WEDNESDAY, MAY 23: It is ironic that on the very day Parliamentarians debated the destructive effect of Bermuda’s troubled economy on employment, former Minister Walter Roban should publish an article in the Bermuda Sun saying none of it was the Progressive Labour Party’s fault.
The One Bermuda Alliance was really the wolfish United Bermuda Party in sheep’s clothing, he said, attacking and distorting the PLP’s record for purely political purposes. And the PLP’s term limit policy had had nothing to do with unemployment.
“Our response to the global economic crisis was a reflection of our values,” he said.
“We tightened our belt and cut spending in the face of declining revenues. But, unlike the OBA, we don’t believe that only cutting is the answer. We also invested in Bermudians to protect jobs and soften the blow.”
I’m not going to waste a lot of time trying to pry the OBA loose from the UBP again — the allegation is no truer than the idea that the PLP and the UBP are joined at the hip because former UPB leader Wayne Furbert is now one of their ministers.
And I’m not going to try to debate whether the PLP did everything it could to lessen the effect of the recession. People have long memories. They remember the travel, the cost overruns, the friends who benefited and the $100 million a year on consultants.
Mr Roban’s article was also published during a week when it was revealed that in 2008, the Ministry of education secretly signed a lease agreement with Pembroke Hamilton Club to pay it as much as $10 million over a 20-year period, to allow area schools to use PHC’s multi-dimensional complex once the project was completed.
In 2008, Mr Roban claimed, Premier Cox was warning about and making plans to deal with the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression. But now we learn she was also helping to make this $10 million deal with PHC. Don’t those two things contradict each other? We must all be missing something.
That secret agreement must be a revelation to anyone who has been tempted to believe the statements about commitment to transparency that Premier Cox and her Ministers keep making.
It was also a revelation that astonished the Bermuda Union of Teachers, whose members are now being made to do more with less because of budget difficulties.
Here’s a question: Wouldn’t that $10 million be better spent helping teachers do their jobs properly? Here’s another question: If the PLP did everything it could have done to deal with the economy, how come we’re $1.5 billion in debt?
Here are some more questions: If the PLP did everything it could have done, why is everyone who is not involved with Government feeling the pinch? Why are more people seeking and receiving Financial Assistance than ever before? Why are businesses shutting down?
And if they were the good stewards of the public purse that Mr Roban claims they are, why do we keep reading and hearing about PLP people involved in questionable activities? The Government’s idea of protecting jobs seems to have been to hand out lucrative favours and large sums of money to its mates — creating wealth, as it were, one friend at a time.
Term limits? Work permit holders have known for decades that Bermuda isn’t going to make it easy for them to become citizens or belongers. That’s nothing new, and because Bermuda is a tiny island, it’s perfectly understandable. It wasn’t term limits exempt company people were uncomfortable with. It was the bureaucracy and the uncertainty and the unpleasantness they faced in trying to deal with keeping their companies staffed. Ministers have long played politics with this vital arm of the economy — playing to fears and anxieties about foreigners taking jobs when they should have used their position to speak responsibly to Bermudians. They should have exercised their regulatory power with care to strike a balance that would work to everyone’s advantage.
That’s what the fuss about term limits was all about, and it caused a painful and completely unnecessary drain of exempt companies from Bermuda. For every company that left, there were Bermudians thrown out of work, there were people providing goods and services whose businesses deteriorated.
This has affected shopkeepers, lawyers, bankers, plumbers, electricians…people from the top to the bottom of Bermuda’s economy.
The OBA has pledged not to get involved in the old political game of scoring points off one another, so I’m not going to criticise Mr Roban particularly.
But I have to say, the smoke-blowing protests of the very people who have spent us into such debt and driven the economy into the ditch are staggering.
The huge amounts of money involved, the obvious mistakes, the lack of oversight and transparency, the patronage and the cronies and the ‘misuses’ of public money, as the Auditor General has noted... these things can’t be explained away, because they are so heartbreakingly obvious.
And the hearts that are being broken, many of them, are those of the very people the PLP claims to consider special.
• Sylvan Richards is the OBA’s general election candidate in Constituency 7, Hamilton South.