Paula Cox, seen here enjoying her moment of victory last night, needs to restore confidence in Government. *Photo by Ras Mykkal
Paula Cox, seen here enjoying her moment of victory last night, needs to restore confidence in Government. *Photo by Ras Mykkal
Have we just entered a shining new era? Or will it be more of the same?

The Auditor General’s report last week on huge TCD cost over-runs, is emblematic of the choices that confront our new leader.

For all that has gone right in our little country, citizens are increasingly troubled by leadership that has gone off course.

Even in our little country, government seems aloof and detached from the concerns of real people.

Government is wasting too much money; debt is climbing too high and too quickly.

Too many rules aren’t followed.

Our leaders are reluctant to speak openly and honestly about problems, mistakes, or anything they think might tarnish their images.

Which makes it very hard to find solutions. And too many major problems – from education to tourism to crime and racial inequity — just aren’t being solved.

All these issues lurk at the core of the Auditor General’s report.

Contracts were awarded to friends and relatives, not put out to tender. Costs were higher – three times higher – than originally budgeted for. Whether the job was worth doing, at three times the original cost, is worth debating.

And criticism and complaints about the project, from ordinary citizens as well as the Auditor General herself, have been mostly dismissed.

I say “mostly”, because the response – like responses to previous reports on previous projects – dismisses most of the criticism as unfounded and out of date, and attacks the messenger.

And then, in a roundabout and wordy kind of way, the Premier suggests that a few changes might be worth considering.

But nothing, presumably, happens, because the same kind of problems occur again and again, with similar criticisms from the Auditor General, and similar responses from the Premier of the day.

Does our new Premier have the strength to break the cycle?

Paula Cox’s public response to the TCD debacle – as to so many others – has been encouraging and frustrating at the same time.

She kind of says the right things. In a statement given to The Royal Gazette, for example, she says the Auditor General’s recommendations “highlight areas of improvement to further improve value for money from a governance and Government perspective”.

She knows what’s wrong

And she notes that an internal Finance Ministry review “has considered the framework that exists for procurement, tendering, contract award and management of capital projects, with a view to introducing enhancements”.

You get the impression Ms Cox knows exactly what’s wrong but isn’t quite brave enough to say so bluntly. She has a worrying tendency to disappear up her own subordinate clauses.

And as many people have noted, she’s been Finance Minister for the last seven years, and the only Cabinet Minister with the strong popular support needed to challenge her colleagues.

What happens behind the closed doors of Cabinet is hard to know. But it is clear that the same problems of ignoring contract procedures and over-spending keep happening.

Is she brave enough to fix things now she’s Premier?

The stakes are important.

This isn’t just about a TCD building or emissions testing programme, any more than it was really about a new court house and police station a year ago.

It is about more than money and contracts. It is about the confidence citizens have in their Government to look after their interests.

The repeated failure of the Government to handle things like the new TCD building rattles the confidence of Bermudians in the ability, forthrightness and common sense of their government.

It poisons the perceptions that citizens have of their government.

But it also poisons the perceptions of government workers, and everyone who does business with government – from small contractors to international business.

Wheeling and dealing, the message seems to be, are the way to go. Who you know is what really matters, and the rules are there to be sidestepped.

Now Bermudians know who their new Premier is. Over the coming weeks and months, though, Bermudians will get to know what kind of person their new Premier is.

Our departing leader, Dr. Brown, complained about the “timing” of the Auditor General’s report on the new TCD building and emissions testing programme.

But the timing was perfect. It was a superb reminder of what leadership is all about.

We will learn a lot about our new Premier by the way things like the TCD and emissions testing issue are handled — by the way new mistakes are avoided, and the frankness with which old transgressions are dealt with.

But most of all we will learn about the kind of Bermuda we are creating for ourselves and for our children.