You talk black ? but where's the action?

Opposition race spokesman Jamahl Simmons has questioned whether Government has any real commitment to empowering black people ? despite its radical rhetoric.

He spoke out after Deputy Premier Ewart Brown said Government was constantly forced to defend policies aimed at empowering the majority population.

  • Jamahl Simmons

    Jamahl Simmons


Opposition race spokesman Jamahl Simmons has questioned whether Government has any real commitment to empowering black people ? despite its radical rhetoric.

He spoke out after Deputy Premier Ewart Brown said Government was constantly forced to defend policies aimed at empowering the majority population.

Mr. Simmons, who is Shadow Minister for Race Relations and Economic Empowerment, pointed out that the Progressive Labour Party Government had failed to take up similar legislation to his party's Economic Empowerment Bill which was tabled, but did not pass, last year. And his comments were echoed by Government backbencher Ren?e Webb who said her party had not gone far enough. Mr. Simmons said: "They did not bring forward similar or better legislation. The proof is in the pudding. It's OK to talk black. "They are good at talking black but they are not good at acting black.

"In some ways they are out-UBP-ing the old UBP in their practices."

Speaking at the African Heritage Conference on Thursday Dr. Brown had said: "Even the suggestion of a programme aimed at addressing the ills of a segment of this majority population is met by protest and accusations of undue favour."

And he also said some people in Bermuda thought empowering blacks was "some sort of evil". But Mr. Simmons said Government's move to assist entrepreneurs in Court Street and North Hamilton had been backed by the Opposition who raised the idea last year.

That move was the only concrete economic empowerment policy Government could point to said Mr. Simmons. "Most of it has been business as usual."

Yet he said most right-thinking Bermudians recognised the need to create a level playing field for people of African descent as the statistics showed they were not getting a fair shake.

Government backbencher Ren?e Webb said legislation was long overdue.

"If you support economic empowerment for disadvantaged groups you have to put a policy in place to ensure it happens. Government needs to go further."

She said the Social Agenda, which aimed to help the disadvantaged, was a good place to start and the measures for North Hamilton were welcome ? but there were no concrete policies.

"You can go online in a number of other countries and see what they have ? for the indigenous people of Australia and for African Americans and Latinos in America. But you can't do that here," she said.

Ms Webb said when she ran the Telecommunications Ministry she had scrapped a policy which only allowed 'approved companies' to bid on contracts and had instead opened up tendering for everyone.

Asked if she would consider pioneering a Private Member's Bill through the House Ms Webb said: "It should be something Government does through the relevant ministries."

Statistics from the Association of Bermuda International Companies show only three percent of executive positions in its companies are held by blacks and just six percent of senior positions.

However blacks hold 56 percent of non-professional positions.

The 2000 census showed blacks, who make up more than 60 percent of the population, had only 16 percent of the upper level positions while they held 70 percent of production and transport jobs.

Mr. Simmons said Government had no economic strategy of developing other planks to an economy - reliant on international business and tourism - which could provide new opportunity for locked out blacks.

United Bermuda Party leader Wayne Furbert also weighed into the row.

He said it was the habit of the Progressive Labour Party Government to use words, slogans and false argument to deflect attention from its continuing failure to meet the needs of the people.

He added: "Deputy Premier Dr. Ewart Brown's comment before the African Heritage Conference that a large segment of Bermuda regards efforts to empower blacks as 'evil' is just the latest example."

Such comments divided people and also put a new twist on the Government's "strange and disappointing lack of will" when it came to meeting the needs of the people, said Mr. Furbert.

He added: "Dr. Brown's inference that white Bermudians are blocking the Government from meeting the needs of black Bermudians is the worst form of scapegoating.

"It is a pathetic attempt to shift attention away from his Government's principal responsibility to help people in need."

He said the PLP Government has been in power for nearly eight years now but had not helped the people but instead had been self-serving.

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