteer for the slaughter) and, secondly, the UBP declined an invitation to make an oral presentation to BIC (we all knew that when BIC wanted an opinion, they gave you one). We cannot, however, excuse BIC's disdain for the facts.

Subtract and Divide

Take another example: in the section entitled "Race" under the heading "The Divide" we get a mention of the polls. Good. The reported polls in Bermuda have been reporting some consistent positions on the issue of Independence. But here's what you find in the Report: "Recent polls indicated that an overwhelming percentage of the White population oppose Independence".

Okay, that's worth noting and worthy of comment too – which the Commission gladly does, to the extent of even quoting one of their own presumably as proof of the truth of what they believe.

What really gets your goat is that this was the only finding on which the Commission elected to report – and the omission of other, equally significant poll results, once again reveals a lot. Those same polls have consistently shown that a majority of Bermudians are against Independence, and that while an overwhelming percentage (80 per cent) of white Bermudians are against, a pretty good majority of black Bermudians (58 per cent) feel the same way.

That majority, which cuts across racial lines, is deliberately ignored. Yet, later in this same Report, we find this poignant lament: "Bermudians have been focused for many years on the issues that separate them, potentially because they have failed to embody successfully that which they share."

Well, excuse me, Mr. Editor, guilty as charged: in reporting on the polls, the Commissioners in their Report chose to focus on that which separate Bermudians and not on those positions which they reportedly share.

The fact of the matter is they couldn't bring themselves to acknowledge in the Report even the existence of this strong majority of black and white Bermudians who have been pretty consistent in their opposition to Independence for Bermuda, not to mention the equally strong majority of white and black Bermudians in favour of a referendum to decide the issue.

Mind you, Mr. Editor, and to be fair, there was one instance in the discussion on Race where there was some attempt to acknowledge a shared position of white and black Bermudians – even if it was in a kind of a back-handed, snippy sort of way.

I quote the passage in full: "There is, however, one fundamental theme that seems to be common to both Blacks and Whites, albeit with some variation. Bermuda has developed into a very materialistic society. (The emphasis is mine).

"Successive governments have tended to define the measure of success of the economy and society in starkly material terms. Consequently, there is little evidence that any real effort has been made to initiate meaningful programmes to truly bridge the manifest racial divide.

"Bermuda, whether Independent or not, will have to ensure that the historical legacy of racism and its effects are addressed. Both Blacks and Whites do, however, share the concern of how Independence will affect them materially.

"It would appear that what will satisfy both Blacks and Whites is the assurance that the constitution of an Independent Bermuda will be one that is strong, inspires confidence and truly attempts to represent the interests of all citizens."

Dollars and sense

Materialistic, huh? But really, Mr. Editor, wasn't that one of the points of the exercise – if not the point for many: what will Independence cost? Can we afford it? What will it bring by way of improvements not just to our way of life but our standard of living, and what might be the risks?

And no one need apologise for engaging in this type of analysis. Most Bermudians, black and white, undertake such analyses every day. Can we afford this holiday? Can we afford to send our child away to school this year? Can we afford to purchase a home? How will we finance them? What can we reasonably expect in terms of expenses and can we make provision should the unexpected (and the worst) occur? What might we have to give up to make it happen?

The approach is not so much materialistic, Mr. Editor, as realistic – and when it comes to dollars and sense, realistic, frankly, is to be preferred in my books. On the price tag, the Commissioners also got it right when they stated in their opening paragraph under "Estimated Costs of Independence": "The final cost of Independence can only be determined when Bermuda has made the decision to go Independent and the Government of the day has made various policy decisions on the scale upon which an Independent Bermuda would conduct its affairs."

True that: BIC can speculate all it likes on estimated costs, giving us a range from a low to a high or, as people have said in the past, depending on whether we travel the route of the Volkswagen or that of the Rolls Royce.

But who is to say what the number of embassies there will be and the size of the missions? Although the good people of Bermuda know how this really works. Governments promise this but deliver that and the expenses rarely go down but up ... and up ... and up ... and ...

The voters have had some very real and recent experiences under the PLP Government to which they can point – and we don't have to look far to see how the millions mount whether it be the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal and the millions of dollars that had to be written off there according to the recent reports of the Auditor General, or the Berkeley construction project where the overspends are in the tens of millions of dollars and still counting.

Not to mention the general funding of the operation of the Government and the style to which the PLP Government has grown accustomed. I take the following three line items from the annual Government budgets over the last seven years to illustrate the point:

Travel: A reported expenditure of $2,055,00.00 in the financial year 1997/1998 compared with an estimated expenditure of $5,138,000.00 for the current financial year 2005/2006 – an increase of $3,083,000.00 or up 150 per cent.

Cabinet Office: From $1,953,000.00 in 1997/1998 to $3,128,000.00 in 2005/2006 – an increase of $1,175,000.00 or up 60 per cent.

Professional Services: From $29,267,000.00 in 1997/1998 to $47,097,000.00 in 2005/2006 – an increase of $17,830,000.00 or up 60 per cent.

You wonder too, about the priorities of a Commission which projects that as much money will be spent on Independence celebrations (from a low of $500,000.00 to a high of $1,000,000.00) as will be spent on the careful and comprehensive work that would necessarily be expected to precede Independence through a constitutional conference and legislative review (the costs of which are estimated to run from a low of $350,000.00 to a high of $1,000,000.00).

Mind you, Mr. Editor, the Progressive Labour Party in their submission took no stab at costs, probable or otherwise.

But that's not so surprising. We must understand that there are those among us who want Independence regardless of the price. For them costs are not an issue.

Posted Sat by Christian S. Dunleavy | Feedback | TrackBack

August 12, 2005

It isn't just the books we need balanced...

Mid Ocean News (12 Aug. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

It isn't just the books we need balanced, it is the exercise of power

EXECUTIVE accountability, Mr. Editor, is no easy thing to achieve. But it’s worth pursuing in my books, if not for ourselves, then for those who follow after us, not to mention those whom we seek to serve. I liked the way in which my colleague Wayne Furbert explained it when he sent up a kind of SOS during one of our many debates in the House on the Hill on one of those many damning reports of the Auditor General: what we need, he said, is a system to help save ourselves from ourselves.

A system, Mr. Editor, of checks and balances – and, no, I don’t mean those kinds of cheques. I mean a system of governance that helps keep a close check on the cheques our Government writes – and to whom, and for how much, and why - and it isn’t just the books we need balanced, it is the exercise of power.

We need two things to make this a reality, assuming there is the political will to move beyond the mere mouthing of the words of “transparency” and “accountability” and “the sunshine of public scrutiny”.

They are: (1) More opportunities in the House on the Hill to do the job, and (2) the election of people who will do the job.
Voters typically decide the latter. But continuing on from where I left off last week, Mr. Editor, I want to share some more of my ideas on the former.

In my view, we need to revise and refine our parliamentary procedures to ensure that there are sufficient, adequate mechanisms in place to enforce the accountability of the executive (read Cabinet) to Parliament. That is the way it is supposed to be – and last week I highlighted one of the long-standing committees of the House on the Hill, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC, man, for short), which was originally established to keep a close eye on Government spending. It requires no major overhaul. It just needs to be beefed up by:

* Increasing the number of members from five to seven;
* Opening meetings to press and public; and
* Giving PAC the power to summon witnesses, including Government Ministers.

Implement these changes and the committee, chaired by the Opposition spokesman for Finance, will soon command attention – and possibly action as well. Remember, Mr. Editor, this is the committee which is supposed to be stimulated into action by the annual and special reports which are made to the Legislature by the Auditor General – and there have been a truckload of the latter in recent times. They have included: Bermuda Housing Corporation (May 2002), Berkeley Institute Senior School Capital Project (October 2002), Stonington Beach Hotel Lease (April 2004), Accountant- General’s Department, Department of Immigration and Government Credit Cards (May 2005).

They didn’t paint a pretty picture either. Hands up then, if you think there have been more questions than answers under the current regime? Now pick up your newspaper and face it - we need to put more bite in the system to make it more effective.

The same complaint may yet be made with respect to the recently-established office of Ombudsman , which is touted as a new and important addition to our current system of checks and balances on Government, which it could be, up to a point, bearing in mind the statutory limitations on the nature and scope of the Ombudsman’s powers of investigation. Cabinet Ministers and Junior Ministers are off limits.

The most critical thing here is that the Ombudsman will operate independently of the Government of the day and report directly to the Legislature – much like the Auditor General. Good stuff. But to my mind the Ombudsman will be that much more effective if there is a standing committee of MPs who can work through her reports and her findings and her recommendations, much like PAC is supposed to do with the work of the Auditor General. Unfortunately, the PLP Government made for no such provision in the legislation which governs the Office of the Ombudsman, which otherwise has the potential to be something progressive.

It’s about time

GREATER accountability and transparency could come from a number of small changes too. Like the adoption of a modern day Question Period, a standard feature today in so many other parliamentary democracies. Here we still have this quaint old requirement that questions be handed in ten days in advance, and the answers reduced to writing if the questions are not taken up in the House on the Hill before eleven o’clock in the morning. I mean what’s up with that, Mr. Editor?

As a result, over the years we have had the sad, sorry and silly spectacle of Government members filiblustering through lengthy Ministerial statements, congrats and obits, so questions won’t have to be answered orally; and, incidentally, down the Hill, in the Chamber we call Upper, speeches of congrats or condolences are the last orders of business on their agenda. Speaking of Ministerial statements, Mr. Editor, I was interested to learn at a recent Regional Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) held here in Bermuda (we played host to members states from the Caribbean, the Americas and the Atlantic) that other jurisdictions not only make provision for a Question Time, but allow members to ask questions of Ministers on issues of the day, including the right to follow-up on matters raised in Ministerial statements. It’s about time we set aside some time to make this happen.

Better in The Bahamas

COMMITTEES need not be where ideas go to die. We also learned at the recent CPA Conference how they can be used effectively. A delegation from The Bahamas led a discussion on the role of parliamentary committees in a parliamentary democracy. They are apparently a staple feature down there --- just as they are in other jurisdictions. Their equivalent of PAC is not just headed by the Opposition spokesman for Finance, it is controlled by the Opposition which is given a majority of members on the committee!

The Bahamian Legislature has also found it useful to employ select committees of members to tackle and report on controversial and difficult issues of the day. For instance, head of the delegation, MP John Carey, a Parliamentary Secretary for Works & Utilities, (apparently even independence did not warrant elevation to the title of Junior Minister), told us that one of the more controversial was a committee established to investigate the lending and mortgage practices of banks in The Bahamas – which has used its investigatory powers to summons bankers and other officials to give testimony.

According to Mr. Carey, the effectiveness of such committees invariably depends on those members who are appointed, but they do at least give ordinary men and women the opportunity to appear and give voice to their concerns as well as a means by which they can become involved in their Parliament.

On the right track

WE in Bermuda are not quite there … yet. From time to time though, we appear to be on the right track. When the House on the Hill went down a couple of weeks ago and rose for the summer, a host of items were held over, some of them, deliberately, for review and comment over the recess. Among the items are: -

* Police and Criminal Evidence Act – all 100-plus pages;
* Parliamentary Election Amendment Act – provision for postal balloting;
* White Paper on Marine Resources in Bermuda;
* The PATI Paper (what forgotten already? Public Access To Information); and
* The Opposition’s Court of Appeal Amendment Act – giving the prosecution the same rights of appeal as the defence.

What we need here at home is a Public Bills Committee which can drive the consultation process and make interaction with Parliament a reality. Where warranted, there could be detailed examination of major and/or controversial legislation and representations invited from members of the public. This committee, comprised of members of both the Opposition and Government - although the latter would obviously have the majority - would have access as well to those who drafted legislation.

Any questions about style, form and substance could be addressed before the Bill reaches the floor of the House on the Hill. We would then see debates where there was disagreement in principle, and where there was agreement there would be co-operation and explanation on the floor of the House (now there’s a change). It wouldn’t necessarily guarantee that every Bill received a thorough airing or thorough examination, but at least the opportunity for that to occur will have been provided.

Cat’s got their tongues

FINALLY, Mr. Editor, what about this: time set aside specifically for Opposition motions? Heresy, you think? But it is done elsewhere. Like the UK, for example, where they actually set aside a day or days for this purpose - and if you don’t believe me you can look it up in Erskine May, the bible of parliamentary practice and procedure. The idea is to give the Opposition a chance to put the Government of the day to the test, presumably on important issues of the day, and in turn the Opposition, the so-called Government in waiting, gets put to the test as well. According to Erskine May : -

“The convention is founded on the recognised position of the Opposition as a potential Government, which guarantees the legitimacy of such an interruption of the normal course of business. For its part, the Government has everything to gain by meeting such a direct challenge to its authority at the earliest possible moment.”

The comment is found in the section headed – wait for it, Mr. Editor -“Censure Motions”. The PLP like to run from those. For instance, we all recall the sorry, sad spectacle when the PLP attempted to prevent the Opposition from even presenting a censure motion on the Minister Who Could Not Be Named – an attempt which the Speaker subsequently quashed.

But if that wasn’t bad enough, when the motion was taken up, deploring the failure of the Minister, Whose Name We Now All Know, to keep his promise to the people of Mary Victoria, Prospect, he and his colleagues moved to vote it down after just two speakers – and the Speaker acquiesced. Some debate.

Once apparently wasn’t enough. A couple of weeks later the PLP cut off debate again – this time on a simple take note motion on Financial Assistance - using their majority to muscle the Speaker and in turn muzzle the Opposition. The Rules provide that the Speaker can resist attempts to shut down debate where it appears that any such motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House “or an infringement of the rights of a minority”.

But, hey, let’s not all beat up on the Speaker. The tradition here in Bermuda is that the Speaker is drawn from the party that wins the Government, and upon his elevation to the chair (we haven’t had a “her”, yet) is meant to renounce and abandon all party allegiance and affiliation, and rule as an independent thinker. I don’t know about you, Mr. Editor, but that seems a bit like expecting Tweety Bird to take control of Sylvester the Cat. In some jurisdictions, they make provision for the appointment of a Speaker from outside the elected Chamber. Such a proposal actually came up for the consideration of the most recent Boundaries Commission, but a majority of the Commission thought the idea was outside the terms of their remit.

Pity that.

But here’s another thought: maybe it ought to be part of the remit of a comprehensive review of parliamentary practices and procedures of Bermuda – and, no, we don’t need independence to make this happen, it is within our power now, helped by a little independent thought.

Time out

Do have a nice summer, Mr. Editor, while I take a little time out.
Any comments or suggestions? It’s jbarritt@ibl.bm.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy | Feedback | TrackBack

August 05, 2005

Is anybody listening?

Mid Ocean News (05 Aug. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Is anybody listening? Parliamentary reform in Bermuda is long overdue

THERE you have it, Mr. Editor, Parliament is down and out now that we have risen for the summer recess – and, yes, that’s right, we won’t be meeting again for another three months. That’s more than enough time to pause and reflect and take stock of the work which we perform in the House on the Hill, which means that it is time to get serious and take up a favourite topic of mine: parliamentary reform. In my books, and you have heard me go on about this before, it’s long overdue.

More next week, Mr. Editor, on what further changes can be made to not only provide for greater accountability and transparency, but for greater participation by both MPs and the people they represent.

I can see how that might be so: Parliament may well be viewed by those outside its chambers as a small, relatively exclusive club of 36 members, with its own language and practices, most of which seem designed to exclude rather than include voters between elections.

Mind you, Mr. Editor, there are a good number of people who follow the debates closely, and while some of them might eschew the clash that comes from confrontation on the Hill from week to week, the fact is they also enjoy the entertainment that political theatre can bring to the local scene. There are only so many shows in town and this one comes to you live on the radio.

Don’t get me wrong either. Debates are important to the political process: parties set out their respective positions and voters get the measure of their MPs from what they have to say (or don’t say) on the issues of the day.

But, in the words of Peggy Lee (for those who remember the song): is that all there is?

To my mind, Mr. Editor, there can be more – and should be more – to working life as a member of the House on the Hill. Allow me connect a few dots and paint the picture why.

The number one reason is the growing power over the years of the executive branch of our system of Government, namely the Cabinet – a trend that started to take root under the UBP, and which has accelerated and strengthened under the PLP during its seven years in power. It’s a trend made possible by governments with handsome majorities (often too handsome for their own good) coupled with an eager to please, compliant caucus of backbenchers, reduced in too many cases to cheerleaders or bumps on the voting log as they jockey and jostle for (higher)(and greater) position within their ranks.

Power is thus concentrated in the 12 who sit around the Cabinet table. Government is run by the Cabinet Office and information rationed out by press conference or Ministerial Statement. Think again, if you think that is a good thing for anybody other than for those who are in power.

We don’t need to search far for examples of how poorly we are served when such power goes unchecked.

The Big Three spring immediately to mind:

* The Berkeley Institute contract from award to today, and continuing, which by last accounts was two years overdue, $50-million over original budget, still subject to arbitration, and still counting.

* The Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal which warranted a two year Police investigation, which included a referral to Scotland Yard, but led to no real charges being laid (the then DPP told us our laws were out of date and needed revision for that to happen), but which did lead to $7-million being written off according to the most recent financial reports of the Auditor General.

* That Loco Coco Reef lease which, according to the Auditor General who reviewed the terms, was extraordinarily deficient, and which on any view saw the Government pretty well give away the shop at the old Stonington Beach Hotel. (Incidentally, we were subsequently promised a review of the lease and a correction of sorts: anybody heard any result yet?)

I could go on, Mr. Editor, and I will - to make the point.
Let’s start with what the Auditor General had to say in his January 2005 report on Government finances for the year ended March 31 2004:

“The number of apparent or alleged frauds and misappropriation that have come to light in recent years in Government entities concerns me greatly. I worry lest it indicates a growing culture of opportunism or dishonesty by some in the public service”.

That’s some indictment, Mr Editor. The Auditor General then went on to add to my list the following further items: a misappropriation of $160,000.00 from the Government Employees Health Fund by a claims assessor; the $1.9 million allegedly stolen by an officer of the Accountant General’s Department; and a police investigation into $3.6 million gone missing at the Department of Immigration.

On top of that, we then had the Pay for Play scandal and the unanswered questions which continue to surround the management of Government pension funds and which prompted the Ministry of Finance to commission an independent review (of sorts) of practices and procedures.

You are forgiven for wondering just what will turn up next.

In my view, sadly, the wrong culture is taking root. The most recent example comes from the most recent Special Report of the Auditor General dated May 2005 in which he highlighted the continued abuse of credit cards by Government Ministers and senior civil servants, especially when used for the purposes of travel. Some may not think that a big deal, but is when you consider how much the Government sets aside for travel each year: As a line item in the annual Government estimates the travel budget has grown steadily over the years, from an actual $3.68 million in 2002/2003 to a projected $5.138 million for the current financial year, up $422,000.00 from the year before.

Beefing up PAC, man

OKAY then, so what’s this got to do with parliamentary reform? A lot, Mr Editor. Now I appreciate that the usual (and most effective) solution in any parliamentary democracy is to throw the Government out at the next election – and here I confess:

I am strong proponent of the throw them out solution (and no recent convert at that either). But in the meantime how about a few checks and balances in between elections to help keep the spenders in line?

Let me illustrate: Each year we debate the Budget estimates and set aside some 42 hours over two weeks, to give the annual expected expenditure of the Government supposedly close examination.

Close? Hardly.

It usually turns out to be a scripted and predictable pas de deux between Minister and Opposition Shadow which is anything other than a debate, let alone any close examination, as the Minister typically reads from a very long brief prepared by the swivel servants and the Shadow tries to hit what high points he or she can in reply. It’s rare that any other member even gets a look in – and if there are questions, they typically go unanswered.

What we need to do is strengthen a standing committee of the House which was established some many years ago to keep an eye on Government expenditure - namely the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). It’s a five-man committee, comprised of three from the Government backbench and two from the Opposition, but headed by the Opposition spokesman for Finance.

It has not been doing the job it should. It hasn’t been able to.

We learned recently that the committee has been thwarted in its work from time to time by the failure to obtain a quorum. The members recommended in their most recent report to the House of July 2004 that membership be increased to seven.

When they do meet, they meet in camera – that fancy way of saying out of camera range, i.e. behind closed doors.

This is a practice that is woefully out of step with what is done in other more modern, parliamentary jurisdictions: there they are open to the press and public and have the power to summons civil servants and Ministers to explain and to defend, where necessary, any Government decisions, contracts, practices or policies that might come under scrutiny.

I appreciate that they won’t necessarily catch everything. That’s not the point. The important thing here is that those in Government know that they may be called upon to account for any decision they make and every dollar they spend. This then gives a vigilant Opposition an important role to play, presuming that they are up to the job and a government in waiting – and, Mr. Editor, here’s the kicker, in some jurisdictions, these committees are not just headed by the Opposition spokesman for Finance but controlled by the Opposition who are given the majority of members.

Meanwhile, I understand that Bermuda’s PAC is apparently unanimous in its support that its meetings be opened to the public and the press. The committee said in its July 2004 report that information was being sought from other jurisdictions with open meetings to determine conduct and protocol “to ensure appropriate protection for individuals”. That was a year ago.

But this is not rocket science. What we need is the political will to get on with the job.

A beefed-up PAC with open meetings was one of a number of reforms recommended in a report to the House some years ago, and re-submitted for re-consideration again this past session by the Opposition UBP, only to be referred (yet again) to the Rules and Privileges Committee, a committee which is headed by the Speaker of the House but on which the PLP Government has a majority, where both the report and the idea of reform has languished and expired once again. If memory serves, I think the committee met but once this year.

Pity that, Mr. Editor. We have a party in power that calls itself progressive and wants to modernise Bermuda through independence, but comes up short when there already exists the opportunity to do away the old and the out-dated when it comes to the way in which we conduct the country’s business in the Legislature.

The wheel deal

PERHAPS we ought not be surprised, Mr. Editor, by the PLP’s position on parliamentary reform. It isn’t just that this is an idea which is promoted by the Opposition UBP, although I’m sure there’s some of that, but the fact of the matter is that those with power rarely give power up, much less share.

The push for change is going to have to come from those outside Parliament, from those who want to see the sort of change to our Westminster system of governance that will actually lead to greater accountability and greater transparency, not only in theory but in practice

It will not mean that we need re-invent the wheel. It will mean the adoption of modern practices and procedures that are employed successfully elsewhere – whether to the north of us, to the south of us, to the west or to the east – and the creation of parliamentary vehicles to see whether or not Bermuda’s parliamentarians work better when required to roll up their sleeves and work together in the Legislature.

But frankly, Mr. Editor, it’s also an issue that seems to spark little interest outside and inside the House on the Hill. If only there was some way to sex the subject up to make it at least more interesting to the people whom Parliament is meant to serve.

But, wait a minute, perhaps people aren’t the least bit interested in reform because they are not the least bit interested in what goes on from week to week in the House on the Hill. Like one of my colleagues often says about Parliament, it’s irrelevant to most people.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy | Feedback | TrackBack

July 27, 2005

Maybe Reagan had it right . . .

Mid Ocean News (27 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Maybe Reagan had it right . . . politics is more show business than it is the people's business

SO it was Mr. Editor, that the House on the Hill went down for the summer on Friday, not so much with a bang as with a whimper (not counting the closing clash of the motion to adjourn).

But all in all, it was anything but the End which late Ronald Reagan would have recommended. The actor turned politician was convinced that politics was a lot like show business. Keep the plot simple, he recommended, start off slow and end with a really Big Finish.

But give the Government their due. They at least tried. Their Man In Charge led the charge when he began the last day’s proceedings by reading not one, not two, not three, but four prepared statements that took him just under an hour to get through. They were clearly designed to impress us all, not so much by their length, although there was that, but by their contents.

For those who do pay attention on the Hill, it was déjà vu all over again. The same format was employed last year when we broke for the summer at the conclusion of Year One of the Reign of William Alexander the Great and Not So Great Scott - depending of course on your point of view, Mr. Editor, although to Renee He is simply to be known as The Man.

Three of the statements were updates:

* BIC – you remember BIC don’t you Mr. Editor? – is now expected to have its report ready by the end of month. It had initially been expected at the beginning. But this is no surprise to The Man In Charge who obviously has an inside track. MIC is able to tell us that BIC has “not only met, but exceeded its mandate”. Exceeded, huh? Well, we’ll all have to just wait and see exactly what has been exceeded when the report is finally published. We can expect it in August says the Premier after the Cabinet has had chance to study it first. Study or spin, Mr. Editor, or both?

* Absentee balloting: now this was promised in the Throne Speech which started the session and dates back some three years now when, before the last election, the UBP tried to get the ball rolling with a report and recommendations from a small group of interested students. The PLP said they were setting up a swivel service committee to review the options and, thank you very much, we’ll get back to you. Finally, we now have a draft Bill to review. Explained the Premier in his statement:“we have carefully and painstakingly developed the policy proposals and the legislation that will give life to this important initiative.”

I feel their pain, Mr Editor, although a cursory review seems to suggest that the PLP is not proposing to extend postal balloting to all voters who are unable to vote in either the advance poll or on election day, just to those who qualify by virtue of either study or work abroad or illness.

* The PATI project : Don’t you just love the acronyms, Mr. Editor, that get trotted out regularly to keep us informed? This one is short for Public Access to Information ( from the Government) and to this end the Premier tabled a very attractive Discussion Paper for review over the summer - the HANDI-work of the Central Policy Unit out of the CABI-net Office. Presumably, we will take it up when members return to the Hill in the Fall. It’s early days yet and the document is 50 pages long, Mr. Editor, but I did rather enjoy the Section on Contracts which reads in part:

“Where funding for goods and services come form the public purse, the community has an interest in ensuring that public monies are spent wisely. Therefore, it could be argued that those businesses that successfully obtain work from the Government should be subject to a higher level of scrutiny than those who do not. This is necessary in order to uphold the Government’s mandate to obtain value for money when purchasing goods and services. This principle is fundamental to maintaining effective and accountable government.

“Allowing increased access to information surrounding government contracts promotes integrity in the bidding and purchasing process. It allows the public to know that the services purchased are delivered in a timely and effective manner, and that both government and businesses are following existing polices and procedures.”

No kidding: We need freedom of information to make that happen?
I bet like me, Mr. Editor, three words immediately came to mind: Bermuda Housing Corporation. Okay, maybe two others, Coco Reef. Okay, okay, one more: Berkeley.. We get the picture. Don’t we?

The fourth and final statement was a kind of Throne Speech In Reverse – and the longest too of the lot, a sort of re-cap of the past session, in the Premier’s words (or more accurately some 3,698 words written for him) of the PLP’s laundry list of accomplishment over the past session. Modesty does not prevent them from singing their own praises – and so forgive me, Mr. Editor, but I can say without fear of contradiction that we have heard it all before.

Ask and ye might receive

WHAT they don’t tell you, Mr. Editor, is what they don’t want you to hear – and we all understand that game. That’s why Parliamentary Questions can some times be an useful tool – even if they do have to be submitted ten whole days in advance. That was how we learned just how much Government Ministers and their travelling parties spent over the previous 12 months on travel: $400,000.00. I expect that wasn’t the headline the Premier’s script-writers were looking for the day after all his statements inside and outside the House on the Hill.

Frankly, Mr. Editor, neither was I. But it happens.

Imagine for a moment then, what it would be like if there actually was a Question Period (like there is most modern parliamentary jurisdictions) and members could actually follow-up Ministerial statements with questions which Ministers would have to answer.

But it isn’t likely to happen any time soon. Parliamentary reform remains a very low priority. The Rules and Privileges Committee, on which Government has the majority of members, which is chaired by the Speaker, and which has oversight of the matter, met but once this year. That, I think, tells the story – but that’s another story perhaps for another time, Mr. Editor?

You had to be there

SAY where was the Opposition then before the motion to adjourn? Good question, Mr. Editor. Certainly not in our seats when we needed to be – and thus the House ended earlier, much earlier, than was expected. Public Safety Minister Randy Horton was concluding debate on the Police Complaints Authority Amendment Act.

We had been spared the 100-plus page Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) and two related pieces of legislation which won’t now be taken up until November, but for what reason or reasons the AG is not telling us – at least not yet. The Police Complaints Authority Amendment Act was one of two items Government said that it did want to take up.

The second was a take note motion on the two most recent reports from the Authority itself– which was to follow debate on the amendments. But the Opposition benches were light (empty in all the wrong places) and, as we all know, only too well, Government doesn’t have to do what it says it is going to do. Minister Horton was overheard to say “I’m tired” - and carried over his motion. What this also meant was that the Opposition was about to be caught short. This was one of those times, Mr. Editor, when you had to be there, in your seat, if you had a motion in your name. But the four of us who needed to be there, were not.

You might say it was a clever move by an alert Government. Let’s face it: Opposition motions are not brought to make the Government look good.

There was one on the deterioration of life in the quality of life under the PLP, another calling for a national sports agenda to enhance support for all sport in Bermuda and a third to take a critical look at the Public Accounts. The fourth was the Bill in the name of yours truly to give the prosecution the same right of appeal as the defence - one of the more controversial issues touched upon by the Serious Crimes Commission and then the more recent Justice System Review, but not yet acted upon. Pity that. Not that the amendment was going to receive Government support; in fact, all indications were to the contrary. Now we’ll have to wait (and see) until the next Session when the Bill can be re-introduced.

But it does make you wonder, Mr. Editor, from time to time, about the efficacy of parliamentary procedure and practice on the House on the Hill. I mean it was only a few weeks ago that parliamentary muscle through numbers was used by the PLP Government to muzzle debate: first with the Mary Victoria, Prospect motion to censure a Minister Who Was Not To Be Named, and secondly on a simple take note motion on financial assistance regulations by Mrs. Louise Jackson.

Cabinet Minister Dale Butler complained that the UBP was coming on strong, too strong, on the motion to adjourn because, he boldly declared, the PLP “was ahead on points”. If only governance were just a game measured by points, but it isn’t. There again, maybe Ronnie Reagan had it right: politics is more show business than it is the people’s business and strategies do succeed over substance.

So where does that leave us, Mr. Editor? On holiday from the House on the Hill, for now, until the 4th of November, the date which the Premier has set for our return.

The 5th of November might well have been more explosive, but it’s a Saturday this year and the tradition around here is that we meet on a Friday, whether short or long.

Posted Wed by Christian S. Dunleavy | Feedback | TrackBack

July 22, 2005

The power game goes on ... with another PLP blackout on criticism

Mid Ocean News (22 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

PLEASE, Mr. Editor, let’s have no suggestions about turning off the power for the House on the Hill on a regular basis but the fact of the matter is that things went pretty well when we had to make up for the loss of Friday on Monday and did what was originally meant to be two day’s work in one.

It did mean that we didn’t get home until after eleven o’clock at night – for those members who stayed until the end and not all do, Mr. Editor – but the day’s work saw the passage of six pieces of legislation and debate on one Opposition motion (which was curtailed again), and this after the usual assortment of Ministerial statements (three of them, all of them on the BelCo blackout), some congrats and obits (the Fire Service and BelCo featured prominently, but for congratulations not condolences), all of which was roundly capped by a skirmish on the motion to adjourn.

I don’t expect that it was any kind of record, but the pace definitely picked up and makes a summer exit before Cup Match a distinct possibility. I couldn’t say the Chamber was electric either, but I can confirm that the air conditioning was working – and that helped.
The first sign of any political heat was generated about mid-day when Health Minister Patrice Minors took us through a Bill which brings an end to the National Drug Commission.

It’s going to be lights out for the NDC as a quasi- independent statutory body in the war against drugs. With the repeal of the National Drug Commission Act, it will become just another non-statutory advisory body within the Department of Health within the Ministry of Health and Social Services. Like the Road Safety Council or the Water Safety Council or the Air Advisory Board or the Trucks Advisory Committee within the Ministry of Transport, explained the Minister, as she sought to re-assure members, in the face of fierce criticism of the move by the Opposition, that the work of the NDC would not be stymied.

We were told the move was part of a holistic approach. That word again, last uttered by the Member Who Could Not Be Named to describe the PLP approach to Bermuda’s housing crisis. Hole-istic is more like it – an approach with holes in it. Minister Minors took offence and thought that we were making light of a serious matter. She explained that in her dictionary holistic meant treating the whole person and not just the symptoms of the disease and that the co-ordination of treatment will be improved through integration into the health system of Bermuda.

Shadow Health and Services Minister Michael Dunkley wasn’t too impressed with the argument. He pointed to the recent study - Untangling Bermuda’s Quangos – commissioned by the PLP, and headed by former Cabinet Minister Renee Webb (her again), which catalogued the demise of the NDC under the PLP but recommended the NDC be strengthened as an independent body, not collapsed into the Ministry.

As far as Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons was concerned the debate was akin to the last rites for the NDC. This is a burial, he said of the Bill. The NDC had barely been alive, on life support, under the PLP. Colleague Cole Simons further lamented the demise of the NDC as a quasi-independent body as it had originally been deliberately designed to develop outside the clutches of the Government of the day as a bi-partisan, community-oriented, community-driven instrument in the war against drugs.

War? What war, Mr. Editor?

What about a Plan even?

Shadow Minister Dunkley wanted to know what the Plan now was – assuming there still was one. We had last heard that one was ready back in August 2003. It was, replied the Minister “but we had some challenges with it. We are reviewing it again with the establishment of the Health Council”.

Oh. We are back to wait and see. Let’s hope it’s not another two years before we see the revised Plan.

By the way, there was a vote on the Bill. Government could only muster 13 votes in favour at the time, but it was enough to carry the day. The Opposition only managed ten. Close maybe, but close only counts in horseshoes. Horse shoes, Mr. Editor, horse shoes.

Reeling them in

ON another front, Mr. Editor, the war was stepped up on mules and pushers with amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act later in the day. No vote was required as this move received the full support of the Opposition UBP. Minister Minors was again in charge – this Act falls under her Ministry – as she once again read a well prepared script.

There are going to be some significant jumps in penalties – fines up to a million dollars and imprisonment for life for those caught, and convicted, Mr. Editor, of pushing drugs. For those who chose not to pay the fines, time will get added on at the approximate rate of three years per $300,000.00. No one was claiming this would be a cure – or whether this will even make a dent. As Shadow Public Affairs Minister Maxwell Burgess pointed out so often it’s the small fry who get caught and not the Big Fish, and the small fry never seem to have the money to pay for lawyers let alone fines. But there is provision now for statutory discounts in sentence, from half to three quarters off, when the little guy fingers Mr. Big. Unfortunately, the assistance has to be given when the little guy is charged. Why not also extend a discount after conviction as well, asked Mr. Burgess? After all there is always the very real possibility that there will be a change of mind after conviction on the lonely ride in the wagon to Westgate. A long stretch in the clink and an opportunity for reduction may be just the incentive to suddenly find voice and start singing.

Making them pay

WHO was it that said crime doesn’t pay, Mr. Editor? It certainly costs the taxpayer – and costs dearly. Just how much crime is on the increase around here featured in the debate on amendments to the Criminal Injuries (Compensation) Act introduced by the Man In Charge (which, in this case, actually was the Man aka the Premier). The maximum which can be awarded to victims of crime (who can’t recover from those who perpetrated the crime) will be increased to $100,000.00 from $70,000.00. There were also a couple of other changes designed to help clear up a backlog of some 107 cases still to be decided.

Yikes. Meanwhile, the budget for the Compensation Board has just about doubled in the last two years from an actual expenditure of $356,000 in the year 2002/2003 to a budgeted $675,000 for the current year. Add to that the budgeted funds for legal aid this year - $1,757,000.00 – and you begin to get the picture. The two of them combined account for over a quarter of the Judicial Vote.

So why can’t we find a way to make the perpetrators pay? Shadow Public Affairs Minister Maxwell Burgess wanted to know. The Opposition came up with a couple of suggestions:

- Work programmes at Westgate and discounts in sentence for those actually pay the funds back out of their own pocket; or

- Payment by instalment following their release (“and catch them when they show up down at TCD to register a car or at the airport when they go to take a trip”, said Mr. Burgess).

The point was clear. Any award for a crime should follow the perpetrator like a ball and chain for the rest of his life – or at least until the sum is repaid.

Take note of this

ANY goodwill that may have built up during the day disappeared at night when the Government moved once again to kill debate on an Opposition motion. This time it was Louise Jackson who felt the brunt of PLP muscle in the House on the Hill. The advocate for seniors had a motion down to “take note” of Government’s amendments of 2004 to the Financial Assistance Regulations. Ironically, it was the same motion which the Minister Patrice Minors had put down on the Order Paper for three months but had never taken up. Leave it to Louise to bring it back on: the Opposition MP wanted to once again highlight the shortcomings of the both the amended regulations and the Government in helping single mothers, seniors and the homeless.

We were three speakers into the debate – Mrs. Jackson, Minister Minors and Shadow Housing Minister Wayne Furbert – when Government Whip Ottiwell Simmons waded in and moved that the debate be brought to an end and put to a vote.

A vote?

This was a take note motion and there is never a vote on a take note motion.

Nevertheless, the Speaker acquiesced and directed that “the question” be put. For those who were puzzled, the Speaker pointed to Rule 27 which reads in part:

“After a question has been proposed, a Member rising in his place may claim to move ‘That the question be now put’; and, unless it appears to the Chair that such motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of a minority, the question ‘That the question be now put’ shall be put forthwith, and decided without amendment or debate not withstanding that the mover has no opportunity to make his reply”.

But the question is, what was the question if members were only taking note?

Whatever it was, it was decided in favour of the PLP Government who with their numbers brought yet another debate to a quick end, proving once again that they are in charge inside and outside the House on the Hill.

It was, Mr. Editor, another PLP blackout on criticism … but not the result of any shortage of power. On the contrary, Mr. Editor, on the contrary.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy | Feedback | TrackBack

July 17, 2005

We all agree: Now is the time for action to end machete madness

Mid Ocean News (17 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

TALK was tough last Friday, Mr. Editor, when both sides of the House on the Hill spoke in support of legislation to crackdown on thugs who carry weapons, mostly in gangs. Hard work too, for those members of the House, Mr. Editor, who stuck it out for the eight or so hours it took us to see the Bill through.

The crackdown came in the form of changes to our Criminal Code which was first introduced almost 100 years ago (yes, that’s right, it was originally an Act of the Bermuda Legislature dated 1907), although there have been amendments from time to time down through the years. But this time MPs were being asked to approve a mixed bag of changes, 47 pages worth, ranging from revision of our counterfeiting laws, to the wholesale incorporation of provisions of the UK Theft Act, to the offence of aggravated vehicle taking. The amendments also included that very simple change which will allow jury trials to continue where jurors fall ill or are discharged providing the number of jurors doesn’t dip below ten, in number. But the provisions which pre-occupied members and took front and centre in the debate were those which were aimed at stamping out machete madness.

From the outset, there was broad agreement that something has to be done.

The Minister responsible (for the Bill, Mr. Editor), Randy Horton, led the charge for the PLP Government.

“This legislation is among the most severe this Government has passed into law”, the Minister for Public Safety told us.

“I expect every person who is thinking about carrying a weapon to stop and think about what they are doing and I appeal to every mother and father to warn their children and counsel them not to do so.”

The penalties are pretty stiff. We learned for the first time on the Friday that the PLP were now proposing to amend the amendments, there and then, on the floor of the House and to increase the penalties to mandatory imprisonment starting at a minimum of three years upon a conviction in Magistrates Court.

That fateful cruise must have been the last straw for the PLP Cabinet.

“Now is not the time for woolly, fuzzy platitudes”, said Finance Minister Paula Cox, herself an attorney, who also served for a time as the Minister for Public Safety and as Attorney General. Ms. Cox declared unwavering support for the Bill in what turned out to be one of the shortest but clearer speeches of the day.

“Now is not the time to look back at yesteryear and what was”, she said. “Now is the time for action”.

“And now is not the time to bemoan what’s going on in the community”, Ms. Cox continued. “ Now is the time for action and we are prepared to do what is necessary”.
Short and sweet for some, Mr. Editor, not so sweet for others. Maybe.

Shadow Minister for Justice, Trevor Moniz of the UBP, welcomed the new pitch and said so when he followed Ms. Cox in the debate.

“I am glad to hear those fighting words”, said Mr. Moniz. “I am glad to see that the PLP is finally trying to come to terms with what is happening in our community and the increased lawlessness. It looks like they are trying to wake up.”

But he also pointed out that increased penalties were but “one piece of the puzzle”. Laws only work if there is the will to make them work and the PLP has still to demonstrate that it has the will by backing the Bermuda Police and giving them the resources they need to get on with the job, both in terms of manpower and improved facilities. Jurors also need to start doing their job, and not shy away from convictions, challenging as that task may be, and here Mr. Moniz recommended a public education campaign to help Bermudians understand the duties which they may be called upon to perform as jurors.

There has to be follow through too, by the PLP, he continued, for a crackdown on crime to work.

“Today you are sending the correct signal”, said Mr. Moniz, “but in the past there have been too many mixed signals, and that’s been the problem. You can’t be strong on crime on one Friday and then soft on crime on another Friday.”
And that, Mr. Editor, was as tough as the talk got as the PLP Government found support from the benches of the Opposition UBP.

Sort of.

No bull in a hurry

CLOSE examination of the Bill in the House on the Hill also revealed a number of defects. Some were spotted by the Government after they had tabled the legislation – and so on the day, at the urging of the Opposition, and with our support, the PLP for example did away with the archaic distinction between breaking and entering in the day and at night. The penalty used to be less severe for breaking and entering a person’s home the day. Now they will be treated the same – as they should be.

And there were others, Mr. Editor, far more serious, some of which go to the very severity of the new offences and penalties for carrying offences in a public place.

A couple of examples here may help : –

It isn’t an offence to carry a folding pocket knife if “the cutting edge of the blade” is less than three inches. Why the exception? Tough luck too, if you fail to measure or measure properly and you’re out by a half inch.

It is however, a defence if anyone carrying an “article which has a blade or is sharply pointed” has it in public for “good reason” or with “lawful authority.” A couple of statutory defences of what constitutes good reason or lawful authority are set out: for use at work, for use at organised sporting events, for religious reasons, or as part of any national costume. But as Opposition Leader Dr Grant Gibbons wondered: what about the scuba diver who uses a knife? Or the casual fisherman? Are they covered. Shouldn’t they be - expressly?

Concern for any apparent deficiencies was heightened by the decision of the PLP Government to amend the amendments and subject offenders to minimum mandatory imprisonment, starting at three years in Magistrates Court, five years minimum in the Supreme Court.

There was a constitutional point here too, taken by Mr. Moniz. In one part, the Bill didn’t allow for an accused to elect a trial by jury in the Supreme Court in a case where he or she was facing certain imprisonment upon conviction. An immediate correction was proferred by the Attorney General, who doesn’t sit in the House on the Hill, but attended the debate and assisted Minister Horton as he struggled to provide answers to legal questions.

This is no criticism, Mr. Editor, just a fact: Mr. Horton is no lawyer. The Attorney General is and he has agreed to review the points which were raised and, in some instances, make the necessary corrections before the Bill goes down the Hill to his place of political abode a.k.a. the Senate.

That’s all very well, and it is the correct thing to do – and I commend the Attorney General for it. But it does leave you wondering. As former colleague C.V. Jim Woolridge was found of saying: “No bull in a hurry ever made a calf”. That is the voice not just of summer, but of experience, Mr. Editor. No bull.

Piling it on

HEAVEN knows how long it will take us to get through the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) Act, Mr. Editor, which is three times the size of those amendments to the Criminal Code? I keep saying there must be a better way – and there is. We need a Public Bills Committee made up of members from each side who get to review the legislation with the draftsmen before it gets taken up on the floor of the House. At least this way the representatives from each party will have an understanding of what is proposed and intended, and an opportunity to inquire and make suggestions. There is no reason either why the meetings couldn’t be open to the public and to the press to increase their understanding as well – and, who knows, to make suggestions as well?

Small is right. Very small.

Even then, Mr. Editor, it may still be a squeeze and the tired, worn scrutiny that comes from late night, all-night, early morning sessions is looking more and more like a distinct possibility.

You can’t say that again

WHAT looked like it might have been a late night last Friday, wasn’t, Mr. Editor, when the Speaker put an early end to debate on an Opposition motion. It was that same motion which stirred up controversy on the Hill when Government moved to block even its introduction: the motion of censure on the Minister responsible for Housing, Who Was Not Supposed To Be Named, who had promised but failed to consult with Prospect area residents on plans to build more homes in their neighbourhood.

This time we were able to set out the case – without objection. Not surprisingly the Minister Who Could Not Be Named was the first to respond in defence of himself.

He did not concede that he had failed to keep a promise to consult which he first made on the floor of the House and then by way of letter to each of the residents. But he did apologise if had miscommunicated or offended anyone.

If that wasn’t enough, that would have to be enough, because the Minister then moved that the motion be put to a vote, and that is whether or not the House should deplore his failure to keep his promise to the Prospect residents. The result was always going to be a foregone and a forlorn conclusion. The PLP had their numbers in place.

But the Speaker of the House does have a discretion under the Rules, Mr. Editor, not to permit a matter to be put to an early vote where it appears “… that such motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of a minority”.

There were other members who wanted to speak (Opposition only, mind you) and an appeal was made to the Speaker to exercise his discretion by allowing the debate to continue. At least for a further while.

But the appeal was lost and so was the vote. Once again, Mr. Editor, the Government had its way and the Opposition very little say - and I suppose like the residents at Prospect, we are expected to be grateful for small mercies.

Meanwhile, the same old same old continues, with the piling on of legislation as we head to the summer recess. It is already looking like we will need at least one extra session between now and the 22nd if we want to finish up on the Friday before Cup Match.

Posted Sun by Christian S. Dunleavy | Feedback | TrackBack

July 08, 2005

Special GPS sitting? All's fare in politics!

Mid Ocean News (15 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

TWO sittings in four days, Mr. Editor, Government sure was in a hurry. To catch a cab? Not really. To catch up? Again, no, not really.

For my money – the usual two cents' worth – the special sitting on Monday was simply to get GPS by the House on the Hill, by the taxi drivers and by the community, and to keep the Opposition and the fuss to a minimum, demonstrating yet again that all's fare in politics.
I mean we all understand that this was the third time around for this Bill but to spring a surprise sitting for its passage? Now that's extraordinary. We in the Opposition were not told there was going to be a sitting on Monday until the Thursday morning, a mere four days before.

Third time lucky then? Luck had nothing to do with it. This was by design. Numbers were bound to be down. Members are part-timers and have other job commitments. A Monday sitting on four days' notice is most unusual. The Government made but one concession: we started at two o'clock in the afternoon rather then the usual 10 a.m. This was no shared ride, Mr. Editor. It was never intended to be.

Only the Minister himself spoke for the Progressive Labour Party Government in support of the Global Positioning System Bill, along with the one backbencher, George Scott, who has an interest in a firm which is intending to supply the product.

The rest were silent; not that the rest of the PLP were out in numbers either. Some of the more notable players who were missing from this act of a familiar play, included: The Premier, who was down in the Caribbean (ironically talking about the war on drugs while one of his Ministers was tabling legislation doing away with the National Drug Commission). His absence meant that this was Dr. Brown's day to shine as The Man Who Would Be The Man.

Ottiwell Simmons, the PLP Whip, who actually spoke out the last time around, and refused to support the Bill.

Renée Webb, who has not just been demonstrating of late that she has a mind of her own, but a mouth which gives voice to what's on her mind.
The Opposition tried, but we too, were down on numbers, and the one vote which was held, told the whole story, 14 to 11, in Government's favour.

But perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all was that the House on the Hill was called to a special meeting not because of what happened over the weekend and what needs to be done in response, but rather to muscle Bermuda's taxi drivers by making GPS mandatory.

That, Mr. Editor, says it all.

Bail out Bermuda

SOME of the heavy legislative lifting which MPs are facing as we head for the summer recess began last Friday with the Bail Act – a modest Bill of some 23 pages when compared with the 100-plus pages of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) which should be tabled some time in the coming weeks before Cup Match.

As it was, Mr. Editor, it took some three or four hours for the Bill to wind its way through the House on the Hill, and this notwithstanding the fact that Government and Opposition had apparently selected a handful of members to carry the debate and expedite passage. It may have been agreed, but the hard work still had to be done: a clause by clause examination to make sure all is in order.

Tedious? Sure, Mr. Editor. But someone has to do it. Mistakes are very often spotted and amendments made – some of them by the Opposition, and some of them, I am pleased to report, are occasionally adopted. Glamorous, it ain't. But it can be illuminating, entertaining too – for those who bear to listen.

One initial, contentious issue was whether or not the Bail Act itself constituted major criminal justice reform – or any reform at all for that matter. The Minister responsible, Randy Horton, touted the Bill as part of the reform package which Government will be bringing to the House on the Hill in the coming weeks to help improve the delivery of criminal justice in Bermuda.

On the other hand, in his own words, the Bail Act was "a compendium" pulling together various bits of legislation and/or otherwise putting into statute form what is current practice and procedure in the courts. In short, nothing really that new. "A house cleaning effort," agreed former policeman, now PLP MP Wayne Perinchief, who shared Opposition concerns about the effectiveness of bail if the machinery and men are not in place to ensure and enforce compliance by offenders.

Let's face it, Mr Editor, what the law-abiding members of this community are looking for is peace and security and real, meaningful reform that gives them some assurance that this is what their legislators are working on: Like electronic monitoring of ankle bracelets to facilitate and assure the effectiveness of house arrest and protection orders and curfews. There's some meaningful GPS for you.

Soon come, said the Minister: "We're looking at it."

Looking where? Here, apparently. "We are looking for volunteers," Mr Horton told the House on the Hill. "Anybody up here interested?" he joked.

I am pleased to say that there were one or two volunteers – who shall remain nameless for now. "The honourable members might be into bondage," interpolated a surprised Mr. Perinchief.

It's funny, Mr. Editor, what you do learn in these lighter moments of debate. Shadow spokesman for Public Safety Maxwell Burgess had suggested that Justices of the Peace be employed to lighten the load of magistrates who might not be available to the police when needed on weekends and/or at unsociable hours of the day. The Minister in reply wasn't sure JPs would be any different than magistrates on making themselves available in the wee hours of the morning.

"I don't know," said Mr. Burgess, "you might be surprised who you see coming out of some establishments at the hour of the day."

"Mr. Speaker," retorted Mr. Horton as he struggled with the suggestion. "I don't know anything about anything after midnight."

"Sounds sensible to me," interjected the Speaker – and we moved on.

The information CURE

HOUSEKEEPING was how the PLP Government characterised the next piece of legislation, amendments to the Commission for Unity and Racial Equality Act. It had only been tabled the week before, but the Minister wanted to take the Bill up along with an outstanding take note motion of his on the 2003 annual report of CURE.

They certainly helped fill the day, Mr. Editor, and I suppose we in the Opposition should thank our lucky stars it was the CURE amendments the PLP elected to ram through on just one day's notice rather than the GPS Bill. They had both been tabled at the same time.

The amendments were doing away with those forms which were introduced back in 2000 for completion by employers and employees. Remember them: Black or white or Asian or black & white or black & other or just other?

CURE will now be looking to the Chief Statistician to collect the information for them and if that isn't sufficient CURE can then go directly to employers for such information "about employees and applicants for employment as the Commission may reasonably require to discharge its functions under this Act".

One of the other amendments was to ease the requirements for a quorum – which will now be 50 per cent plus one of the Commissioners serving at the time. Apparently, we were told, the Government is finding it difficult to find members who will serve. Let's hope they don't compound the problem, Mr. Editor, by insisting that meetings be called on short notice.

The lip in lip service

YOU know how fond I am of Ministerial Statements, Mr. Editor, lengthy reads that kill a lot of time, fill up the House Journals, and are not subject to debate or question . . . unless you're willing to hang around until the motion to adjourn and take the issues up (if there are any) hours later.

There were three last week and a couple of points that caught my attention.

Two of them were from Health and Social Services Minister Patrice Minors who seems to prefer to make regular if not weekly contributions by way of statements.

The first was on a new programme "The Just In Time Project" for young offenders.

They have to be at least 16 years old, unemployed and unskilled and there are already 12 participants. The Minister told us that the goal here is to provide these offenders with training opportunities and eventually, hopefully, gainful employment. Listed as one of the horticultural-based courses: "Chain-Saw Maintenance & Operation." Yikes.

But I suppose they are harder to lug around and conceal, Mr. Editor. The second had to do with the Minister's trip to the headquarters of the Pan Atlantic Health Organisation (PAHO) and "an orientation visit" for Ministers of Health from Overseas Territories of the UK. Don't even start on the cost, Mr. Editor, we were told that it was paid for by PAHO.

Minister Minors (pictured right) also said (not surprisingly) that the three-day meeting was most useful. But what was surprising was her conclusion: "My meetings with the Ministers have given me a better understanding of the similarities and differences between the Caribbean Overseas Territories and Bermuda, and I have a better appreciation for where Bermuda is Constitutionally – and where we have to go."

Which is where? The Minister didn't say.

The third statement of the day was from Transpourism Minister Dr. Brown (pictured at top right), who also happened to be standing in for the Man aka Acting Premier for the Day. He was singing the praises of his Ministry – and himself. There had been a number of promotions and appointments of Bermudians and the Doctor could not resist opening with a dig at the Opposition.

"I have often marvelled," he read from his statement, "at the lip service paid by the Opposition to the idea of Bermudianisation during their time in Government and to some extent even now in their present capacity."

Marvel, we should – but at his own Government's track record. The 2004 Economic Review, published by his PLP Government, told the real story.
The facts of the matter are that jobs held by Bermudians have decreased from 28,717 in 1999 to 27,235 in 2004 (1,372 fewer jobs), while those held by non-Bermudians have risen over the same period from 7,480 in 1999 to 8,980 in 2004 (an increase of 1,500 jobs).

Now that, Mr. Editor, is lip service.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy | Feedback | TrackBack

July 01, 2005

Corruption? Premier joins the attack

Mid Ocean News (01 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Premier joins the attack and tries to dismiss the Opposition with spin

TRUST me, Mr. Editor, I am not making this up: but for the second consecutive week there were two pieces of legislation (agreed), one take note motion (no vote required), a short motion to adjourn, and we were done for another day in the House on the Hill. It was déjà vu all over again, as Yogi once famously said – and just to be clear, Mr. Editor, that’s Mr. Yogi Berra of baseball fame, and not the cartoon bear of TV fame.

Now that said, we still weren’t off the Hill, and out of the House, much before nine in the evening. It wasn’t the legislation that detained us. It was the Opposition’s take note motion on anti-corruption legislation in other jurisdictions and the question of whether there was any benefit to enacting similar legislation in Bermuda. That’s where we had some debate. Sort of. You see only three members from the Government benches spoke, and I bet the first two, who did speak, were wishing the third had not. Renee was at it again, Mr. Editor, speaking out after the dream team for this debate of Scott & Scott (a.k.a. the Premier the Man and his Ministerial namesake, Michael) attempted to open and close the defence for the Government.

It was the Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons who started it all. It was his motion and he spoke first. He had a sample piece of legislation from Jamaica (The Corruption Prevention Act) for members to consider. He described it as “no nonsense legislation” “draconian even” which set some pretty high standards which had to be followed by all public servants in Jamaica.

The Premier, The Number One Scott, in reply saw no need for any such legislation in Bermuda. There was no evidence of any corruption in Bermuda or, as he put it at one stage, “no corruption of any significance”, and again at another stage of his speech “not that rampant”.

The real corruption, the Premier started spinning, was the campaign which the Opposition UBP was waging on the PLP Government.
There was no need for any such legislation, he argued, but by persisting the UBP was seeking to taint people’s thinking to make them think that there was corruption where there wasn’t any.

“It’s dangerous campaign to embark upon”, said the Premier. He said that he was concerned about the danger of putting the country’s good name at risk by debating the subject. His coup de grace: “That’s gutter politics. That’s low, and that’s corrupt”.

Number One Scott got strong support from Scott Number Two. “What is the real rationale for bringing this matter to the highest court of the land?”, asked Minister Michael Scott – rhetorically, of course, because he then proceeded to try and answer his own question.

He pointed to the Criminal Code which already made theft, fraud and corruption criminal offences. There was a Ministerial Code as well on conflicts of interest. There was no need for any new legislation.

This was simply part of a campaign to criticise, undermine and smear the good name of the Government. He wasn’t impressed with the campaign. “I can’t say it’s been master-minded by the Opposition, more like mini-minded”, he joked. Great Scott, you might say, and his Mini-Me.

Meanwhile, my colleagues weren’t having any of it. Period.
Pat Gordon Pamplin said that the Premier’s spinning was impressive –with tongue firmly in cheek, Mr. Editor – and for her it was like watching a ballet student see how many spins she can get in a pirouette, without collapsing from dizziness.

Deputy Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert reminded the PLP of the recent reports of the Auditor General. There was a long dirty laundry list and he quoted from the latest report from the Auditor General dated January 2005 on Government finances: -

“The number of apparent or alleged frauds and misappropriations that have come to light in recent years in Government entities concerns me greatly. I worry lest it indicates a growing culture of opportunism or dishonesty by some in the public service.”

Nobody was naming any names. But Mr. Furbert was clear: “We must act to save ourselves from ourselves”. His colleague David Dodwell underscored the importance of not only debating the subject, but acting on it. “It will send the right message”, he said, “and the right message attracts the right people”.

Trevor Moniz tried another tact. He tried to taunt the PLP members out of their seats. “You’re running scared”, he repeatedly declared - looking and speaking straight across the floor at Deputy Premier Dr. Ewart Brown.

“The Premier is saying that we’re being mischievous”, said Mr. Moniz, “but we didn’t make up the Pay to Play scandal or the mess at the Bermuda Housing Corporation”.

But they wouldn’t budge, to speak, Mr. Editor - except for Renee.
Quite matter of factly, the former Minister rose from the backbenches to tell us that she would welcome any such legislation which would more precisely define what constitutes corruption, and which would address what to date has been too much a matter of perception. “I don’t believe anybody would be opposed”, said Ms. Webb. Oh, really?
You might say Renee made sure the PLP didn’t come out of this debate Scott free.

Backed up

BACK to Yogi Berra, Mr. Editor, and another one of his witticisms: I don’t where we’re going, but I think we’re making good time.

Amendments to two pieces of legislation, Overseas and Exempted Partnership Acts, breezed through, without objection, and with comment only from the Minister Paula Cox and her Shadow Dr. Gibbons. Both of them agreed the changes were a matter of bringing the legislation up-to-date and keeping Bermuda competitive as an international jurisdiction. It was Dr. Gibbons who wondered if we really were making good time. He noted the changes were recommendations arising out of the BIBA Legislative Change Committee Report 2003. However, the Minister did not take too kindly to the criticism, saying that a steady flow of legislation has been finding its way through her Ministry to the floor of the House, but that there was other “domestic legislation” and occasionally the Ministry had to take its turn in the queue. I can only think that the queue must have been backed up, pretty good. It’s not like they have been overworking us with legislation – and the truth is that the day they were the only two pieces eligible for debate and passage.

Joining the queue

BUT like I told you last week, Mr. Editor, all that’s about to change. With four weeks until Cup Match, we are about to go on overload with several pieces of important and lengthy legislation. I told you last week about the long-overdue PACE (118 pages) and Bail Act (23 pages). They have been joined now by other connected and consequential legislation - Criminal Code Amendment (No.2 ) Act (47 pages), Criminal Law (Abolition of Distinction Between Felony and Misdemeanour) Act and Interpretation Amendment Act . Not to mention the re-introduction of the controversial GPS Bill and further amendments to the Commission For Unity and Racial Equality Act to give the CURE more powers to obtain more information from employers. It’s starting to look like long days and nights ahead as members will be asked to push all of this (and maybe more, depending on the length of that queue) before we break for a summer recess. It’s a shame really, that we end up having to do important business, the country’s business, this way – and with what? A total of four lawyers in the House? Good luck, people.

Quick witted

SERIOUSLY though, you also need a sense of humour to survive on the Hill and a quick wit can keep you going that much longer. Three of the best from last week: -

The Premier was extolling the electronic media on the speed at which they report big news stories (after first criticising the press for the failure to undertake investigative journalism of substance).
Gary Moreno of ZBM would be on the air in a flash with breaking headlines, said the Premier, “with film at five”.

He was reminded that their TV newscasts aren’t shown at five.

“Then six o’clock”, the Man corrected himself.

“Actually Mr. Premier it’s seven and midnight”, came another reminder from the Opposition benches, “but that’s all right you keep watching the news at six.”

****

Renee Webb was on a roll and making a point about the only people, in her view, who seemed to be getting richer under the PLP Government.

“And Mr. Speaker”, she declared, “they are not people who look like me and you”.

“Oh”, commented Mr. Speaker Lowe, but high enough to be heard, “but you and I are not that dark, are we?”

****

The Doctor was in the House when Louise Jackson, standing up for her seniors again, complained about doctors who were now charging the full cost of an office visit and leaving it to seniors to recover payment under the HIP programme from Government.

“Sounds to me like pay to play”, shouted out Dr. Brown – to laughter all around.

I suppose he should know, Mr Editor – as a medical practitioner, of course.

Required reading

TIP of the week: There’s a small new book out which I have been recommending to colleagues that is required reading for listeners of the debates in the House on the Hill.

It’s handy pocket size guide of 67 pages that won’t take you that long to wade through and you will likely find it helpful if not instructive. It’s written by Harry G. Frankfurt -no hot dog he, rather a renowned moral philosopher and a Professor Emeritus of Princeton University no less. The title, Mr. Editor? Well, let’s just say that like the subject itself, you will almost certainly recognise it when you see it.

LAST line to Mr. Berra and a favourite of mine: when you come to a fork in the road take it. Until next week then, Mr. Editor, until next week.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

June 24, 2005

Pensioner Otti hits back ...

Mid Ocean News (24 June 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Pensioner Otti hits back as the Opposition Leader says seniors are taking a beating

HO-HUM, Mr. Editor, just another Friday in the House on the Hill, two small pieces of legislation, both of which were agreed, a take note motion, and we’re done.

That’s not to say there wasn’t any debate. There’s always some, Mr. Editor, and last week it started on the proposed new increases for contributory pensions - benefits up 3.5%, contributions up 4.75% - and ended on the motion to adjourn.

The Minister of Finance and her Shadow got us off to a good start on contributory pensions, and with pensions the spotlight fell once more on Bermuda’s seniors.

The increase is annual, and while Finance Minister Paul Cox said that she didn’t want to make “more of this than it is”, she then went on to describe the increase as yet another indication of what the PLP Government is doing to improve the lot of seniors in Bermuda. Them’s fighting words to MP Louise Jackson, Mr. Editor, who could not be restrained from speaking, ever, on the plight of seniors, and we’ll come to what Mrs. Jackson had to say in a couple of paragraphs.

But first let’s be fair to the Minister of Finance. Ms. Cox did concede the increase wasn’t that great - “miniscule” was a word she used at one stage – but also said that the PLP weren’t just mouthing “empty political rhetoric” (her words, Mr. Editor, not mine) and pointed to the absolute exemption on land tax for seniors, the roll back on stamp duty on death for the primary family homestead (not that they could take it with them), and increase to $1,000.00 worth of prescription drugs free annually under HIP.

Her Shadow, Opposition Leader, Dr. Grant Gibbons, wasn’t too impressed.


The increase of 3.5 per cent was already falling behind the rate of inflation and it was below the rate of increase which Government gave parliamentarians in February when they pegged their increase to the rise the BPSA had obtained for swivel servants under the PLP.

Dr. Gibbons also reminded members of the 13.5 per cent increase in HIP premiums which had been approved during the February Budget debate as well, and the year before that the increase was 11 per cent.

“These increases are three, four times the rate of inflation”, said Dr. Gibbons,” and our seniors are falling behind the eight ball. In fact, they are taking a real beating”.

Such criticism was not taken lightly by the Government.

PLP Whip, Ottiwell Simmons, himself a pensioner, was first to the defence. The Government pension scheme was only intended to be supplementary assistance and he doubted that many seniors – or as many as Dr. Gibbons was suggesting – looked to the pension as their sole source of income.

He speculated that there were more like him, who do not. “I don’t know exactly how many”, he said. “But I know at least one who gives generously to charity [read himself] and you can multiply that by many more seniors”. But Mr. Simmons also conceded: “If I had to live on the pension, I couldn’t.” For those who have to, there’s Financial Assistance.

It was Mrs. Jackson’s turn to be unimpressed. Too many of our seniors are too proud to go cap in hand to Financial Assistance, and too many were looking to the pension as their only source of income. Mrs. Jackson referred to the findings of the recent report, Aging in Bermuda, which suggested that almost half of seniors were living on an annual income of less than $12,000.00 a year.

“I can only cringe”, said Mrs. Jackson when considering the size of this increase. “It is just another body blow to our seniors”.

The squeeze is so bad, Mrs. Jackson reported that some seniors have decided to no longer pay their HIP premiums. It was time to take a fresh approach to the issue and the problem and Mrs. Jackson pledged to continue to “harass and harangue” the PLP Government until something was done for those of “our seniors who suffer in silence” (her words, Mr. Editor, not mine).

Again, the PLP didn’t take a shine to such criticism.

Backbencher and BIU President Derrick Burgess admonished Mrs. Jackson – “the same speech, the same paper, she always gives” – as he sought to remind members of the difference betweens salaries and pensions: “salaries are what you work for”, “a pension is to assist you when you retire”.

The UBP had 30 years and they didn’t get it right, said Mr. Burgess, adding: “We are good, but as good as we are, we are not God”.

It got a little too personal too. Where was Mrs. Jackson’s voice back in the seventies, the BIU President wanted to know, when the unions in Bermuda were pushing for pension?

“We’d loved to have had you then”, he said.

Sure thing, Mr. Editor, but doesn’t it bug them that Louise is making up for it now. You go, girl.

Details, details

ONE of the best lines of the day came during the pensions debate.

Finance Minister Ms. Cox told us an actuarial study done started in 2002 and just recently completed, suggested that the Fund (from which pensions are paid) is in “pretty good shape for years to come”.
Another study is about to begin.

The Minister’s Shadow, Dr. Gibbons, was nonetheless concerned. People were living longer and healthier lives and the fertility rate was declining. There could be a strain on the Fund, maybe not immediately, but in ten or fifteen years time, and in view of the increases which were required by some seniors, the time had come for a major review.
He thought a good place to begin was with the actuarial review which should be made public “so we can get a clearer sense as to the health of the Fund and where it stands now”.

It was a request that was rebuffed by Government Whip – and pensioner - Ottiwell Simmons: “Let’s not be fooled by the details”, he said. Really – and what? Forget them instead?

Not so simple

BELIEVE it or not, a simple amendment to the Bermuda College Act followed which. took all of ten minutes: the Minister (Terry Lister) to introduce, the Shadow (Neville Darrell) to agree, and members in attendance to grunt their approval. Now, Mr Editor, legislative drafting is both a skill and an art, but this amendment was not complicated. Pretty straightforward, in fact. But here’s the rub: the need for the change was highlighted in a report dated October 2003 and a full year and a half later we get the Bill. You wonder.

PACE picks up

BUT things on the Hill are about to pick up, Mr Editor. Finally. Two major and long-awaited pieces of legislation were tabled last Friday: the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE for short) and Bail Act.

They have been a long time in the making and they are no simple read. PACE numbers 108 pages alone and its explanatory memorandum at 27 pages is longer than any legislation which we have seen in a while.

Each will make for tough reading and should warrant close scrutiny by MPs. Here’s how that is supposed to happen: Members are expected to read and understand the Bills over the next two weeks. Precedent is not to take bills up until they have been on the Order Paper for two weeks. On the day they are taken up MPs are expected to go through them clause by clause, after first debating the principle of each Bill. I don’t know about you, Mr. Editor, but I have always thought there must be a better way: like a Public Bills committee comprised of members from each side who would have to roll up their sleeves and scrutinise the Bill with the aid of those who both proposed and drafted the legislation, and who would in turn report their recommendations and their findings to the House for debate. Similar to the work performed by the Private Bills Committee.

And yes, Mr. Editor, the work of each committee should be open to the public – like the House. But that requires some real reform …

No standing Pat

NO way was it going to be an early day notwithstanding agreement on the legislation and a take note motion on women in sport. The Minister responsible Dale Butler spoke for just about an hour and his Shadow Jon Brunson for just under half of that. They were both agreed that more needed to be done to promote women in the male-dominated world of sport. Mr.Butler said his Ministry had drafted an “action plan” drawn from the committee report “Women In Sport”.

He shared with us a copy of the plan dated January 2005. It simply listed all the recommendations with no timelines, and no firm commitments. Meanwhile, no day ends without the motion to adjourn and Pat Gordon-Pamplin led the charge; this time on the new Berkeley Institute and the Government’s repeated failure to stick to budgets and timelines and commitments. It all sounds so familiar, doesn’t it, Mr. Editor?

A four-letter word

Bermuda’s newest Dame received her share of congratulations on her recent appointment.

Finance Minister Paula Cox reminded everyone the new title was just another four-letter word except that this one begins with the letter “d”, although she thought some people might think she was talking about another word.

“What might that be?”, asked one Opposition member out loud. “Diva”, shouted out another.

Sorry, Mr. Editor, but Ms. Cox didn’t actually mention the word which she had in mind. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, I guess.
But leave it to Opposition leader Dr. Grant Gibbons to have the last word on this. He extended his congratulations to Dame Jennifer, adding that in view of “all the flak” which she had taken over her appointment, perhaps she should also be congratulated “for having he courage of hr convictions to accept the award”.

Ouch, Doc – and out, Mr. Editor, for this week.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

June 20, 2005

Motion makes for lively debate to take us to the midnight hour

Mid Ocean News (17 June 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

BRACE yourself, Mr. Editor, I am, because it very much looks like we are in for a long drawn out summer session in the House on the Hill. Legislation is trickling into Parliament at such a slow pace – like molasses going up the Hill, you might say –that as a consequence there is little to keep us occupied from week to week. Last Friday was yet another example. There were two small pieces on bus and ferry fares – which were straightforward and agreed – and we were done with all of the eligible Government business around eleven o’clock in the morning, just about an hour after we started; and that was after Ministerial Statements (3), congrats and obits as well.

I suppose, Mr. Editor, that we could have called it a day there and then and had an early start to the long holiday weekend. But we didn’t, courtesy of the Opposition motion brought on by David Dodwell of the UBP on the need to develop a legislative scheme for economic empowerment.

As it turned out, the emotion which the motion engendered made for a lively debate and kept us there until midnight. The pity was that it was only a take note motion. No vote was required. The draft legislation which Mr. Dodwell had presented could only be discussed: the Rules of the House do not allow the Opposition to introduce Bills which will require the expenditure of Government funds. This Bill – the Economic Empowerment Act 2004 (it was originally introduced last December) – among other things called for:

* The establishment of an Office of Economic Empowerment within the Ministry of Finance (which would cost money); and, perhaps more importantly,

* A commitment by Government to a two-year plan to allocate 20 percent of its annual expenditure on goods and services to small businesses (money again, Mr. Editor, estimated at around $60-million).

But it wasn’t so much what the Bill provided - or didn’t, as the case may be – that got the House hopping, as it was the subject of economic empowerment. There were 15 speakers in all, but only two of them Ministers: Paula Cox from Finance, who went first for the Government, and Michael Scott. But it was the ex-Minister who came between them and who stole the spotlight when she castigated her PLP colleagues for their failure to adopt and implement a systematic plan of economic empowerment for the one group that requires economic empowerment, black Bermudians, or to use her now famous words, “people who look like me”. So give her her due, Mr. Editor, Ms. Webb is proving to be anything but Walk Away Renee following her departure from the Man’s Cabinet.

The juxtaposition of Cox, Webb and Scott (Michael, Mr. Editor, not the Man) was, in a word, exquisite; in fact, Mr. Editor, it was the best face-off of the day, unscripted and unrehearsed though it might have been.

Ms. Cox chose her spot to speak, carefully one presumes. The Government Minister for Finance rose after we heard first from Mr. Dodwell followed by Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons. The two of them had laid out the proposed scheme. “We are a solutions-based Opposition”, said Dr. Gibbons, referring to the Bill itself. “We don’t just want to talk the talk, but do some walking too.”

Suffice it to say that Ms. Cox and her PLP colleagues were not impressed. On the contrary. Speaking first from the Government frontbench, Ms. Cox came out swinging and pulled no punches when she described the Opposition motion, and the Bill, as “political gamesmanship”, “window dressing” and “a trifle patronising and condescending”.

When it came to economic empowerment, Ms Cox continued, the PLP was not in the business of pretending.

“The sub-text to this motion is black empowerment”, she said, “and if that is what is intended then call a spade a spade.”
This turned out to be the sub-text of criticism by all from the PLP who spoke.

The Bill had not specified “black Bermudians”, Mr. Editor, only “certain individuals” and “small businesses”. Mr. Dodwell had explained that the Bill as drafted was intended to black businesses in particular – and everyone knew that, and besides, as he reminded us repeatedly through interpolations, he had said that it was designed to assist those who had been disadvantaged by institutional racism, and that could only be black members of the community. Nevertheless, the wording of the Bill was not to target any one group, and thus exclude any other, but to be there available to any and all small businesses who needed help.

But Ms. Cox insisted the Opposition should have used the word “black” in the draft Bill. “You’ve only muddied the waters and been less than transparent”, she chided Mr. Dodwell and the UBP.

Aside from which, she added, there was already legislation in place to allow for empowerment – she named two: Small Business Development Corporation Act and Human Rights Act – and the PLP Government was getting on with the job.

“Empowerment is wrapped into every programme we as a Government undertake and is a part of the Social Agenda”, declared the only other Government Minister to speak, Scott the Michael.

Unfortunately (for them, Mr. Editor), that’s not what the ex-Minister had to tell us. Her account of the record was different. Much different.

“Not enough has been done”, said Ms. Webb, “and please no more excuses. Black empowerment was why I joined the PLP, and the Opposition then, and it was a given, as far as I was concerned, that it would happen when we became Government. But nothing has happened.”

Ms. Webb too, called for a legislative scheme – like they have in other countries to assist the disadvantaged – and an infrastructure of support to make sure empowerment actually works.

She didn’t think that empowerment had actually worked with Pro-Active at Berkeley, Mr. Editor – not that any of us in the Opposition needed a reminder. Rather it was the PLP Government – and the public – who were reminded of that sorry debacle by UBP members throughout the debate; not to mention what had happened at the Bermuda Housing Corporation; and with the Loco Lease of Stonington Beach to Coco Reef – which incidentally was given away on Ms. Webb’s watch as Tourism Minister.

Where was the scheme then? Inquiring minds in the Opposition wanted to know. What was the scheme and who really benefited? And what about the millions of dollars (and counting) these three fiascos have cost the taxpayer?

It’s a pity there wasn’t a legislative scheme in place then, like the one which the draft Bill was proposing and which requires an annual report to the Legislature of decisions which may be made in the cause of empowerment.

As I say, Mr. Editor, the motion made for lively debate that took us to the midnight hour. But there were moments of agreement too: the one thing on which everyone seemed to agree was that a Parliamentary discussion on the subject of empowerment and race was long overdue and that Mr. Dodwell deserved to take a bow for his first effort.

Drink up

BOUQUETS for some of the more entertaining lines (overheard by me) during the debate by my colleagues, Maxwell Burgess and Wayne Furbert.

Maxwell of silver hammer fame was especially critical of the hopes which the PLP Government had raised and then dashed with what they have done, particularly with Pro-Active.

“Those sweet nothings they whispered at night on the eve of the election”, declared Maxwell, “turn out to be even bigger nothings in the morning.”

He then paused – for a drink of water, which had been just handed to him by a colleague.

“What’s in that water?”, came the shout from the PLP benches across the way.

“Some good old fashioned truth”, shot back Maxwell after his drink, conitnuing on with his criticism.

Wayne Furbert was no less critical. Bermuda had moved on from the way things were 40 years ago. “I’m not interested in the 40 Thieves”, he said, “I’m more interested in what you are going to do for the 60,000 thieves …”. Realising his, er, unfortunate turn of phrase, Mr. Furbert quickly collected himself. His passion was undeterred and he made his point: “Mr Speaker, I am talking about the 60,000 people of Bermuda. We have got to make sure everyone gets a shot. Everyone”.

Watching paint dry

BUT back, Mr Editor, to why we can expect a long-drawn out session. There is very little legislation on the Order Paper, as there has been since we returned at the beginning of May, following a ten week recess. Not to worry. The Attorney General has been telling colleagues in the Senate down the Hill that there is a raft of legislation still to come and we will be sitting to Cup Match. That’s some organisation, Mr. Editor, piling it on at the end.

Meanwhile, we are told that Government has just purchased a new computer system to better track the progress of legislation as it winds it way through the system. Now I’m all for better ideas and systems, but this sounds to me like nothing more than a fancy way of watching paint dry.

The name game

THANK goodness then for Opposition motions even if they are just the take note variety. Still to come are:

* Grant Gibbons’ motion on anti-corruption legislation in other jurisdictions and “the benefits of enacting similar legislation for Bermuda”;

* Wayne Furbert’s on “the deterioration in the quality of life for Bermudians under the Government, especially in the areas of crime, housing and employment”; and

* Jon Brunson’s on “the vital need for a National Sports Agenda to develop a vision and enhance support for sport in Bermuda”.

And now that you ask, Mr. Editor, yes, it’s officially a go for the motion by the Member Who Need Not Named, which deplores the failure of the Member Who Cannot Be Named, to consult with the residents of the Mary Victoria Prospect area over plans for more homes in their neighbourhood. The Speaker allowed the motion to be put on the Order Paper last week – without objection, and, so far, without further incident.

Posted Mon by Christian S. Dunleavy

June 10, 2005

I am one of the world's poorest Premiers says Scott, but just who will make up the salaries review panel?

Mid Ocean News (10 June 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

UGH, Mr. Editor, but agreeing with Government is like, well, working to a scoreless tie and a tie, like they say, is like kissing your sister. At least that’s the way it felt for this Opposition member when we found ourselves in agreement with the PLP Government on the proposed new mechanism for determining members’ salaries.

An amendment to the 1975 Ministers and Members of the Legislature (Salaries and Pensions) Act was the only major piece of legislation down for debate – not that there was much else in the way of Government business for MPs to work on in any event.

The objective here is to establish an independent panel to review salaries and make recommendations by the end of this year. The panel is obliged to take into account:

* the remuneration for legislators in other jurisdictions;
* rates of remuneration for senior civil servants;
* economic considerations; and
* any other factors which the Board considers appropriate.

I expect, Mr. Editor, that you get a sense from this as to what the direction the panel is being asked to explore.
The Man Who Led The Debate, a.k.a. the Man, spelled it out even more clearly for those who were listening.

“Bermuda is described as a wealthy country, if not one of the wealthiest in the world today”, remarked the Premier during his presentation, “but it is headed by one of the poorest Premiers”.
It may have sounded like it, but the Premier didn’t just make the pitch for himself. He invited people to look around the Chamber, i.e. at those seated in the House on the Hill.

“It’s no longer made up of people from the landed gentry who step off a yacht to come to the House”, he commented.

“Today”, he added, “most of them step out of small cars or off Mobylettes”. He didn’t mention Peugeots (automobiles or bikes, take your pick), but we knew he wasn’t talking about those of us who don’t sit around the Cabinet table.

So who are these people who are going to review and decide on appropriate salaries? We don’t know yet, Mr. Editor. The Premier has reserved to himself the power under the Act to make all the appointments. What we do know is that the legislation prescribes the sort of people who are meant to serve:

* A chartered accountant;
* A barrister or retired Judge;
* Two people nominated by the Opposition;
* A retired legislator; and
* Up to the three more people “who are suitable … due to their professional experience of qualifications”.

We can only wait to see who the eight are – assuming the amendment also finds favour with the Upper House down the Hill, a.k.a. the Senate.

Two up

IF it does turn out to be a panel of eight, Mr. Editor, you’d probably like to think any recommendations would – and should - come from a majority of members. It wasn’t going to be that way until the Opposition moved a couple of amendments.

The Amendment Act originally provided that:

* Three members would constitute a quorum; and
* A report of the Board could be signed off by the Chairman and two others (three).

The kissing continued when the Premier agreed with the Opposition without argument to changing the magic number in each case to four.

Two down

BUT it wasn’t all peaches and cream, Mr. Editor. Two other amendments put forward by the Opposition were rejected – with argument and a close vote. The first had to do with a distinction the PLP Government was proposing to make between full-time and part-time Cabinet Ministers. The panel will be required by the statute to recommend “salary scales for full-time and part-time Ministers”. There is no definition of either in the Amendment Act and consequently no one knows – except maybe those in Cabinet – precisely what is proposed or intended. Two classes of Ministers? Not just with different pay but with different obligations?

The answer was just as unclear – and we found support in the Government backbenches when a vote was called, although only one of them had the you-know-whats to cast their lot with the Opposition on a roll call, and She Need Not Be Named. It was lost 14 to 10.

But the party line held on the fourth and final proposed amendment. The amendment Act called for a review every two years by the salary review panel. The Opposition thought once every five years was just about right as that just about coincides with the life of each Parliament, thus ensuring that, to a certain extent, parliamentarians don’t just decide their own salaries but those of the next lot elected or appointed as the case may be.

In the meantime, what people should know, Mr. Editor, is that while the panel will be making salary recommendations, their recommendations do not automatically take effect. There’s been no change to the law which requires salaries to be approved by resolution of both the Lower and Upper Houses.

That’s when the real debate on salaries and salary increases will occur.

That word again

WILL the voters have a say, other than by way of the ballot? Hope so. There’s nothing in the legislation which requires the review panel to seek submissions from the general public, but on the other hand there’s nothing there to prevent it. The new law simply provides that “in the performance of its functions, the Board may inform itself in such manner as it thinks fit”.

Dare I say it, Mr. Editor, but there really is no harm in consultation ... with the people.

A deja view

PERSEVERANCE can some times pay off, Mr. Editor – assuming, of course, that the idea which you are pushing is a good one. My personal support of the independent panel review wasn’t so surprising in view of what I had to say over ten years ago, shortly after my first election to the House on the Hill. My baptism included appointment to a Select Committee of the House to review – yes, you guessed it - parliamentary salaries. It was a committee of seven and there was one majority report and two minority opinions. I penned one of the minority reports with Dame Pamela Gordon. This is what we wrote, in part: -

“One final word on the way in which Parliamentarians decide their salaries. Whilst we appreciate that the buck stops here in Parliament (no pun intended) we do believe that it would be helpful to have an evaluation performed by some recognised, independent body. If nothing else, it will serve to educate both members and the public on not only the work which Parliamentarians perform but the value of that work. We also believe that it will meet the concerns of the public and that is. That not only will fairness have been done, but fairness will have been seen to have been done.”

Now if only we can get the PLP to truly be progressive and see the light on the need for parliamentary reform.

Getting off

TICKLISH though the subject might be, there were some lighter moments during the debate. Premier Scott insisted on telling us what he did the day before the debate on his day off. He made it sound awfully busy – and it included preparation for and attendance at a press conference, with the member responsible for housing, who need not be named anymore, on the meaning of the word “consultation”.
What the Man calls a day off, we regard as just another one of his many off days.

He also went on about the “love hate relationship” that seems to develop with voters.

“One minute they sing sweet hosannas”, remarked the Premier, “and the next minute they want to crucify you”.

“Don’t be discouraged Mr. Premier”, shouted out Neville Darrell from the Opposition benches, “Believe in the Resurrection”.

“Yes, that’s right”, smiled the Premier, “Joy will come in the morning”.

For some, Mr. Editor, not all the voters will decide.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

June 03, 2005

Time for an update! It's more than 25 years since Rules were reviewed

Mid Ocean News (03 June 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

OUCH, Mr. Editor. The Royal Gazette got it right, it was a dressing down and there was no joy for me last Friday in the House on the Hill. Quite rightly too, my critics will say – and I will come back to one of them shortly. You put yourself in the firing line, Mr. Editor, you can expect to be shot at. With apologies to Sir Winston, the key thing here is not what happens to me, but what happens to the motion which sparked the uproar. The Speaker has given us some hope that the motion will still go forward, at least that’s the way most of us who were listening, heard it.

We await His further direction – and whether or not the PLP will continue to duck and deny the obvious.

In the meantime, I come on to one of my critics: he who writes a column in another newspaper. The phraseology, Mr. Editor, is parliamentary apropos: for instance, when members in the Lower House on the Hill refer to debates in the Upper House down the Hill we are required to refer to the Senate as that “other place”. It’s respectful.

Back then to that other column: it was asserted, not suggested, mind you, but asserted, that it was the wording of the motion which prompted government objections and that the objectionable wording was my use of the actual name of the Minister. It wasn’t that the PLP was trying to dodge a debate, he claimed.

Nice try, neat theory, but nonsense.

Listen to the tape: the Government Whip objected because he thought I should be having a chat first with the Minister (Who Cannot Be Named), who was then joined by the Premier who accused me of misleading the House because the Minister (Who Cannot Be Named) had consulted with the residents of Mary Victoria Road before proceeding with plans to put more homes in their neighbourhood.

Neither of them objected because I had actually named the Minister concerned - or that I had changed the motion. How could they? The wording would only have been known to the Speaker, the Clerk to the Legislature, and myself. Motions are not seen or shared with the other side ahead of presentation – at least as far as I am aware, that hasn’t been the practice in the 12 years I have been in the House.

But – as I confessed – I did actually name the Minister when I read the motion; and the motion, as re-drafted by the Speaker, referred only to “the Honourable Member responsible for Housing”.

My error, Mr. Editor – for which I apologised.

I appreciated too, the Speaker’s acceptance that it was an honest error and one which he had neither spotted nor taken up with me when I moved to introduce the motion.

To borrow one of the Speaker’s favourite quotations – which he used again this time around – from Alexander Pope: “To err is human, to forgive divine”.

No will, no way

BRUSHING up on the Rules of The House has been one positive development for members, inside and outside the Chamber.
The columnist critic (Who Shall Not Be Named) argued that my introduction of the name of the Minister (Who Cannot Be Named) introduced a personal flavour to the motion – a practice, he said, frowned upon in Parliaments everywhere.

It got me thinking.

But wasn’t it the Minister (Who Cannot Be Named) who agreed to a previous motion, that was subsequently agreed to by the House, that he would enter into “constructive dialogue” with the Mary Victoria residents, and who then followed up this commitment with a personal letter to each of the residents, promising them “further consultation”.

I think I was also misled by precedent. I recalled two motions of censure during my years in Parliament: the first by the Opposition PLP on the then Premier David Saul (Who Was Named, in the motion) and then by the Opposition UBP on the late David Allen (Who Was Named, in that motion).

Speaking of motions of censure, the bible of parliamentary practice and procedure, Erskine May, informs inquiring readers that a set period of time is actually allotted at Westminster for the Opposition to bring on such motions, from time to time. This is also a staple feature of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa where in recent weeks the Opposition party has been taking full advantage of its right to bring on motions probing and testing the strength of a minority Liberal Government.

I have long said that the Rules here need to be overhauled and I have made attempts for change in the past on behalf of the Opposition, but they have gone nowhere …. except to the Rules and Privileges Committee for further study and review ( and, Mr. Editor, I presume that you are familiar with the expression of death by referral to committee?)

You work with what you’ve got though, Mr. Editor. Trouble is, with the Rules we have we operate on the body politic with blunt instruments. Reform is long overdue. I think it has been well over 25 years since the Rules were reviewed and updated to put us in step with modern parliamentary practice elsewhere: yes, Mr. Editor, I think it did happen when the UBP was in power. But unless there is a political will, it’s no way.

The Hunte for change

LET me give you but one more example of the sort of reform we in the Opposition have been talking about. I happened to attend one of those BIC forums at which people who dared, were invited to ask questions. A questioner was concerned about the costs of having embassies overseas – and the (likely) further escalating costs after establishment. Head of the visiting UN delegation, Sir Julian Hunte, sought to reassure him that costs were closely monitored by Finance Ministers and, under the Westminster system, by a Public Accounts Committee of the Legislature which met regularly and publicly and which could summons civil servants to account for themselves and their expenditures. He was of course speaking of the practice in his home country of St. Lucia and that of other modern, parliamentary democracies. He could not have been talking about Bermuda. Our Public Accounts Committee meets only in private and then only when and if it can get a quorum of members.

It’s time the work of this important committee saw the light of day and its powers were beefed up to fulfil the watchdog role it is supposed to play.

The irony here? We don’t need to be independent to make it happen.

Light and less filling

DEBATE on the day was, Mr. Editor, rather civil. You do really have to go out of your way to get into verbal fisticuffs on take note motions – and that’s all we had: first on the history and state of musicians in Bermuda ( and no, the House on the Hill was not alive with the sound of music, although the tone was good) and secondly on the need to curb smoking in Bermuda (consenting adults only, Mr. Editor, preferably in private, behind closed doors). A couple of good lines from each debate:

*The first from the Minister Who Cannot Be Named: he was waxing on about how Bermudians need to loosen up and be themselves. “It must have something to do with our colonial mentality”, he said, describing it as the “stiff upper lip” syndrome. “There just seems to have been a stifling of expression in this country”, he concluded.
I bet that struck a responsive chord with the residents up in Prospect.

*The second from my colleague Michael Dunkley who actually brought some draft legislation to the House, increasing to 18 years the age at which tobacco can be purchased as well as limiting the places where people can smoke. He invited the Government to run with his legislative suggestions and make the necessary changes to the law. There is a long-standing Rule, Mr. Editor, which prohibits the Opposition from bringing legislation that will require expenditure from the public purse. The offer was not taken up. Mr Dunkley was told that Government had its own legislative timetable and that there was other, more important legislation being worked on.

“What legislation is more important than this?”, asked MP Dunkley – rhetorically, of course.

In any event, he continued, adding at the urging of his colleagues: “Show me what legislation, show me any legislation ‘cause we are not seeing any up here”.

Any legislation is right. None was tabled on Friday gone and the order paper remains very legislatively light ... and decidedly less filling.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

May 29, 2005

People of this country are entitled to know what's going on, and why

Mid Ocean News (27 May 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

People of this country are entitled to know what's going on, and why

SHORT day, short week, short column, Mr. Editor? Not on your life. It may have been brief last Friday in the House on the Hill but it was explosive. We wanted to move a motion of censure against the Minister responsible for Housing, Ashfield DeVent, on account of his failure to keep his promise to consult with the Mary Victoria/Alexandra Road residents before proceeding with plans to construct more homes in their Prospect neighbourhood.

Here was the motion I was asked to present on behalf of the Opposition: “This House deplores the failure of the Honourable Member Ashfield DeVent in his capacity as the Government Minister responsible for Housing to honour his commitment to consult with the residents of the Mary Victoria Prospect area before proceeding with plans to construct further homes in their neighbourhood, that commitment having been given in a motion approved by this Honourable House on the 8th day of March 2004 and subsequently confirmed by the member himself in a letter to area residents dated March 23rd 2004.”

I was subsequently informed – by telephone before Friday - that the Speaker had reviewed the proposed motion and amended it to the extent that he had deleted the reference to the March 8th motion and the March 23rd letter, but otherwise it was a go.

This is the amended version the Clerk handed to me after proceedings began on Friday: “That this Honourable House deplore the failure of the Honourable Member responsible for Housing to honour his commitment to consult with the residents of the Mary Victoria Prospect area before proceeding with plans to construct further homes in their neighbourhood”.

Yes, Mr. Editor, while reading the motion, I did identify the Honourable Member responsible for Housing as Mr. Ashfield DeVent. But who else, Mr. Editor, were we talking about?

But back to the real issue. This was a motion that the Government moved quickly to kill, first through PLP Whip Mr. Ottiwell Simmons (who was telling us it was unparliamentary and that I should take the matter up privately with the Minister: what a quiet cosy chat with me over tea? It’s the residents whom he needs to speak to, Mr. Editor, not me), followed by the Premier, the Man himself ,aka no more Mr. Nice Guy, who accused me of misleading the House and the public, declaring that the Minister had consulted the residents.

Those were their objections and very quickly the Speaker was suddenly putting the matter to a vote of whether the motion should even be allowed. It struck me that the Government was intent on applying their parliamentary muscle to muzzle a motion which they didn’t like. I struck back. Not just for attention but for explanation.

The people of this country are entitled to know what’s going on – and why.

The way we see it, the Opposition is entitled to bring censure motions against the Government; in fact, you might say it’s the Opposition’s duty to do so where and when warranted. They are after all expressions of disapproval and the opportunity afforded the Official Opposition to bring them on is something of a tradition under the Westminster system. You could look it up, Mr. Editor, in Erskine May, the bible of parliamentary practice, which is what a lot of people have been doing.

We stood our ground – and walked - as the Official Opposition.

We didn’t want people to overlook the reason we brought the motion forward. The promise to consult was made on the floor of the House. It arose out of another one of those stormy debates we had on the Hill back in March 2004. Shadow Minister for Housing Wayne Furbert had brought a motion calling for the rejection of any further building of homes in the Mary Victoria, Prospect area.

It was the Government which changed the motion – through Mr. Simmons, in fact – to a watered-down take note motion: -

“That this Honourable House take note that it is premature to reject any further building development of new homes at Mary Victoria or Alexandra Roads due to the negative impact economically, socially, and psychologically, given that the Minister has clearly indicated that he is prepared to enter into constructive dialogue with the affected stakeholders with a view to effecting a compromise”.

An alert Leader of the Opposition Dr. Grant Gibbons added the words “and in the spirit of compromise will cause the planning application to be withdrawn pending compromise”, to which Minister DeVent agreed.

You could look it up, Mr. Editor. It’s there on the record.

As I remember, the Mary Victoria/Alexandra Road residents went home happy that night. They were expecting “constructive dialogue” with the Minister, and it wasn’t long after that debate that the Minister sent each of them a letter, underscoring his promise: “I will honour my pledge to withdraw the application pending further consultation with you and your neighbours”.

While some have been scrambling to look up the Rules of the House (and that’s a positive development, Mr. Editor), I hope they will also take the time to look up the meaning of “consultation” in their dictionaries. You can be sure, Mr. Editor, that the residents of Mary Victoria and Alexandra Roads know what the word means. Talk to them. Not me. It hasn’t happened and the Minister, who speaks for the PLP Government on Housing, has been called to account for a broken promise… by the Official and Loyal Opposition.

Pearls of wisdom

WHAT no humour? Well, Mr. Editor, this hasn’t exactly been funny. But a sense of humour is important so the last lines on this (for now) go to two constituents of mine whom I happened to see over the weekend.
The first one asked quite matter of factly: “How are you?”
“Not bad”, I replied, “not bad, thank you”.
There was a pause and then this comment with a broad smile: “You referring to your health …or your behaviour … or both?”.
Then after church on Sunday, this pearl of wisdom: “Like my mother used to say, God bless her, you stand up for your rights and lay down for your wrongs”.

Listening closely

EVEN before the event, Friday was shaping up to be an early day, although a handful of Government Ministers did their best to protract proceedings reading into the record prepared pre-packaged Statements – to which you can only listen. Or not. There’s no debate. No questions allowed.
I happened to listen. There was an interesting assortment: -

The Minister responsible for Public Safety Randy Horton reminded us that he had not given a statement for some weeks. True. He made up for it in one fell swoop, with a nine-page sweep of what the Bermuda Police are trying to do to crackdown on crime generally and on increased recklessness on our roads specifically. The police have their hands full.

“There have been over 10,000 incidents in the BPS dispatch system in 2005”, read the Minister, “and the overwhelming majority of those incidents have required Police attendance”.

And?

“Hundreds of those incidents will become protracted investigations that will be brought to a conclusion many months, sometimes years, after initial reporting”.

I add no further comment, Mr. Editor. That about sums it up.

Health Minister Patrice Minors had a five-page statement and a warning on the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse for women during pregnancy. The National Drug Commission – which the PLP have now done away with – had done a survey of 216 pregnant women between the ages of 17 and 46 years over the last three months of 2004. The results have apparently prompted the Ministry to develop a prevention strategy to warn would-be mothers of the risk they run when they choose to smoke or drink – even moderately – during pregnancy.

But neither of them could top Finance Minister Paula Cox who gave a ten-age up-date on business at the Post Office. Or lack of business. There are apparently changes in the offing and there had been a meeting of 200 staff recently at Devonshire Recreation Club. “Change is never easy”, the Minister read to us, “but the process is assisted when you keep the lines of communication open”. ( Couldn’t agree more, Mr. Editor, as would the residents at Mary Victoria, Alexandra Road, but that’s the other story.) We didn’t learn precisely what staff were told at the meeting, but the Minister afforded us some insight with her comments:

* The fact that the GPO is “an unique entity” within the Government stable “in that it has to compete with the private sector as it provides services”; and

* The fact that the GPO is having to compete “in a demanding economic environment” and there is a need to find ways “to provide a faster and more reliable and efficient postal service”.

As a result, we were told that there are some internal changes on the way and that a new senior management structure has been approved. But no details. Presumably like the proverbial cheque, they are in the mail. We get this picture though: The GPO is losing business and money, fast, and something drastic needs to be done to stem the flow.

Making an early day of it

COUPLED with congrats and obits, the Government didn’t get to the Orders of the Day until after noon. There were housekeeping amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (matters which had been overlooked the first time around) followed by Minister Walter Lister’s take note motion on WedCo’s 2004 Annual Report. He was the only member to speak, apparently: I wasn’t there. But what I did find interesting is that Government chose not to adjourn for lunch at 12.30 as we usually do but to rather continue on. What without lunch? No way. Minister Lister kept it brief and they were out of there before one o’clock. The Premier and his troops must have decided to take advantage and make it an early day.

Posted Sun by Christian S. Dunleavy

May 20, 2005

A dandy of a pitched battle as war of words erupts over black males

Mid Ocean News (20 May 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

POLITICS is a pitch, or can be, Mr. Editor – a constant pitch for the hearts and minds of voters, always assuming, presumably, that their votes will follow. It’s hardly surprising then that pitched battles are a staple feature in the wars of words that break out each Friday in the House on the Hill between loyal members of the Opposition and Government.

We had a dandy on the emotion to adjourn last week. It was late in the evening when Maxwell Burgess (he of silver hammer fame) rose to congratulate the Government for finally awakening to the need to address the problems of black males. He wasn’t speaking tongue in cheek. Maxwell was serious. He was greeted then with some silence from the Government benches, until he reminded an incredulous PLP that he had been calling for a study of their plight for some time now. Silence soon turned to groans and shouts of derision. How dare Maxwell lay claim to an idea the PLP now wanted to claim as their own. The temperature was rising.

Boiling point was reached when Maxwell then brought the hammer down. He said the study was going to end up “a whitewash” if the committee simply confined itself to black males between the ages of 16 and 40 years; the critical years, in his view, were the formative years, and thus the study should be extended to include 10 year olds. The decibels increased too, when Maxwell chided the PLP for patting themselves on the back for initiating the study. “What?”, he declared, “You just woke up to the fact that over 90 per cent of the prison population are black males? Shame.”

Man, Mr. Editor, that did not go down well on the other side. Backbencher Wayne Perinchief was first on his feet in reply. Enraged. He’s on the PLP committee and one of the movers behind the study. The Government MP decried Mr. Burgess’ criticism as “shameful”. It was unacceptable, according to Mr. Perinchief, when a former leader of the UBP and Premier Sir John Swan had identified the problem but the UBP had done nothing. Yes, Sir John had brought the issue to the public’s attention, shouted back Maxwell, but it was the PLP who attacked and vilified Sir John at the time for doing so.

The arguments didn’t end there. Mr. Editor. Emotions were stirred, passions aroused; and if you are looking for the humour in this, there wasn’t any. Period. Incidentally, one of us looked over and saw that the press gallery was empty. For some reason, no reporter from The Royal Gazette was to hand. Simply MIA. But that was no deterrent. The airwaves were still open. So too were the airways of angry members.
PLP backbencher Glenn Blakeney was incensed too. He bemoaned that all the Opposition ever does in the House on the Hill is criticise and complain - all the time, he said - and he accused us of constantly “hurling superlatives” across the floor. I’m not sure if he was trying to be funny or not, especially when he went on to warn listeners and voters to be on the alert for the “hookey pookey rhetoric that comes from the UBP”.

The invective, Mr Editor, can be quite superlative. At times.
But Cole Simons of the UBP was having none of it. He said he had been listening intently and he wanted to express his disappointment with the tone, and the tenor, and the content of the exchanges across the floor. “It hurts my heart”, he confessed. He had a whole different take on the debate and the subject.

MP Simons said he was more concerned about the subliminal message that was being sent out, and continues to be sent out, when it comes to black males. A majority in his view are succeeding and are proving to be good role models. By continuing to focus on the negative, the negative is being reinforced and the positive overlooked. He had done some simple arithmetic in the House while listening to the debate and wondered if members appreciated, for instance, that over half of the members were in fact black males. It was, he thought, a telling statistic.

Rough Justice

ROUGH and raw is just how it gets some times in debate, Mr. Editor. Particularly after a long day. We had spent most of the morning, afternoon, and early evening, on the criminal justice system in Bermuda which, as all of our readers will know by now, has made for some lively debate inside and outside the House on the Hill.

It started with something small and straightforward: Certain areas within Westgate are to be designated as a hospital to provide care and treatment for the criminally insane and/or those adjudged incompetent for trial, but who also happen to be too dangerous to be kept at the secure ward at St. Brendan’s ( sorry, now the Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute). A sign of the new times, Mr Editor?

We then moved on to amendments to the Criminal Code. According to the Minister Randy Horton we were tightening up on provisions which would make it easier for the courts to deal with offenders who breached probation. I almost believed him until he told us of how it was taking up to six months to get probation orders appropriately certified for enforcement. Whatever else it is, that is not a legislative problem, Mr. Editor. Somebody needs to get on with the job.

Opposition MP Trevor Moniz then invited members to take note of the Justice System Review Report and its recommendations, which had been commissioned by Government in February last year and which reported in April. We had been promised an update by Christmas but it had never come. The Opposition had to bring it on.

There were some exciting moments – there always are when it comes to crime and how well it is being tackled. Or not.

One such notable moment came, Mr Editor, when the mover accused Government of failing to recognise the need not just for reform, but for a major crackdown on crime.

This had not been the remit of the report, said Mr. Moniz, but this was the need of the community. Serious and violent crime was on the increase and he referred to the rings of policemen with weapons and flak jackets whom we now see from time to time around the Magistrates Court.

“A set-up”, said Deputy Premier Dr. Ewart Brown by way of objection, but never explaining then ,or at any time later, exactly what he meant.

Mr. Moniz persisted with his point, but Dr. Brown was having one of it. Mr. Moniz could say what he like, said the Deputy Premier, again by way of objection, “but we are not going to bring back B’wana”.
Say what? Mr. Moniz wanted to know and he called on the Speaker to have Dr. Brown withdraw the remark as insulting and unparliamentary language.

Apparently, the remark was not heard by the Speaker.

The skirmish was over. There was no withdrawal. The lines remained drawn and it was back to the trenches.

Taking nothing for Granted

IT takes some doing, Mr. Editor, to score political points during the three minutes members are given for congratulatory speeches, but Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons had a pretty good run at it. He rose to have congratulations sent to newly elected leader in the Caymans, Kurt Tibbetts of the People’s Progressive Movement, whose party had just narrowly won the Government from the United Democratic Party. Dr. Gibbons recounted how corruption, ethical issues and lack of accountability had been some of the key issues and, given the obvious parallels with Bermuda, he was heartened by the result. Ouch.

Those throws of Summer

GOTTA love those Ministerial Statements, Mr Editor. The pick of this week’s crop was the one from Works & Engineering Minister Ashfield DeVent who wanted to report on a number of water conservation initiatives … in the Works, of course. Reading from a prepared script, the Minister warned us: “We will soon be in the throws of summer …”.

I’ll say. In fact, it is starting to look like we are already in the throes of a long drawn out summer session on the Hill. Two weeks into the new session, after eight weeks off, and legislation is barely trickling into the House. The only new pieces we have seen so far are really quite minor and straightforward: the Hospital Designation Order, a couple of Insurance Amendment regulations, and changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Amendment Act, all of it of the good housekeeping variety.

For those of you, who like me, were children of the Sixties:

“There’s something not happening here
Why it is ain’t exactly clear …”

With apologies to Buffalo Springfield, Mr. Editor, stay tuned for more (or less) of what’s going ‘round.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

May 13, 2005

Bascome's speech: The closest the PLP have come to a BHC apology

Mid Ocean News (13 May 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

THEY’RE baaack, Mr. Editor, your MPs in the House on the Hill, refreshed from an eight week recess for what could turn out to be a long hot summer session – if the first day back was any indication. The Man himself - aka the Premier – set the tone when he finally took up his motion on the Auditor General’s special report into the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal (and how special that report is, Mr. Editor) and he told us that he was back ( excuse me, Mr. Editor, but from where is he back?), and that he was no more Mr. Nice Guy (and, aside possibly from himself, Mr. Editor, who has been saying that he was?).

It must be that this new parliamentary posture is a continuation of his performance on TV the night before when he labelled his Government’s critics political mischief makers – and please Mr Editor, don’t remind me that it takes one to know one – knowing full that it was one of his Government’s chief critics that brought the BHC scandal into the sunshine of public scrutiny in the first place.

But wait a minute. This isn’t the story the Premier and his colleagues now want the voters to remember. They’re into a serious rewrite and they’ve got a whole new version which they tried to roll out Friday in the House on the Hill – and, I later learned, at a press conference over lunch. The PR principle (or principal) at play here is not a new one. It’s actually quite old: Tell the story often enough, strongly enough and loudly enough, and maybe people will start to believe it.

The scandal is behind us, they tell you – and with some literary licence this is the new work of fiction they are now trying to sell.

“What was, is not what is”, declared the Premier, leading off the debate. “We’ve fixed the problem and the fix is now in”, he said – an observation which was greeted with roars of approval from members of the Opposition benches with an appreciation for the obviously unintended but nonetheless accurate double entendre.

This was a proud day for the PLP Government. The Bermuda Police had investigated, Scotland Yard too, and no one from the Government had been charged.

Practices, policies and procedures had since been put in place and the Auditor General was now giving the BHC a clean bill of financial health.

There was apparently no fault on the part of the PLP Government or any of their Ministers or any of their appointees. On the contrary, according to the new version of what happened, which the Premier was now spinning: “We found a lot of this when [we took over]”.

Like I said on Friday on the Hill, Mr. Editor, I give them an A for audacity but F, a big F, on credibility.

By now, everyone in Bermuda knows that the investigation got its impetus from the concerns which were first brought to the public’s attention in the House by UBP MP Michael Dunkley.

What was the PLP Government’s immediate response? Denial and harsh words for MP Dunkley who was accused of all manner of nasty things (“venom”, “mud-slinging”, “unsubstantiated allegations” etc. etc.) . Sound familiar?

But more than that, the Minister responsible at the time, Nelson Bascombe, came back with a formal, written statement two days later which now forms part of the House of Assembly record in which, on behalf of the PLP Government, he went with the line that they had found problems but in the past two years had taken corrective action and all was now well. Mr. Dunkley didn’t know what he was talking about. Again, sound familiar?

The Premier and his colleagues had to be reminded of what Mr. Bascombe had actually said on their behalf back then in 2001 when Mr. Dunkley levelled his charges – and I quote, Mr. Editor:

“As regards the allegations of corruption, the PLP Government inherited an organisation that was plagued with rumour, hearsay and innuendo in relation to improprieties on the part of the staff and certain members of the construction industry.

“Under the new management of 2 years ago [ read the PLP - my words not his] one of the challenges has been to root out any substance, where it existed, and to take the appropriate corrective action.”

But give Nelson Bascombe some credit. He didn’t push that line again in the House on the Hill – four years later. In fact, he showed himself to be something of an Admiral for the truth, black patch or not, when he not only deviated from, but spoke contrary to the new script which the Premier was pushing. Instead, the Man Who Was the Minister claimed that he had at the time been misled on the BHC mess and, in turn, had misled the House. The information which he had been given then was, well, wrong. He confessed that he subsequently learned that there were things going on at BHC about which he didn’t know or about which he had been deliberately misinformed. It was the closest that anyone in the PLP came to an apology.

As for the Premier’s claim that there were no proper practices, procedures or policies in place, we didn’t need Nelson to help set the record straight. The Auditor General told everyone who took the time to read his special report that that was not the way it was. This is what he wrote – in plain and simple language anyone which anyone who wanted to understand, could understand: “There has been serious and widespread failure to comply with many of the Housing Corporation’s legislative authorities, administrative polices and control procedures”.

Yet it was the Premier himself who kicked off the debate by lecturing the Opposition on how we should conduct ourselves: “You must not be reckless and smear and capitalise at the expense of the truth”, he said at the outset.

I don’t know about walking and chewing gum at the same time, Mr. Editor, but I do know about chewing more than you bite off. Meanwhile, if you can believe it, one of his Cabinet Ministers, Walter Lister, had the further audacity to chalk it all up to “a good learning experience”.

How many lessons do they need? BHC, Berkeley, Stonington and now Pay for Play – and who is paying for this experience, Mr. Editor? You me and the man over there behind the tree: aka the Taxpayers.

It’s no wonder then the Premier and his Gang want to put the BHC scandal behind them and we in the Opposition want to remind the voters from here to eternity … well maybe at least until the next election.
PS Mr. Editor, I can’t make up my mind on a name for the Gang: Hole in the Wall or The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight ?

Spent Members

AMITYVILLE Horror or Enmityville for the House on the Hill or both? Debate on the motion – it was only the take note variety, no vote required – didn’t start until after lunch and lasted about seven or so hours. The first day back and few had the stomach at nine thirty to launch into the other motion the Opposition initially intended to also take up on the Justice System Report. So that’s been deferred to another day. The two and half hours of the morning had been taken up with lengthy and multiple Ministerial statements followed by plenty of Congrats and Obits – a lot can and does happen in eight weeks, Mr. Editor, and members can fall out of practice. Either that or Members were pretty well spent after debate on the Auditor Generals’ report and the BHC scandal. There wasn’t a word on the Motion to Adjourn.

Giving as good as you get

WHEN lines are drawn, you get nasty, Mr Editor, and you get funny.
As Opposition spokesman for Housing, Wayne Furbert was being pretty critical last Friday. He was highlighting the reports of kickbacks and denouncing the people who had taken advantage of the public purse at the BHC.

“Who were these people?”, shouted out the Premier.

“Name them”.

Mr. Furbert declined: “No need to”.

“Why not name them so we can know who they are?”, asked the Premier.

“Witness protection”, came the quick reply from one of Mr. Furbert’s colleagues.

Shadow Works & Engineering Minister Patricia Gordon Pamplin, whose day job as an accountant has always involved keeping books and accounts, called the Premier out for describing the most recent financial statements of the BHC as “the handiwork of the Auditor General”. Pat thought the slight deliberate and demeaning.

Shot back the Premier across the floor: “You’re some piece of work, you are”.

Ms. Gordon-Pamplin – who gives as good as she gets - heard the remark. It was intended that she should. “And it’s a beautiful piece of work I am too”, she replied – without missing a beat, and she soldiered on in her scathing criticism.

That big real estate in the sky

A FEW snippets before I go, Mr. Editor, from those many Ministerial statements we endured: -

From the say what department: On our battle with the Isle of Man over a satellite slot, Telecommunications Minister Michael Scott told us that the time was now “propitious” for an update on the steps which Government has taken to make “the exploitation of the Space real estate over our Island a step closer to reality”. So much for pie in the sky, Mr Editor. This must be the future.

Here’s a thought: Community Affairs Minister Dale Butler extended “ a special invitation” to his Parliamentary colleagues to attend a power breakfast next week sponsored by CURE entitled “A Vision for Conversations on Race Equality”. It is scheduled to be held at La Coquille, Mr. Editor, not the House on the Hill. We do debates.

Half the story: Finance Minister Paula Cox took another bow for the increase in jobs in 2004. She noted in a statement that employment levels had returned to the pre-recession level of more than 38,000 jobs and things were looking better. Yes, but for whom? The 2004 Economic Review published by the Ministry of Finance told us that overall jobs in Bermuda had increased to 38,259 in 2004 from 37,849 in 1999, but for Bermudians over that same period they dropped by some 1372 jobs from 28,717 in 1999 to 27,345 last year.

Go figure – and have a nice week now that we’re back.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

March 26, 2005

Bermuda's a community of shoppers, not shopkeepers

Mid Ocean News (24 Mar. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Bermuda's a community of shoppers, not shopkeepers

TRUMAN Capote said it best, Mr. Editor: The dogs bark but the caravan moves on. So with the House down and out for Easter, and then some, and with the dust and the hyperbole of the Budget Debate behind us, it’s time to take stock, Mr. Editor, of what else but the Bermuda economy.

Something the Minister of Finance Paula Cox mentioned in her Budget Statement first caught my ear and then my eye.

“One of the hallmarks of the successive Progressive Labour Party administrations”, Ms. Cox proudly opined in her written Statement, “has been the disciplined focus on stable macro-economic management that has resulted in a general improvement in the economic well-being of all members of our community.”

That’s some claim, Mr. Editor, a general improvement for all members.
The Finance Minister had her cheerleaders too. Her PLP colleagues on the front and back benches consistently and constantly proclaimed throughout the debate that the PLP administration was responsible for “a buoyant economy”. Nothing new about that, Mr Editor, this is what governments typically do. Anything that looks remotely successful has many fathers; only failures are orphans.

But how about this week, we drill down a bit and ask: If buoyant, buoyant for whom? Or perhaps as you read on, ask yourself this: In which Bermuda am I living and for which Bermuda am I preparing my children?

I take you then, Mr. Editor, and readers, to the 2004 Economic Review, a short but insightful review prepared by the Ministry of Finance and which annually accompanies the BS ( excuse me, Mr. Editor, but that’s short for Budget Statement). This report - which comes in plain black and white wrapping - doesn’t tend to feature front and centre in the debates and as a consequence doesn’t get much play, yet the facts and figures it presents tell a story or two if you take the time to piece the parts together.

Let’s start with this observation found very early on in the Review:

“A look at Bermuda’s domestic demand demonstrates that personal consumption was sustained by growth in employment income. Although total visitor arrivals decreased and Bermudian overseas spending increased, the local retail sector posted strong results”.

It seems, Mr. Editor, that we are a vibrant community of spenders.
While the results may not have been strong enough to save Triminghams, the Review still noted that the increase in sales in 2004 over 2003 was “extraordinary”. It was said to be extraordinary given that:

* the number of residents travelling abroad increased by over 20 percent during the first three quarters of 2004; and
* the overseas purchases declared by residents (and “declared” is a key word here, Mr Editor) upon their return to Bermuda during the same period increased by 30.2 percent; and
* consider that this doesn’t take into account the growing number of purchases by mail order and online shopping over the internet – which is, I am told, a burgeoning cottage industry in Bermuda .

For further proof that we are a community of shoppers, not shopkeepers, Mr. Editor, turn to imports. For the first nine months of 2004, Bermuda recorded an increase of $87.5 million or 13.9 percent year-over-year. There was only one “commodity group” that showed any significant decrease year over year and that was clothing, which was down by 2.5 percent. Again, Trim’s probably could have told us that, and Smith’s … and maybe still others will too.

Rather the largest components of personal expenditure in 2004 were reported to have been: housing, household goods, services and supplies.

But where’s the money coming from? Increases in employment income, we are told by the Review: -

“Employment income in Bermuda has been rising by increasing levels over the last few years. Specifically, the increase in 2002 was 6.1 %, 2003 was 23.1 % and the first three quarters of 2004 recorded a 26.5 % rise.”

This, of course, is in the aggregate, Mr. Editor, and the best illustration of what the aggregate means is this: Bill Gates walks into a bar of largely unemployed patrons and the per capita income shoots up to $250,000.00 per person per annum. But, of course, it isn’t.

Here in Bermuda, the Review tells us what most of us already know: two sectors were largely responsible for the increases in employment income for the first nine months of last year: international business (up 15.3%) and the construction industry (up 16.7%).

Let’s take a look at jobs then.

As for the actual number of jobs in Bermuda, they were predicted to be up year over year: 38,259 in 2004 compared to 37,686 in 2003, an increase of 573 jobs. But perhaps the most telling statistic, Mr. Editor, is that which shows that jobs held by Bermudians have declined over the last five years from 28,717 in 1999 to 27, 345 jobs in 2004 f or a decrease of 1372 jobs. Jobs held by non-Bermudian spouses over the same period have gone up 282 in number, while those held by non-Bermudians have risen 1500 from 1999 to 2004.

Meanwhile, the economists at the Ministry of Finance, who penned the Review, are anticipating a further increase of 15 % in employment income in 2005 – and that it will continue to lead to spending and more spending.

Not so blooming good

CREDIT also helps - or hurts the spending cause, Mr. Editor, as the case may be – and it would seem there is plenty out on credit here.
A small table in the Review shows that the total credit advanced to residents by banks and deposit companies has risen steadily from $2,113 million in 2000 to $3,521 million by mid-summer 2004 – and this is money reported to be out there in “loans, advances and mortgages”.
Spend. Spend. Spend. Mr. Editor. They’re counting on it.
Predicts the Review:

“With the expected increase in employment and income levels in 2005, consumer expenditures will once again be a major source of economic growth”.

When it came to spending, visitors – as in tourism – used to be a help, Mr. Editor, certainly more help than they have been in recent years. Spending by all visitors (air and cruise) has dropped from $477.2 million in 1999 to $347.9 million for 2003, and is still dropping – and not just because of fewer numbers. Based on the figures for the first three quarters of 2004, per capita spending by visitors arriving by air had slipped to $1,109 compared with $1,151 in 2003.
So we are counting on international business to continue to pull us through. But there are signs there too, that we should not ignore.
The rate of international business registrations appears to be levelling off, according to statistics kept by the Registrar of Companies: 13,318 in 2002; 13,509 in 2003; and 13, 573 or a 0.5 percent increase in 2004.

On top of this, we have our challenges from outside – organisations of alphabet soup name fame and the onshore jurisdictions, typified perhaps by the New York Times tax reporter David Cay Johnston and his book Perfectly Legal which features Bermuda as its poster boy in the chapter entitled “Profits Trump Patriotism”. As we learned in the last Presidential election campaign, it’s a line that plays not just in Washington but in Des Moines, Iowa.

The bloom on this rose is going to need more than just nurturing; protection too.

Tourism is flagging and there is no prospect of an immediate turnaround and we have a long way to go. These stats tell the story: The total number of bed nights sold in 1998, according to the Department of Tourism was 1,628,956. In 2004? 1,056,543 bed nights - over half a million less.

A rejuvenation is hoped for and the forecast for 2005 is further modest expansion … if employment income keeps on rising and we keep on spending.

Leading the way folks

WHEN it comes to spending, Mr. Editor, you can count on the PLP Government to lead the way. How about I share a few sure-fire, tell-tale signs to help our readers along: -

2005/2006 Budget: It’s a $711-million Budget up close to $51-million from the previous Budget of $665-million, or an increase of 8 per cent. By my calculations, $415-million of that total will be spent on salaries and related personnel items or roughly 60 cents of every tax dollar is what it costs to actually run the business of Government – and no, Mr. Editor, I haven’t included the projected $5.1 million to be spent on travel in that figure which is almost twice what it was back in 1999.

Capital spending: In last year’s Budget, revised figures for capital expenditure (some $110.1 million) exceeded the previous year by more than 34 per cent, or nine times the rate of inflation. This year capital spending is projected to rise to $137 million, a further 24 percent over last year’s huge increase and seven times the rate of inflation.

Debt capacity: The PLP have moved to increase the statutory ceiling on what can be raised by way of debt to $375 million, up $125-million from the previous limit of $250 million. This has been done, we were told, because the new limit “would allow for more flexible capital financing arrangements” and the projected estimated debt for the coming year is $250-million.

Rate of inflation: The increased spending, led by the PLP Government, only adds to the rate of inflation which appears to be creeping along, steadily, in the wrong direction. Their projected current account spending will be twice the current rate of inflation which has now reached 4 per cent. It has already outstripping the 3.5 percent increases in pensions which has been promised seniors effective August 1st. Health and Personal Care was up 8.8. percent and that’s on top of a 7 percent increase the year before and this year nothing less is expected, and it won’t be long before health care costs rival affordable housing as one of Bermuda’s biggest issues.

Add it all up, Mr. Editor.

That’s sum Social Agenda.

Posted Sat by Christian S. Dunleavy

March 18, 2005

Recommended Reading

I've just posted both of John Barritt's pieces in this week's Mid Ocean News, including his regular column and a sidebar pulling back the curtain on the selective use of data employed by Alex Scott and lately Rev. Lambe of the BIC, which as JB points out looks to be mostly about Bermuda Indoctrination and Conditioning.

But I strongly recommend taking the time to read his columns, because there is a lot of good stuff in there.

Particularly his comments on the sham that Parliamentary sessions are being turned into and the PLP's failure to move on comprehensive reform to the Parliamentary process.

JB's recommendations have been sent to languish in the Rule and Privileges Committee.

Sad but true.

I'm with JB is his push for accountability in Parliament and public life. I hope you are too. I encourage everyone to write to the press, call the talk shows and badger your PLP MP to stop blocking reform.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

But the Survey Says ...

Mid Ocean News (18 Mar. 2005) - Sidebar
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

But the Survey Says ...

YOU may recall, Mr. Editor, that we were told that it was a thirst for knowledge which prompted the establishment of BIG BIC. There was reference to a survey which had been carried out for Government in June of last year which confirmed that to be the case.
Well, it’s amazing what you can find out when you dig around a little bit. Turns out that wasn’t even half the story.

Here’s what the survey also told the Bermuda Government which they in turn didn’t tell us: -

* Seven in ten residents either strongly ( 45 percent, down 3 points over the last quarter) or generally (23 percent, up seven points) oppose an independent Bermuda and, moreover, it isn’t just a majority of white folks opposed. Opposition is reported to have grown among black residents to the point where more than half of Bermuda’s black residents were expressing some level of opposition towards an independent Bermuda.

* A majority of residents consider themselves either generally (51 percent) or very well (19 percent) informed on the issue of independence.

Holy smokes, Mr. Editor, those are impressive majorities. No need to wonder why Government won’t commit to a referendum. They’ve got a lot of minds to change on the issue first.

Yes, eight in ten residents were also reported as having expressed a strong interest in learning more about the impact of independence on Bermuda: 47 percent were said to be very interested and 33 percent somewhat interested. But as the survey summary also observed: "While the level of interest in additional information is generally high across the population, it is worth noting that those who support an independent Bermuda express a greater kevel of interest than those who oppose the idea in learning more about the impact of an independent Bermuda".

What’s also interesting are the sources of information which people find most credible. The media came out on top (30 percent) and the government "in general" came second at 21 percent, "distantly followed by public meetings (7 percent) and the United Bermuda Party (6 percent)."

Go figure, Mr. Editor.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

Reform is Long Overdue

Mid Ocean News (18 Mar. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Reform is Long Overdue

NICE work if you can get it, Mr. Editor, sitting in the House on the Hill. The Man in charge, and that would be the Premier, told MPs late last Friday night that we would be going on an eight week sojourn from debate and not return until Friday the 6th of May – and this, Mr. Editor, follows the ten week break he sent us on over Christmas.

If you ask me, and you should, it’s beginning to look like Parliament has little role to play in the New Bermuda under the PLP. Pity that. Accountability only comes about when governments, their decisions, and their actions, are subject to scrutiny in the form of questions and criticism and, yes, disagreement, in the open forum we know as Parliament and to which I affectionately refer as the House on the Hill ( but which, to be accurate, also includes the Upper House which is down the Hill).

It gets worse too, Mr. Editor, when you also take into account how archaic we are in the way in which we run our Legislature – and the PLP, which calls itself Progressive, shows absolutely no inclination for reform. Instead, we get a push to Independence when their own surveys show a majority of Bermudians, a strong majority, are not interested (but that’s another story, Mr. Editor – see elsewhere).

Meanwhile, the more we seem to learn about Big BIC and their activities, the more the “I” is starting to look and sound like it stands for “indoctrination” and the “C” for “conditioning”, and the unwitting and the unwilling are their target.

But let me come back to my point, Mr. Editor, working in the House on the Hill. What we need there is some long overdue reform.

If you’ve been following the Budget Debate closely - and God bless those who have - you will know that, with very exceptions, Ministers take to reading - and in some cases not very well either – very lengthy statements put together by their top swivel servants, designed it seems not so much as to illuminate but to dominate. The more time the Minister can take, the less time there is for the Opposition to comment, criticise and question. It’s a blunt but effective strategy.

Questions?

If you want answers to questions on the record you have to ask them in writing ten days in advance – and even then the Minister can delay answering them without penalty. If there isn’t time to ask them before eleven o’clock in the morning on the day the House meets, the answers are reduced to writing and the opportunity to ask follow-up questions is lost. In most modern parliamentary systems, a specific period of time is set aside and questions are asked with and without prior notice.

Modern parliamentary systems also feature far more select committees (select in parliamentary language, Mr. Editor, means bi-partisan) which are established to consider, review and report on major issues and matters, and all of which work is conducted in full public view.
Not so in Bermuda. Old Bermuda. New Bermuda. Take your pick.

The current most important committee, the Public Accounts Committee, charged as it is with reviewing Government’s accounts and expenditure, continues to meet in private, notwithstanding the practice in other parliamentary democracies, and recommendations from Government’s own advisers that its proceedings be open to the public. The most recent call for committee work came from those who prepared the Report "Untangling Bermuda's Quangos" for the PLP Government at the PLP Government’s request.

Here’s what they had to say in black and white: -

"There is an opportunity, on a weekly basis, for Committees to report to the House/ public on the performance of the various Quangos, etc. If properly utilised, this will improve public awareness as well as allow for transparency, accountability and open public scrutiny".

Spot on, Mr. Editor.

But, but … Isn’t anybody in the PLP listening?

Making cents of it all

OKAY, to be fair, Mr. Editor, while we may not meet that often in the House on the Hill when we do meet we do tend to go long. Last week was a prime example. We were there until at least midnight Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and that’s rough going, Mr. Editor, when you’re trying to hold down a second job – and anyhow, sitting in the House is but part of the job as MP.

Not surprisingly though, salaries came up for discussion once again when Finance Minister Paula Cox piloted through the usual annual increase. The formula emerged ten years ago out of the recommendation of - wait for it - a select committee of the House: Annual increases were to be tied to the Retail Price Index. Opposition spokesman for Finance and Leader, Dr. Grant Gibbons, did some calculations of his own and discovered that the proposed 4.5 per cent increases were running head of the annual rate of inflation, and questioned then why Government was only proposing 3.5 percent increases for seniors’ pensions commencing August.

But the increases this time around may be modest compared to what might be around the corner. Ms. Cox re-affirmed Government’s intention to introduce legislation to establish a committee to review parliamentary salaries. Interestingly, Mr. Editor, this too, was a recommendation that arose out of the same select committee some ten years ago – but at that time the call for an independent review panel came in a minority report which was co-authored by your correspondent on the Hill along with Dame Pamela Gordon, both us then rookie MPs.

The shape and form of the new committee won’t be known until the legislation comes to light, but in the meantime we know it will feature a re-assessment of what the jobs are worth: An extra $657,000.00 has been set aside in the 2005 Budget for “Ministers and Members”.

Top of the Class, Minister

ONE of my colleagues on the Hill, Mr. Editor, joked that maybe we ought to be paid by the word. Forget the midnight hour. We would never get out of there if that were the case. Government Ministers would also have cleaned up in the Budget Debate these past two weeks. We set aside two hours on Friday for an examination of the Department of Planning and Minister Neletha Butterfield gave her Shadow Cole Simons – and the rest of us – less than half an hour.

Naturally, the rest of us didn’t get a word in. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Education Minister Terry Lister gave his colleagues a better lesson. He took no more than two hours of the five hours which the Opposition had allotted for debate on his Ministry; in turn, his Shadow Neville Darrell spoke for no more than an hour. There was actually two hours for the rest of the House to engage in a real debate, and there was no shortage of speakers as we heard from Maxwell Burgess, Dean Foggo, Louise Jackson, Randy Horton, Suzann Roberts-Holshouser, Michael Scott, Pat Gordon Pamplin and Jon Brunson ... and there was a small window at the end for the Minister to re-cap the debate. It was, Mr. Editor, some kind of a record.

Hats off then to the Education Minister who goes to the top of the class for his contribution to the Budget Debate. It wasn’t just the time which he gave everyone else that earns him top marks. It was also the class which he showed when he (1) shared his ministerial brief with Mr. Darrell prior to debate and (2) acknowledged his Shadow’s contribution to the advancement of public education in Bermuda, notwithstanding their differences.

At the time of writing, I had not heard of one other Government Minister sharing with their Shadows their briefs – either before or after the debate.

That, sadly, Mr Editor, reveals all.

Déjà vu all over again

DISCLOSURE is not a strong suit of the PLP. Au contraire. We have still to see the Annual Reports of the Bermuda Housing Corporation for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004, despite the fact that they have been completed. The law requires that they be tabled in the Legislature and the Speaker disallowed an Opposition motion last year deploring the fact they had not been tabled. The Speaker told us that he understood
the reports were on their way. From where? China? By slow boat? This tactic is nothing new either. You will recall, Mr. Editor, the Auditor General’s special report into the Housing Corporation scandal, the one the Opposition wanted debated, which the Speaker would not let us present for debate because it was a Government report, and which the Premier then subsequently introduced just before Christmas, but which he has not taken up and cannot now until we come back in early May.
Accountability. Good governance. Transparency. The PLP continue to re-define the words in ways neither you, Mr. Editor, or George Orwell, could ever have imagined.

Coming and Going

WE whisked through the legislation pretty quickly last Friday night, and not just because we were tired at the end of a long week. There was also agreement. The best example was the introduction of the stamp duty exemption for “the primary family homestead” upon death. It was something which the Opposition UBP campaigned on at the last election and Finance Minister Paula Cox said it was something which the PLP had been urged to implement by their Central Council. In any event, the people are about to benefit starting April 1. The exemption has to be applied for and we were told that the Tax Commissioner’s Office has the necessary forms ready for completion. Meanwhile, the cost of purchasing a home in Bermuda is about to go up. The stamp duty rates for mortgages, all kinds, will also be increasing effective April 1st.

If they don’t get you going, Mr. Editor, they get you coming.
Provision for Sunday shopping also breezed through without too much debate. As Dr. Gibbons pointed out, times sure have changed. Ten years ago, the then Opposition PLP were dead set against. But as Ms. Cox observed those opposed for religious reasons have "sort of accepted it, without a lot of hoopla".

Backbencher Wayne Perinchief lauded the initiative. It was about time, he said, as Sunday shopping would take Bermuda from "a sleepy backwater of commerce into the 21st Century" and was just the kick-start businesses need to put some sizzle and pop into tourism.
That all sounded very nice, Mr. Editor, until we got to the next item on the agenda, Government Fees. If you want to open on Sunday it is going to cost you: $320.00 more a year if you are a small business with less than 2500 square feet of floor space, and $1,000 a year for those over 2500 square feet. There is also a single day flat rate of $80.

There is, Mr Editor, a price to everything.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

March 13, 2005

Sparring brings lively end to a dreary day

Mid Ocean News (11 Mar. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Sparring brings lively end to a dreary day

LISTENERS must have been wondering, Mr. Editor, but, no, it wasn't Friday Night at the Fights live from Number One Shed. Rather we were in the House on the Hill when verbal fisticuffs broke out on the emotion to adjourn.

Our in-House advocate for seniors, Mrs. Louise Jackson, a senior herself Mr. Editor, rose at the end of another long day of tedious debate on the Government Budget (see below) to again complain about the increases in rent for those seniors living on Bermuda Housing Trust properties.

It was a cause about which members of the Government didn't want to hear, again – and for obvious reasons. Mrs. Jackson quickly found herself under attack and both she and the Speaker were besieged and beset by shouts and cries of Points of Order from the Government benches.

PLP MPs Renée Webb and Jennifer Smith were particularly vociferous and accused Mrs. Jackson of all manner of parliamentary sins – misleading the House, repeating herself, and/or imputing improper motives.
Speaker Stanley Lowe found he had his hands full – and it weren't easy, Mr. Editor. There are no neutral corners in a parliamentary ring. But Jeez Louise, did Mrs. Jackson ever hold her ground. She took all of her 20 minutes – we only get 20 minutes each on the emotion to adjourn, Mr. Editor – and once again castigated Government for what they are failing to do to help seniors.

The sparring didn't stop there either. There followed a spirited attack and counter-attack by the PLP – and that's putting it pleasantly, Mr. Editor – not to mention rejoinder and defence by the UBP as members went toe to toe, so to speak.

It was, to say the least, a lively end to an otherwise dreary day of debate. Meanwhile, of all the parliamentary rules that were employed that night, members on the attack seemed to have forgotten the one that counts for far more, inside and outside the House, namely The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And that's the rule the seniors are most interested in, eh Wheezie?

The way it is

I HATE to say I told you so, Mr. Editor, but I did. The predictable script continued when Minister Randy Horton delivered his briefs on Police & Corrections, Fire Services, and Immigration Labour & Training: I mean the portfolio alone tends to suggest we were going to be in for a long one.

As it was, the Opposition left off the Registry General, Defence and Security Services and Delegated Affairs which also come under this Minister's umbrella. Mind you, we did also give the selected items (heads, we call them in parliamentary parlance) a total of eight of the 42 hours set side for debate on the departmental votes (more parliamentary parlance for approving what's been set aside).
It still didn't work out too good for us, Mr. Editor – if you'll pardon the expression.

The Minister took three and a half hours of the four hours allotted Police and Corrections (Michael Dunkley got 28 minutes in reply for the Opposition, Pat Gordon Pamplin two minutes); 48 minutes on the Fire Services (Michael Dunkley and Jon Brunson shared the remaining 12 minutes); and two and a half hours on Labour, Immigration & Training (Pat Gordon Pamplin got the remaining half hour).

It improved slightly on Youth Sport & Recreation when Minister Dale Butler declined to take the whole three hours and left an hour and 15 minutes for others to comment: His Shadow Jon Brunson took just over an hour followed by Glenn Blakeney who snuck in for five minutes in a rare appearance by a Government backbencher.

Time is so tight that when the allotted time is up, it's up. Questions asked remain questions unanswered. The gavel comes down and we move on. That's the way we do the business of the Budget on the House on the Hill.

Reading right along

THE reading rate didn't improve much on the Monday. Works & Engineering Minister Ashfield DeVent took three and a half hours to work his way through a Ministerial tome (scrap briefs, Mr. Editor, they are anything but) to engineer it so that everyone else only got an hour and a half.

The Minister claimed later in the day to have gone to great pains to share with us all that was going in his Ministry. How right he was. The pains were all ours. Meanwhile, as for the two hours of the rest of the day's debate – we set aside seven a day – it featured a reading performance by Minister Walter Lister standing in for Health & Social Services Minister Patrice Minors, who is still out on maternity leave.
But he did give the Shadow Michael Dunkley just short of equal time for comment and reply. What was most interesting is that at one stage of the latter debate, a quick count showed that the civil servants in attendance – who numbered nine – outnumbered the MPs in the Chamber. One presumes, Mr. Editor, that they didn't have a choice.

A quid pro what?

MONOTONY on the Hill gets broken with the occasional legislation. It typically comes at the end of the day after members have endured more than their fair share of monologues, if they have been able to stick it out.

Debate on bills can make for a more lively interchange, even if it is between the Finance Minister Paula Cox and her Shadow, Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons. One such occasion occurred when Minister Cox piloted through amendments to the Public Treasury (Administration and Payments) Act: Okay, okay, I can see eyes glazing over already.
But this was interesting, Mr. Editor. Really. Ms Cox referred to the legislation as a part of "good governance, good housekeeping and accountability". It puts in place a set of rules to govern money which is given to the Bermuda Government.

Yes, that's right given, willingly, voluntarily, Mr. Editor. By whom? Good corporate citizens, we were told. Like HSBC Bank of Bermuda which is apparently giving the Government of Bermuda $1,000,000.00 for "the emergency housing initiative".

Eyebrows were understandably raised, and questions asked by inquiring minds (Read the Opposition, Mr. Editor). Minister Cox denied that there was "any quid pro quo" going on here (and you don't need to know Latin, Mr. Editor, to understand that point), or that there were any preconditions attached to the "donation".

Instead, Minister Cox described it as "corporate largesse" and suggested that it was part of being a good corporate citizen in Bermuda. Makes you wonder then, Mr. Editor, whether the cost of doing business in Bermuda just went up: Few will forget that being a good corporate citizen can rate businesses brownie points with the Department of Immigration.

Mind you, we also learned that this legislation won't actually govern donations like that of the HSBC Bank of Bermuda as the rules are only for "bequests or donations to the Government of Bermuda that do not have any specified purposes".

No specified purpose, just an out-and-out donation? Yes, said the Minister, "and there have been talks with some corporate bodies who are interested in making contributions but do not want the money going into the Consolidated Fund".

Really?

Well, we'll just have to stay tuned for developments. While the Act does call for an annual report on the Fund, the only requirement is that it be shared with the Legislature "as soon as practicable", no earlier.

I don't know about you, Mr. Editor, but that doesn't sound to me like a strong formula for transparency and accountability.

Wouldn't you know it?

IT isn't easy maintaining interest during the tedium of the Budget Debate, but there are ways. Try this one, for instance, Mr. Editor, a kind of parliamentary version of Trivial Pursuit. Did you know that:
q The number of Bermudians who have applied for British passports since the opportunity arose some two and half years ago is now 6,000 and counting. Minister responsible for Immigration, Randy Horton, also told us the turnaround time on applications is now three and a half weeks.

The travel budget for the Cabinet Office is forecast to be $6,000 down on last year's estimate of $375,000, a two per cent dip which the Premier was pleased to point out during the Budget Debate. "Must be all those frequent flyer miles kicking in now", came the quick observation from the Opposition benches.

The average attendance of Opposition members is reported to be up; Government down. According to "output measures" in the Budget estimates for the Legislature, the average attendance of Opposition MPs ran at 97 per cent last year, up from 86 per cent the year before. Government MPs dropped from 90 to 86.5 per cent over the same period. The trouble with these stats, Mr. Editor, is that you only have to show up for the day (and not stay) to get recorded as present. But aside from the Whips, who's keeping track anyway? The number of meetings of the House on the Hill also dropped year over year from 35 to 30 and so far this year we are on track for less than 30. Also down were the number of Bills from 45 to 24. I presume, Mr. Editor, that you are starting to get a picture?

We're all familiar on how we pride ourselves on being a stable community. Well, how is this for stability? The Registry General reported in the Budget Estimates – again under so-called output measures – that births, deaths and marriages remained pretty constant year over year: Births totalled 834, up slightly from 827; deaths 431 to 449; and marriages, 861 from 857. Divorces, you ask? For that we had to turn to the Judicial vote where we learned that the number of divorce cases filed were down but only slightly from 245 to 229. Add predictable then, Mr. Editor, to stable.

Government is projecting revenue of $4.2 million for sales in water for the current financial year ending March 31. Nevertheless the Minister urged people in Bermuda to do all they can to conserve. Global supplies are dwindling and it's getting critical, he said, as he took another long drink of water. The Opposition challenged him to do his bit: "Speak less, Minister. Drink less".

A watershed moment, Mr. Editor? No.

More water under the bridge? Yes.

Until next week then . . .

Posted Sun by Christian S. Dunleavy

February 25, 2005

OK, Ms. Cox, but what will this independence exercise really cost

OK, Ms. Cox, but what will this independence exercise really cost

Mid Ocean News (25 Feb. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

FORGET what’s in a name, Mr. Editor, instead: What’s in a word? Not much really, but when combined with other, presumably, carefully chosen words, they do tend to point the reader in a certain direction – and usually for a reason. Such was the case last Friday in the House on the Hill when the Finance Minister Paula Cox presented the Government Budget for the coming fiscal year 2005-2006.

The “Country’s National Budget” was how the Minister described it right from the opening paragraph of her statement, and several times thereafter. National? I had not heard that term used before; indeed I scrambled to take a quick peek back through last year’s, the first by Ms. Cox, and, nope, just as I thought, it was then described as it always has been, the Annual Government Budget.

So what gives?

Or more importantly what’s changed since the last one?

I expect that for you, Mr Editor, I do not need to paint a picture. Or as one of my colleagues loves to put it, you don’t need to be Ray Charles to read between the lines on this one. The Man in charge of The Woman in charge of our Finances wants us all to be thinking independence. (Independence, Renee, not independently.)

So the term National Budget makes for a nice segue – what a wonderful word, Mr. Editor - into talk of independence. Lo and behold, there we were not long into the Budget Statement and there were a couple of paragraphs on – yes, you guessed it – independence.

“The people of every country have an inherent and inalienable right to articulate a view of self-determination and act upon that view”, declared the Finance Minister, not ten minutes into her speech, a speech that would take well over an hour, close to 90 minutes in fact, one of the longest in recent memory. We were told that Government has re-engaged the people in “a dialogue” about self-determination for Bermuda, and that there is: -

* Nothing sinister about the dialogue;
* No hidden agenda;
* Nothing to fear; and that
* There will be no rush to judgement.

“At the end of the process”, declared Ms. Cox, reading from her prepared written statement, “the Bermudian people will articulate a view on self-determination and act upon it. That is their inherent and inalienable right”.

The opening was obvious. Too obvious for those who are prepared to articulate a view and act on it. “How, then?”, asked Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons out loud, from across the floor. “Are you or are you not going to give the people the right to have a say by referendum?”.
An answer to that question wasn’t in the script. The Finance Minister continued on. Instead, reading from her prepared remarks, Ms. Cox told us that the people of Bermuda are going to be given the facts and the costs of going independent, presumably by the Big BIC, which was never actually mentioned by name.

Just how much will that exercise cost?

Well, said Ms Cox: “Government has made provision in the 2005/06 National Budget for fact-finding and providing answers to all the questions that reasonable people might have about self-determination for Bermuda and for Bermudians”.

Exactly how much then? I mean that seems like a reasonable question any reasonable person might have. Sadly, the Finance Minister chose not to share that figure with us in her statement and, according to a report in The Royal Gazette the next day, she declined to give that figure when asked at her subsequent press conference. You will also be hard pressed to find that sum identified anywhere in the Estimates.
So much then, Mr Editor, for providing answers to reasonable questions from reasonable people.

Nothing sinister.

No hidden agenda.

Nothing to fear.

Excuse me but am I being rushed to judgement?

Hear no… See no … Speak no ….

TALKING of leaving things out, there were a couple of others too, which, as far as the PLP Government is concerned, are better left unsaid. Three prime examples if I may: -

The Berkeley project … and the escalating costs, and the overruns, and the arbitration, and the delay, hardly rated a mention. It was touched upon but ever so briefly as one of a number of major projects “underway”. (Please, Mr. Editor, won’t someone in that PLP Government tell us what they mean by “underway”: How long is underway to be underway?) Even more noticeable is the way in which the PLP are now trying to distance themselves from their own work. The word “Berkeley” or the words “Berkeley Institute” in association with the new senior secondary school have been dropped, completely. “The Second Senior School” is the term the Finance Minister employed. Shame and embarrassment, I suspect.

The Bermuda Housing Corporation: The planned activities of the BHC, the Finance Minister told us, have only had a minimal impact on the $62 million budget of the Works Ministry. That sounds like good news in view of what happened in the past. But that’s not quite how the Minister meant it. BHC is going to be seeking required financing in local capital markets for housing initiatives. How is this possible? You ask a reasonable question. “Corporate governance and transparency has been significantly improved at the Bermuda Housing Corporation”, explained Ms. Cox in her Budget Statement. Really? Why is it then that the Minister responsible has yet to make public – as required by law - the Annual Reports for the Corporation for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004? They have, Mr. Editor, been a very long time coming …and I draw attention to this without getting into the delay which surrounded disclosure of the Auditor General’s Special Report which has still be aired and debated in the House of Assembly.

Jobs: The Minister gave us only the good news here. Overall employment is expected to have increased by 1.5 percent in 2004 following a flat performance in 2003. “The overall number of jobs in the economy”, she said in her Statement, “was provisionally placed at 38,259 in 2004, reflecting a net addition of 573 jobs across the entire economy”. Sounds good. Looks good too. Until you dig down and take a look at the facts and figures reported on by the Finance Ministry in their 2004 Economic Review – which the Minister tabled with her Budget. The Review tells the real story: since 1998 jobs held by Bermudians have gone from 28,717 to 27,345 in 2004, a decline of 1372 jobs over six years. Jobs held by non-Bermudians? They have climbed to a high of 8,980 in 2004 from 7,480 in 1999 or an increase of 1500 jobs. The statistics speak for themselves. This is the New Bermuda, Mr. Editor, in which Bermudians are now struggling to survive.

Wait for it

AS for jobs, all criticism aside Mr. Editor, you have to give the Minister her due. There were no new taxes to complain about. Land taxes held despite the recent, upward revision in ARVs (maybe next time). Payroll taxes were eased for the little guys. Farmers finally get a customs duty break they’ve been after for some time. Pensioners are promised a 3.5 per cent increase as of August 1 but, as we also heard, the increase may still fall behind the rate of inflation which may run to 4 percent this year. The increase will also cost us a 4.5% increase in our social insurance contributions.

Meanwhile, a proud PLP Minister for Finance was at pains to highlight the PLP’s track record (to date) on debt. Better than the UBP, Ms Cox crowed: this before Dr. Gibbons gets to reply this week.
But then why plan to borrow $85-million more?

You have to also wonder at what’s coming too, when Government proposes to increase the proposed statutory debt limit from $250-million to $375-million?

It sounds to me, Mr Editor, like there is something just around the corner. I guess reasonable people with reasonable questions looking for reasonable answers will just have to wait.

Flights of fancy

SPEAKING of what’s ahead Mr. Editor, the wordsmiths responsible for the Budget Statement seemed at several points to have, shall we say, soared on flights of oratorical fancy .( Translation: They got carried away.)

Like, for example, this declaration: “We are living in an exciting time – there is so much to do, so many bridges to cross and there is a bold new world that hovers just on the edge of the horizon”. Bermuda is what then? Another World but not the other World out there hovering on the horizon?

Or what about this: “ … Our people will move in unison to the drumbeats and rhythms of our cultural heritage as we celebrate 500 years of Bermuda’s advances in this Quincentennial year. Such is the essence of the ‘Social Agenda’!” Now that, Mr. Editor, sounds like a Social Agenda …and in competition with a re-vamped tourism strategy which was described as one of “bold steps and pulsating moves”. A kind of new Tourism Slide as in Electric? Get down, Dr. James Brown.

Or this: “We intend to be an entrepreneurial government – one that constantly chafes at the bit and searches for more efficient and effective ways of managing”. Chafes?! As in “make hot or sore by rubbing” or “become annoyed”? That’s a bit of a slip, I think, but perhaps accurate.

And finally this gem at the conclusion: “This means that every one of us must be involved as we build our nation: A Bermuda for Everyone … Everyone for Bermuda”.

Mind you, the Minister told us earlier in her statement that this will be the theme for the Quincentennial celebrations which Government is planning this year to mark the 500th Anniversary of the discovery of Bermuda, but to some of my colleagues it sounded like an election theme in the making.

So much then, Mr. Editor, for Juan Bermuda!

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

February 18, 2005

Stepping out for the annual Budget Ballet

Mid Ocean News (11 Feb. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Stepping out for the annual Budget Ballet

LADIES and gentlemen, and Mr. Editor too, today in the House on the Hill we reconvene for the annual Budget Ballet, an event not on the Bermuda Festival Calendar but on the Parliamentary Calendar, which features by way of an opening act, a grand pas de deux, the Minister of Finance leading first and her Shadow from the Opposition following next Friday. According to the choreography, which hasn’t changed much over the years – and by years, I mean decades, Mr. Editor - there often follows a series of long monologues by Ministers of the Government, reading from lengthy scripts put together by swivel servants, whose Shadows get to respond in kind … and in length if they’re lucky. The rest of us poor sods may not even get an opportunity to get a word in edge-wise, such is our lot as the cast ensemble.

They call this the Budget Debate … and unlike the real Festival down the road, it’s free: The debate that is, whether listening on the radio or watching from the public gallery. Or not. Your choice.

The excitement, if any, is born out of the anticipation we all have as to what will be in the Budget, the first to bear the entire imprint of Finance Minister Paula Cox who succeeded her late father in the post just prior to last year’s presentation. There will likely be the obligatory news video of the Finance Minister making her way up to the House on the Hill with the Budget firmly tucked inside Ministerial briefcase, and the obligatory pose, usually halfway up the steps, for Saturday’s Royal Gazette. The props, Mr. Editor, like the choreography never seem to change. Not much.

But no matter how you slice it, Mr. Editor, the Budget is the news story of the day. I mean, if it’s anything like last year’s, it will be a $700-million production. It should warrant attention - and close scrutiny too.

Parliament is meant to provide that close scrutiny. That won’t begin to happen until next week when the Opposition delivers its Reply through its Leader, Dr. Grant Gibbons, who also happens to be the Shadow for Finance. If past practice is any indication, Mr. Editor, we’ll all likely scurry off the Hill soon after the Budget is presented: the Government to explain and defend initiatives in press conferences and the Opposition, after an initial comment or two, to prepare for next week’s curtain call.

We call next Friday The Economic Debate: when members get to speak on the both the Budget and the Economy and the direction of both. Different directions? We hope not, but you never know.

Meanwhile, the actual debate of the various Ministries – and their proposed expenditures for the next financial year – won’t begin until Monday the 28th. The Rules provide that some 42 hours be set aside for this next phase of the plot, acts of scrutiny they are meant to be, as we meet three days a week for two weeks to get to The End. The fun part here, and I exaggerate a touch Mr Editor, is that the Opposition gets to decide how much time, if any, is allocated and to what departments and in what order. But the allocations are not meant to come as a complete surprise to the Government: we are to let them know the order and the times sufficiently well in advance so as to be primed and ready to roll … to roll out those briefs, which are hardly ever brief, but often longer in self-aggrandising spin than they are in actual substance.

Questions for Ministers? Maybe.

Answers? Unlikely.

You were thinking of what: An actual debate? Sorry, Mr. Editor, not in this production – and this, ladies and gentlemen, and you too Mr Editor, is how our Parliament works in the year 2005.

A way to go, Mr. Premier

IF you’re thinking there must be another way, don’t think again. Reform of the rules of the House of Assembly doesn’t appear to be high on the Government agenda, if it is at all. On the other hand, even their own members return from Commonwealth Parliamentary Conferences, year after year, and share with us reports, year after year, that tell us how behind the times we really are in the way in which we run our House of Assembly. I could go on and on about the need for reform – and how you don’t need to be independent to bring Bermuda up-to-date. But I won’t. I have already, elsewhere, with recommendations.

Let’s try a new tack, shall we?

The Man Who Wants To Be Prime Minister showed some inclination to think and act outside the conventional box when he established the Big BIC: You might say it showed a streak of independent thought. Now while he and I disagree on the need or the mandate to pursue independence, the approach did appear to be an attempt of sorts at some sort of bi-partisan, community-based effort to tackle an issue of concern to the community(which, granted, Grant, is only an issue because he made it an issue).

What about employing this approach on major issues that are of real and actual concern to the voters of this country, Mr Editor? Here’s a couple that might benefit from bi-partisan, broad community-based, investigation spearheaded by backbench MPs from both sides of the House on the Hill: -

Sustainable development: Why just an expert from the UK under CPU? Plenty of home-grown talent here: former Environment Minister Arthur Hodgson comes to my mind as well as the man he hired to consult on the issue Pauulu Kamarakafego a.k.a Dr. Roosevelt Brown. What became of his work anyhow? Sustainable development strikes me as an ideal probe for a 12-person committee drawn from all sectors of the community.


Tourism: We’ve tried everything else so far haven’t we? Minister after Minister, seem to come and go, and go, and go, and go quite a lot, it seems, and with them a multiplicity of sound-good, feel-good ideas that never quite seem to deliver where it counts. Here. Who remembers the Fly/Cruise dream? Gombeys at Davos? Argentina and the South America push? Africa? Now the Miami Heat and a Bermuda shorts fashion show. Some of the ideas seem as far flung as they are far-fetched. We’re told we’re creating a buzz. What we need is more people in the form of visitors.

Add to this the turn-over in Tourism personnel in recent years and David Dodwell’s call for an independent Tourism Authority is looking better and better. Maybe it is time to turn tourism over to the professionals, people with a stake in the industry, who make a career and a living out of tourism – and let the amateurs, as enthusiastic and as hard-working as they may be, get out of the way.


Crime ( our youth and gangs): Given recent headlines in the newspaper and on the news, need I say more? This is a community issue that does cut across political boundaries, and cries out for a bi-partisan approach.


I’m certain there are other issues that could be added to the list: Housing is but one more that comes immediately to mind.

What does this approach bring, Mr Editor?

Consultation, participation, and involvement.

Openness and transparency too, if we opened the work of parliamentary committees to the public. But that gets me back to where I started: the long overdue need for reform of the way in which we do the people’s business in Bermuda.

Absent a good idea

BUT before I get carried away, committees can kill too – if not seriously deep six a good idea. Absentee ballots are a prime example. It’s now been well over two years since the Opposition introduced a motion in the House calling for absentee ballots which the Speaker called on us to withdraw because the then Premier, Jennifer Smith, said her Government was about to set up a committee to review how the franchise might be extended. The Opposition had put forward a paper prepared by interested students who had looked at the issue and who had recommended postal ballots and provided some sample legislation by way of example. The Government committee came back six months later and agreed with the students. Postal balloting was preferred. The 2003 election came and went. No absentee balloting. The last we heard – in the November Throne Speech – was that the legislation was still in the works. Here’s hoping it comes out of committee coma ... soon.

PS Mr. Editor: once again we don’t need to be independent to be progressive.

Going up?

LISTEN, you wisecrackers out there, the only reason the proposed elevator won’t be going to the top floor in the House on the Hill is because there’s only one room up there, in the tower – and it’s empty. If you must know, the second floor is where the action is: the House, the public gallery and a court-room.

It’s also been a long time coming.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy

February 11, 2005

View From the Hill - Back from hibernation

Mid Ocean News (11 Feb. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Back from Hibernation

TWENTY FOUR hours is a long time in politics, Mr Editor. Ten weeks is too long. But that’s how long the House will have been out when we reconvene on the Hill next Friday. It’s been quite the recess really, and in duration more like a hibernation than a break from parliamentary action. Not that it’s been completely quiet on the political front since Christmas.

If the pollsters are to be believed, there are some close races going on … except backwards. A kind of political version of the limbo, if you will: how low can you go … without collapsing. The two political parties like their leaders are said to be neck and neck; and therein lies a warning. As most pundits will point out, clever politicians want to be careful to never stick their necks out too far. They tend to get the chop.

Sticking with body parts, the Premier seems to have one leg up on the Opposition – access to the public purse. Someone somewhere came up with the idea of paid focus groups to tell him and the PLP Government how to improve their image and how to get their message across to the people. I don’t know about you, Mr. Editor, but it all sounds to me like an expensive and more convenient substitute for canvassing and listening. Although on reflection, as it is paid for by taxpayers, it does work out to be cheaper for the PLP. Mind you, we have repeatedly been told that the purpose of the focus groups and polling was not political. Sure, sure, Mr. Editor. Meanwhile we all await the report on how much this exercise cost; who was polled; what they were asked; and what they said i.e. the results – without editing and without editorial comment. Fat chance, you say?

No BIC-kering, thank you very much

Speaking of costs, as advertised, Big BIC also swung into action while we were down and out, on holiday from the Hill: a 12-person committee appointed by the Premier to investigate and give us the facts on Independence for Bermuda.

We in the Opposition were very kindly offered the right to nominate one person for BIC, but respectfully declined, thank you very much. It was a decision that didn’t go down well with everyone, including the Man Who Made The Offer, as well as – dare I say it? - some of our own supporters. Only some, Mr. Editor, not many.

As our leader, Dr. Grant Gibbons, explained at the time: we didn’t in good conscience feel that we could serve. And it wasn’t just because we were only offered the right to put up one person for one spot, even though we represent close to half of the voting electorate. It was a point of principle.

First, the PLP didn’t run on the pursuit of independence in the last election. They have no mandate. Whilst I appreciate that their platform wasn’t published until a week or so before the 2003 vote, and voters may as a consequence have had little time to read let alone digest its contents, the subject didn’t even rate a mention.

The only change since the 2003 vote? A change of leaders: see above on polls, popularity and what happens when your neck is out too far.
What we have seen since the change in leaders is the emergence of something called “The Social Agenda”, trumpeted in the most recent Throne Speech in which, incidentally, despite its length and its breadth, the subject of independence once again didn’t even rate a mention in the PLP Government’s list of priorities for the current Parliamentary year.

Secondly, we in the Opposition could agree on that: there are some far more important and pressing issues to get on with than the pursuit of Independence. Limited time and resources – money and manpower – have a way of dictating what you can and cannot do
Now the PLP calls it a Social Agenda.

We call it the People’s Business.

The facts of the matter

Speaking of agendas, Mr. Editor, the Opposition also happened to think that the pursuit of independence wasn’t very high on the list of priorities for the people of Bermuda. The polls tend to confirm this to be the case, the most recent example being that which was published last week in The Royal Gazette. Those against have apparently reached a new high: 65.2 per cent. What’s even more startling perhaps is that an even greater number (69.4 per cent) wish to have the issue decided by way of a referendum rather than general election. Nothing uncertain about those numbers, eh HE?

Meanwhile, the position of the UBP, new or old, has been consistent. On the question of a referendum, we’ve been neverendum: the people of Bermuda should have the right to decide by way of a direct vote, yes or no, on whether Bermuda should go independent. It’s a position that is hardly surprising for a party that is made up of people who are for and against independence; in fact, you might say it’s a position that is representative of the community we seek to serve.

After a yes vote, maybe, we can get down to deciding on Brand X or Brand Y and who should lead us into independence by way of a general election.

But BIC, we’re told, won’t be dealing with how the question is to be decided. In his one and only Ministerial statement to Parliament on the subject, just before we rose for the Christmas holiday, the Premier foretold the establishment of BIC, promising that it would embark on “a comprehensive, fact-finding, analytical and reasoned approach”. We can only await their findings on the facts.

Kettle takes on the pot

Speaking of reasoned, we have now heard from the ex-right of man of the ex-Premier (see the bit on polls above) on the subject. Lt. Col Burch called for a debate on the issue “free of all the hyperbole and overreaction that has characterised the debate thus far”.

That was bit like the kettle calling the pot black, don’t you think Mr. Editor? He reminded us that the PLP have always been for independence, since day one –it’s in their constitution, he said - and they are for deciding the issue by way of a general election.

But so what? As the song says, that was yesterday. They used to be against accepting the Queen’s Honours too. I particularly liked his bit about general elections being “the bedrock of democracy”. True that.

But let’s not overlook the downside the first past the post system. Even if constituencies are even in terms of numbers of voters, that system has a habit of returning Parliaments and Governments that are not necessarily representative of how people voted. The number of seats rarely matches the popular support and Governments have been known to be elected without the majority popular vote and in some cases, if not most, with more MPs than their fair share on the basis of the popular vote.

A referendum cuts through all of that: each vote actually is of equal value when people vote in a referendum. Lt. Col. Burch also scolded those who promote a referendum for overlooking the cost. He put the price tag at around $600,000.

Even if he’s right, I suspect that the additional and new costs of an independent Bermuda make a $600,000 price tag quite modest by comparison and a small price to pay for letting the people have the final say.

You don’t say?

Finally, speaking of change, Mr. Editor, the about face in Barbados this week didn’t escape my notice … and that of hundreds of others in Bermuda too, I bet. Prime Minister Owen Arthur reversed positions and will now plump for a referendum on the issue of whether Barbados should move from a monarchical to a republican system of government. Fancy that.

“The opinion of the people should be deliberately and specifically canvassed by way of a referendum”, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying in the news report which I read.

Enough said, Mr. Editor. Enough said.

Posted Fri by Christian S. Dunleavy