Recently in View From The Hill Category

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.”


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.

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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.

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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".


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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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”.


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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.

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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.

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