The inquisitors: From left, LaVerne Furbert of The Workers’ Voice, Gary Moreno of Bermuda Broadcasting Company and the Bermuda Sun’s James Whittaker. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
The inquisitors: From left, LaVerne Furbert of The Workers’ Voice, Gary Moreno of Bermuda Broadcasting Company and the Bermuda Sun’s James Whittaker. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
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Premier Dr. Ewart Brown faced up to the media for, perhaps, the last time on Monday — and barely broke sweat. He was quizzed on the Uyghurs, escalating crime, attacks on his integrity and the Auditor General’s criticism of Government finances.

Characterising many aspects of his tenure as ‘qualified success’, he conceded that he had been in damage limitation mode following a global recession and a surge in violence on the streets. He accepted progress had been slower than he’d hoped in some areas but he also championed achievements like Mirrors, shot down criticism of his travel expenses and took some parting shots at the media — particularly The Royal Gazette. Here’s a blow-by-blow account (with some editing for space reasons) of how the evening went...

VSB: Do you realise how misguided and damaging your frequent attacks on the media have been and can I ask you why you thought this was good for democracy?

Dr. Brown: Well I don’t think that I’ve had frequent and sustained attacks, at least it hasn’t felt that I have conducted frequent and sustained attacks. But I don’t think that in a democracy it is fair for it to be a one-way street and so when there were times when the media was piling it on, it was my turn to come back. And I think that we owe that to the people to indicate that there is some fight left in politicians and in Government when they report stories like ‘the Premier’s missing’, ‘the Premier’s lost’.

ZBM: (paraphrased and following a previous question about family influences): Some people in Bermuda don’t feel you have acted like family to them. How do you respond to that?

Dr. Brown:  I believe that an image of me has been created. An image of me has been created that I’m aloof, that I’m arrogant, that I steal, that I am just basically dishonest. And so there’s been this charactarisation if you will, sort of a character assassination over a period of time, where many times good things I’ve done have been ignored and that there’s often an effort to paint a negative picture.

ZBM (paraphrased): Why haven’t we been able to see black enterprise take off in the way people have felt it should have during your tenure?

Dr. Brown: Just today, and this is how nature works, today my wife called me and said, ‘honey, I have a flat tyre’. She said ‘I’m trying to organise it so I can get it fixed’. While I was talking to her on the phone she said I called mobile fix-a-flat.

The point that I’m making is that gentleman told my wife that he really appreciated the fact that prior to my becoming the Minister of Transport he was unable to get a licence for such a vehicle. He started a business under my administration and there are scores of people like him.

I think that (black enterprise hasn’t taken off) is one of the most unfair things people can say. When I ran for leader of the PLP, I brought people here and I purposely paraded out over 25 young black people who had contracts for services that black people never had contracts in the past. These are all young black entrepreneurs. Minister Burgess does the same thing in Works and Engineering.

So anybody who accuses us is not being honest. And those people who made up this story, that’s what I mean by demonisation. That Zane DeSilva and Dennis Correia got all the Government contracts: it’s a lie. There’s no other way I can charactarise it. Dennis Correia does a kind of construction that nobody else in Bermuda does, at least does as well as he does, his competitors agree. And that’s how he got those contracts. You don’t get contracts through my office anyway. Those contracts go through Works and Engineering but these happen to be two companies that have received contracts and there are hundreds and hundreds of young black entrepreneurs who’ve received contracts.

Bernews (paraphrased): When you started as Tourism Minister you did promise you would get air arrivals in particular up to 400,000. Tourism numbers have actually stayed about the half-million level, but tourism income has in fact declined. It peaked in 2007 and it’s now down 40 per cent. The air arrival count is also down. Elbow Beach has [partially] shut, Pink Beach is in receivership, Ariel Sands is out of business. The room count is down 1,200 since you took over. So in retrospect do you consider your time as Tourism Minister a successful period?

Dr. Brown:  I think it’s been a success, a qualified success. You did mention that in 2007, Bermuda, under my guidance, tourism had the best year it had in 20 years. You acknowledged it. Something happened in 2008, which affected the entire world. It’s called an economic recession. The country to which we turn for 85 percent of our visitors is in terrible economic shape. The reason I say it’s a qualified success is because that had it not been for our policy, the tourism numbers would have been worse.

When I report a three percent increase in a quarter, I’m very proud of it, because I know what is happening in other places.

You mentioned the hotels that have closed and I say, good, because many of our hotel rooms needed to be closed. Because for too long Bermuda has been promoting itself as a first class destination. Our hotels left a lot to be desired. In 2004/5 I commissioned a study, asked them to come to Bermuda, take a look at our hotels, because I kept believing there was something wrong with the quality of accommodation, just from information I’d been getting. And when they did their study, they concluded that Bermuda had no five-star properties at best one was a four-star.

We are so confident in ourselves we know that our country is so beautiful so that in all our years of analysis we never looked in the mirror. It was the commercials, it was the advertising company; and then we took a look in the mirror and we saw that it was us…

Yes, 1,200 rooms have gone away and I say that’s not all bad. Because it is better to have quality than to have quantity that is sub-par.

We are on track. Unfortunately I’m not going to be in a position to take credit so to speak for a number of things that are going to happen after I leave but I will remind you that the ground has been ploughed up and seeds have been planted in the area of hotel development and in the next ten days or so I will be making a major announcement about that...

The numbers have not been as high as they were in 2007 but just as I will accept that what happened after 2007 happened on my watch, I will also acknowledge that what happened in 2007 happened on my watch.

Bda Sun: You said in a recent interview at Westgate that “the cause and passion of my life is advancing the cause of young black men”, something along those lines. Given the high levels of violent crime, incarceration and employment that we are now seeing, do you accept that we haven’t actually made much progress in that regard?

Dr. Brown: I don’t know what much is. We haven’t made as much progress as I would like.. All I can tell you is there have been more than a few steps that we have taken as a Government to try to reduce the violence, the negative conduct among our men, young black men in particular. I will say to you and this is not to water down the impact on Bermuda, but if you read your newspaper, or you look at international television you will notice that everywhere on the planet is having issues with violence. Everywhere — America, the U.K., the same thing. Violence is everywhere.

And so we have to get to the root causes, which is why we started Mirrors. I am so proud of that programme, we graduated over 100 young people, mainly men but some women as well. That’s a programme that is at the root of the issue. While we can be punitive and punish the people who commit crimes, we must also never forget that we have to address the root causes.

I delivered hundreds of babies and I never saw one baby come out of the womb with criminal on his head, so it’s something that happens to people in the society that contributes to that.

We are addressing these root causes as well as addressing the manifestations. Have we cured it?

No. I do think we would have been further ahead if Governor Vereker had allowed us to bring in the Guiliani Group back in 2007 when I went to him and said: “Listen, I saw this happening in Los Angeles. I’ve had a ringside seat, I know it’s horrible, I don’t think Bermuda can handle it” and eventually he would not allow it.

And so it went on and on I think we missed an opportunity to try to nip it in the bud.

Bda Sun: You mention that with the punitive aspect but do you think we acted quickly enough to deal with these social problems that have been highlighted probably for 10 or 15 years before this upsurge of violence that we’ve seen over the last two years?

Dr. Brown: Very good point. No I don’t think we acted quickly enough, but remember where you are. You are in a country where change is not welcome.

ZBM: You’re considered a change agent Dr Brown...

Dr. Brown: Yes I know and I tried. I am still trying and I have changed things – I brought along a list of them in case you guys forgot.

I just want to tell you that social problems are often missed early and if they are diagnosed the politicians and the other experts always delay the treatment.

I was trained as a doctor that first you take a history, then you do a physical, then you make the diagnosis and then you treat. The time between diagnosis and treatment should be as brief as possible. Well, you know I ran into trouble in Government because Government by definition is not set up to move that quickly.

I want you guys to remember the number of times I was accused of being dictatorial. When I asked the head of the civil service if he would retire early. I knew what I was doing. My job as a leader is not to see the truck when its coming right at me – anybody can see that – I have to see it because I heard it coming around the corner. That’s what leaders have to do.

But when you are the only one hearing it or you and a few people hear that truck coming  and you say let’s get some legislation there is a truck coming – some people say “oh-oh he’s having a problem.”

Bda Sun: So you think people didn’t listen to you enough?

Dr. Brown: Sometimes. It took me 11 years to bring Mirrors into this country… 11 years… that’s how long it took to bring in a programme that is clearly helpful.

RG: Why do you think there have been more attacks on your personal integrity than previous Premiers have had?

Dr. Brown:  Well I don’t know if that’s true. Let’s take why there have been more attacks period, not just on integrity and I’ll tell you why – thanks for the opportunity.

Early in my tenure as a politician there were people in this country who saw me for what I am, who knew that I was focused on certain issues. They hoped and prayed that I would never be in a position to do anything about it.

RG: That’s the reason you’ve come under personal attacks so often for the last four years?

Dr. Brown:  I think that’s probably the main reason because otherwise I should be in jail. I’ve got cedar beams in my house, the gate to my house was built by ministry of transport, my wife hit me with a golf club and it just goes on and on and on. I’m saying to you if you continue to paint the picture…

This is how it works: “I get a call ‘Premier your neighbour’s chickens are missing. Did you steal the chickens?’ So I answer and say ‘no I did not steal the chickens’. Know what the headline says? Premier denies chicken theft. And so if you so that enough ‘Brown theft, Brown dishonest etc’. When I ask for the proof of it I ask people to say, okay, if you say that I have been guilty of financial dealings or something irregular…

RG: Often these things aren’t things that go in the paper. We’ve never written anything to say you’ve stolen any money.

Dr. Brown: No, no you would never say that because you have good lawyers….

RG: A lot of these things are things that people on the street say, people in working men’s clubs….

Dr. Brown:  Is that a good source?

RG:  I’m wondering why they say these things?

Dr. Brown:  Because they’ve been fed it. Look I think even I should be afforded the right to be considered innocent….

RG: No-one’s saying you’re not innocent. Why are these accusations following you around when they didn’t follow Alex Scott?

Dr. Brown: Part of it is because I fight back

RG: Alex doesn’t?

Dr. Brown:  I don’t speak for Alex you guys seem to know his number

RG: What’s the difference between yourself and Mr Scott?

Dr. Brown: Sir don’t try… you know how long I’ve been doing this?

You think I’m going to sit here and give you a headline so you can have me comparing myself to Alex Scott? (applause from the audience).

That’s why they don’t like me — that kind of thing I just did – I’m combative at times, I will fight you back.

Workers’ Voice:  Most people who know you personally respect you and honour you yet many of your detractors are people who have never been in the same room as you. What do you think is the cause of this disconnect?

Dr. Brown: Well we just haven’t had the chance to meet. I’m not being facetious. It was said at the beginning of my term that I would never enjoy or have productive meetings with white people in Bermuda, but if you talk to the whites with whom I have worked, including the media, they will tell you that those things are not true that I’m not that kind of a person…

It depends what you are looking for. If you are looking for the Ewart Brown as defined by The Royal Gazette and others, then you’re not going to like that guy but if you get to know me as a person I believe most of the people that know me and work with me enjoy doing so….

When I work with all these people outside Bermuda, with the Grand Slam, I go to the U.K. I meet people there, I seem to get along fine. All these organizations I work with, the people who are doing the Sargasso Sea project. All of these people work well with me. But inside the country I’m a demon.

ZBM: (abridged question) Do you think Bermuda and Bermudians are better off following your tenure?

Dr. Brown: In some ways yes, in some ways no. I won’t take responsibility for a global recession.

If you ask people today ‘are you personally doing better than when Brown came in?’ I think most of them might say: ‘no, I’m only working part time instead of full time or whatever is the result of the recession’.

But in many other ways I think you will get a response from Bermudians to say yes that businesses have grown, new businesses have been generated and I believe that in general there’s also what I call a mood change a mood shift in Bermuda with respect to people being willing to stand up for what they believe and say what they think.

ZBM: We’re seeing a number of business closing in recent months it’s almost frightening, the number of people on the breadline - equally as frightening  - and your saying that during your tenure….

Dr. Brown: I’m saying that during my tenure there were numerous new businesses that were started up. I gave an example of one earlier, there are many of them.

I’m saying in the middle of my term there was a global recession. It had an impact. I’m not going to blame everything on that but I know in Bermuda if the Premier used to do little or nothing the economy would still grow.

So if the economy would grow with the Premier not being proactive then surely you couldn’t blame the recession on the Premier of Bermuda.

Bda Sun: It sounds like you’re saying the success has been damage limitation …

Dr. Brown:  To a certain extent you are absolutely correct. In tourism for example, the fact that we had a three per cent plus increase in air arrivals in the last quarter is a lot better than it might have been had we not had policies and practices in place to thwart that.

If we hadn’t done all these promotions, for example this is the busiest October the hotels have had since 2007. That’s not by accident. To get Americans to travel today is difficult so when we see a slight increase I’m happy.

Bernews: (abridged) Asks if the 675million Government has borrowed for capital projects and current account spending would have been better spent helping to fund private developers like Sonesta and Bazarian to get their projects off the ground….

Dr Brown: First of all I think it’s a case of apples and oranges. It’s like saying if you spent money on a party why didn’t you spend money on breakfast and the two don’t go together all the time.

It doesn’t flow like that in the economy of a country.

First of all I would never have urged the Government, even if we knew the recession was coming, to go out and actually invest that kind of money in hotels at that point.

These are private ventures. The government doesn’t benefit from those ventures when they are extremely successful other than by the usual means of room taxes and what have you.

The point is you have to let the private sector generate something as well. You don’t just jump up as the government and give a developer $300million for a hotel unless you believe that you are at that point and there is no other way to get it done.

Mr Bazarian has proven that it is possible for the private sector to get it done without the Government doing anything other than facilitating and making it a little easier.

And let me talk about the money we’ve spent because there is no question that my Government has spent a lot of money has incurred debt but I can think of no more honourable pursuit than to do those things for the people.

Bernews: Doing those things for the people is admirable. The question is could they be afforded at the time. Where we spending too fast given the way the economy did go?

Dr. Brown: Yes and every country on the planet has had the issue facing us. Did we move fast enough? Looking back is always 20-20. You can see things perfectly now. When we were spending there was an assumption the recession would not last as long. There was an assumption, I would agree with that.  But these were services we needed to deliver to the people. We’ve been criticized for creating 1,000 new civil service jobs since 2005. Well what would those people be doing if they weren’t working,

RG: What do you say to the suggestion that you’ve set a bad example by your very high travel expenses while other people are cutting back?

Dr. Brown: First of all I don’t think I’ve travelled excessively. My travel has been highlighted more than others. In fact last year when your newspaper did a story about travel, we went back in the records of the Cabinet Office and found that my predecessor had actually travelled more than I have. 

But see it is my attitude that bothers you, the fact that I’m not apologetic you come to me and I don’t say (adopts meek tone) “well, I had to travel”…

The fact is that I represent three major responsibilities for my Government. I’m the Premier, the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Tourism — one salary three duties — and if they were separate individuals you would have seen at least a 50-60 per cent increase in travel.

The Minister of Tourism has always travelled and should travel because the people we want to come here don’t live here, so you have to go see them.

In Transport, when our aircraft registry was under attack, and it still is to a certain extent. I went to Russia. Why? You think there’s a joyride to Moscow that lasts 48 hours?

I went to sit down in front of those people like I’m looking at you. I want to look people in the eye and tell them the story about Bermuda. I have found that its more effective that way that’s why we have Jet Blue that’s why we have WestJet.

RG: On your trip to Washington DC last year you spent $16,000 on ground travel alone on one trip

Dr. Brown: That’s why I wanted you here because when we explained those things to you – you never printed it.

RG: I never received an explanation.

Dr. Brown: Your boss did.

RG: Are you saying you sent an explanation to the boss but not to me?

Dr. Brown: Absolutely because at some point with your paper I have to deal with the top. The point is that figure was not representative of me, where am I going to go in Washington for $16,000 by myself?

RG: That’s why I was asking.

Dr. Brown:  Maybe if you’d asked for a breakdown – just like what happened on London trip one time everything was billed to my account – so for six or seven of us in Washington all of it came on my account.

RG:  Its still a lot of money – $16,000 — even if its half a dozen people.

Dr. Brown: Sir I’m just telling you we travelled the way we normally travel which is piling into an SUV and sometimes my wife and I take a two-seater car that we drive in. We don’t really splurge on the government, you should know that.

RG:  Is there no way of cutting back?

Dr. Brown: I’ve cut back a lot I’ve turned down trips, I’ve turned down many trips I should have been in Barbados yesterday.

Part of the problem is coming from an assumption, which may have been with you for a long time and it is that I need the Government in order to travel so I splurge on the Government. Why would I do that? If it was $16,000 for transportation in Washington for the Bermuda delegation during the week we were there, then that’s what it was.

RG: Could you not have travelled more cheaply?

Dr. Brown: I just explained to you we’ve used one form of travel all the time, wherever we go ground transportation is an SUV and if there’s more than four of us — two SUVs. If we’re going to Capitol Hill you can’t tell the car to go and leave you and then you’ll get them when you come out.

And we don’t normally stay at the Motel 6 if you don’t mind.

ZBM: Dr Brown, the Uyghur situation; we have never heard how Bermuda has benefited from that situation. Some people say that was the turning point in your tenure – that basically was the straw that broke the camels back…

There has to have been some sort of benefit for this country other than just helping out your fellow human being?

Dr. Brown: I can tell you that the camel’s back is not broken. On the issue of the Uyghurs, I said it from the beginning I’ll say it again for me it was a humanitarian decision it was as if your son was in Guantanamo Bay and he had been there for eight years and he had never been charged with anything.

For me that was the basis of my decision.

With the U.S. we agreed right up front that there was no quid pro quo, no you give me this I give you that.

I said from the beginning that I think that it makes sense to do things that help your nearest neighbour.

I believe personally, the fact that the Obama administration has not pressed on Bermuda’s status with respect to that whole tax issue may or may not be related to the Uighurs.

But I do know that we have a relationship with the U.S. government that I’m very proud of.

In 14 months we have had the Secretary of State here and the Attorney General and I think that’s no small feat for a place as small as Bermuda. I think much of it had to do with their gratitude for how we treated the Uighurs, because after all we are a centre of hospitality…

ZBM: That was almost political ‘hari kari’ for you, would you do it again if the situation arose.

Dr. Brown: Yes. I didn’t come into this job to win a popularity contest, I really didn’t. That doesn’t mean I’m insensitive or numb to the feelings of the people.

If you want to distinguish leadership from a computer you have to be willing to make decisions on the spot that come from somewhere inside you and you must be willing to withstand the consequences of your decision and that’s what I did.

I realized how serious it was I sat there in parliament and I listened to some of my ministers, members of the opposition, members of my own party tear me apart about it. But I said to myself ‘you know what Ewart that’s what you get when you make a decision and some people don’t like it and it is major,’ and I was prepared to accept it. If the no confidence motion had succeeded I would have still felt what I did with respect to the Uighurs was the right thing to do.

Bda Sun:  The Auditor General’s reports have highlighted gaps in accountability in terms of the government finances — financial instructions that have not been followed to the point where they are saying that for every dollar we spend on a capital project  only 59 cents is realized by way of a tangible asset. Is that good enough and do you think enough has been done to remedy that?

Dr. Brown: The Auditor General is supposed to ask the hard questions, the auditor general is supposed to do the analysis and is supposed to point out where government has not been efficient and effective. So I have always welcomed the Auditor General’s reports when it comes to the issue of auditing —  now when the Auditor General starts spilling over into politics, I’ve said the Auditor General ought to get out of the politics.

I think we need to be more efficient there is no question about it. Now let me tell you how projects grow from $46 million to $60million. One of the reasons for the overrun in Dockyard (Cruise Terminal) was internal to the government. We give ourselves so much grief internally that we are a cost centre to our own projects.

When we spent all that money on pregnant dolphins to me it was an unnecessary expense I told them send the dolphins back to Chicago – don’t spend that kind of money on dolphins.

The planning department, I hate to say, was the cause of much of the overrun expenditure at Dockyard. There’s no question we stand in our own way and we stumble over ourselves when we do projects.

I don’t have to tell Bermudians they know, they try to build a one room addition to their house and the amount of grief you get…. it’s like TCD…. used to be.

Bda Sun:  One thing the new Auditor General has said is the problem isn’t projects going over budget. It is the over-run and why weren’t they tangibly accounted for. Secondly, you’ve said you are a strong leader prepared to make unpopular decisions do you think you should have been stronger on this and sent the dolphins back to Chicago?

Dr. Brown: I didn’t want to overrule the civil servants at the time and I had no idea it was going to grow into that kind of bill. I don’t like cost overruns on my house and my money.

So surely I don’t like it when it’s the public purse. I do think we can be more efficient I accept that — that’s why we created our own internal audit so long before these things get to the Auditor General they will get to our own internal auditor and we can start picking up on these things.

I don’t think that the Government is very efficient. I think sometimes we hire three people to handle a door — one to open it, one to hold it and one to close it.

I think we need to get away from that mindset and be more efficient and let me tell you and this is aimed directly at the unions – sometimes when you want to make it more efficient that’s where the resistance comes from. Sometimes when you want to push people to perform at a higher level - that’s where the resistance comes from.

Bda Sun: You’re having it both ways now Mr. Premier because a moment ago you mentioned the thousand extra jobs in civil services as a good thing and now your talking about inefficiency and three guys being hired to do a job that one could do...

Dr. Brown: But the 1,000 jobs didn’t mean 1,000 people were hired in that three man model that I just mentioned….You can increase jobs without decreasing efficiency —  you can increase efficiency in the Government but you have to set standards and demand performance

VSB: When you returned to Bermuda in the 1900s  (1990s) you told an interviewer you had come home to work for the people of Bermuda and at the same time you had some scores to settle. As you leave the stage may we ask what the scores were and if you believe you’ve settled them?

Dr. Brown: I said that a rally at PHC in 1993 and as I explained later one of the scores that I wanted to settle was that the party had never won an election. The first score, if you will, was settled in 1998. I don’t think that was the best choice of words but it did indicate that I wanted to balance an imbalanced country, because Bermuda was out of balance.

ZBM: Two questions – greatest accomplishment, greatest disappointment?

Dr. Brown: You have to give me time to detox and then think about it more. I can speak of things like Jet Blue, West Jet, accomplishments in the airline area, Mirrors, the passage of the bill that allowed Julian Hall to practice was a personal special for me.

There’s a long list — PATI legislation, National Heroes Day, the Queen’s visit, teaching Portuguese in schools, starting some relationships with India and China, getting CITV off the ground, developing Port Royal Golf Course into an internationally renowned course, getting some hotel development in the midst of economic decline, setting up offices in Washington and London…

Well Future Care is important. In the future people will look at that and say it is when seniors in Bermuda really got comprehensive coverage from the Government, free daycare for families with income under $70,000,people in the east end now have an urgent care centre they can go to and on and on…

Disappointment? On the top of my mind right now. I wish we had been a little more patient with the idea of gaming in Bermuda because it is going to come back, we will just be late.

RG:  Do you have any frustrations that the backbenchers appear to block what you wanted on gaming bill?

Dr. Brown:  I wouldn’t blame that on the backbenchers alone I think the gaming bill fell victim to the timing. We had a contest for the leadership for my party.

During that week churches had come out in opposition to it, one of the candidates had come out in opposition to it and I think that caused others to feel at the time that it wasn’t good to do at that time. But I do think in the future Bermuda will once again grapple with the issue of gaming.