March 12, 2014 at 9:48 a.m.

Gombey dancing in a minefield is stupid

Gombey dancing in a minefield is stupid
Gombey dancing in a minefield is stupid

By Larry Burchall- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

From both Budgets, PLP and OBA, it is clear that the amount of money available for Personnel, Operations, and Services is declining and will decline even more. This decline is forced by the absolute need to make Spending match Revenue and prevent the ELEPHANT of Debt Service Costs from growing substantially bigger.  If, within five years, Spending and Revenue do not match, then Bermuda’s fragile economy will implode. Will. Not might.

Looking forward to 2016/17, Government’s announced net spending plan will likely follow this five-year “glide path” (All net spending figures are from audited accounts, reported accounts, or page 33 of the 2014/15 Budget Statement):

Spending on Personnel Costs and Operations/Services must and will go down.

The looming issue is the degree and type of enforced change and the degree of success that Government may have with its plan to outsource, privatize, mutualize or otherwise reduce its Personnel Costs. Government’s recent and current actions are leading straight into a 13,000 acre minefield containing thousands of landmines created by a Bermuda fact and a Bermuda peculiarity.  

The fact?  Because of Bermuda’s isolation, size, and the type of business that takes place in Business Park Bermuda, Bermuda’s economy has major differences with larger economies in larger countries.

The peculiarity?  In 2014, there will be fewer than 25,000 Bermudians filling jobs in Bermuda (There were 25,132 in 2012. Hundreds more filled jobs have been lost since then). About 7,200 of these Bermudians will work for Government/Quangos. So more than one in every four working Bermudian workers is directly associated with Government.

Given Bermuda’s demographics, dealing only with black/white, acknowledging that unemployment rates are higher for black Bermudians, just under 60 per cent of these fewer than 25,000 working Bermudians are likely to be black. That means about +14,500 black Bermudians are currently working, out of a total pool of about 16,500/17,500 employable black Bermudians who are or should be available for work.

Government is about 80 per cent black and 90 per cent Bermudian [extrapolated from NERB2007]. So about 3,900 of all of today’s 5,400 Government workers will be Bermudian and black. Considering a slightly different demographic for the five main Quangos [previous research by me in 2009], about 1,000 will be black Bermudian. In all, about 4,900 black Bermudians are currently employed in the Government/Quango mix. That’s more than one in every four black Bermudians.


The 3,900 black Bermudian Government workers form the largest homogeneous mass in the 5,400 persons Government worker group that is facing the prospects of outsourcing, privatization, or mutualization. Shaped and hardened by the outcomes of a bad racial legacy, bad history, and a resulting deep political schism; this homogeneous mass will and does have a strong, natural, and deeply-rooted antipathy to the changes that are being spoken off. This mass has a natural and deep distrust of the entities perceived to be seeking outsourcing, privatization, and mutualization.

Juxtapose the numbers. Add the context of perhaps 1,500 to 2,250 of the 2,000 to 3,500 Bermudians said to be unemployed, or no longer seeking work, being black Bermudians. The result finds 3,900 plus 1,500/2,250 black Bermudians who are either jobless or whose jobs, as they perceive it, are being placed at risk. 

This single 5,400/6,150 mass is a big chunk of the 16,500/17,500 black Bermudians who are or should be available for work, or who are actually working. The 3,900 homogeneous Government worker mass within the larger mass provides the base ingredient for a critically important mix of Bermudian people and workers.

This is an unstable and dangerously explosive mix, full of the spectres of Bermuda’s divided racial past and fuelled by the economic hardships of the present. It is waiting to be lit by stupid or unwise actions of the immediate future.

The lack of solid, reliable, and immediate data about the full composition and state of our own national workforce will prove to be a huge impediment as all Bermuda tries to work its way through the next important phase in staving off an impending economic implosion.   

The next series of Government steps takes us deeper into a minefield strewn with these thousands of different mines. There are B, BC, G, WC, and W mines (*). The recent ‘pickled onion’ outburst and the strong but opposing reactions from deep within both Bermuda communities are a reminder that, even in 2014, these mines are close to the surface and can be highly explosive.

The next series of steps by Government needs to be taken with far more care than has been shown by, amongst others, the erratic twists and turns of the Lamb-Foggo decisions, the somersault on the Referendum, and the flip-flop over the Labour Relations Amendment Act 2014. Every step must take full account of the sensitivities of each of the ‘Voting Shareholders’ in Business Park Bermuda.

In this economic climate, in this small 13,120 acre minefield, this or any succeeding Government must tread with extreme care. However, with its history of unexpected shifts and changes, this Government seems to be Gombey-dancing. Though Gombey-dancing is a part of Bermuda’s national culture, surely, surely, Gombey-dancing in a minefield is unwise — Perhaps even stupid. 

(*) Mine specifications: B = Black. BC = Blue collar.  G = Government workers. W = White. WC = White collar.


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