FRIDAY, JULY 27: When the Public Accounts Committee published its report last week, detailing questionable activity on the part of senior officers of the Bermuda Land Development Company, the response from the Government was to point to all the ‘good governance’ initiatives that have been implemented since the activity came to light.
It was a response the Government has been forced to use before, so I doubt many people paid it a lot of attention.
Even if they had, I doubt that it would have had a lot of effect, because the hard truth is that since the proverbial horse has already bolted from the barn, the Government has lost the trust of much of the Bermudian public.
Trust is something you don’t get back in one press release, or even in a dozen of them. It’s something you earn or lose over time.
This Government has been in power for a long time, and looking back, what a long, strange trip it has taken Bermuda and Bermudians on!
I’m not going to recite a long list of things this government has done wrong. I’m one of those who feel it should be given credit for the things it has done right. But the cumulative effect of not paying enough attention to keeping its word, literally and figuratively, has had a terrible effect on this Government’s image as being trustworthy.
Three examples have come to light recently. We read a few days ago about Brian Hall, who has a long history of established business credentials in Bermuda.
In 1998, Brian Hall was the Chairman of the Board of the Bermuda College and passionate about his idea of building dormitories to enhance the ‘going to college’ experience of Bermudian students and to attract students from the East Coast seeking to study insurance and finance in Bermuda.
Mr Hall tried to get the attention of the newly elected Premier in 1998, without success. He felt he had to get the new Government’s support before he could start putting the generous $5-million in donations he’d collected from the private sector to use, so he met with the new Minister of Education, who over breakfast, more or less brushed him off.
The idea died, of course, and the donations evaporated. Bermuda lost a valuable opportunity to enhance the Bermuda college experience and perhaps to grow another leg to the Bermudian economy.
We also read about a businessman who had a good idea some years ago about reducing rents in Bermuda. He pitched the idea to a Cabinet Minister who agreed it was a good idea.
But it isn’t going to happen, the Cabinet Minister said. Why, the businessmen asked? Most Cabinet Ministers are landlords, the Minister said, and they were not going to be interested in reducing rents. And since the then-UBP Opposition was no longer a force to be reckoned with, “…we can do whatever we like,” he said. Bermuda lost again.
And three international businessmen at a roundtable discussion about Bermuda organized by an insurance magazine said that when the Government broke its promise to the industry not to raise payroll tax without warning two years ago, it caused a “rupture of trust” between the industry and the Government.
Even though the increase was rolled back a year after it was imposed, the businessmen said, it resulted in the beginning of a silent exodus of jobs and meant that the insurance industry was no longer prepared to take the Government at its word.
Once again, damage was done and, as a result, Bermuda is still losing.
I chose to highlight these three incidents because it is clear to me that they show trust being destroyed at an individual level, and at an industry level.
They show that the arrogance generated by a conviction that “we can do whatever we like” has been at work from the outset of this Government’s time in office right through to the present day.
There have been many, many incidents like these over the course of 13 or 14 years, where trust in the Government has been broken.
People who have not been personally affected have been able to see how others have been affected, and now we have the evidence of dwindling prosperity all around us to dramatize its impact. This is not something press releases can fix. No good personal reputation can lighten the heavy burdens that must now be carried by us all.
I say the coming election will boil down to this simple question — do you have trust in the direction in which this government is taking Bermuda?
• Sylvan Richards Jr is the One Bermuda Alliance candidate for Constituency 7, Hamilton South.