“I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end” — Margaret Thatcher

For many, the SAGE Commission is seen as merely a vehicle by which the OBA can carry out its true intention of privatization, for the benefit of its supporters’ businesses. So let’s look under the SAGE hood. 

The OBA failed to act in the bipartisan spirit touted as one of their pre-election promises. While Dame Jennifer Smith sits on the Commission’s Streamline Committee, she does so as a private individual, not as a representative of the PLP.

Similar exercises examining efficiency were conducted by the Auditor General, the Department of Human Resources and other existing bodies under the PLP. Having bipartisan input would have prevented duplication of past efforts. 

In the OBA’s rush to enact the SAGE Commission, there are ill-thought-out elements to the SAGE Commission’s Act.

Most notably, part 4.12.(2) of the Act states: “For the purpose of the receipt of grants, subsidies and contributions under the subsection (1)(b), the SAGE Commission shall be deemed a charitable organization”. However, as the Commission does not serve a charitable function, under 4.12.(3), “The Charitable Act 1978 is not applicable to the SAGE Commission.” 

According to the Commission’s website, its estimated budget is $300,000 — $400,000. The OBA will provide funds of up to $200,000 as well as provide office space and IT support. By allowing the balance of funding to come from unreported and unpublicized sources, they create a recipe for nepotism and cronyism.

For example, let’s say a landscaping company makes a hefty donation. They may somehow benefit from the Department of Parks becoming privatized. Does the word ‘transparency’ mean anything to the OBA?

The SAGE Commission has been granted far-reaching powers that are usually reserved exclusively for a Commission of Inquiry and has the power to ask anyone to come before them, provide documentation and answer questions.

The Commission, under Part 3.9. (2). of the Act, has the ability to delegate these powers at will, to not only its committee members but also to “any public officer or employee of the Commission”. This freedom to delegate its power goes beyond what is granted to even a Commission of Inquiry.

Not only has the Commission been granted incredible powers, there are no checks and balances under the SAGE Commission Act to ensure that there is no abuse of the power.  

Under Part 2.3 (1)(a), the SAGE Commission has the power to “acquire and dispose of property, both moveable & immoveable”.  What property could this possibly be referring to?  The OBA needs to clarify this section of the Act for the taxpayers.

The Bermuda Government, aka us, the taxpayers, own significant assets. Will the selling off of real estate be used as a way of reducing Government debt? Does the SAGE Commission have the power to do so? More importantly, sold to whom?

The inclusion of the Privatization Outsourcing Committee to specifically “identify areas of Government suitable for privatization or outsourcing of services to the private sector” comes as no shock.

This move is contrary to the OBA’s insistence during their election campaigning that they had no plans to privatize. Par for the course, considering their track record of not keeping election promises. 

During the Senate debate on the SAGE Commission in March, Senator Fahy was pointedly asked repeatedly by the PLP whether recommendations to privatize by the SAGE Commission would be accepted by Government. Fahy, as usual, dodged the questions and insisted that the Commission’s role was to simply provide recommendations to the OBA.

Sen Fahy was emphatic that decisions regarding these recommendations will be reviewed and considered after receiving feedback from the public.  

The OBA has made a public commitment to only reduce the size of the civil service by means of natural attrition. They can be assured, and should be considered forewarned, that they will be held to this promise. 

They cannot bring Thatcherism here and expect to destroy the unions of Bermuda.   

The OBA has much riding on its ability to find way to cut costs within the civil service. The success or failure of SAGE is interlinked with the political success of the OBA. Their much publicized push to reach a net debt cost/revenue ratio below 10% and a net debt/revenue ratio of 80% depends, on a large part, to the success of the SAGE Commission. The OBA has no Plan B.

In an upcoming column I will lay out some immediate, cost-cutting measures that do not call for job losses. To my sisters and brothers in the civil service, please beat them to the punch: Learn new skills; be willing to transfer from department to department; make time and do not abuse sick leave. 

The best way to beat SAGE is to become overly-efficient. More importantly, ‘Stand United in Solidarity’.